I am in Manchester, a footballing city as there are so many here ‘up North’. I love cities with two clubs that match each other and divide them into two: it brings great energy to these places. Over the decades it is usually one team that dominates but then the fans of the other team will get their gloating time too occasionally. And the longer the wait, the sweeter the taste of seasonal dominance will be.
The owner, M, of the B&B I am staying in is a Blue. I swapped to this place after I spoke to the self-celebrating owner of my previous B&B, who said the following when I asked him which team he supported: ‘the only team in Manchester of course’; I said I believe there are two; to which he said ‘the only team with history’; to which I said, so not the only Manchester team in the here and now then?
M goes to all the home games but also likes to go to the away games whenever his wife has been made soft enough to let him out to play. He speaks with such joy and energy about his team that it makes me jealous. His team are not doing much if any better than Arsenal this season but the fans float on a bubble of blue dominance over red in the city. Such a bearable lightness of being. After decades of being overpowered and humiliated, the Blues have the hottest trainer ticket in town and easily as much money as their sorry Red neighbours to buy whomever they fancy. What a brilliant twist of faith and source of continuous happiness for the blue side of Manchester. Us Gooners have dominated the dark side of North London for decades now, but it looks like we have gotten bored with it, as we take it for granted now (even though it looks like they finally will finish above us this time round).
Two of my colleagues on the project I am working on are Leeds supporters. They still have sweet memories of the good years at the start of the new millennium, but are also buoyed by the prospect of making the play-offs and maybe, just maybe, getting back into the premier league again. The hope that this brings makes them look forward to every game: the real source of happiness for a club football supporter. Another colleague supports Sheffield Wednesday. Her whole family supports the Owls and her brother flew over from the USA last year just to be at the play off final for a premier league ticket. They lost out of course, but this season they are in a good position to make it once more to the final, and then who knows… ‘Who knows’… ‘it could be us this time’…. that is all a football supporter needs to be excited again, to have hope and look forward to each and every game.
At Arsenal, we have so much. We win a lot more games than we lose, we often play very easy-on-the-eye football, we have won the FA cup a (joint) record time, always finish in the top four and play CL football, and a football stadium that becomes more and more a home the longer we play there.
Yet we are a deflated bunch of complainers, deprived of excitement and hope, it seems. Do we really have to fall deep first in order to enjoy our team playing football again? What is wrong with us?