I have had a short break from my travels to get it wrong with Joel Campbell, review England and Arsenal players with @yorkshiregunner and endeavour to shake up the motivational music at the Emirates. Then I was interrupted by the rudeness and ill-consideration of RVP. So now I am back to the ‘1nildown 2oneup’ Global Gooner Passion tour and this time we are visiting Australia to hear, not from the official Arsenal Australia Supporters club, but from one Aussie Gunner. Please check out http://arsenalaustralia.com.au/ if you are visiting during the season, but I am not seeking to hear about ex-pats who have exported their support, but more why someone born and bred in Australia would be quite so passionate about our great club? Surely it would be easier to follow a team who you can watch during the day and not in the middle of the night? Any way enough of my introductions let’ s discover what it takes to be a ‘Gunner down under’ from Deon Sharp – known to many on twitter as @Gunnersharpy……
Hi my name is Deon Sharp and I am a passionate, yet superstitious Australian born and bred Arsenal supporter and this is my story.
My Early Years
Growing up in a small rural town with a population of 15,oo in the 70s, dominated by Aussie Rules football, my knowledge on English football was non-existent. In an era before the introduction of the internet, twitter and pay TV, had it not been for my Dutch grandfather, my love of Arsenal FC would never have taken hold and grown.
As I approach 40, looking back a lot of his passion for sport has rubbed off on me. He was a sports fanatic and Arsenal was his team in England and with me being very young and not knowing anything about the round ball game, I became a Gooner!
I remember watching weekly snippets of English games, but what I remember most from my early years was watching the FA Cup final with my grandfather, or as I called him Poppa.
Given the time difference, the final would kick off at 11.30pm, so the normal ritual was to go to bed a bit earlier and wake just in time to watch the game then go back to bed. I can’t really remember the 1979 final win by Arsenal, but from that point onwards I watched the final every year.
Unfortunately Pop, (such was his passion for the Arsenal he even built a gate with corrugated iron sheets and painted it with red and white stripes) passed away in 1989, so we didn’t get to see the next victory together in 1993.
After completing University in the mid 90s I moved to Adelaide and not being content with reading about Arsenal in the papers or internet, I subscribed to Pay TV in 1998 to be able to watch Arsenal matches.
The early years of Pay TV in Oz, basically saw 3 or 4 games maximum televised over a weekend. Arsenal were and still are one of the top 4 teams supported in Oz along with Man U, Chelsea and Liverpool, so it meant I would be able to watch 28-30 games a year live.(Editors note – Nigeria, Norway, Kenya, Russian and now Oz and no one abroad supports Tottenham.) In the first 5 years of having the subscription television option, I think I only missed watching 4 televised Arsenal games, most of which involved attending weddings or unavoidable parties!
Being an Arsenal supporter in Australia requires dedication and most Aussie Gooners learn to live with minimal sleep during an EPL season. Depending on which state you live in and the time of the year, it’s not uncommon to go to bed early on a Sunday night, set the alarm for 2.15am watch a game and try and go back to sleep at 4.30am, before getting back up for work on a Monday morning. A win over one of the big 3 teams or loss to one of the strugglers at 4.30am can make going back to sleep difficult, but when you love a team as much as Arsenal you learn to cope.
Pay TV these days in Australia is very good for Arsenal supporters, with nearly all our EPL games being televised so with an annual subscription cost of approximately $720 (£400) it’s a reliable way of witnessing the highs and lows of our beloved red and white heroes.
2001 a Trip to the UK
In 2001 my wife and I made our first trip overseas and no trip to Europe would be complete without seeing an Arsenal match. I made desperate pleas with Arsenal to try and buy tickets, but much to my disappointment I was unable to buy a ticket.
I purchased tickets over the net for the last game of the season which would also be the last ever game held at The Dell versus Southampton.
The day we flew to England Arsenal was playing in the FA Cup final against Liverpool. I was praying that we would arrive in the morning to news that Arsenal had won and that I would arrive to see a street parade through North London. Unfortunately things didn’t go to plan and I was more than a little disappointed to hear the news we had lost.
After getting over the flight from Oz on Sunday, the first place I wanted to visit on Monday was Highbury and do the stadium tour, however that would not be without complication.
We caught the tube up to Arsenal station and got to place I had waited a life time to visit. Initially we were advised we could join one of the tours, however ten minutes before the tour commenced the doorman advised could not join the tour as had not pre-purchased tickets.
Gutted, by the news we headed towards the merchandise store, to buy some souvenirs. By some stroke of luck out of nowhere, the same person we had initially spoke spotted us walking away from the stadium. After discussing what had happened he promptly took us into the stadium where we paid our admittance and we were in the inner sanctum – I can still remember it like it was yesterday.
Saturday came around pretty quickly but delivery of our tickets which we had paid 250 pounds had still not been delivered by 9am, so the stress levels were through the roof. Fortunately by 10am they were delivered and we able to get to Southampton on time for the game.
Our seats were great, amongst the Arsenal fans and I could believe how much noise and support they gave the team, it was truly an amazing experience. Although the gunners lost that day 3-2 it was a fantastic to finally see a live game.
Given my passion for the Arsenal it was a foregone conclusion that when I had children they would be Arsenal supporters. This was further strengthened by the fact that my first son was born only days before Arsenal won the 2002 FA Cup and my second son was born in 2004 when Arsenal went undefeated.
One of my oldest son’s first sentences was in reference to Thierry Henry. He would say ‘Henry put ball in back of net’. (Sounds like Sasha Lvova!)
Introducing Jacob and Joshua Sharp
They are now hooked like myself and it’s not uncommon into the early hours of Sunday morning to hear them excitedly cheering a goal or great save, which most times will result in my wife being woken from a deep sleep.
My aim is to be able to take them to England in the next 12 – 24mths to witness first hand a game hopefully for all of us it will be at the Emirates where they can see the outpouring of love that transpires when an Arsenal player scores a goal.
I mentioned early that I am a superstitious supporter. On game day, I normally ensure that eat the same brand of cereal and have a cup of tea from my Arsenal mug.
Early in the undefeated 2003-2004, in a match that Arsenal was losing I grabbed a drink of water at half time and somehow we won the match. From that point onwards during the season I ensured that before each game I would grab the same glass and fill it with water. Obviously it had nothing to do with me that we had such a successful season but given that the ritual was working I didn’t want to upset the football gods!
FA Cup Final 2005
Given my love of the FA Cup, in 2005 as Arsenal was heading towards the business end of the competition I thought you only live once perhaps I should investigate whether it might be possible to get tickets to go to the final, assuming Arsenal made it.
I had plenty of frequent flyer points through work related travel, however Arsenal still had to win a 6th round tie versus Bolton and a semi final. Having overcome Bolton and drawing Blackburn in the semi, I booked my flight. I now had to wait on two things, beat Blackburn and then try and secure a ticket.
The first hurdle was easy as the gunners won 3-0 but the second was not so easy. Initially I contacted Arsenal to see if I could purchase a ticket either at face value, but they advised it was members only.
I contacted sports radio programmes, internet sites, other football clubs in the premier league, the Australia Football Federation you name it, but all to no avail.
The last place I would try would be a Sports travel agency, as I thought they would be far too expensive. That was an understatement; the price was horrendous £400, which at the time was $1000 in Aussie cash, for a ticket that had a face value of 50 pounds. There was no coach or train ticket included no drink or food package. At that price there was no way I could afford to go or so I thought.
Luckily upon speaking to my Dad and mentioning how keen I was to go he said if you can get a ticket he would pay for the ticket.
My wife agreed it was a once in a lifetime opportunity (even though she still occasionally reminds me that I left her home with two kids under 4) so I purchased the ticket.
Arriving in the UK, on Monday I had been advised that the ticket would be sent to the address that I was stopping at in the UK on Wed and when it got to the Thursday before the game and there was no ticket, I rang the agency and demanded an answer.
To be able to travel with the Arsenal supporters from Highbury I had to have proof of a ticket. It was 2001 all over again. Luckily on the Friday the agency obtained all of the tickets and I was able to go and pick up the ticket and then catch the tube over to Arsenal, show my ticket and buy a ticket to Cardiff.
The last step was to get to Highbury by some ridiculously early time on the morning of the game from the East End. I had to walk a couple of kilometres to the West Ham tube station, around 5.30am (let’s just say there are some shady characters around at that time of the morning and the thought of getting robbed went through my mind more than once), then make my way over to the Piccadilly line to the awaiting coach, there could be no room for train delays or strikes or I was fucked to put it in plain English.
Thankfully everything went like clockwork and when I got out of the station and saw the awaiting coaches, decked out with red and white streamers – I had a tear in my eye, a sense of relief that in 6hrs time I would be at the final cup seeing my beloved Arsenal play ManUre.
On the bus, a guy introduced himself to me and said his name was Paul, and he had been a long time season ticket holder. Hearing that I had an Aussie accent and was on my Pat Malone, he suggested when we got to Cardiff we could hit a few pubs for a few pints. The Paul in question was none other than @PaulPonting.
Sharpy with new pal @Paulponting (Centre)
After an hour or two in the pub we headed to the stadium and went to our separate seats. My seat was in the nose bleed section and although it was in the Arsenal section it was 10 metres from the Manchester Utd supporters.
The guys that were sitting next to me where neither fans of Arsenal or Man U, they were Swansea fans and were very keen to stir the hell out of the United fans about being taken over by the Glazers. The friendly banter got out of hand and it appeared that it might be the longest 90 mins of my life, with Man U fans trying to get into our area to kill the Swansea fans and anyone else.
For those that remember the game, it was a game that Arsenal really had no right to win, Henry was out injured, we didn’t create many chances and Dennis Bergkamp up front on his own was hard to watch.
Manchester’s dominance was so strong that early in the 2nd half of the match, (and I am not a religious person) I looked to the sky and prayed that if somehow we could win the game, I would not be too fussed given the level of success I was accustomed to over the previous 8rs if we didn’t win a trophy for a couple of years. (I only said a couple of years not 7yrs or more!!)
After 120 mins when Vieira stepped up and slotted home the winning penalty, the cost and stress of getting the tickets and getting to Cardiff was forgotten about – I had just witnessed live seeing Arsenal beat Manchester Utd in the FA Cup final, a memory to stay with me for life.
Favourite moments and players
Perhaps like many supporters my favourite player over the last twenty years is Thierry Henry. Watching him week in week out on TV score some of the most amazing goals and at times single handily win games I often wished that I was a season ticket holder sit in the stadium with all of the rest of the gooner family as opposed to watching the game 16,000 km away.
I remember running around my lounge room in 2000 when he scored ‘that goal’ against Manchester Utd. He terrorised Leeds when he scored 4 in 2004 and the goal he scored vs. Liverpool when he went through their defence like a knife through butter in the ‘Invincible’s’ season still amazes me.
Favourite Player Golden Moment
One of my favourite moments was when Tony Adams scored the goal to win the 1997-98 title, his celebration after the goal will long live in my memory bank.
Other stuff and 2012-13
I think I speak for a lot of Australian supporters when I say we just can’t work it out when fans leave the ground early, especially when the game is in the balance. The amount of goals over the last few years Arsenal have scored late in the game and thousands of fans have already left the ground really is annoying. Given how hard it is to get tickets to a home game, it really is a privilege that should be embraced.
One thing that is very apparent about our club is that we have great supporters. I mentioned earlier that I met @PaulPonting on my FA Cup travels in 2001 and we have remained good friends ever since, during which time he sent me match day programmes, gifts for my kids and we have shared plenty of text messages, emails and phone calls. Via joining twitter I have made friendships with Gooners not only in Australia but all over the world and I recommend any Arsenal supporter joining twitter.
Regarding the 2012-13 season given that the club has been very active early in the transfer window in signing Podolski and Giroud, with more signings and trimming of the deadwood to come, I am very confident that our trophy drought will end this coming season.
Thanks so much Deon for sharing your journey to Goonerdom and from us all can I say thanks to ‘Pops’ It has been wonderful to once again here about what it involved being a Gooner across the world and in the case of Austrlia the dedication and lack of sleep patterns that it can cause. Please ensure you follow Deon @Gunnersharpy and expand his ever increasing band of followers from the worldwide Gooner Family.
Next stop for me is the land of Samba
Until next time thanks for reading:
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