My personal Arsenal journey … and a taste for Marmite …

I was not a natural football supporter. I came from a middle-class south London Jewish family with no sporting pretensions. At primary school, all my friends supported the big teams of the time, though I doubt if they ever went to watch Manchester United, Tottenham or Wolverhampton in the flesh. Already one of life’s rebels at the age of six, I decided this was too easy, just following someone because they’re good, so I got hold of the current table, and started at the bottom of the list to work up. This was the Third Division North, and I soon arrived at Tranmere Rovers. I liked the name, they seemed appropriately about as unfashionable and unsuccessful as you can get, so I announced to the world that henceforth I was a Tranmere Rovers supporter.

Fast forward ten years, to an adolescent rugger bugger at public school. One Saturday, 6th September 1969 as it happens, I was hanging out with my mates Geoff and David and their girl friends, wondering what to do. Someone (not me!) suggested going to watch a football match, so we checked the paper and found that West Ham were at home. I remember a tediously long tube journey before we arrived at West Ham underground station. My first ever football match was to be… TARAH!! West Ham versus Tottenham Hotspur.

This was the beginning of the skinhead era, and we approached the old Boleyn ground cowering between hordes dressed identically in high Doc Martens, short jeans, t-shirts, and the signature hair. We shuffled through the nearest turnstile, and stood amid the intimidating army. The worst part however, was that they didn’t wear any colours, scarves, hats or other identifying paraphernalia. So we didn’t know who to cheer! That is, until Spurs scored, and those immediately around us went wild. Then of course, we cheered loudly for Spurs until the final whistle. They won 1 – 0.

My next forays into the closed world of Association Football were to Highbury.

I had a friend who lived at Highbury Barn, and he used to take me along to the odd match. Even then, I was aware of a different climate in and around the ground. I was at one Tottenham game where I witnessed from the East Stand the ravening pack of Spurs animals attempt to invade the North Bank. But otherwise it always seemed a more civilised, a more genteel environment, far more appropriate for this sheltered nincompoop from south London. I liked it at Highbury, I wanted Arsenal to win, but I could not yet call myself a supporter (I imagine that some of you, lifelong members of the tribe, would say that I still can’t).

Then it was off to university up north, where I followed York City through two promotions, and occasionally Leeds United, then in their pomp under Don Revie.

All this gave me a growing taste for attending football matches, so that when I returned to London, I decided that I needed to find a team to follow regularly. I should, of course, have headed straight for Highbury, but my liberal education informed that I should give everyone a chance – well, not literally everyone: I restricted myself to the First Division. I wanted to see what kind of experience each club provided. West Ham was the pits. The intimidation there still makes me shudder on dark wet nights. Chelsea pretended class, but were actually crass, and the toxic hatred was barely concealed by smart clothes.

Spurs were shabby and rather sad, like a retired colonel in India who got left behind when independence came. There was little atmosphere, and the streets around the ground… well, you know, don’t you. They still are. They did play pretty football though, with Hoddle and Ardiles in their ranks. Fulham was peaceful enough down by the Thames, but you had the feeling it would be rude to disturb them. Funnily enough, many years later when I was having a go playing rugby league, that was my home ground! QPR was by a long way my second favourite venue. They were doing very well at the time, managed by Dave Sexton and led by Gerry Francis. But such a small, out-of-date ground!

Finally, back to Highbury, where I at once felt at home. I had wasted most of a season coming to this conclusion, but Arsenal was for me, and I was thenceforth for Arsenal.

All of which chequered history leads me to believe that I have a different perspective from those who grew up hating Spurs and their fans. For one thing, I don’t find myself getting drawn along with the Zeitgeist. When Sanchez was the Saviour, all I could see was his selfishness and poor team dynamic. Olivier Giroud always made me laugh and cry simultaneously, with brilliant moments interspersed with barndoor banjo moments. Likewise, Laurent Koscielny, who I liked very much, although every intercession he made, my heart was in my mouth knowing how rash he could be. Now this unpleasant demonising of Mustafi, where a growing tide of hate from his own supporters is attempting to wash him out of the Emirates. For his sake, I hope he decides to go. I remember how down on Aaron Ramsey the crowd were, every time he came back from injury and took a while to get back up to speed. Suddenly, when he was leaving, he was lionised by those same fickle people. Jon Sammels was the same. He was my favourite Arsenal player at the time, but most of the crowd seemed to loathe him.

Time to stop this ramble. I was intending to write about “marmite” players, some of whom I’ve mentioned. But on reflection I find that an awful lot of players are marmite to me. That is, I suffer an internal conflict about them, loving and hating simultaneously. Each player, in their moment, brings happiness and frustration. Even Dennis used to, like when he showed his evil side tackling opponents. Danny Welbeck. I absolutely loved him. But his banjo was even smaller than Giroud’s. Then he scored THAT goal against Leicester in the ninety third minute. Sanchez, though I disliked his role in the team, scored and set up some absolutely wonderful goals. I could go on and on and on and on and… Side Show Bob (Mark One)? Well, let’s wait and see.

Maxwell

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36 Responses to My personal Arsenal journey … and a taste for Marmite …

  1. Thank you Max for a wonderful read. Some discover home by discarding the others and others are attracted immediately to the red and white.

    Very brave to disclose that you once stood and supported the other lot down the road ……. and at the Boleyn Ground!!!!!!

    There will always be ‘marmite’ players sadly, it’s the nature of supporting. Let’s see how many we end up with this season 😉

  2. VP of Oz says:

    A great read Maxwell, thoroughly enjoyed it.
    Not sure what Marmite is, maybe an imperial version of Vegemite:-)
    COYG!

  3. RockyLives says:

    What a marvellous essay Maxwell.

    Your description of the London grounds made me laugh (“Spurs were shabby and rather sad, like a retired colonel in India who got left behind when independence came… Fulham was peaceful enough down by the Thames, but you had the feeling it would be rude to disturb them…”). Quality writing.

    Funnily enough I think your circuitous route to joining the blessed ranks of Gunnerdom perhaps merits more respect than those of us who signed on through family tradition, proximity or whatever. In your case you made an almost scientific study before coming to the right conclusion. Bravo.

    What part of Sarf London did you grow up in (I speak as a fellow renegade from south of the Thames – Charlton in my case).

  4. RockyLives says:

    VP
    Yes – Marmite and Vegemite are very close relatives. Marmite is beef-derived but tastes sort-of similar.

    The thing is, people either love Marmite or hate it so it has entered the language as a way of describing something that divides opinion.

    Hence, of a player for example, saying “he’s a bit Marmite” means some fans love him others can’t stand him.

    We don’t have an exact equivalent for Lamingtons yet as far as I know…

  5. LBG says:

    Maxwell
    “Like a retired colonel in India…..”
    Pure quality, and sequenced at least, with my footie passion. (Jon Sammels was a favourite of mine for that peach of a shot). Cant say I was ever given any choice of allegiance, with a Father who would probably have had a heart attack if any of the Vines boys had shown interest in any other Club. Whose Arsenal Supporters Membership number was 00088 at the end of the 40’s. Or early family life in Canonbury (before it was posh).
    To be honest, never wanted any other allegiance. The lure of the red and white!
    Great to hear your story, sir.
    Marmite players, never had any myself!!🤣

  6. VP of Oz says:

    Vegemite is basically concentrated yeast extract made from beer.
    It too is distinct in taste but I believe Marmite in comparison is quite weak. Hence we would call english cricketers marmite.
    Thats not my opinion of course.

    As for Lamingtons, I’m more a pavlova type
    nothing beats a good parma and pav dinner

  7. VP of Oz says:

    apols for the cricket reference
    that was a rough rub

  8. Ricky smith says:

    So basically you got scared at Upton park and White Hart lane and found arsenal the most quiet and less scary great story

  9. Rasp says:

    Wonderful read, thanks Maxwell. You will have seen so many incarnations of the team through the years. Which was you favourite and what do you think of the emerging Unai era I wonder?

  10. Maxwell says:

    Good day everyone (I was going to say Good Morning, but remembered VP!). Thank you for kind comments. Actually having eaten both, they’re my Marmite, which is richer, and not my Vegemite which is lighter both in colour and flavour.

    Rocky, I was born about 200 yards from Wandsworth Prison. Spent the rest of my life trying to get in. Lovely architecture.

    LBG, membership number 88 is most impressive.

    As to my favourite team, Rasp, it’s funny the way each successive team seems to have supplanted the previous group. I feel immensely disloyal to the greatest manager, but if I had to choose just one, it would be George Graham’s 1988-89 vintage that won at Anfield.

    It’s more individual players that I retain affection for. Alan Sunderland, Dennis, Mesut,… Oh dear, don’t get me started.

  11. RockyLives says:

    Ricky
    If that’s how you read Maxwell’s story, it says more about you than it does about him.

  12. allezkev says:

    That was a really good read Maxwell, thoroughly enjoyed it, wish it had been longer actually.

    My Dads family are all Arsenal, out of Hoxton and my Mums family all Tottenham, out of Stoke Newington, but I was never confused, there was only one team for me and they were rubbish for most of my childhood so I wasn’t a trophy hunter.

    Jon Sammels was a favourite of mine, not sure why, I think he missed out on a League Championship medal by one game in 1971, you had to play 14 in those days to qualify, although I think the club got him a medal made in retrospect a few years later?

  13. allezkev says:

    That was a really good read Maxwell, thoroughly enjoyed it, wish it had been longer actually.

    My Dads family are all Arsenal, out of Hoxton and my Mums family all Tottenham, out of Stoke Newington, but I was never confused, there was only one team for me and they were rubbish for most of my childhood so I wasn’t a trophy hunter.

    Jon Sammels was a favourite of mine, not sure why, I think he missed out on a League Championship medal by one game in 1971, you had to play 14 in those days to qualify, although I think the club got him a medal made in retrospect a few years later?

    Opps, disappeared again, so reposted…

  14. GoonerB says:

    What a wonderfully written humorously satirical post Maxwell. Thank-you. Your journey to Arsenal supporter reads like a leading character in a Charles Dickens novel.

    No player for Arsenal should ever be subjected to abuse by fans, and should be supported once they pull on the famous top, however honest discussion regarding whether a player is up to the standard required I feel is fine.

    I don’t wish to rock your boat Rocky, but I always thought that Bovril was the beef extract one and Marmite was the yeast and vegetable one. I like both

    Essentially Vegemite is a bas–r-ised poor imitation of the original great marmite. Rumour has it that marmite didn’t sound right with an Aussie accent hence the creation of the vastly inferior Vegemite, which sounded better when spoken down under……sorry VP 🙂

    (only leg pulling in revenge for below the belt cricket references).

  15. RockyLives says:

    I think you’re right about Marmite GoonerB. No beef! My mistake.

  16. LBG says:

    What’s certain, GoonerB is an Australian cricketer who isn’t “marmite/vegemite” whatever you call the revolting stuff, is surely an anachronism!
    Morning VP.

  17. RA says:

    Count me in as another fascinated by your Maxwell in Wonderland, through the revolving doors.

    Like Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carol) you took us with you as you fell into a footballing fantasy world, trying to find the best tea team to support, probably complete with Mad Hatters, and other fans complete with anthropomorphic characteristics like the AA crowd. 🥺

    Fortunately, you avoided the White Queen and her acolytes down the road.

    Loved it Maxwell, and thank you for sharing it with us.

  18. GoonerB says:

    Ah, so there was a time when you didn’t mind the green hatted cricketers LBG. At what point did your feelings become anachraic? I don’t think that’s even a word but if Redders is going to bugger off so unceremoniously then this is what you get.

  19. GoonerB says:

    Oooh, as I write…..he’s back everyone. I can ditch the long words now. 2 syllables at most for me.

  20. RA says:

    GB,

    Were you thinking of ‘anarchic’, you sweet thing?

    It means – ‘devoid of rules leading to disorder’.

    Rather like my attempts at humor — speaking of which, I must stop grinning like a Cheshire Cat and disappear before Susie Q gets here.

    How’s that for anthropomorphic? 😎

  21. LBG says:

    GoonerB
    Anytime after the body line series and before I was born, there must have been one acceptable one. Bradman wasnt a bad chap!

  22. LB says:

    Great read.
    Appreciated even more from this pool with the Alps as the back drop.

  23. Mike M says:

    Gooner B you took the marmite words right out of my mouth !!! Vegemite being the poor relation imitation and all !! Anyways morning all. Maxwell I have many Spuds stories. Hopefully one day we can share. But thankfully never supported them! Still feeling pretty upbeat about the start to the season. Busy but content. Nice to see Rocky back. As I said, I often visited this site in years gone by and enjoyed reading his stuff. As far as the next couple of games, it’s going to be very interesting since as we’ve said, Sunday’s team was a very familiar one giving a very unfamiliar performance !! So what’s different? Willock for sure but maybe without getting the credit or acknowledgement, how about Callum Chambers?? Nelson for Iwobi but as good as he was, similar to what I would have expected. So for me, CC abd JW seemed to make the difference and the overall attitude seemed better. Hard to imagine that you couldn’t get motivated for the new season however.
    So on to Burnley. Caution imo will be integrating a couple of new faces into the side and hoping we start well with that in mind. Line up will be tuf to predict but I see the back 4 staying the same. Hope UE didn’t guarantee Luiz playing time !!
    Can’t wait for Saturday 6.30 am !!!!!!!!!! Go Gooooooners !!!!!!!

  24. Maxwell says:

    I couldn’t come on yesterday to respond to a real piece of journalism by Rocky. I dealt with the Emery issue a few posts ago. I don’t much like him. But I have to say I thought the team was well set-up at Newcastle. The first thing that surprised me was how Bruce organised his team as if they were away from home. The next thing that struck me was that Willock is the real deal. Early on, Shelvey was trying to bully him, but he was really combative. My man of the match was Guendouzi (sorry Fred), who on this evidence looks much more a first team player than last season. I never felt that nervous about the outcome, and I was especially impressed after we scored, how tight we stayed. Basically, I support everything Rocky said.

    RA, I thought GB meant archaic, but only he will know.

  25. GoonerB says:

    Don’t be silly Mawell, I have no idea what I am talking about 🙂 I will leave it all to your own interpretations.

    Anyway, sadly may be a bit sparse for a bit, holiday period and all that, but will comment when I can.

  26. RA says:

    Maxwell,

    You said — ” I thought GB meant archaic, but only he will know.”

    You could be correct, of course.

    I was trying to help out GB, my fellow camel lover, as he was addressing a fellow blogger — and ‘archaic’ meaning ‘old-fashioned or outmoded’ might not have suited. 😁

  27. Sue says:

    I really enjoyed reading that, Maxwell!! Spot on!
    Glad you went with the Arsenal 😁👍

  28. Maxwell says:

    Sorry RA. Describes me pretty well.

  29. RockyLives says:

    Perhaps it was meant to be “anachronistic” but no-one uses that word these days do they?

  30. LBG says:

    Sorry for starting it all folks! I was sure GoonerB was trying to say he enjoys the “craic”, which the Vines Bros would testify to!!

  31. Sue says:

    Eddie has just scored for Leeds 👍 Pretty good game, so far!

  32. LBG says:

    Looks like one or two biggish names might be going out in Europa Cup.

  33. Sue says:

    So, some Celtic fans were harping on about Tierney, saying joining us is a step down because we’re a Europa League team…….😂😂
    What’s the betting we draw them?!

  34. Rasp says:

    Morning all …

    … New post …

  35. fred1266 says:

    When’s the draw sue

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