In my previous blog on my Pokemon fandom, I reflected on an item of popular culture that was an integral part of my childhood but had grown to be a sort of nostalgic totem, occasionally toyed with but more often than not used as a sort of symbolic reference across my peer network. Most of my memories appear to base themselves on an emotional reaction to Pokemon – to a particular television episode, event or game. This emotionality, I expect, will continue in this current post regarding my fandom of Arsenal Football Club.
I would not be an Arsenal supported if it wasn’t for my Dad. I’m not sure if I would be a football fan at all – I supposed I would, if only because it’s clearly the most dominant sport in English school grounds. This type of family tie to a football club I believe is fairly common, as is the clear patriarchal state of my football supporting life.
It’s safe to say that Arsenal were a large part of my childhood, an object of fandom I would meet with week-in, week-out. I had the shirts, the videos, the stickers… the beach towels, the portable radios, the plastic cups, the comb sheaths. Every christmas or birthday I would receive a new something with the Arsenal badge emblazoned upon it.
One of the earliest repeat-viewing phenomena I ever owned was my series of Arsenal season reviews. A couple of them 1989-90, 1990-91 – acted like history lessons, an Arsenal side I never really knew. Others were celebratory goods of the Gunners successful 1997-2004 period, bought as a reminder of great years. I would watch them repeatedly, especially those earlier ones I had access to as I was growing up. I can still rattle off the names of a good number of those squads – Anders Limpar being a sort of cult favourite of the lot.
Watching and Playing
I was an odd sort of kid who would play these little football matches with lego men and a ball – sometimes made of blu-tack – a game I carried on for far too long that I care to remember. I would act out fantasy scenarios where Arsenal crushed the opposition – usually lead by the in-form strikers such as retro 1980s astronaut or random construction site worker.
Playing with this plastic critters instead of watching a live game one day, I recall my Dad imploring me to watch the match -“That’s how you learn, by watching”, I distinctly recall him saying. To this day I swear it was this stern lesson that made me into the more observant, research student than a hands-on, practical person. I’ve just been reminded this by my driving instructor so forgive me if this sounds bitter.
I played football in Blandford from the age of about six and left after the last game of the first full season of under-10s football. I tell people I retired – back trouble – but really it was because I was pretty naff at the game. Football, in practical terms at least, was very much neither natural or nurturable.
I do remember continuing to play football in my back garden, however, again a site to act out my fantasies of scoring the winning FA cup goal. I would still commentate to myself in my best BBC style, borrowing classic phrases or hearing the various voices of real-life commentators in my head.
The only Arsenal-emblazoned item I have now is a shirt form about four years ago. I’m still a silver-level Arsenal member – I keep forgetting to cancel the direct debit – so get sent a new members kit every year with a DVD and a few nifty gifties.
What it means to be an Arsenal fan has definitely changed as I have grown up. It is no way like my Pokemon fandom, which is far more nostalgic than anything else. Rather, Arsenal Football Club is something I can check on once or twice a week, almost like a television show. I still have what you might say is a passion, an affect, for the team, but it no way takes up such a central part of my life as it once did as when I was younger.
It might have something to do with time – although it sounds sad – I just don’t have the time to be ‘in’ to football as I once was. You could compare this to my dad who – besides the two nights a week of work and few rounds of golf – almost never misses a broadcast match of football, let alone simply Arsenal ones. I follow Arsenal and football now through the news media – the Guardian and BBC apps on my phone, Youtube for some quick highlights, twitter for instant reaction.
That’s what “following Arsenal” really is nowadays for me. I think in time that’s the word I’ll be attempting to deconstruct and investigate. Can I say I am a fan compared to, say, those season-ticket holders who belt out anthems at both home and away matches every week? What about those who run fan blogs or buy the latest kits or still play football in some form or another?
I’m getting into here some of the more analytical stuff I wanted to save for later. Suffice to say that while my Arsenal fandom has changed over time, it has changed in a far different way to my fandom of, for example, Pokemon. And that’s what’s really the thrust of this blog series.