The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Gunner

By Michael Steyn (@Die_Kanonnier)

In the afterglow of Arsenal’s 2014 FA Cup win some of the more prominent Gooners on Twitter re-tweeted a Niagara of photographs and YouTube videos of celebrating fans from across the world. As I sat in front of my computer at my home on the South coast of South Africa hugging myself and punching the air with my imaginary Gooner friends those pictures and, in particular, the overwhelming response to them gave me an especially warm and cuddly feeling.

I am not English, nor have I ever lived in England, but I am a Gooner and I claim that title, I think I’ve earned it. I was raised supporting The Arsenal so I suppose one could say that I’ve been a Gooner my whole life. But when you fall in love there is supposed to be a moment and there was for me; Alan Sunderland’s winner in the 1979 Cup Final. That was the point of no return. I was hopelessly and irretrievably infatuated. When I re-watch that goal (which I often do), I still get a perverse kick from the fact that it was the South African raised, Gary Bailey that flapped at Graham Rix’s cross.

In South Africa at the time, the FA Cup final was the only game shown on television. Keeping up with The Arsenal proved difficult and frustrating. I relied on Shoot Magazine for news and on the crackling and often unreliable BBC World Service on Short Wave radio for results. Many, many hours were spent on my bedroom floor hoping that the signal would last just long enough to get the score. I listened to so much Morse-Code during those years it’s a bit surprising I can’t decipher it.

One of, if not, the first, league games to be shown live on South African television was one some of you may also remember. It was played on May 26, 1989 at Anfield. Imagine that! The first league game I ever saw, the first league title in my lifetime, watched from a hard wooden bench at the school boarding house with a room full of Liverpool supporters. I couldn’t sleep that night, I was beside myself.

The 1990’s brought satellite television, Supersport and live Premier League football. I am now in the privileged position of being able to watch every single game that Arsenal play live. Even the Emirates Cup is broadcast live. So I arrange my life around making sure that I see as many as possible without completely alienating friends and family. What’s that? … Oh. It seems I do alienate them, but they understand. It is The Arsenal.

Being able to watch my great love was never going to be enough for me though. I was still more or less alone. There is no supporter’s club where I live. I don’t think there are more than 4 or 5 Gooners in the area. There is my Mother (who never misses a game) and a friend with whom I converse daily. That’s fun and I love going over to watch games with my Mother who gets more excited and upset and emotionally invested than perhaps she should. But who am I to talk.

I found out exactly what I was missing when, in December 2005, I made a pilgrimage to Highbury and watched Arsenal tear Portsmouth apart. I saw Henry and Bergkamp score and roared with delight as the net at the Clock End bulged four times that night. It felt like home, welcoming and familiar.

I knew that night though that I wanted not just to be part of the Gooner family but to feel part of it. In a slight way the 21st century with its internet forums and Twitter has given me that. I have “met” people that I chat with online. I hear views that mirror and differ from my own and partake in discussions about players and the club. I have all the news and reaction to the news at the end of my right index finger – Which brings me back to the celebrating Gooners on Twitter.

There are thousands and thousands of Gooners like me around the world and the pictures allowed those in North London to catch a glimpse of what The Arsenal means to us. We dream with you, we laugh with you, we cry with you and we sing with you even if it is from the couch in our living rooms. We are Gooners and we love The Arsenal.

You can follow him on twitter : (@Die_Kanonnier)

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