It was 3:00pm, Saturday, September 10, 1997 when our flight left for Bejiing, China from London, my home. I remember the time so clearly because I was glad that I wouldn't be missing an Arsenal game that day. And so there it was, I was leaving home, at the age of 13, and I've now spent the last five years here. It's not easy to be an Arsenal fan abroad, especially when most of the people you live with don't care about the game, let alone Arsenal. Most people thought that living so far from London, my passion for Arsenal would dull and that the club would become a long forgotten memory. Not so.
For the first four years I was reliant on a sketchy internet feed with a post-match report, and the odd Chinese progam that would show unreliable and unscheduled scattered highlights. Eventually I tapped into a channel that passed one game, once a week, in Chinese from anywhere in England. It was during these days that Nick Anelka was running the show, and I was fortunate to watch the dismal showing of Newcastle in the FA Cup Final that year. As for the championship celebrations? You must be kidding.
Two years ago China allowed me to pick up the radio signal to 'Radio Arsenal'. (BBC is still blocked by the government) And so for all of last year I found myself rooted to the computer screen listening to broken commentary due to the bad connection. Frustrating though it was, I was that much closer to the lads. This year though, things changed.
ESPN Asia decided that they would show the Premiership, and show it they have. It's provided some interesting conflicts of interest, but it's been brilliant. There has been five games a week shown live, four more on delay, and a show three times a week with highlights and previews of the next games - lovely. Arsenal have played many many games this year and I've seen almost all of them, but not without cost. I've missed countless nights out with friends to watch Arsenal at 10pm, but many more nights sleep for the other ones. Every Champions League game has been shown this year, at the appalling hour of 2:45am. Did it matter? Not at all. Every other wednesday for many weeks I got myself out of bed to watch Arsenal destroy Juventus, Bayer, and countless others, and the subsequent heartbreak of Juventus and Deportivo. No matter though, I was there. I shared the joy, the tears, the emotional rollercoaster that is being an Arsenal fan. I was there at 4:30am when Ian Harte inflicted one of our three defeats. Also when we were mugged by Newcastle, but there too when we turned over Spurs at Highbury and of course, when we went to Old Trafford and won it there. I even got on Asia-wide TV as an Arsenal fan with a question for the panel of Football Focus, the highlight show. It's been great to see so much of the team, but I've done it at the expense of my sleep, and health. No matter. Even the threat of a final exam couldn't stop me from getting up on May, 8th. Nothing could.
But with the end of the season (of course I watched the lifting of both trophies) comes the end of an era. I'm off to the US for college now. I'm not returning home for University, but I hope to make a guest appearance in Cardiff this year for the Charity Shield. I was at Wembley for the last one. 3-0 anyone? After that it'll be off to another land of the uneducated, where fans are scarce and Gunners are extinct. And it'll be back to the match reports, the sketchy radio and perhaps the odd news report. Will it matter? Not a bit. It didn't matter in China, and it won't matter in the US. Passion doesn't dull, intensity doesn't drop and love doesn't wane - not when you're following the Arsenal, no matter where you live.