Arsenal 2 Swansea 1: About a Boy
MY five and a half year old, quite sensibly, really couldn’t care which match was to be his first. I, however, was more particular. It couldn’t be in August and September because it could feel like summer and that would be just wrong. Mid February until the end of the season was out too because assuming we’re going to be out of the hunt by then, you can easily end up with that melancholic, half drunk atmosphere which I hate. So sometime between October and early February.
But obviously not any game kicking off at some completely non footballistic time – 12pm on a Sunday for example. Or 12.45 on a Saturday. Or 1.30pm on a Sunday. Or 7.45pm on a Friday.
And high profile opposition were out too – they could wait. A win would be nice but otherwise the construct in my head said there should be no distracting, memorable features about the day. It should be an occasion that he would never forget but almost everyone else in attendance easily would.
So Swansea at home it was.
We began with fish and chips at the Chip Inn on the Holloway Road, exactly as we had on the 14th October 1989. It’s barely changed. On that occasion the wide eyed children attending their first game were my brother and I. 28 years and 14 days later, we were accompanying my eldest to his.
From the fish and chips we crossed over the Holloway Road as we had all those years ago and set off along Drayton Park. Back then we had walked until we got to the pub, turned right up the hill and then left down to the family enclosure. The route, of course, was different this time.
I bought a programme for the first time in years. In the club shop he chose a scarf. In my jacket pocket was his cuddly lamb. Lamby rarely leaves the house nowadays but his presence had been pointedly requested. First day nerves.
We had a pre-game pee because nobody wants to be leaving their seat after 36 minutes. That said, 36 minutes into this game an enforced departure from pitch side would have been a blessed relief.
And then we walked in. I saw a very empty, songless stadium six minutes before kick-off. One look at his face told you he saw something very different.
The first half vomited itself up in front of us. Sometimes a game can go really badly. Sometimes it can be really boring. Rarely is it both. But this was bad and boring. Not that he knew.
I promised we’d improve after the break. We didn’t. Then suddenly we scored twice. We played OK from then on. Not one single player really excelled. And we won. The perfect day for the newcomer.
As for the game, had it been any more unmemorable it would have been in danger of becoming notorious for being so. Really, it had been a classic of its genre. The genre being a scrappy win against a struggling side on a Saturday afternoon in October.
It had been perfect for him and perfect for me too.