Posted: June 3rd, 2021
I checked my watch for the third time in five minutes, willing it to be three o’clock. After a ten minute wait which seemed to last hours, I headed eagerly towards the front door on a cloudless summer afternoon. This was it – I was on my way to watch my first senior match at the Emirates!
I twisted and turned through the winding, crowded streets of people chanting and singing; glorifying ‘the Gunners’. Peering through the sea of red and white shirts, I found my friends and pretty soon, we joined the waves of supporters. Every sense in my body was tingling as I heard the optimistic songs of the passionate fans; with the smell of hot dogs, chips and burgers hanging in the air. The street was a river of Arsenal shirts, with rows of policemen on the banks. We all strolled past underground station, admiring the remains of the old stadium along the way.
At last, we curved round the final corner and arrived at the Emirates. I gazed up and gawped in awe at the monumental grey blocks ahead of me. A roar erupted inside, the match was starting soon. Breaking out of my trance, I continued following the mass of people towards the ticket barriers. As I scanned my ticket and squeezed through the narrow gates, I realized just how loud things were. Echoes of laughter floated from the canteen; of excited children chatting incessantly about their predictions and of others asking to go to the loo.
I was inside the stadium, but not at pitch-side yet. Everything around me was still grey, from the smooth walls of concrete to the thick grey slabs on the stairs. It was as though the stadium had not been completed; like a parking lot, it had not been painted at all. However, I would soon find out why. As I trotted up the broad stairs as fast as possible among the thousands of fans also making their way up, I was caught completely off-guard when I entered the stands. The effect was phenomenal. The bright green grass of the pitch couple with the intense red ring of seats took my breath away. If there was ever a sight for sore eyes, this was definitely it.
Inside, the stadium looked like a colossal spaceship. I was thoroughly dumbstruck, it was much better than I had imagined. Smells of delicious fast food jumbled with the smell of freshly mown grass lingered in the air, creating a whole new sensation and slapped me in the face. The chants of the Gunners Faithful were contagious, and by the time I found my seat, I was singing along at the top of my lungs. The stadium was jam-packed with people. Spectators filled every seat available and every space to stand was taken up, yet somehow it was rather spacious. There was enough room to sit down, stand up and even stretch easily. The smooth, cold, metal handlebars in front of me were comforting to touch among the rows of strangers. In any other context, fully grown men with beer-bellies ranked along young boys, singing their hearts out would seem totally bizarre. Everything happened with such fluency, I realised that this is what happened game after game after game.
Suddenly, the players came marching orderly out of the tunnel onto the pitch. As the twelve men took up their positions on the vast stretch of faultless grass, we all stood up spiritedly and applauded the Arsenal players. Finally, the referee counted up the men on the field and blew a familiar long, high pitched whistle. The ball rolled from Thierry Henry to Robin van Persie – the long awaited match had begun…
What we all wanted to see now was a thrilling, perfect volley; an immaculate strike or just feel that moment when an entire stand holds its’ breath to witness that one thing we all understand. Some may see it as just a game. But to others, this was about heroes and tribes. Loyalty and devotion. It was their commitment and their passion. Their battle and belief. This was the beautiful game at its finest. This was football.
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