Simone Eligon recalls how a gift from her cousin turned an interest into a passion deeper than she could have ever imagined
My first memory of Holloway Road rests in January 2011 as I left the warmth of the station and joined the sea of red making their pilgrimage to the Emirates in the brisk afternoon air. Beside me walked my cousin, Ben, his long-legged stride forcing me to skip next to him. With each step, the stadium grew closer, and I couldn’t keep the smile off my face for two important reasons: one, this was my first ever Arsenal match, and two, I was wearing my Arsenal shirt.
Ben bought this particular jersey on my seventh birthday, and when I first laid eyes on it, I never wanted to look away again. Over the years, my cousin had passed down a couple of his old tops from when the badge still had curling letters and a west-facing gun. There was the ’99/’00 yellow kit with SEGA written in bold across the front. Then there was the red home kit from ’00/’01. Both were a bit baggy and worn but I could feel the history and love in its threads. But what made my birthday present so special was the back of the shirt where my name was printed in white letters above the number seven. It was completely mine.
Although I’m way too old to squeeze into that top now, it still holds many memories. When I look at my seventh birthday present, I remember watching Robin van Persie score a hat-trick against Wigan Athletic. I remember leaping in the stands with the rest of the Gunners. I remember how special I felt when I first wore my very own shirt. It reminds me that Arsenal will always be synonymous with love. Arsenal is my grandma watching a game and cheering on Saka with all her might. It’s my mum, despite knowing nothing about football at first, talking to me about Arsenal results whilst I was abroad at university. It’s my cousin sharing his favourite team with me and giving me my favourite shirt.