Howdy Gonnerists?! The week after a victory is ever a sweet to be savoured and one that accompanies the downfall of one’s rivals is a sweeter fruit still. The zeitgeist among the gooning faithful has invariably been one of schadenfreude, unsurprising after the weekend past. Saturday providing a mouth licking smorgasbord of upsets and Sunday only got better with Arsenal cruising past the Seagulls with relative ease. In quintessential Arsenal style, we made it slightly harder than it should have been but overall it was a fine day with both Theo and Ozil finding the back of the net in the first half. Chris Hutton’s lads managed to pull a couple back, but before the ravishing Radka Kocurova’s even more stunning husband decided to add humiliation to the midfield lesson he had been teaching all evening to the chaps in blue. After years of injury, I had long doubted if Rosicky would ever serve a purpose that was beyond a perennial bench-warmer but it is both heartening and humbling to be proven so very wrong. His fluid brilliance sometimes transcends words and expressions: he is simply poetry in motion. Long may his renaissance continue.
But for gooners all round, the fun started far before Wenger had even announced his team: City’s comical collapse, Chelsea’s capitulation against the Bantams, Spurs shooting themselves in the ‘nads (again) while United XI looked like they were hypnotised into believing that Cambridge United were in fact Real Madrid in disguise. All this over-stimulation sent the gooner world into some sort of schadenfreude-fuelled apoplectic frenzy: Social media and forums all round exploded with jeers, jokes and a litany of increasingly inane memes, photographs and gifs… some funny, most just pointless. Looks like it is open season on the ‘giants’ again… and here, people bemoan the lack of excitement in cup contests.
Undeniable though was the warm glow of satisfaction at each one of our dreaded rival’s utter failure, and funnily enough there is a phrase for this very sentiment: GORFing (Glory Out of Reflected Failure). Gooners world over took time out to mock and jeer while I casually took the opportunity to stray into a ‘Group’ dedicated toward ‘Banter’ between Spuds and Gooners, while the animosity between the two teams was on full display with the forum rife with numerous jokes, I noticed that I was probably the only non-Englishmen at the forum, and this really got me thinking…. To the current generation of gooners, especially those fans in Asia, Spurs were nothing more than the noisy neighbors, little more than annoying insects that could be dismissed with a casual swat. Yes, the derbies were fun, but the atmosphere was never charged. It was just an exciting game against a decent team that could potentially cause upsets, but nothing more… they rarely put up a challenge.
Ask an English gooner about the fans they detest most fervently and the answer would undoubtedly be “Spuds” either followed or preceded by a few choicest expletives. But to an Asian gooner, the games we really cared about the ones with ManU and Chelsea, especially United. Undoubtedly, a win against United or the Blues was worth far more than a victory against Spurs. Is there a football fan in the world who doesn’t shiver in fear and delight at the prospect of ‘United Away’?
All our fury, our unbridled hatred, our animosity is reserved for these games. The games against spurs were fun to watch, but when the devils came to town, the atmosphere was more than just charged, it was simply electrifying!! Scuffles and taunts were commonplace in joint viewings of the game between both sets of fans. Drinks were thrown, chairs were tossed and the air was usually thick with insults and jibes.
Aah, How I miss those sweaty hostel days!! Over a hundred adolescent boys crowded around a tiny television, all jostling and pushing for a better view. The whoops, the cheers and chants ringing through the hall and corridors. The gooners were invariably out-numbered ten to one, but so was the way of things…. The sheer amount of nervous energy in the hall would have equivalent to a million red-bull powered hamsters running on their wheels for an eternity.
Why was that? Why were games against United such emotionally charged affairs whereas the Spurs games were little more than whimper in comparison?!
With my curiosity piqued, I did a little research into the psychology of sports fans to establish this gulf in perception between fans of the same club, simply divided by geography…
This beautiful piece by Dr. Art Makman lists three essential ‘dimensions’ that breed a rivalry:
Similarity Between Rivals – As one of the current set of first generation Asian football fans, we simply pledged our allegiances to one of the successful teams that we seemed to identify with. In the era of the Premier League, it was simply one of Chelsea, Manchester United or Arsenal and to a slightly lesser extent, Liverpool (yes, I meant successful in the most loose of terms). We simply know no Spurs fans! Also, it is much easier to hate a team because that pointy faced kid in you class you already dislike always turned up clad in that puke-inducing red of Manchester or the nauseating blue of Chelsea.
The second dimension is Frequency, Being successful teams meant that Arsenal were destined to play other successful teams more than the traditional two league games in a given season, whether it was a quarter-final clash of the FA cup or the semi-finals of a League cup, meeting one of Manchester or Chelsea was no unusual affair, whereas Spurs were already half-way home with their tails between their legs by the fourth round. The increased number of matches meant an increase in talking points, discussions, heated debates and argument between rival fans. It also invariably meant that each wound inflicted left a greater yearning for revenge that further bred the intense rivalry.
Parity – The third and perhaps the most obvious factor that determines the intensity of fan rivalry between two teams in parity. It simply refers to relative the levels of success experienced by each team. The Premier League era was marked by the intense competition between managers: Ferguson, Wenger and Mourinho each had their own histories of snide remarks, refused hand-shakes and an almost endless list of veiled insults tossed at one another during interviews and during games. Tottenham on the other hand were too busy switching managers like gears in a F1 car. Presumably Wenger had a harder time remembering the ever-changing visages that occupied the Spur’s hot-seat before the gracious Mr. Levy loaded up his shot-gun and took them out to the back. Cases can be made for Martin Jol and Harry Redknapp, but neither offered much in the way of threat to the traditional big-boys of English football, and more often than not, Wenger probably looked at them as little more than annoying gnats.
In short, success of the various team bred the segregation of Us and Them, and the ups and downs of the premier league era of varied success and failure made it Us Vs. Them. All set and done, the rivalry of London’s gooners with the Spurs fans is one that they inherited from their fore-fathers but to us, history & stories are simply words on a page or highlights on youtube when you didn’t grow up with it.
But THIS rivalry with United and Chelsea is one that we can readily identify with as we grew up watching the three leviathans claw, struggle and smash one another for footballing supremacy; it permeated air we breathed and the taunts still ring in our ears. The mocking chants haunt our nightmares and the umpteen put-downs heaped upon us rankle for an epoch. The seemingly endless japes on our eight barren years will be paid with interest. This is what every Gooner east of the meridian hopes, prays and lives for.
The very thought of humiliating United or wiping that arrogant smirk off Jose’s smug mug as the net bulges brings deranged grins to our faces and gets the blood pumping as the adrenaline shoots through our veins…. That special hatred is earned, it simply isn’t passed down.