Once a United fan, always a Gooner

Saturday 22nd June 2013 15:32

Dennis Bergkamp: Scored some spectacular goals as an Arsenal player

Dennis Bergkamp: Scored some spectacular goals as an Arsenal player

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Arsenal FanZoner Harry Moylan looks back at the special moment which turned him from the red of Manchester United to the red of Arsenal.

I always felt a strong affinity with football and from a young age, my father encouraged me to pursue the interest.

Never a big football fan himself (a fact he by-passed as a minor detail), he nonetheless decided to use the game as a ready-made bonding mechanism for the two of us.

In the late 1990s Manchester United seemed the most obvious winning team, so the way my dad saw it, only natural that a son would want to follow them: They won trophies seemingly everlastingly, and how better to maximise footballing enjoyment than support the favourite?

Any experienced football fan will testify that watching your team win a trophy creates the very best memories. So my dad kitted me out in an eight-year-old black away Manchester United jersey of the time (1998-2000) and as far as we both knew, I set out perfectly happily on a lifetime of footballing fandom with Manchester United.

Our first club football match together was the FA Cup fourth-round tie between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford on the 24th of January, 1999. Due to an unfortunate misunderstanding between my dad and Ticketmaster, we ended up sitting in the away section with Liverpool fans. Michael Owen's header gave Liverpool a second-minute lead and I still recall the stress of trying to act reasonably upbeat for the first half in the sea of Liverpool supporters.

United were poor, but after a rousing half-time hair drying, United came back out a different team. Pressure grew with United creating numerous chances, including Roy Keane hitting the woodwork, and Liverpool's goal was living a charmed life. Just when we were starting to give up all hope of a United equaliser, the 88th minute arrived and Andy Cole teed up Dwight Yorke from a David Beckham free-kick for the easiest of tap-ins. Straight from the restart it was obvious that United could now smell blood. Deep in injury time, 'the baby-faced assassin' Ole Gunnar Solskjaer struck the winner. Pandemonium ensued, and I now found myself attempting to control my delight from the utterly despondent Koppites.

Little did I know at the time, it was the happiest I would ever be to see United score a goal. Of course, this was the season that United went on to win their legendary Treble, with another injury-time strike from Solskjaer securing the Champions League. If I were a United fan today, I'd look back fondly on that Liverpool game and proudly declare: "I was at a match at Old Trafford the year United won the Treble." Whenever the United class of 1999 were mentioned (all too often for my liking!), I would wheel out the anecdote. However a much more important day in my life was approaching later that year, a day that would change my life in footballing terms forever. The 14th of April 1999 saw United take on Arsenal in an FA Cup semi-final replay at Villa Park. It was a Wednesday evening and my dad had agreed to take me to a pub in town after work to watch it. We settled on a pub in the city centre and, amongst many die hard Manchester United fans, we set ourselves up with some pub grub sausage and chips, coke for me and a pint for the dad. Of course, I was wearing my United jersey.

Arsenal were United's biggest domestic threat, so the mood was tense.

Given the calibre of the two teams, there was a feeling that whoever won this match would go on to lift the FA Cup (which in fact was proven to be entirely correct). When Beckham opened the scoring in the 17th minute with a wonderful strike from closer to 30 yards, the tension eased, and the bar erupted with cries of joy as everyone around rejoiced in the future England captain's brilliance.

And watching the United fans around me celebrate, I realised the oddest sense of detachment was creeping over me - why wasn't I happy? Why wasn't I rejoicing with my fellow supporters? I was even wearing my United jersey. Yet there was always something missing. Even back at that FA Cup game against Liverpool, despite being briefly swept away in the emotion that is late drama in a football match, for large portions of the game, at best I'd felt an entertained neutral. Did I even like football? Of course I did!

The odd detachment I was experiencing persisted into the second half of the game - and it was an exciting game, with red cards, missed penalties and complete commitment from both sides. It was a proper cup tie.

And then in the 69th minute, an entirely bizarre and unprecedented occurrence took place. In an unthreatening position outside of the United box, Dennis Bergkamp took up possession. After a couple of touches, he unleashed a shot, which via deflection, ended up in United's net. Instantly a wild and spontaneous euphoria swept over me which I will never forget - involuntary joy, easily trumping any pleasure got from watching United turn Liverpool around at Old Trafford only months previously.

I found myself cheering my first Dennis Bergkamp goal, surrounded by Mancs, wearing a United jersey as my confused and slightly embarrassed father looked awkwardly at his plate (and presumably marvelling at the unpredictable nature of boys). And in spite of all the odds, an Arsenal fan was born.

Tragically, this unforgettable high was followed by an equally unforgettable low less than an hour later. Ryan Giggs pounced on a tired pass from Patrick Vieira in extra time, and from inside his own half, the Welshman made a beeline for Arsenal's goal, leaving our defence in his wake; his most iconic moment in a United shirt.

Watching him wave that jersey above his head and that hairy chest was my first moment of agony as an Arsenal fan (and there have been many since). In spite of which, I can never quite look back on that match with the same amount of pain as most of my fellow Gooners, because that was the match in which I discovered my true destiny as a supporter. That match set in motion years of Google searches on 'Arsenal transfer news', 'Arsenal Sky' and 'Arsenal TEAMtalk'.

Dozens of Football Manger games, starting of new seasons in Pro Evo, mind-numbing debates with WUMs on fan boards and the annual gargantuan saving-up for the Arsenal home jersey. It all started on that night, the last night I wore a Manchester United jersey.

So that's my greatest secret revealed - I was originally a Manc! Isn't it weird how we all come to support 'our' clubs?

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