Last weekend’s cup-ties almost certainly sealed the end of the Arsenal trophy drought, which has gone on far too long for a club that represents all that is best about English football. And it’s undeniable, in this blog’s opinion, that some tangible Gooners success would be A Good Thing. Good for the game, and good for me.
Now I should perhaps explain this attraction that Arsenal have for me. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Leeds United fan, but I feel no guilt about this. Why? Well, like anybody in a long-term, committed relationship, I occasionally feel the need for a bit of a change, a break from an otherwise humdrum routine. And just as many married men – and women, come to that – will argue that it’s OK to look as long as you don’t touch, I feel it’s occasionally alright to let my hungry eye wander a little. So while my heart belongs to Leeds, I’ve long had a passing fancy for The Arse and I feel that this in no way compromises my fidelity where the Whites are concerned. After all, it’s not like I’m buying a season ticket or anything.
Arsenal is a club that commands respect, they have done for decades – but it’s been so much more the case in the Arsène Wenger era. In this period, they’ve played football of surpassing beauty – and of course they’ve won just about every honour in the book too, giving the football world a welcome break, on a few occasions, from the grinding monotony of Ferguson’s charmless winning machine at the Theatre of Hollow Myths. The trophy cupboard has been bare for a good few seasons now, but the quality of the football has remained consistently wonderful, a treat for the most jaundiced eye.
Now that the most significant obstacles have been removed from their path to FA Cup glory, I fully expect them to go on and capitalise, bringing home a legendary piece of silverware to the Emirates Stadium. A Wembley date with Wigan should not unduly worry a team with Arsenal’s class, despite the fact that the Pies saw off Manchester’s finest in the last round. And then it will be either Hull or Sheffield United in the Final – again, neither of those sides would be likely to present a problem. I have my fingers crossed here that I’m not jinxing the whole thing – not just for the Gooners fans’ sake, but also because I have a financial and family interest in Arsenal finally ending that annoying trophy-less run.
Firstly – in the wake of Man City’s exit, I was on Facebook proclaiming Arsenal’s forthcoming Cup triumph – and a friend saw fit to bet me they wouldn’t win it. A gift, I thought, and I suggested a friendly tenner as an appropriate wager. Really, it should just be a matter of picking up the dosh – but the rub is that, if Arsenal now lose in the semi or the Final, I shall now feel more than my usual pang of regret. Losing a tenner is no small matter for even the least parsimonious of Yorkshiremen, and my last football bet ended with me a fiver down, something I’ve yet to recover from. So clearly there’s at least ten good reasons for me to keep everything crossed.
Secondly, my daughter’s Significant Other is an Arsenal fan – so I’d like to see them win something just for him. Apparently, he flirted with being a scum fan as a young kid – and while I have magnanimously forgiven him such a childish faux pas, I certainly don’t want him going back down THAT route – so a Cup win to keep him honest would be just the thing. My late father-in-law, Michael, was also a Gunners aficionado, bless him – he was able to remember Herbert Chapman’s fantastic team of the thirties, Ted Drake, Alex James, Cliff Bastin and all. I’ll raise a glass to him, if The Arse can lift silverware at Wembley in May.
Some Whites will find all of this eulogising of another team a little distasteful, and I can understand that. But it can be taken on trust that Leeds United are my one true love, unlovable though they mostly are, and that there’s really no other thing in the world outside of my family that can move me to such depths of despair, or even raise me to such heights of jubilation (if I recall correctly). Arsenal – well. they’re not really even the bit on the side. I’m too faithful for that – it’s just that I’m a student of the game and its exposition à la the Gunners seems to me to be the finest thing you’ll see in these islands. When they’re on song, there’s not too many better sights in the whole football world. My connoisseur’s eye can appreciate this, but my Yorkshire heart still beats for Leeds United – and my blood runs yellow, white and blue.
The only time I went to Highbury, it was to see Leeds win there by three goals to one in a daft game that saw Phil Masinga score twice as George Graham’s managership of his beloved Gunners was coming to a tragically shady end. I was overjoyed – when Leeds play Arsenal, my loyalties are firmly with the Whites. That goes without saying. Even when victories over the Gunners have seen another undeserved title go to the Pride of Devon, I’ve been able to take great satisfaction in United beating my Capital favourites. So, you see, I’m still the genuine article as far as Leeds fans go. It’s just that I have this need to appreciate class and beauty – and Arsenal’s football is beautiful, their history glitters with class.
Forgive me then for taking pleasure in Arsenal’s success – when it’s not at the expense of my beloved Leeds. A handy by-product is that this regard for The Arse also helps me to dislike Tottenham Hotspur, although I’m sure that’s quite an easy thing to do really. As I write, the hapless Spuds have just lost 1-3 at home to Benfica, which I enjoyed a lot. So it’s been a good night off from Leeds United’s ongoing trauma, what with writing optimistically about Arsenal – and watching their so-called rivals lose. Tomorrow it’ll be back to the current purgatory of trying to find some glimmer of light in the Whites’ murky situation. But still – that’s where my heart is.
At least, in May, I’ll have the distinct pleasure of seeing London’s finest lift the FA Cup, as well as the equal joy of taking a tenner off my good friend Muddy. At least, I hope so. Surely, I haven’t given the kiss of death to the Gooners’ trophy prospects? And for God’s sake – I have to win a bet one day.