Tim’s note: Today we have a special treat; part one in a two-part post from my friend Josh Glover. Josh and I met on Twitter and after a few years of reading his tweets and (mostly) agreeing with him I offered him space to write on 7amkickoff if he ever wanted. Circumstances have arisen which give Josh both the want and the time to write.
For those of you who have been following me for any amount of time you know that the reason I started 7amkickoff was as a challenge to write every day. I didn’t know anything about “practice” or dedication, but I assumed that if I just read and wrote every day, I would eventually have to get better. As it turns out, this summer Josh has set himself the same goal and I am very happy to help him out in any way that I can.
Josh describes himself as “Arsenal fan in Sweden, lover of all things Rosicky, known to scare dogs when Arsenal score.” You can follow Josh on Twitter and read how his summer of intentional practice is going over on Medium. For now, enjoy his first installment.
I want to start my story near the end, and since I’m the one writing this and not you, I get to have it my way!
Some faithful readers of 7amkickoff may not know who I am, but the vast majority of you will. You probably don’t know me by name, but that’s OK. I’m proud of the moniker I’ve earned that will go down in history: “that mediocre fan who doesn’t know the club’s history in the dope-ass ‘89 JVC away shirt with Perry Groves’s name on the back even though the ‘89 shirts didn’t have player names on the back only numbers obv you poser who rates Arsenal’s season 6/10 at 0:37 in that one AFTV video from late in the 2021/2022 season when it looked like we were gonna bottle top 4 and maybe even Europe altogether but then we won a few games but then lost a few more and finished 5th.” See? Told you that you know me.
My favourite part of my 32 seconds of fame is the comments below the video on YouTube, which are as always an absolute fount of wisdom. The two most erudite comments amongst the outpouring of some of the world’s greatest minds have to be these:
“We have a lot of mediocre fans who don’t know the club’s history.”
“Where all the yanks appear from lol”
As one of those mediocre fans who don’t know the club’s history, I want to answer the question posed in the second comment. Of course, I can only answer where one of the “all yanks” appeared from, but that won’t surprise you given my mediocrity.
Like I said, that scene is from near the end of my story as an Arsenal supporter. But stories typically start at the beginning, so I guess I shall now bow in defeat to the tyrannical conventions of writing and rewind about 32 years, to a crisp autumn day in rural Virginia, where my friend Ryan and I sat in his living room, our sweaty palms gripping NES controllers as Cameroon struggled to get past mighty Scotland into the Nintendo World Cup final, where we would almost certainly face Italy. If you’ve never played that game, see if you can find the ROM and give it a go on your NES emulator. It is tremendous fun, I promise you!
This was 1990, and here we sat, playing a game about a game that we’d barely heard of just two months prior. In the rural South, “soccer” was not a sport that we played, and it certainly wasn’t on TV. I knew they played it in South America, because one of my friends had an exchange student visiting from Colombia for a semester at some point in the mid 80s, and he would kick a volleyball against my friend’s barn for hours.
When I was growing up, my family lived so far out in the countryside that we only got one channel, which was a CBS affiliate broadcasting out of Roanoke, Virginia. CBS ran this programme on Saturday nights called “The Wonderful World of Disney”, where they showed classic (and sometimes not so classic) Disney films, which my dad would faithfully record on one of our 10 or so VHS tapes, using what I would later come to know as a FIFO cache eviction strategy, recording over the oldest tape and crossing out the title of the previous movie on the label and writing the new one. My sisters and I would watch the heck out of those movies, whenever we were allowed, and movies that we really loved would be marked with red crayon on the label so that Dad would spare them from being recorded over next weekend when “The Wonderful World of Disney” dropped the next banger (or clanger, as the case may be).
One of these movies was a charming film called “Gus”, wherein a hapless American football team’s owner reads a story about a mule named Gus in Yugoslavia that has been taught to kick a soccer ball with amazing distance and accuracy. The owner (played by Ed Asner, as I remembered when I looked the film up just now) obviously sends a letter with plane tickets to the young man who owns the mule and flies them to the US, where the mule becomes the team’s placekicker and leads the team, which previously hadn’t won a game, all the way to the Super Bowl. The team is winning handily, but just before halftime, one of the opposing team’s coaches goes into the dressing room and spikes Gus’s oats with whiskey. Gus gets drunk and can’t kick the ball straight anymore, so his team starts losing, and then they get the ball with seconds left, 60+ yards out, down 2 points, so all Gus has to do is score the field goal, which is worth 3 points, and win the game. But Gus is absolutely pissed at this point and falls over when he tries to kick the ball, and…
No spoilers, right? Watch the film yourself if you want to know how it ends.
Now what does this have to do with soccer? Well, because my only previous exposure to soccer was the Colombian kid going full Bergkamp against the wall of the barn (read “Stillness and Speed” if you don’t get the reference), I thought Yugoslavia (where the mule was from, remember?) was in South America. And what does this have to do with Arsenal? All shall become clear in due time, I promise.
You may remember from several paragraphs ago that my friend and I were locked in a high-scoring shootout in the Nintendo World Cup semifinals. I honestly don’t remember the outcome of that match, given the sheer volume of matches that we played, but let’s just say it went to penalties and it was still tied when our goalkeeper stepped up and blasted one into the top corner but then we lost 1-0 to Italy in the final, probably because they scored off a corner due to one of their players tugging on the testicles of our star defender when the ref wasn’t looking and then rising to thump a header into the net, and then of course they went full Italy and never attempted to move the ball into the final third but just defending like complete wankers. Not that I’m still fuming about that 30+ years later or anything.
But why were two Virginian 11 year olds playing a soccer game anyway? The answer, my friends, is because OMG the 1990 World Cup had happened that summer, and since it was the World Cup, it was actually on TV in the US, and since it was held in Italy, the knockout stage matches were even on before our bedtimes. Ryan was much more cosmopolitan than I, having been born in Massachusetts, which is in New England (like England, but newer), and they actually had YMCA summer league soccer when he was growing up. When I was over at his house one day, his dad, who was a massive sports fan (and also an optometrist who prescribed my first pair of glasses some years later, but that’s not really important to this story in any way), made us stop playing Super Mario Brothers so he could watch the Cameroon – Colombia match. Ryan and I might never have spent hundreds of hours playing Nintendo World Cup had this guy named Roger Milla not scored two goals in that match and did this incredibly joyful dance by the corner flag after each goal.
We were in love with the game! Ryan’s dad even had a soccer ball (one of those old school black and white ones—look it up, kids), which we grabbed and took out back, found two trees that were more or less in line and sort of the right distance apart to be a goal, and then took turns shooting the ball, running over to another tree and doing our best Roger Milla impression every time we got the ball between the trees. Amazing!
Ryan’s birthday was in late August, and his dad, eager to encourage Ryan’s budding soccer career (Ryan would tragically go on to be an accomplished cellist and computer programmer; sorry Dr. O’Neil), got him Nintendo World Cup for his birthday. Ryan called me immediately and invited me over to spend the night. I begged my parents for a solid 30 minutes, making all sorts of reckless promises about emptying the dishwasher every single day for the rest of my life if they would just acquiesce and let me go to Ryan’s, before they finally gave in. My mom drove me over there, and somehow managed to pretended to be interested as I told her everything about Nintendo World Cup (Ryan had read me the entire instruction book over the phone) and how we were going to take Cameroon all the way, because that was never a penalty and that wanker Gary Lineker could suck it!
OK, I didn’t know the word “wanker” back then, and telling people to “suck it” wasn’t really a thing back in the early 90s, at least as far as I can remember. And I definitely didn’t know that Gary Lineker played for a little club called Tottenham Hotspur with this weird logo that was like a chicken standing on a basketball or something. Of course, I also didn’t know that Gary Lineker would turn out to be a pretty decent bloke who would become a vocal advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community, so I guess 11 year old me owes current Gary Lineker an apology.
Anyway, I made it to Ryan’s, and god bless that kid, he hadn’t so much as put the Nintendo World Cup cartridge into the console yet, because he wanted us to share the moment when the Nintendo logo flashed up and then was replaced by the game’s loading screen. Moments like that are why he was one of my three best men at my wedding 13 years later. Yeah, I had three best men, because I had three best friends and I don’t believe in ranking my favourite stuff, and I get as many favourite books as I want, and stop making me choose some arbitrary number like 5 or 10 or something. Come at me with that noise and you might get told to “suck it,” my friend.
Back to that hot August night in Staunton, Virginia. Ryan and I played so many games that night that our fingers blistered. All of them as Cameroon! And every goal was scored by Roger Milla, no matter which player it was (number 1 is Roger Milla, number 2 is Roger Milla… number 7 is still Liam Brady, of course… we all live in a Roger Milla world!) and Ryan and I paused the game and did the dance over by the piano every single time the net bulged. We even got up in the middle of the night and snuck downstairs, carefully stepping over every creaky floorboard and down the stairs, switching on the TV with the volume turned all the way down, then firing up the Nintendo to keep playing. I remember Ryan’s dad padding down the stairs, bleary eyed, and starting to yell at us for being up at 3 AM, but then sitting down and watching us lose our final group stage game to some shitty team or whatever because Ryan and I still sucked at the game. We did get in trouble, though, and weren’t allowed to play Nintendo the next day, though I suspect that was because Ryan’s dad wanted a go. He was even worse than us, lol.
Sadly, Ryan and I didn’t continue our love affair with soccer much beyond that fall, because he got Dragon Warrior, and that game took forever to grind through, killing Slimes and and Drakees and Wyverns and stuff, so Nintendo World Cup mainly sat on the shelf under his TV, gathering dust (which you would have to blow out if you tried to play it, because otherwise the NES wouldn’t recognise it). Back in those days, soccer wasn’t televised in the US, except maybe on Telemundo, but we didn’t get that in rural Virginia because at that point there weren’t any Spanish-speaking people living there (which would change a few years later, luckily for my love affair with Arsenal, as you shall soon see), so it wasn’t until the 1994 World Cup that I remembered that soccer was a thing that existed, and was pretty awesome to watch!
In 1994, the World Cup was awarded to the United States, a country with no tradition of soccer to speak of but a lot of money—sound familiar?—except for that time in the mid 70s when some Brazilian dude named Pelé came to New York and single-handedly made soccer popular for a few years before a recession crushed the North American Soccer League. In 1994, soccer was back on TV, and I was back in love!
Ryan and I were glued to our seats (to be fair, it’s likely his dad superglued those seats before we sat down, just to make sure we couldn’t leave before the final whistle) as we watched our beloved Cameroon crash out of the tournament, managing only a single point in their group, courtesy of a thrilling draw with Sweden (who would go on to finish third, a fact that we Swedes continue to celebrate to this very day—yes, I’m Swedish, but you’ll have to wait quite some time to understand how that happened). I remember us being heartbroken when Sweden equalised late in the game, thinking that Cameroon would still have a chance in extra time, but then being shocked when the game ended in a draw, which is not a thing that’s allowed in US sports. Ryan’s dad had to explain points to us, which we thought was total bullshit. But hey, at least our favourite player Roger Milla bagged a goal somehow, even though he must have been at least 70 at that point (OK, I looked it up and he was only 42, but I’m currently 43, and failed to score any of my four chances in yesterday’s 7-a-side game against Brommapojkarna—they really need to change their name already, sexist pricks).
We needed to pick a new favourite team after the group stages, so we settled on Ireland, because Ryan’s last name is O’Neil, and also they somehow managed to beat Italy in the group stages, and we loved a plucky underdog story. But then Ireland was trounced by the Netherlands in the round of 16, so we went for Spain because our neighbours Mexico had also been knocked out in the round of 16 and at least Spain spoke the same language. But then Spain lost to the hated Italy (we still held a grudge from our Nintendo World Cup days, when Italy were OP AF, as the damn kids these days say), so we settled on Bulgaria, because they were playing Italy next and also they had this badass forward called Stoichkov who scored a lot and always looked super angry after he did so (it turns out that Stoichkov was famous in his native Bulgaria for unleashing an incredible torrent of profanity during his goal celebrations, but I didn’t learn that until years later). But Bulgaria lost to bloody Italy in the next game, mainly because Stoichkov seemed to completely run out of petrol in the second half.
Ryan and I decided that we were the world’s biggest Brazil fans for the final. Someone had to beat Italy, and even we knew that Brazil was famous for being super awesome at soccer, so we figured it was a lock. And what a game it was! And by that, I mean what a boring game, because Ryan and I didn’t know anything about soccer, so for us, only goals were exciting, especially if they were scored by someone who did a joyful dance by the corner flag or swore at the camera afterwards. But then it went to penalties, and that was super exciting! We laughed when the Italians missed the first penalty, then groaned when the Italian “goalie” (as we called them in the US) saved the next one, then watched a few good penalties, then were on our feet screaming when the Brazilian keeper saved Massaro’s low drive (something that seemed to shock the commentators, because this Massaro dude had apparently almost single handedly won something called the Champions League a few weeks back) and then Brazil’s captain stroked one into the bottom corner to make it match point (whatever, I was a tennis player, and I still don’t know what to call it when you’ve got to score your penalty or your team loses).
But then Baggio stepped up, and of course he was going to score, because he was Baggio, and he had basically run that game against Bulgaria. So it was a delightful shock when Baggio launched the ball into orbit. Ryan and his dad and I did that huggy jumpy thing that somehow always happens when you celebrate a tournament win in football, happy for the Brazilians and laughing at the arrogant Italians in equal measure. But then the camera cut away from the celebrating Brazil squad and panned to Baggio, who was still standing on the penalty spot, mullet flapping forlornly in the warm California breeze, and gazing up at the sky like his heart was breaking. We stopped laughing, because after all, we weren’t soulless pieces of shit like Jose Mourinho.
Around this time, my cousins up in Northern Virginia started playing league soccer, because my uncle Chris was a huge fan somehow, so when they came down to visit, we kicked the ball around and had exciting 2-a-side matches which rapidly devolved into all of us kids (or whatever you want to call a 15 year old, as I was at the time) trying to get the ball off bloody Chris, who dribbled around the field, trying to set records for number of nutmegs in a single passage of play, before finally getting bored with our inept defending and slotting the ball between the t-shirts or cow patties or whatever was serving as goalposts that day. I realised that the game was more than just pretending to be Roger Milla, and was actually loads of fun!
In the spring of 1994, a few months before that boring but then thrilling World Cup final, I turned 15, which meant in the Commonwealth of Virginia (a commonwealth is like a state, only much much cooler, amirite Massachusetts?) that I could now legally work and pay taxes and all of that adult stuff, so I got a job as a lifeguard at the local swimming pool where my mom was the manager but it totally wasn’t nepotism because… um… OK, maybe it was a bit nepotismal, but whatever, I was a good lifeguard, OK?
Anyway, with the massive $4.25 per hour that I was pulling down (closer to $3.90 after those greedy FICA bastards took their cut), I could afford to go down to the local Walmart and buy a soccer ball, which I did the day after the first group games in the World Cup. I bought one of those cool black and white ones, because I don’t think Walmart sold any of the new balls with Nike logos and stuff on them at that point. Or maybe they did, but I thought paying more than five bucks for a ball was absurd.
In any case, I had a ball, and I had a wooded backyard, so I could dribble around trees and then unleash 30 yard screamers that only sometimes cleared the two story roof of my house and only once hit a window, which thank goodness was our patio door which was made to withstand a tank, or at least my silly dog who occasionally ran into it at full speed when trying to get at a squirrel that was taunting her from the deck. I still remember my dad coming outside and giving me that slow shake of the head that clearly communicated, “Son, if you break that door, it’s $100 to replace it and you’ll need to work a month to pay for it, so think long and hard if you want to kick that ball so hard in future.” I did think long and hard, and decided that I did not in fact want to kick the ball as hard as that after all.
When the summer ended, I started my second year of high school, and got a job as a lifeguard at the local Racquet Club (where my mom just so happened to be the director of the swim school) in the mornings before school. The awesome thing about working there is that I got a free membership and a 50% discount on court rentals and all tennis gear, which was important to me because I had joined the high school tennis team as a freshman, and though I was undisputed champion of the Highland County tennis league as a kid (I played all of my matches by using the side of a barn as the net, and playing as both myself and my opponent, who would be someone like Ivan Lendl or Björn Borg or that fresh-faced youth, Jimmy Connors), when I moved to the bustling metropolis of Staunton, Virginia (population 18,000), I was vastly outclassed by the sons of doctors and lawyers and such who had country clubs and private lessons.
The only thing this has to do with soccer (and ever so tenuously, Arsenal) is that it explains why, in the spring of 1997, when my high school finally got a soccer team, I couldn’t join it. You see, tennis was also a spring sport, and I had risen through the ranks to become #1 on the team! More by virtue of all the really good players graduating than my ability, if I’m completely honest with myself, but no matter. So no soccer for me, though I occasionally watched a few minutes of training on my way from the school building to the tennis courts, which were behind the American football field where the soccer team trained. However, the proximity to the soccer team rekindled my love for the game, which had of course dwindled a bit since that magical summer in 1994.
It was also around this time that I discovered that one of my other best friends’ brothers was a soccer hipster. He had gone off to The College of William and Mary, where they had ESPN on the cable TV that was standard in the dorm rooms, and ESPN sometimes showed reruns of important soccer matches late at night, which my friend’s brother faithfully taped on VHS and brought home at breaks. My friend Adam and I would sit down with Sean (the cool older brother) with an enormous tub of Snyder’s hard pretzels and beers (well, Sean had beers, and occasionally he’d give one to Adam, but I didn’t enjoy the bottle of Heineken that Adam once smuggled onto a ski trip for me, so I didn’t indulge) and watch those tapes. One of the matches that I remember was the 1979 European Cup final between Nottingham Forest and Malmö FF, which I think was part of a European Cup Down the Ages show that probably just showed highlights of the finals (there weren’t many highlights in that particular match, which ended 1-0 to Forest). The only reason I remember it is because Malmö’s shirts were sky blue, which was my favourite colour back then, and which will be a mildly important point later in this story.
I graduated from high school later that year, and decided to take a year off before heading off to university (where my Arsenal fanship would well and truly begin; be patient), since uni in the US cost a lot of money even back then, even for a public school, even for in-state tuition. I had my eye on The College of William and Mary, from which my mom and my friend Adam’s brother Sean had graduated, and Adam’s super-cool sister Johanna (Possessor of a Car and Giver of Rides Home to me in the future) had just finished her second year, but tuition plus room and board added up to about $10K a year, and I had $0K in my bank account. So back to work I went, this time as a PC technician, something I had done as a side hustle during high school with the third of my best friends and future best men, Ian.
My love of soccer, which I would soon start calling futbol, was about to kick (sorry) into overdrive. Stay tuned!