Layth Yousif – Addicted to The Arsenal
- Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO
Islington Gazette Arsenal reporter Layth Yousif is addicted to the club – and can’t wait for the start of the 2018-19 Premier League under new head coach Unai Emery. Read on for his special eve of season feature piece, also found in our special North London Kick-Off newspaper supplement this week.
I’ve watched The Arsenal for 35 years.
From the Junior Gunners enclosure to the Clock End terraces, then seats, via a couple of years in my early teens on the North Bank and now the Emirates press box as Arsenal reporter for the Islington Gazette newspaper.
I reckon I must have seen more than 1,500 matches over that time.
Just like many, I still miss Highbury.
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I travelled home and away religiously for decades and have nearly as many stories.
I’ve seen Arsenal lose finals in the flesh in six different competitions – but supporting the club is about the camaraderie, the sense of belonging, the dry humour, the gallows humour, beers, lock-ins, joyous goal celebrations where, as a fan, you wonder if you’ll ever breathe again.
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It’s about the crazy away days, the utterly miserable away days, the people you meet along the way – some of whom have become lifelong friends.
It’s also about the mishaps, the glory, the thrilling fightbacks, the crushing failures, the pain, the dedication involved not to mention the guilt at seeing loved ones hurt at the amount of time you invest in such an unfeeling institution.
I’ve tried to spot future players at freezing cold South East Counties games as a youngster and now have the pleaure of covering talents like Emile-Smith Rowe at far-flung places such as Bishop Auckland.
I’ve also had the honour of reporting as a journalist from the Nou Camp press box as well as covering Wembley triumphs and disaters – and everywhere in between.
I’ve seen the late, great immortal David Rocastle, the incredible Invincible Dennis Bergkamp, Ian Wright, Wright, Wright, as well as John Hawley and Lee Chapman.
I saw Arsene Wenger’s first match and his last one too, and about 90 per cent of the ones in between.
And no-one will ever tell me that Tony Adams isn’t the greatest player in the club’s history for his never-say-die attitude.
Oh for those days when, as captain, away at northern strongholds on freezing cold evenings, TA would see the snow on the ground and growl, right lads, we’re playing in short sleeves, before taking the three points back to North London.
Southern softies? Don’t make me laugh.
My friends and I spent New Year’s Eve on the hard shoulder of the M6 after breaking down on the way back from Villa Park.
I’ve drunk far more scrumpy than is necessary back in the days when pre-season involved a trip down to Yeovil in Somerset rather than Singapore!
I’ve been chased by Millwall fans through Dickensian back alleys, slept on roundabouts in France on European away games.
I’ve visited a mate in hospital in Copenhagen the day after a UEFA Cup Final – six years after we won the Cup Winners’ Cup on our first trip there.
The same city, completely different outcomes on and off the pitch.
I have been at the Parc de Princes and was part of the chorus that helped sing the first ever “1-0 to the Arsenal”.
I sat in the Stade de France, 17 minutes from eternal glory in the Champions League Final.
I’ve also sat in a muddy field in Wrexham after one of the biggest shocks in FA Cup history.
I’ve had riotous nights out in Cardiff and Bradford on the back of crushing defeats.
I’ve been surrounded by Real Madrid fans in the Bernabeu – before a kindly soul who couldn’t speak a word of English, thrust out a friendly hand offering me a
full plastic cup of Rioja and a paper plate stacked with jamon.
When Thierry Henry scored one of the best goals in Arsenal’s history, the same man shook my hand and simply said: “Muy bien”.
I’ve been stranded on the motorway in deep snow trying to get to Luton. I once got all the way
to Middlesbrough on a National Express coach to find our Tuesday evening game called off.
Not wanting to spend the night in an empty pub in a freezing, deserted town, I went to the pictures and chose the longest film available – there can’t be many people who can say they travelled all the way to Teeside just to watch Lord of The Rings before getting back on an overnight coach to London, which took a mind-numbing seven hours.
I’ve seen us win every trophy we’ve won since the Eighties – if you discount the two and a half years I spent travelling a long time ago – and even then I managed to find BBC World Service in dusty Nicaragua to hear us win an FA Cup Final.
I’ve been stood on top of a stunning Mayan ruin in deepest Yucatan and had a conversation with a Mexican Gooner about the need for a decent reserve keeper.
I’ve been on a black granite Buddhist stupor in Java, chatting to an Indonesian about our transfer policy.
I’ve walked through Vietnam’s DMZ while a man whose grandfather was in the North Vietnamese Army asked me my thoughts on TH14.
I’ve been on a Roman fort in Sardinia and talked about the need for a back-up striker.
I have been on a ferry in beautiful Sydney harbour with my back to the Opera House and Bridge, engrossed in talk about Arsenal beating Spurs.
While working for a charity in Kampala, the capital of Uganda’s biggest slum, I had the unsettling experience of a child with HIV asking me about The Arsenal.
Unsettling because, although I had no way of understanding his suffering, I could empathise with his passion.
With retrovirals in short supply I just wondered how long he would be able to support our team.
Arsenal Football Club has provided me with searing highs and crushing lows.
Wherever I have travelled, the club has been my lingua franca.
Watching The Arsenal is a lifelong addiction, one destined for as much sadness and regret as happiness and success.
If that sounds like a family, I think you’re right – a family is what it is for me and countless others.
For better or worse it’s in the blood.
I never forget how lucky I am to do a job I love.
And when I am in the hallowed press box as qualified journalist who’s sweated blood to get there, I take pride in being totally impartial – while also being conscious of writing for my readership. It’s the only way.
Just like you dear reader I am excited about the new era under the club’s new head coach.
As my – and no doubt your – addiction to The Arsenal shows no sign of abating, here’s to life under Unai Emery.
I for one can’t wait.
Follow Arsenal reporter Layth on Twitter and Instagram @laythy29