the endless ride of Arsenal fandom

I saw my friend post an Instagram story from the Camp Nou where he was taking in tonight’s friendly between Barcelona and Arsenal in the Trophy Joan Gamper.

After looking up the opener from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on Twitter, followed by the howler of an own goal from Ainsley Maitland-Niles, I was shocked to learn that next week the Premier League begins again in earnest. Some of the players are only just back from international involvements but the wheel keeps on turning and the worldwide Premier League pantomime must begin anew.

I’m a long term Arsenal fan and have long accepted the seesawing between the thrilling, innovative play that used to be a regular characteristic of the team and the staggering incompetence that lurches into the frame equally regularly these days.

Last season was split in two - the opening half of the year was oddly brilliant, particularly in terms of results, whilst the back half of the year saw a regression to and well beyond the mean. The difference with the past was that although there was some incompetence, every now and again you just felt that there was genuine apathy from some of the players.

As a fan, this is the one thing that is totally unacceptable. An honest trier will always garner some respect. Someone who doesn’t care cannot.

Now I’m aging, I struggle to maintain the fervour that I might have had for supporting sports teams like I did as a younger man. I still love watching sport and enjoying the excellence of the participants but the general pain of supporting Arsenal, a team whose only crime is to be still quite good in the grand scheme of things but not as good as they were before, means that I now carry a world weary attitude towards following them.

Why do we care so much about sport? I saw another clip on Twitter this evening of grown men fighting on a train somewhere, ostensibly due to the results of whatever football match they’d just been to. What are these people doing and why would they be moved to such violence by a football match?

As usual, sense on a subject comes from Naval Ravikant who equates sporting fandom to political affiliation:

“Politics is sports writ large — pick a side, rally the tribe, exchange stories confirming bias, hurl insults and threats at the other side.”

This seems like a reasonable comparison. Sport is a simpler, Manichean version of politics, where there are your Good Guys (or Girls) versus The Others, the bad guys. You could argue that politics is becoming more like the too, simpler messages for simpler mediums, but we won’t go there now.

Naval goes on to say that:

“A rational person can find peace by cultivating indifference to things outside of their control.”

This is also seemingly common sense and even a little trite. But how often do we get annoyed or invested in things that are beyond our control?

Following the daily news, even though we’ll do nothing about it, raging about slow drivers, even though they are outside of our influence, crying foul at a referee for missing a bad tackle, even though it’s ‘not a big deal’. This indifference, although an obviously good thing to have, often escapes us.

this guy looks pumped for 2019-20

this guy looks pumped for 2019-20

So, even though Arsenal have broken their transfer record to sign the exciting looking Nicolas Pepe, a man who I had barely heard of until a week or so ago but who I’m now keenly anticipating pulling on a rather fetching new Adidas kit, even though there’s a crop of oddly competent looking English youngsters who could make the big step up to the first team, even though rivals are weaker or in the same place, even though I’ll read Arseblog first thing every morning, even though it’s a new year and anything could happen, I’ll try to cultivate an indifference towards the inevitable rollercoaster ride that will probably be Arsenal’s 2019-20 season.

Indifference to all that is hard though. Because sometimes it’s such fun.