Sometime in the fall of 2004 I asked myself a question.. What if Arsenal (favorite team in the whole wide world) played Barcelona (2nd favorite team in the whole wide world). Who would I cheer for? Would I be sad? How would I deal with the victory? It’s not a decision most people really think about in the course of their life.. I mean they are two footballing juggernauts in their own respective countries, what were the chances of them meeting up in a European Cup Final (not impossible, but I hadn’t experienced it in my lifetime). On May 17th, 2006, in Paris, one night only, my two favorite football teams in the world will square away against each other in the most prestigious yearly football tournament on the planet.. I started to think long and hard about whom I’d support.
a little london team history
I started my love affair with arsenal at the youthful age of 7. It was Christmas time and we were at a family friend’s house for lunch, I pulled a cracker and won an Arsenal badge.. the cannon on the crest excited my fascination with all things army related.. Since it was Liverpool’s reign, I was naturally watching Ian Rush score his goals – so my Arsenal support was subdued for a couple of years. That was until the end of the football season 1989, this time 17 years ago (give or take a couple of weeks). English football was always recapped on Monday nights on Bahrain TV, and 1989 was the year the Arsenal beat Liverpool at Anfield by two extra goals (go on Alan Smith!!) on the last day of the season to win the league from right under Liverpool’s noses. It was from then on, that I became a Gunner. Watching a spectacular victory like that, the intensity of the game, the pure magic that poured into those 90 minutes, oh and a Christmas cracker with a badge and a cannon on it – how could I not be a fan.. I still have the badge.. After that, my fascination with football blossomed and took on different twists and turns. I tasted victory and I had my fair share of defeat. The Gunners were a medium sized London team with a lot of history, and I was a part of that history watching Ian Wright break the club’s goal scoring record, Thierry Henry then breaking Wrighty’s record, Limpar breaking off from the right with the ball, the Gamble on Overmars and the payback, the counter attacks, Paddy and Manu pulling the strings. Gilles Grimandi with a wild punch at Deigo Simeone. Pires winning me over with the equalizing goal against tottenham, and the equalizing away goal against Lazio. The Absolute Genius that is Dennis Nicolaas Bergkamp (the classiest of classy footballers). The famous back line, with Bouldie’s composed defending, Tony Adams leadership on the pitch, Lee Dixon for making the right back his postion.. David Platt, one of my favorite midfielders ever. When we stole Sol Campbell from Spurs for free. Secretly loving/hating Safe Hands Seaman. I can go on and on.. I’ve left things out I’m sure.. how about the ghosts of players that never had their chance: The alex mannigers, paolo vernazzas, nelson vivas, Christopher wrehs, remi gardes, graham barrets, and junichi inamotos.. you are not forgotten my friends.. (I came so close to buying a vernazza jersey once, just to cheer the lad on, they then sold him to Watford or something like that).. The real change in my love for Arsenal was when they purchased Bergkamp from Inter. Nothing sounded better to my ears that hearing the crowds chant “We’ve got Dennis Bergkamp, We’ve got Dennis Bergkamp!!” (I can still hear you singing, Andy).. This season’s performance in the league has been disappointing at times, but we did make it to the champions league next season, and we have made it to the Champions league Final this season.. We’re building a team for the future, and with most of our squad under 25, we are looking very good for the coming seasons.. very very good.
hope in Elefant Blau
Then there’s Barcelona, the Catalan team that stole my heart in the early 90s with Cruyff’s dream team.. My loving relationship with Barcelona didn’t just happen because of a Catalan variant of Dutch Total Football. The Catalan are a proud people, and I fell in love with that pride,, at times making me feel like it was my pride too. Maybe cause Catalunya carried Spain on its shoulders economically, maybe because of the fact that Franco loved Madrid and he often showed it by bending the rules in their favor, or how about the only place the Catalan could speak their language freely was in their stadium. How about the fact that FC Barcelona, in its 100 plus year history have never had a sponsor (something that will eventually change) on their Jersey.. why? Because the fans are not just fans, the Nou Camp is a symbol of the Catalunya and its people, you cannot tarnish the Azulgrana with a corporate sponsor.. That all aside, you cannot tell me you cannot fall in love with a team that has boasted players such as: Koeman, Guardiola, Laudrup, Stoichkov, Romario, Diego Armando Maradona, Ronaldo, Johan Cruyff, Lineker, Haji, Zubizaretta, Luis Enrique, Nadal, Sergi, Rivaldo, Cocu, and I’m not even getting into the current squad: RONNIE! I fell in love with their history, got angered at the treatment over the whole Alfredo Di Stefano Fiasco (yeah we know the truth Madrid). I watched them go from the great ol days of Nunez’s presidency to the what the hell is going on days of Gaspart and now the weary stability of Laporta. I felt the pain inside me grow as Barcelona were mismanaged, they were spending money buying players but just couldn’t do it.. They were caving into demands from players such as Patrick Kluivert, making him the highest paid player. Then came the shocking pain associated with watching them neglect Luis Figo and watching him go to Madrid.. all the power to Figo, I still love him, but the pain was a lot to bear.. or how about the incredible elation of watching Rivaldo with that scissor kick goal the last day of the season to squeeze Barsa past Valencia into the Champions league for the following season.. Barcelona quickly filled my heart with love.. Watching them win this season making it back to back championships brings tears to my eyes.. for my college years I had to endure my Madrid friends rubbing their victories in my face.. Watching Zidane score that amazing and I mean amazing goal for Real Madrid while Barsa just looked lost in la liga.. Barcelona is finally back to it’s winning days and I cannot be happier.
And now my predicament.. who to support? I know Arsenal are the underdogs, but a Champions league victory would be an incredible feat to celebrate.. Plus, memories of the 2000 UEFA cup final against Galatasaray have resurfaced and I am in pain.. A victory would quell these nightmares relived.. Barcelona have won their second league title in a row, this is evidence of their dominance of Spanish football right now.. However; there is that small part of me inside that wants to call them Madrillenos and laugh at their losses and boast Barsa’s victories.. it’s a tough decision… but I have decided to support the Arsenal on this one.. Arsenal are the underdogs, if anyone needs this championship it’s them.. I’d love to see Theirry lift the cup in Paris in front of his home crowd and stamp his brilliance on the European game.. That said, for 90 minutes I will support Arsenal, I will cheer them on, I will yell, shout, scream, laugh, maniacally wave my hands in the air, dance, and weep (hopefully not).. once the game is over, I only see it as a win win situation for me..
I don't even want to get into the hype cause i can write another three posts about that alone..
Oh and since it’s my two favorite teams,,, breakfast on Thursday May 18th is on me… you just need to show up to the 8th floor for some tasty tidbits. I know my coworkers are pleased about that.
I’ve now solved who I’m going to support, now I need to decide where I’m going to watch the game.. GOONMYSON!!
COME ON ARSENAL!!!!