Ian Camlett explains the reasons why we all ought to speak slowly when we find ourselves communicating with Arsenal fans.
Even as a child I tended to speak more slowly when talking to Arsenal supporters. It wasn’t contrived; it just happened. A little like the way adults tend to speak gibberish when attempting to converse with toddlers. It just seems to be the natural thing to do.
Born and bred in Stoke Newington, just a fifteen minute walk to Highbury, I was the only Chelsea supporter for miles around. Physically and mentally abused by them I should have felt fear and shame but I felt more like Gulliver being attacked by thousands of Lilliputians. I was a mental giant amongst midgets and revelled in the attention I received.
In those days, the early 1960s, neither they, nor we, were particularly good. Tottenham were the team who lauded it over all others and a truly superb Spurs side won the double in 1961. We were in transition having recently lost Jimmy Greaves to the lure of the Lire and a young Chelsea side was rebuilding under Docherty. Arsenal were average at best. The only thing that has remained unchanged in the almost 40 years that have passed since then is the absolute, unadulterated thickness of the average Gooner. The fact is, no matter how many matches they attend, and no matter how long they follow football, they are totally ignorant of the finer points of the game. I used to think it was genetic but it is in fact an acquired trait. Put simply, supporting Arsenal necessitates a total abdication of meaningful analysis. In its place is a boorish smugness, a total lack of humility, and a complete absence of class. Arguing with an Arsenal supporter is a little like attempting to swim up the Niagara Falls; very tiring and ultimately futile.
I went to school at William Ellis in Highgate. I was one of just three Chelsea supporters at the school. There were many Arsenal supporters but the three most vociferous were Dave Burden, Ken Witham and Geoff ‘Jumbo’ Hale. They were North Bank boys and probably still are. The last time I saw the three of them they were all unemployed, single and living in council flats with fairly lengthy police records. The other two Chelsea supporters are both in the legal profession one a Judge and the other a QC. I think that tells us something about the relative intellectual capacities of the individuals. The interesting thing was all six of us were in the same Hampstead and District League football team, Fleet United. The rest of the team were a mixture of supporters including one guy who supported Dunfermline. We never asked him why. Anyway Ken Witham was actually a superb footballer and, on that basis, he was made captain. His father, another Gooner, became coach. He spent the first three coaching sessions attempting to teach us the offside trap; need I say more? We never won a single game as I recall until we sacked his dad and replaced him with a guy called Peter Drabwell who played as an amateur with Hendon. For the remainder of the season we were unbeaten.
I now live in Sydney, Australia but remain a Chelsea fanatic. Several years ago I took my Toyota in for a service and it turned out the mechanic was an Arsenal supporter. I spoke briefly (and slowly) to him about football and that was that. I picked up my car and left. He was erased from my memory banks the moment I drove out his workshop. When Kanu scored the third of his goals against us many years later – the match was live on cable TV – I threw my coffee cup through my lounge room window. My son and I were distraught. The phone rang. I picked it up to hear what sounded like the braying of an ass at the other end. Laughter and ridicule poured down the phone. “Who the hell are you?” I asked. “I’m your mechanic, don’t you remember?” was the reply. This cretin had kept my number and waited almost three years to call me and laugh down the phone at my distress; a guy he had spoken to for just s few brief minutes many years before. Who else but a Gooner could stoop that low?
That is why I have a special loathing for Arsenal supporters that far exceeds any negative feelings I have towards Manure or Spurs fans. That is why beating them is so important to me and why the last few years have been hell. Surely it is about time justice was seen to be done and we walk away with the three points. You see I have that mechanic’s home number now and my fingers are itching to get dialing at 4am on a Sydney Sunday morning. It won’t only be the kookaburras that he will hear laughing, that I can assure you!