Global Gooner Passion Tour India – Part 2
Welcome back to ‘1nildown 2oneup’ as the Global Gooner Passion tour of India continues with today’s Part 2 . I am delighted after Adi to introduce my second guest writer from India, Akhilesh Bagri, who approached me when he saw on Facebook that I was intending to take my tour to the sub-continent. I have asked Akhilesh to set up a twitter account (@AkhileshBagri) should you wish to respond to this stunning article, or of course you can use the comments section. I will not ramble on because I am keen for you to just enjoy the genius of this piece of writing, but just ask you to remenber this: Akhilesh is only 17 and writing in a second language and I hope you are blown away as I was. Remember the title “In every way, and every day, I win a little bit more with Arsenal,” and look out for these words in the blog, as they are his and not mine……
Hi guys, I’m Akhilesh Bagri, a 17 year old Indian Gooner from Mumbai, looking to share the experiences I’ve encountered on the wonderful journey I’ve been on for the last 10 years, with perhaps the first love of my life, Arsenal FC, while also slightly covering the emergence of football in India.
This article is very general, heartfelt and gauche, devoid of any statistics, numbers or facts, but stocked up on emotion, passion, and deep sentiments. The article has no statistical accuracy or one particular direction (no pun intended), it goes zig zag and haywire, but hey, that’s how the journey is.
A Humble Beginning, a Combination Winning
I must caution you before I start, There isn’t a stunning back-story to how I fell in love with the wonder that is Arsenal FC, in fact, the buildup is quite mundane , bizarre and pedestrian, but special all the same to me. I’ve written it without any frills or sophistication, as I wanted to portray the real story as to how I became a Gooner, no matter how embarrassing the reasons were. Here we go;
It all began in 2002. Being a 7 year old in a predominantly cricket crazed nation (holds true today as well), I got my hands on this cracked version of FIFA 2002. I couldn’t care less that the game provided only one fixture due to its glitched programming, but in hindsight, this is where it began for me. The fixture was Arsenal v Manchester United. Knowing absolutely zilch about either of these clubs, or as a matter of fact, football itself, I was happy enough to pick any of them while playing the same fixture in multiples of 20 each day. Funny thing is there was a 50% chance I’d be a red horned arrogant little dimwit today with a pitchfork and little or no brains. A narrow escape!
Henry EA Sports FIFA 2002 thank you!
I took a liking to the game as you can infer from the number of times I played the bloody fixture, but one player tilted the scales completely, Thierry Henry. I know thousands of us Indian gooners have been smitten by Arsenal FC starting with the infatuation we had with this crisp confident French perfectionist. The bizarre thing is I fell in love with Henry and Arsenal FC (yes Henry was the reason I started following Arsenal FC years later), EVEN BEFORE WATCHING THEM PLAY ON TELEVISION. It would be a year before I watched a live Arsenal FC match. And when I did, oh la la, it was like the figure in the game came to life, trickery, pace, vision, commandeering, perfection. And then my focus shifted to the other 10 players on the pitch, as a team, I had never seen such seamless transitioning, such crisp and ruthless finishing, such intricate passing before (Cricket isn’t so aesthetically pleasing). I was hooked, hooked bad. I was 8 at the time, and even subscribed to the notion that the team is named after this guy called Arsene something, (I didn’t factor in that ‘Will the name change when the next manager comes in?’ You see at 8, we think freely and with certain naïve logic.) To be quite honest, my nickname for Thierry Henry for the first 2 years was ‘the guy with the big head’. I believed he could score headers from both sides of his massive gleaming glorious cranium.
Pires, Ljungberg, Gilberto, Bergkamp, Lehmann, Campbell slowly and steadily became more dear to me than Laxman, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Kumble, Singh and co (still love Dravid). These names became indigenous to my vocabulary, and like a squirrel, I started gathering up acorns of Arsenal tidbits and building my knowledge base.
Not digressing too much, what I’d like to dispel is this myth that Indian Gooners are glory hunters (?), bandwagoners, and just lazed hormonal teens trying to act cool in a society by supporting a team which is unknown in terms of heredity, and a sport which is disregarded in many circles. NO NO NO.
As you could understand very well from my own story, the reasons for my becoming an Arsenal fan were completely circumstantial, majorly juvenile (c’mon I was 7!), and quite simple to be honest. But trust me when I say that I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’d like to think it was meant to be, I’m a romantic like that, I mean for the thousands of us, and it all began in similar meek and modest ways and reasons, which led to a blooming beautiful love story, after the initial period of courtship.
Today I identify myself with the values, principles and ideals of the club, the manager and the institution. Today, I like to believe that I’m a knowledgeable Arsenal fan through and through, and that no other Gooner from any part of the world can say otherwise (honestly why should we infighting, we have enough idiocy from the rival bandwagoners). Today, I know I’ve paid my dues, and am proud to say if there is a rite of passage that requires us foreign Gooners to be classified as real fans, then hell yeah, all of us have been through it.
As Arsenal maniacs, we cry, we scream, we fight, we shout, we eat, breathe, live and crave Arsenal. We take heartbreaks just as hard, are known to go crazy on a regular basis depending on how our team does, and all harbor the dream of being there in person one day. To take it all in, to finally satisfy the hunger we’ve had since the day we fell into this beautiful trap (Arsenal takes first priority on all my weekends, for some reason the people close to me mind.. hmm, wonder why). I’m sure any Indian Gooner will tell you how we imagine passing with Arteta, collecting a lob from Song, chesting it down, passing it back to Theo and making a run in and scoring a golazo. Sometimes we go vintage, and imagine it with Bastin and co too. Sure enough, we’ll be there one day, and quench our thirst and famish, but only momentarily, because if we had our way, we’d be camping in the stands, showering in the dressing room area, and chasing Gunnersaurus all day long, I love my Green buddy, I do.
How do I end? I would go on all day if I had my way, but hey, let’s be limited, and also .. my fingers hurt a bit, so to sum up – Over the past 10 years, football has become really big in India, so big, that I will boldly say that this generation has more footie fans than cricket fans. Among the big boys of the EPL, Manchester United and Chelsea have a lion’s share of the fanbase here, coupled with Barca and Madrid fans. However Arsenal and Liverpool have the most loyal and best quality of support, by a margin. India is growing as a footballing nation, slowly, but surely. As Indian Gooners, we’re a tight bunch, constantly upgrading ourselves with our glorious heritage, keeping tabs on the current affairs, and jumping like little school girls before every game. At least a third of time online is spent on, for, and with Arsenal. We banter and banter and banter some more, love giving stick to clueless United fans, and feel really proud to be part of this great club each in our own little way, in each of our own little ways, we all are a very very small, but a very very integral part of Arsenal FC.
It all started with a humble beginning, and look how it turned out, into a combination winning. And as most of you all know, with the added revenue we’re set to have and the advent (fingers crossed) of the FFP around the same period, we’ll be finally able to compete financially with the big boys and on an even playing field, our Wenger boys will devour opposition. I can’t tell you how excited I am as me and my Arsenal enter the prime of our lives together in the next few years.
But what’s so humble in your beginning?
I can’t speak for all of us Indian Gooners, but I’d say at least a sizeable part of us started following Arsenal for simple, unpretentious, innocuous reasons. We weren’t raised as Gooners or football fanatics as is the case in Britain and other football crazy countries. We took little steps never knowing they’d lead us where we are today. There’s no big back-story to how we became die hard Gooners, but the journey has been the reward. When we started, unlike British Gooners, we didn’t know what we were getting into, and whether we’d still like the team 10 years onward. It’s quite amazing how thousands of miles away something connects and we fall in love with a team, and with this level of passion. For me it was a FIFA CD, for some others it’ll be something else, like the kit colour, the first team on top of the table when the season starts, the logo, anything. It begins innocuously, humbly, and unassumingly, but today, we’re all seasoned Gooners and on par with any other.
What I’d like to stress on is that we began following due to clumsy reasons, but God Bless those clumsy reasons as they are why we’re here, why I’m writing this article today, and why you’re taking time out to read it. I couldn’t have possibly known I’d be so smitten on that summer day of 2002.
How exactly is this ‘A Combination Winning? Or did I just use it to give the title a rhyming scheme?
Well, err, the second part does stand true, I did try to sound lyrical? But in all seriousness, there’s more substance to it than anything else.
Combination winning because today being a Gooner in India, trophy less for 7 years, all of us has gained much more than anyone could imagine. While our rival ‘fans’ were bantering with us and giving us endless stick, we didn’t have many trophies to talk about, so what did we do? We made groups, communities, and started learning together. We started reading up on Arsenal, the game itself, we learnt about Victoria Concordia Crescit; we imbibed it into our lives. The endless bantering taught us that we need to pick our battles, Arsene Wenger’s philosophy taught us that “If you can’t believe you can do it, then you can’t do it at all’, we made a quote book of 100+ of his brilliant quotes, we learnt all about Highbury, and when we learnt all we had to with regards to Sir Herbert Chapman and the roaring 30’s, we went back and learnt some more about Sir Henry Norris.
Norris took us to Highbury in 1913 & Chapman managed Arsenal to glory in 30s
Today, most of us Indian Gooners, I’d say at the cost of immodesty, have a vast bank of knowledge, trivia and understanding of the game and Arsenal FC. We’ve grown so much in the last 5 years, and Arsenal has always been the constant in our lives through thick and thin, it taught us to choose the right way over the easy way. It taught us nothing is impossible with The Invincibles, it taught us love is unconditional with Arsene Wenger’s loyalty, and it has taught us to never stop believing by overturning a 13 point gap on that small shadow in some crook of North London. We learnt what a stadium shift means,how crucial a part it is our history and how thankful we should be to be witnessing it. Most of all we have learnt to be patient. The 8-2 taught us perseverance, and to be there for each other when one of us felt dejected and to never back down. Arsenal makes me believe there is yet some good in the world, they make me smile, what more does a boy need?
So in a way, and a weird way, just like my story is, especially in the last 7 years, Arsenal fans haven’t been rich in silverware, trophies or glory per se, but we have all been richer in thought, word and deed; we have been winning in each and every year of being an Arsenal fan if we look at it through this obtuse angle, and our humble beginnings, are indeed a combination winning. And as we finally reach the pinnacle of the curve, slowly but surely, we can’t tell you how excited we are to usher in the prime of our life, along with Arsenal’s 🙂
“In every way, and every day, I win a little bit more with Arsenal.”
Thank you for this opportunity Dave, for letting me babble on for so long, and thank you readers, for letting me share my story with you, I know I’ve been pretty incoherent and the post lacks cohesion which is much uncharacteristic for an esteemed blog like Dave’s, but when I was asked to write what it is like to be a Gooner, a barrage of emotions came rushing through and this perplex pandemonium is a result of the overwhelming experience it is to be a Gooner.
With Love from India,
So much wisdom in one so young! I was moved so much by this writing as well as the maturtiy and reflective nature of the message. Many of us closer to the Emirates can learn from this teenager in Mumbai as I know I have.
Until next time thanks for reading and back to India soon. It is Indian Independence Day on the 15th so a perfect week to explore and pay tribute to their love for Arsenal FC.
If you missed Part 1 of Global Gooner Passion India click here http://1nildown2oneup.net/indian-global-gooner-passion-part-1-setting-the-scene/
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