I grew up in Canada with football (I've since converted and NOT called it soccer since moving to Hong Kong almost 10 years ago) as my primary sport. This often meant that any team you chose to follow was one that was adopted based on a series of half reasons. Only a handful of people had the luxury of saying something along the lines of "my grandfather supported ___________, so that's why I support them too."
My practical approach to life made me instantly gravitate towards Arsenal and Arsene Wenger's no frills approach to management. I don't know why I cared if he was saving the club money or purchasing players only at fair market value, but I was sold! Truth be told, my interest in football was mostly focused on the sport itself. I could/would watch 60-year old men who probably were terrible 40 years ago let alone now, happily miss sitters from 3 yards out just because it was part of the joy of watching and playing. But come game day, having a team to support does enhance the experience. Fortunately, I've met some sensible Arsenal fans that make for a good crowd on the odd occasion we get together to watch a match.
My soon-to-be wife knew about my passion for football from the get-go. In fact, I often take every chance possible to remind her if it wasn't for football we probably wouldn't have ever met as our meeting in HK was primarily on the basis of me making my way over to play here in the first place.
As a wedding
Gameday turned out to be quite the ordeal. The tickets were incorrectly delivered to the wrong hotel, a sketchy spot under renovation which were none too happy to see us roll up and inconvenience them.
As we made the way to the stadium through the subway, the atmosphere heightened with each tube stop. People were breaking out in song and as you exited the station, it quickly became apparent the several kilometers around the stadium were filled with fans, their allegiances clearly announced.
I made sure to come in something that hardly shouted my interest in Arsenal. The days of hooliganism, especially amongst bigger clubs have mostly been eradicated and the price of tickets surely attract a certain crowd. I still wanted to err on the side of caution though.
As we rolled up to the grounds, it started to get really packed as people were either eating or loitering. It lacked the same atmosphere you'd get at a tailgating party in North America. The lack of atmosphere relative to football of yesteryear was something that many people lamented about regarding Stamford Bridge as well in football in general.
We did a quick round of the stadium, scoped out the gift shop and made our way over to our seats. The last thing I needed was a paper mask of Jose Mourinho littering up my microscopic apartment in Hong Kong.
The song intensified as we sat down. Luckily we did manage to get seats near the Matthew Harding stand. We were right around the corner stick and a mutual understanding of all the words spoken around me really intensified the situation.
When I was in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup, I was however largely cut out of the incessant banter between the various South American sides. There was a group of Chelsea fans in front of us who were quite vocal over the course of the match... and rightfully so. But overall, I can see the argument that crowds were quiet and it's largely in part to people such as myself who probably travelled from afar just to watch that one Premier League game on a trip. While I spent the 90 minutes glued to the pitch, for many tourists, you could see that they were more concerned with capturing something for social media.
As kick-off proceeded, the first 10 minutes were horrid. To mark Arsene Wenger's 1,000th game at the helm of Arsenal, the Gunners proceeded to allow the game to be decided by the 17th minute as Hazard slotted home a penalty kick that sealed the deal at 3-nil. To add insult to injury, Gibbs was embarrassingly sent off for a case of mistaken identity for a handball committed by Oxlade-Chamberlain which reduced Arsenal to 10 men. It sucks to drop a few hundred quid and have the game done before half.
As Chelsea continued to pile on the goals, I couldn't help but laugh as the aforementioned group in front of me continued to shout "WE WANT 10, WE WANT 10, WE WANT 10!!!" This was a fair shout, especially when your team is ahead. It was certainly more appropriate than the "With a packet of sweets and a cheeky smile... Wenger is a fuckin' pedophile" chants that proceeded over the course of the second half.
It's unfortunate that I had travelled halfway across the world to see my team live for the first time, outplayed and thoroughly embarrassed. The shock was overwhelming to say the least and I thought to myself why do I support a bunch of handsomely-rewarded footballers who can't even get up for a big game like this?
Eventually, the pain subsided, all in all, it was a great experience with no regrets. I've been fortunate to see a lot of goals at the few live European matches (Borussia Dortmund winning 4-nil) I've experienced so I guess there's a bit of an entertainment factor there? But better yet, I've turned Nicole into a football fan -- albeit a Chelsea one -- who incessantly trolls me about Arsenal's shortcomings. Conceding six goals, an earful of abuse and now a wife that supports Chelsea. Yeah it was still worth it.