In July 1991, when I had just turned 16, I was in the Arsenal end at Watford for a pre-season friendly, thrilled by the hilarious homophobic chanting directed at the hosts chairman, Elton John.
The emphatic rounds of “Elton John’s a homosexual” as soon as he appeared on the pitch as part of a presentation for the club groundsman, not only added a new dimension of gloss to my recently acquired life on the terraces, but kept me in good spirits for several days after; it was as memorable a moment that night as when former Watford and Arsenal full back Pat Rice had waved our way during his own on-pitch introduction.
In October 2021, aged 46, I must reconnect with that 16 year old in order to support my excitement of the Premier League and not get bogged down in fusty old morality. If I want to avoid conflict with my natural desire to be engaged with the league that Arsenal compete in, then I have to ignore my natural grievances that the game in this country continues to produce as frequently as Vicarage Road introduces new managers these days.
My ‘bothered’ amnesty with football lasted three weeks; I couldn’t help myself looking forward to Arsenal’s home game with Norwich City as the one that would stop the rot; I wanted to be at The Emirates to see them bashing up Spurs; I started watching Match of The Day; I am counting up the points that my secured players in the auction-based fantasy league are earning me. I am weak of will, a yellow, lily-livered let-down incapable of walking away from an abusive relationship, hooked forever on the nicotine that will one day kill me. I am good at making noises about leaving but it’s no good, I love it, and I can’t help what I love, right?
I mention the Emirates, and it’s bad enough the ground being called that, with the anti-human rights statement it brings, let alone the shirt sleeve recommending you ‘Visit Rwanda’, a country run by an Arsenal fan who orders the deaths of those who threaten to expose the appalling injustice there.
So, onto the Prem’s latest bit of business - and their compliance in overseeing Newcastle United’s takeover by a Saudi Prince, who puts the outgoing Mike Ashley’s zero-hour contracts in the shade, with a profitable career in beheading. The Prem’s much-lauded Fit and Proper Persons Test has, with his arrival (though not in club affairs, honest) been dealt another decisive blow.
Of course, the 19 other innocent bystanders of the Prem have voiced their opposition, a number which includes Manchester City and Chelsea, who are probably so engaged in and deluded by their own sportwashing agendas that they truly cannot believe anyone has the temerity to plough billions of pounds into a football club that they have no connection to just to cleanse their reputation.
But what City and Chelsea have to do is leave their principles at the turnstiles. To get the most out of this Prem showcase, they and we must go all-in. Newcastle’s legendary 'greatest fans in the world' have been celebrating the return of their club to them, discovered in the Sports Direct eternal fire-sale by the Arab saviours. This is the spirit. Welcome without examination, the murderous regimes; support that lovable old rogue, Rupert; chuckle at your mate Jeff as he advertises betting, which has cost his friend and colleague 7 mill; sneer a bit at the taking of the knee; roll your eyes at the Rainbow laces; say bollocks to #MeToo while you’re at it. As long we’re all 16, we can enjoy this never ending thrill-ride.