Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughHow things have changed since my first live football match - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough How things have changed since my first live football match - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

How things have changed since my first live football match

Nearly 12 years ago the arrival of my birthday saw me awarded with a trip to Highbury for my first ever live football match to see Arsenal take on Leicester City on Boxing Day, 2000. Today, as I prepare to head to the Emirates Stadium to see the Gunners try and continue their unbeaten start to the season at home to bottom of the table and pointless Southampton, I think about all the things that have changed about my routine when going to football matches.

Some of which comes with age of course. Back then, I had to wait until my brother would come and pick me up and I wouldn’t be allowed to leave his sight once we headed into the stadium. Nowadays of course, that is hardly required and indeed the majority of the games I attend, I attend alone. I’m not filled with the same excitement on the day of a game that I was back in 2000 either, when match days would be purely that: match days. Nothing else would matter, there would be no other plans or things to do; it would all just revolve around the game until Match of the Day when I would watch the highlights. These days, there are reports to write or dinners to attend, or nights out to go on. Match of the Day? Can’t remember the last time I saw it live on air.

I no longer get to the stadium an hour early to soak up the atmosphere and get pictures. Instead, I try make sure I get there for just about a minute before kick off – not a minute to lose! During the game itself, I’m no longer sitting there in a daze, in awe that I’m actually at a football match anymore. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it mundane, but it certainly does not have the novelty factor that it once had for me. Rather, I now have the confidence to scream and swear at the team, the referee, the linesmen, the oppositions fans. At half-time, I no longer rush to beat the queue to try and purchase my “lucky chips” – I’ve long since realised they have no value whatsoever on the team’s performance, certainly not at the Emirates’ prices!

Is this simply due to growing up? Part of it is of course. I’m hardly going to be the same wide eyed 11 year old I once was watching football matches now that they have since become such a regular part of not only my life but my career as well. Additionally, the feeling of satisfaction I once had at 3’o clock games for example that no one else was watching the match bar those who were at the stadium, has long been consigned to the past with the internet advances in football streaming, whether legal or not so.

Aside from maturity however, the changes in my match-day feelings have surely been moulded by the changes at the club that I go and watch, Arsenal. Still young I may have been by the time of the Gunners’ final season at Highbury in 2006, but I remember still feeling the same way every time I visited Highbury: that wonderful ambiance, that feeling that I was in a very special arena to watch football. After the buzz of being at the Emirates in the first couple of seasons, that has very quickly faded. People may have referred to Highbury as “the Library” but for me, the atmosphere at the famous old stadium was often electric. Unfortunately, that is not a word that you can use to describe the Emirates.

Success of the team is of course paramount. Let’s not forget how successful Arsenal were in their latter days at Highbury and so going to watch the team would be a joy rather than a chore. Even when the team would go behind, there would be relaxation, joviality and happiness in the crowd with banter flying around. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. These days at the Emirates, with the fans starved of tangible success, the atmosphere can often turn sour even between fellow Arsenal fans. Nobody likes to go to football matches feeling as if they are in for 90 minutes of argument and anger and at times, particularly last season, that’s precisely what it was: uncomfortable in the extreme.

However, some things about match day have proved timeless. For instance, the buzz for seeing certain players has always remained. From Thierry Henry, to Cesc Fabregas, to Andrey Arshavin (in his prime), to Robin Van Persie and now to someone like Santi Cazorla, I have remained eager to see players of such quality, the sort of players with the skill and ability that just about make the expense worth it, even at Arsenal, the most expensive place to see football in the country.

So as I make my first visit to the Emirates today to hopefully see Arsenal continue their quietly impressive start, I’ll remember my first game and try as hard as I can to recapture that spine tingling feeling I once had upon entering the stadium, no matter how difficult it might be in this day and age.

Adam Mazrani

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