By Omar Khan, @omardelkhan7
It was past 2AM on a weeknight. I was on the edge of my seat in the dimmed TV lounge of our house. Everyone else was asleep, the volume on the television very low; just loud enough for me to hear the commentary.
I must have been on the edge of my seat throughout as Barcelona had Arsenal on the edge most of that game.
Then it happened; that break – Fabregas sending Nasri down the wing with a pass that seemed to open up the Catalans, Nasri holding the ball up just long enough to hit a grounded pass to meet Arshavin’s run. The Russian then hit a beauty of a curler into the far corner:
I didn’t yell. I didn’t do my usual fist thump on the sofa.
I was on my knees in front of the screen doing this:
Not a sound escaped my throat as I didn’t want to wake anyone up.
I didn’t want to sleep that night. It was an unexpected and an unbelievable victory. My celebration though, is the most I’ve ever been able to do as an international Gooner.
I live in Karachi, Pakistan. We have no pubs; no sports bars (barring one or two that sort of claim to be one, though one of them apparently is now associated with Manchester United Pakistan’s official supporter club I think). I wasn’t raised in Pakistan either, so I have very few friends here as well.
During university days, the most I’d get to do was wear my Arsenal jersey to campus after a successful weekend and engage in some banter with rival fans whilst fellow Gooners would be walking around in their Arsenal jerseys as well. Discussions on players and the match would ensue for the next couple of days whenever we’d run into each other. Our university’s football team had fans of other teams as well so the discussions would be a bit more diverse then. Once or twice a season, three or four of us would get together at one of our homes to watch United versus Arsenal together as a United supporter would be amongst us. That would be it.
For years it has been me and my television screen, and it still is. I’m a rather quiet boy in front my of family so I still never make any noise; it’s always a bunch of muted expressions – throw my hands in the air out of frustration, fist pumps in the air or on the couch when we score.
I’m familiar with the chants by Gooners – whether team specific or player specific – either because the television coverage catches it on the mic or sometimes thanks to YouTube before that became banned in my country! Either way, it’s something I make a conscious effort to know about. Arsenal may have a global fan base but at the end of the day it is an English club. There’s a culture attached to the club and its fans which, I believe, is very crucial to its identity. The fans who reside in England and especially those who attend matches week-in-week-out are those I look towards for some sort of guidance – whether for chants or just to get some perspective on any feelings towards the club/players whether positive or negative.
Sitting here in Karachi, I never really felt like I was contributing much to the club except for paying for cable. The most I did otherwise was always to make sure I buy original jerseys – even if they cost ten times more than knock-offs. I do that both for self-satisfaction (i.e. I’m contributing), but also because I just feel it’s the right thing to do.
However, things have altered slightly over the last year or so – I became a bit more active on social media!
There’s a massive Gooner family on Twitter and on Facebook. I won’t get into the pros and cons of Gooners on social media, I think we’re all well aware of those!
*cough* Wenger-In *cough* Wenger-Out *cough*
There is a good presence of Pakistani Gooners on Facebook via both groups and pages and I made sure I joined. Has it helped improve the experience of being an international Gooner? Well, it only helps to the extent to know there are others out there sharing your joy or pain; but that’s what all of social media brings you and not specific to the Pakistani pages/groups. In fact, my little escape at times is the sane minds of the Full90Gooner team on WhatsApp!
Anyway, the one good thing that has come out of the Pakistani Gooners community was an initiative taken back in April/May of this year. Gooners of Pakistan decided to form a football team made up of Gooners! It took time to take off as the holy month of Ramadan was upon as , but we’ve held several practices since then and have played a couple of games – drew one and won the other.
It’s a good group of boys spanning different ages: I’m the eldest – all united by one love and that is Arsenal Football Club. The WhatsApp group for that goes off the rocker on match day and can be quite entertaining. It’s interesting the extent to which people’s view on how football should be played can be influenced by the team they support. Our team wants to play a possession-based game whenever possible; we somewhat managed it in the game we won as well! Moreover, the way their football brain works also seems to be influenced – the willingness to make short and quick pass combinations with movement etc.
The other good to come out of social media was the live screenings held across the country for the FA Cup Final. It was done the year before but I didn’t attend that one. I went alone this year and ran into some old friends. It was an interesting experience because the crowd was relatively quiet. Maybe Arsenal’s dominance had something to do with that? I didn’t know if I was to expect any singing or not – this is where culture comes in.
Pakistani crowds have their chants for cricket games and are a noisy lot. This was different. Pakistanis are generally a bit more conservative in settings where strangers outnumber familiar faces. Plus, Arsenal chants, as frequently heard as they may be, have probably every barely ever been sung aloud by us! I couldn’t find my voice; I’m a very quiet person and years of muted celebrations in front of the tele don’t help!
If the crowd had gotten singing I probably would have joined in. Otherwise I was just engrossed in the match. I couldn’t hi-five any strangers; it just feels weird to do that in my country. Maybe it’s just me (it probably is just me)! I’m usually not proactively social or friendly so I won’t generalize and say my countrymen are like this; but, I certainly am.
I oft wonder what I would do if I were a supporter based in England and I hope one day to narrate the experience.‘Till then, I think I’m fine with the television screen in the comfortable confines of my home.
Thank you to Omar, @omardelkhan7, for participating in the “Oh to be a Gooner – International Roll Call” blog series. Would you like to earn your place on our map? Contact @coygoonersgirl or e-mail email@example.com.