Thinking back to last year, and watching the agonising penalty shoot out that got us to the final, and knowing that we are again in the FA Cup final, brings back more than game memories. It brings back the emotional roller coaster we all felt during a crazy 120 minutes that ended in universal relief as much as sheer joy, a moment some will tell their kids about, and a moment we all hope was the start of another successful period in the history of Arsenal football club.
For millions around the world, those not able to attend games, we watch Arsenal on dodgy live streams, some pay hundreds in cable TV bills a month just to have a satellite to watch the games week in, week out and others gather at supporters clubs and sports bars to see their beloved teams play in games big or small.
I’m one of those people. I’m not going to sit here and tell you how I’m more dedicated to Arsenal than anyone else, but I will tell you my story. How these games affect us all, and how these things are a part of daily life for those in London, and indeed, those like myself, out of it.
During the semi final last year, being it was on at around 2:30am if I can remember correctly, I was sat on the floor, watching on a laptop on a horrible stream, on my knees as Mertesacker headed us in to an equaliser as I yelled in relief and cheer, and woke up people in my house, nothing new for me – I’m a terror to live with when the Arsenal are on. We all know what happened from there, penalty shoot out, and we are in the final against Hull!
As it were, I made a big effort to return to my hometown of Perth, Western Australia, for the final. To watch with my, at the time, fourteen year old brother – who, since was born I’ve made into a Gooner. It was the first final we had been able to watch together, and what a range of emotions I personally went through that day.
When Hull went ahead early, it was silence, but it was so early, it wasn’t too much to get myself down. But then the second goal went in, the look on Curtis Davies face as he scored, and I dropped to the floor, hands and knees, covering my head in my arms, I thought it was over. But part of me, and even my brother who doesn’t watch football unless I’m around, said “it’s still early.” I too had part of me feeling that, but another part of me said, “don’t get your hopes up, this could be done.”
The glimmer of hope was really dwindling as Kieran Gibbs headed off the line, what would have been Hull’s third goal, and most definitely the game over. But as the half went on, Cazorla scored a fantastic free kick and we knew we were back in it. Having that goal before half time was a calming relief as we sat talking during the 15 minute break, both with our Arsenal shirts on. I began to perspire a little, time to refresh and take a beverage with me back to the couch we had pulled extra close to the telly.
Second half, we just waited and waited for the goal to tie the game up, and it came through Koscielny. The excitement hit fever pitch on my end while my brother, Mr. Cool, calmly said “they’ll win it now.” It was our game to lose at that point – the momentum was in our favour and we could feel the goal coming.
But the game went to extra time. I feared that if it went to penalties, we wouldn’t be so lucky twice. I wanted to win in extra time and Aaron Ramsey just kept taking shot after shot. Part of me said “stop shooting” the other said, “he’s going to score one of these eventually.” That he did. Funnily enough, for someone who doesn’t watch every single Arsenal game like myself, my brother, the part time clairvoyant (I’m kidding), predicted a Ramsey goal. The back heel flick from Giroud came, Ramsey’s low shot beat the keeper, and bar one final rush of blood from Fabianski, the rest is history.
We were praying for the final whistle, I said “blow it, blow the bloody whistle!!” It happened and we were sent in to raptures. I was, like many around the world, mentally exhausted – sweat and tears of joy almost drenching my Arsenal shirt, and with tears of joy. A moment to remember forever. To be with family and enjoy such a moment, for me, is something to cherish. I’m not blessed with a big family, and I go out of my way to spend time with them, so appreciating the beauty that is an Arsenal win, in a final, with my brother, was as good as life gets for me.
So it got me thinking, here we are again, cup final time. This time, I won’t be back home in time to re-live the second go around with my brother, but I hope the outcome is the same. I’ll make sure he will be watching, “1am kick off is no excuse” I’ll tell him. For me, there is so much to supporting your club. But supporting Arsenal is a truly special thing. Especially over the last decade. So much was expected after the Invincibles and the move to Ashburton Grove – things weren’t supposed to be so hard.
Now we are out the other side of being financially restricted, and the last two transfer windows have shown some real signs of that. Signing guys like Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez are not only the stuff of FIFA Career mode dreams for some of us, but the kind of excitement and expectation it brings is a place a lot of us feel we should be. We do things the right way, don’t have a billionaire backing our every transfer, and we have actually been relevant for more than a decade.
This is Arsenal, we are in a cup final and these are the memories that stay with you forever as a football fan. We know that in recent times, days like this haven’t come along so often, and there is no guarantee of victory – even for clubs with massive cash reserves. So while getting to the final is fantastic in itself, we all are clamouring for an Arsenal win.
It’s days like this that are the real joy of football fandom. Days like this are special occasions you spend with your mates, family and people you don’t know, supporting the same cause. It’s a wonderful thing, and as much as football has changed with the financial devilry, nothing can take these special occasions away. This for me is why we support, and as the final is only a day and a half away, the butterflies are really starting to kick in.
That was my story, like many around the world, Arsenal brings us together, and hopefully, it will bring us the pure elation only supporting your club can as we lift a second consecutive FA Cup.
C’MON YOU GUNNERS!!!
Jake also writes about Arsenal on his own site, The Loaded Cannon – go check it out!