Layth Yousif’s Arsenal opinion: Our way of life won’t be defeated by terror – so let’s celebrate FA Cup Final

Wembley Stadium lit up after the Manchester concert bomb attack.

Wembley Stadium lit up after the Manchester concert bomb attack. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

On Monday it dawned on me it was the FA Cup Final this Saturday. As a long-standing Arsenal season ticket holder who will be at Wembley I started to get excited about the game after a long season, and was already reliving the high and lows of every final in the competition that I’ve been to.

An aerial view of Wembley Stadium, London.

An aerial view of Wembley Stadium, London. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

But then the sickening events in Manchester started to filter through. As the awful news broke that innocent children and parents on an evening of fun and joy had their lives snuffed out in a terrible instant because of an act of violence and hatred so heinous it beggars belief, football was very much in the background.

For how can you think about anything else when an eight-year-old girl is murdered because someone hates our way of life? Football is not more important than life or death. Nothing is more important than family. Than people we love.

As a parent of three children I’m not sure I can even imagine the unspeakable pain mums and dads and kids caught up in Monday’s dreadful events went through, and are still going through.

My youngest, who plays for a girls’ U9 football team, is already a huge Arsenal fan, and has been with me to the Emirates on numerous occasions, just asked me with the naïve clarity of youth: ‘Daddy, why did that person put nails in his rucksack to hurt people?’

I struggled to answer, trying to explain that person hated our way of life, and that terrorists want to disrupt our way of life we hold dear.

She looked on uncomprehending as I attempted to articulate my feelings, my shock, my revulsion at this cowardly act and my despair that someone who was born in this country could hate human beings so much.

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I also tried to make her see that there were a multitude of kind acts, however big or small that came from such an awful event. From the bravery and heroism – and humbling professionalism - of the people that keep us safe, the police, the ambulance service and doctors and nurses.

But also from those small random acts of kindness that came from strangers. Whether it be the numerous offers of shelter from local people to frightened survivors, taxi drivers offering free lifts, hotels assisting lost children, and a whole host of love shown by so many others in so many way this week, including the moving scenes at Albert Square in the heart of this great northern city of ours.

In the end I tried to be positive and simply said to her that we had to carry on as normal and to celebrate our way of life - in which our national sport, football, plays a big part.

I was reminded of my favourite quote. ‘Football is the most important of least important things’.

And in the context of this week’s appalling act of terror it means celebrating the things that people who hate us and our life of life want us to stop.

And that is why every Arsenal fan, every Chelsea fan, and for that matter every football fan, must use Saturday’s final to show the terrorists and the watching world - who have also stood with Manchester and our country through their actions and messages of support - that we are not afraid, and that we are united with Manchester.

I have been a regular visitor to that vibrant, working class city for the last three decades. I’ve had some great times and some less than great times visiting Old Trafford and Maine Road and the Etihad, and the cricket, and concerts including The Stone Roses and New Order.

All the Mancs I’ve known over the years are funny, sharp, streetwise, loyal and tough. They have already shown through their brave and dignified response this week, and I have no doubt whatsoever they will continue to show that. My thoughts are with everyone associated with that marvellous city.

Football has given meaning to my life. Growing up to an immigrant father in council estates in London wasn’t a bed of Roses. It wasn’t The Wire but it wasn’t The Archers either.

My dad who came from Iraq to make a new life here, instilled in me a love and respect of being British, of a love and respect for this wonderful country. That is why I am proud to be a Londoner, I am proud to be English, and proud to be British. And I’m proud to embrace everything this country - that gave me father a safe have haven - offers.

And that includes football.

And on Saturday - on FA Cup Final day - at Wembley, the biggest tribute we can give is to carry on as normal. Drink in your favourite pubs as you always have done, wear your favourite football shirts, dust off your lucky scarves cheer and jeer as loudly as you’ve ever done - because every normal action you take is a response to those evil aggressors who want to disrupt our way of life.

By doing that we are showing we are not afraid, we will not be cowed, we are defiant in the face of such beastly inhumanity and will never be defeated.

Because we are unified in our determination that democracy - and music and sport and socialising and friendship and camaraderie - and all the millions of other ways we live our lives and enjoy our lives - are things worth cherishing.

And that means celebrating the FA Cup Final on Saturday.

It’s the only way.

Layth Yousif is on Twitter @laythy29

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