2020 has been a hell of a year for most people and footballing woes, in the light of everything else that’s going on around the planet, are trivial in comparison. Welcome to the most depressing 19/20 Arsenal season review you’re going to read this summer.
Football has always served as a distraction, a place to step away from your everyday life and find relief and respite, time with friends and something different to talk about that isn’t our everyday problems.
2020 messed with all that.
Not only did Arsenal fans have to deal with the state of the team after Unai Emery had them for 18 months, we then had to sit around for a few more months, remembering how bad we were while wondering what the hell the club was going to do about it.
For most of the season, I can’t honestly say I paid any more than the minimum amount of attention required to run an Arsenal site. You can use that to judge how this 19/20 Arsenal season review is going to go.
For me, it was a season bookmarked by Abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away
Change and decay in all around I see
O Thou who changest not, abide with me
Although I’m in no way religious, hearing Abide With Me before every cup final always had a way of hitting me right in the feels ever since I was a kid.
It’s a song so intrinsically linked to the FA Cup final that no football fan can hear it out of that context and not think of Wembley. Perhaps that’s just those of us who grew up at a time when there was so little football on the TV, the FA Cup final was a day-long TV event you looked forward to like Christmas.
Perhaps that’s just Arsenal fans, as we’ve made 21 of them, but for me, whatever the reason, it was always thus.
Until last year.
I was already up working when I saw my mum’s name on my phone at 8am on a Saturday morning, not long after the season had started. I knew why she was phoning. I didn’t need to answer it to know, because why else is my mum phoning me at 8am on a Saturday morning?
I was at the hospital by 8.30am.
My cousin had just turned 41. Her daughter was about to do her A levels, her son his transfer test for secondary school. They’d just recently moved into their dream house. The night before she died, her husband had told her he’d got the promotion she’d pushed him to go for.
He was with her when she went, that Saturday morning, along with her mum and dad.
We’re a small immediate family and me and my sister grew up with her and her two brothers as if we were siblings. Me and her eldest brother were especially close, only five months separating us in age and a few years together as the first grandkids.
As we all grew up, football was core to our lives, a family event with us all heading to Irish League matches every weekend, season ticket holders one and all.
At her funeral, they played Abide With Me.
This Saturday, as Emeli Sande sang from the roof of the stadium, I had to leave the room. It was too late. I still heard enough to trigger a response, so as Arsenal kicked off in the FA Cup Final, I had tears in my eyes.
The match ended that way, too, if I’m honest.
As I said at the start, football, for most of us, is a distraction. It’s a place away from real life that gives us, hopefully, a little joy and meaning, something to believe in that has no real world consequences.
For me, that made this season doubly frustrating because I desperately needed Arsenal to be that for me, a distraction away from the grief and an outlet to channel my anger.
But they were so f*cking boring it was impossible to feel any sort of extreme emotion about anything they did. Even when Granit Xhaka told us all to f**k off, did you really care?
They turned up, played, bored us all, lost. Even the ridiculous officiating that dominated the season until the final game didn’t properly irk until Mikel Arteta took over and it felt like we had something worth caring about again.
And then along came the spider. Or bat. Or whatever it was that led to the world closing down.
But everybody got bored of being at home with nothing to distract them. The government got bored of having to pretend to give a shit about any of us and got back to sending us all into the herd while they give peerages to family members and Russians who help them win elections.
But we did, at least, get football back as a distraction or else I wouldn’t be here boring you with this 19/20 Arsenal season review.
Thank goodness for that, eh?
Bring it on, 20/21. We’re ready for you this time.