I saw the old fellow sitting hunched against the wind on a bench in Finsbury Park. He wore a long brown raincoat with a red and white knitted scarf knotted snugly against his scrawny neck, a well worn and faded Arsenal base ball cap, pulled down to protect his balding skull, left only a few stray grey hairs protruding from around the edges.
His faded blue eyes gazed vacantly in the direction of the magnificent Emirates Arena, the weathered and wrinkled skin of his face bore testament to the years spent on the old open terraces of the long gone Highbury Stadium watching, sometimes with joy sometimes with despair but always with hope, his beloved Arsenal.
His fists suddenly clenched convulsively he half rose from his seat, his right arm raising before slumping back on the bench, a single tear appeared in his eye as he relived a missed scoring chance in some long gone long forgotten First Division game. He shivered as the February wind gusted around him and he stuffed his hands deep in his pockets.
I sat down beside him and said “it’s cold today” he jerked and stared around him as if waking from a dream, he looked blankly at me for a moment and then mentally shook himself and returned to the present, “Oh”, he said “I’ve known it colder and at least it’s dry”. I offered him the cup of coffee I’d just bought, he took it gratefully and sipped some of the hot liquid, a hint of colour crept into his pale face.
I asked what he was doing here on such a lousy day, “what else is there to do, I can’t sit about all day at home and there’s no football today”. “No mates” I asked. He gave a mournful sigh and replied “most of them have gone and those not dead are in some bloody care home or another”. “I got chucked out of one last week, me and an old Barney were having a right good laugh when the old dragon who runs the place told us to keep the noise down because we were disturbing the other clients”. “Disturbing this lot” I said, It would need a doodlebug dropping to wake some of them up”. “Well” she said “this facility is only open to my clients and you’re a disruptive influence so I must ask you to leave”.
He lapsed into silence and sipped his coffee. “How long have you been going to Arsenal matches?” I asked. “ About as long as I can remember” he said as a far away look came into his eyes. “My dad used to hide me under his mac and smuggle me in, must have been when I was about five I suppose” he said. “if there was a real crowd in I’d get passed overhead right down to the front. You were only a few feet away from the players boots. It was smashing”. His face lit up briefly at the memory but the smile quickly faded as he went on “Course the war put a stop to that, it put a stop to my dad too, he never came home from Dunkirk”.
In an effort to break the spell I asked “do you still go to matches?” “Well” he said “I still go to the ground and I wander around and watch the crowds enjoying themselves but I can’t afford a ticket and I’m too big to hide under anyone’s coat now” he shrugged resignedly. “so I go and sit in the pub and watch it on tele but it’s not the same somehow”.
It was starting to rain, the wind was getting stronger the old boy shivered. “Look” I said “meet me here at one o’clock next Saturday, I’ll have a spare ticket that you can have and we can watch the game together, how will that be?” His face lit up, a broad smile seemed to sweep away the wrinkles and the years with them. “Do you mean it? Really? He said. “Yes” I replied “I do mean it, we’ll go and watch Arsenal together” The rain was getting heavier, “alright I’ll meet you one o’clock next Saturday on this bench” he said as he got up and walked away in the rain, he looked back smiled brightly and waved, I gave him a thumbs up and turned away.
I got to the bench at a quarter to one, I waited till fifteen minutes to kick off, I watched the game with an empty seat beside me.
Written by Norfolk Gooner