A few weeks ago, Helen Trantum wrote on this site about the perils of living with the enemy.
As you may have read, she lives with a Spurs fan.
As I write this, Anita Sambol- also of this parish- has a piece ready to go about life with a Manchester United fan.
I’m not quite sure what either of these two women, who seem nice enough to me, have done to deserve such a fate, but what crosses to bear!
It makes me feel quite lucky that I live with an Arsenal fan, albeit someone who is, ever-so-slightly less Arsenal than me.
But then Jo would be, I introduced the two loves of my life to each other.
Luckily for me, I did so in the summer of 2004.
Remember that summer? Of course you do! Arsene Wenger had guided Arsenal through that historic, unbeaten season.
Arsenal were, at the time, a very easy sell. Even for a person who grew up in one of those bizarre families who don’t put sport, especially football, at the very epicentre of their existence. Imagine growing up and thinking football is not important- imagine!
Jo was sucked in enough for us to travel to Cardiff together and watch the Premier League champions, with Jose Reyes and Cesc “he’s only 17, he’s better than Roy Keane” Fabregas at the forefront, dismantle Manchester United in the Community Shield.
Not only that, but she got on the Red membership scheme too. Before me (I was skint at the time of the scheme’s inception. Literally).
As a result, she now has a Silver membership, whereas , 11 years later, I am still stuck with my Red. The same level of membership that anyone signing up to the scheme tomorrow would have.
Anyway, I digress.
As Red members we obviously couldn’t get tickets for every home game at Highbury- the demand for these precious tickets far outstripped the supply. But we went when we could.
I remember a Christmas time, possibly Boxing Day, game against Fulham watched from the front of the West Stand. We watched Cesc Fabregas closely, Jo observed the way he’d have a little look around to see what was on before receiving the ball, we watched him tell a linesman to “duck off!“. Or something like that.
“Isn’t his English coming on?“, we thought.
What a pleasure it was to watch this boy become a man, what a shame that the man has just become another of Chelsea’s mercenaries. It strikes me now that Jo’s interest in the Arsenal may just have waned at around the same time as Cesc’s.
Our relationship was new enough back then that I could get away with taking Jo (or did she take me?) to Highbury on Valentine’s night 2005 to watch Arsenal batter Crystal Palace 5-1. A year later, we sat in a pub in Bromley and watched Jens Lehmann repel wave after wave of Liverpool attacks, only to be beaten by a very late Luis Garcia goal.
Speaking of pubs, the Twelve Pins had become a fairly regular haunt by then. Arsenal still carried, at the time, a glimmer of possibility as far as winning the big things went and so every game felt like a must watch, whether you had a ticket or not.
The FA Cup and Premier League runners up in 2005, we went onto become Champions League runners up on a heartbreaking night in Paris. After our famous win in the Bernabeu, Jo and I watched every round of the run in the Pins.
Including a final which ended with me sitting teary eyed over a Porchetta pizza.
So close…. so far.
Then came the move round the corner and with it tickets were suddenly much more available.
Jo and I were now at the point where going to the Arsenal was a properly organic part of our weekend.
We sat in the stupidly named Green Quadrant for the first NLD in our new home, which felt like a proper novelty.
This was in marked contrast to the, business as usual, 3-0 win for the home side. We were also there for another 3-0 win against Liverpool.
And there were countless other games too.
After a couple of years in the new stadium, a friend of mine, Ben started to get access to a couple of tickets at the back of block five, which he shared with me when he could and I think it’s possibly here that Jo’s interest in the Arsenal may have begun to suffer.
Perhaps it was more about spending time with me than watching our red and white heroes.
But… you know, it was block five.
Occasionally, Jo came and watched from there too. Above block 5, Jo and I watched, with my mate Gabs, one of the best games of football I’ve seen at the new stadium when Arsenal beat Manchester United 2-1.
Of course, Arsenal being Arsenal, this game wasn’t without it’s share of scares. A last minute Rafael volley briefly raising the Ghost of Aaron Lennon past.
Yes, we had all been there for the previous week’s, horrifying, 4-4 with that lot too.
By this time, a few online friendships had become real life ones and we began going to games together, or if we didn’t go to the games together, we would meet up before, or after, or sometimes both and drink the day away.
This isn’t to say that Jo was excluded from these gatherings (we were all there for that shattering 3-2 defeat by Spurs), but she’s not a big fan of the Tolly and the Tolly, for some reason, had supplanted the Twelve Pins as the pub du jour by then.
Jo’s not wild about the Pins either, but has been much more tolerant of the Irish boozer down the years.
I thought this group of friends might just sustain me through the rest of my Arsenal supporting days and, yet, almost as quickly as we got together, we dispersed to the point that whilst I still chat occasionally to a couple of the guys, the only one I see with any sort of regularity is someone I know will be a friend for life, James Craddock.
2-1 Barcelona, 3-1 Chelsea, (the first) 5-2 Spurs were all done with him.
There have been weddings, homes purchased and babies born.
In 2010, I think, I was invited to one of the guys 30th birthday celebrations, I’ve seen that same person once, since November 2011.
Circumstances and, I guess priorities, change things for people.
That’s true for me and Jo now.
We’ll be moving homes ourselves soon. Frankly, it’s difficult to think about spending £100+ on football tickets every fortnight when there are so many other things, really important- even more important than football important- things for us to worry about.
Even so, I have noticed that whilst this Arsenal team titillates us all with the promise of a bright future, Jo doesn’t seem particularly fussed either way now.
We went to Wembley last April, nearly a year ago now, and haven’t been to a game together since. I can’t be sure how Jo celebrated either Per Mertesacker’s late equaliser, or Santi Cazorla’s decisive penalty, because I had no idea what I was doing myself.
However, I doubt she lost control of her mind and body in the way that I did.
In my mind, I see her standing unmoved, as she was at a Depeche Mode gig in May 2013 as the O2 erupted to Personal Jesus (not her favourite song).
But I’m almost certainly doing her a disservice.
When I watch games at home now it feels to me that Jo thinks the best thing she can do for me is get out of the way and leave me to my 90+ minutes of stress.
In fairness, it quite often proves to be the best thing she can do for Arsenal. I’ve lost count of the number of goals Arsenal have scored within seconds of Jo leaving the room.
I have to be grateful to her, I suppose.
Jo came into my life at a time when I didn’t know where I was going, or what I was doing.
I was, quite frankly, a bit of a mess.
My only interests were Arsenal and getting stoned.
Jo has given me a sense of balance in my life and enabled me to realise that life, indeed love, doesn’t begin, and end, in N5 every other weekend.
She has made me a grown up.
Not that I’ve given up on Arsenal myself, you understand. Every loss is felt just as keenly, whilst the big wins, when they come, are enjoyed- if not celebrated- as much as ever.
I mean, seriously, you’d look a bit of a prat bouncing around your living room as Oli G nods home a decisive goal at the Eastlands, wouldn’t you?
To take it back to where I began, I guess where I’m lucky is that whilst Jo’s interest may now not be what it was, she does understand the game.
She also allows me a certain amount of space and understanding when Arsenal have done as they did against Monaco 10 days ago. I don’t have someone in my face, winding me up, or- even worse- telling me to get over what is only a game.
She knows it is far, far, more than that.
To me, at least.
She also understands the delirium associated with the highs, so after that semi final last April, and a refortifying Nando’s, she was more than happy to go to the pub and drink in celebration with my mate Jimmy and his girlfriend, Vanessa.
Despite the lateness of the hour.
I am just lucky.