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1% that makes it all worthwhile

It’s that time of the year again.

The new football season is just round the corner, and up and down the country fans are daring to wonder how great a season their team could have if they get off to a fast, confidence-building start, and if their new signings can make a big difference, and if the squad can stay injury-free, and if they can just get the rub of the green …

In other words, hope springs eternal – before reality bites, that is.

Expectation levels vary widely from one club to another, of course. If you’re a fan of Man U or Chelsea, then nothing less than a triumphal march to the Premiership title (and Champions League glory) will do. If you follow Derby County, then the avoidance of relegation and a couple of glorious giant-killing wins will more than suffice.

For my team, Arsenal, the situation is a little less clear-cut, and no doubt if you asked a hundred Gooners what they are expecting from this season, you will get a hundred different answers. For some, a top 4 finish with a young side in transition will be a good result, particularly if Arsene Wenger can be persuaded to stay. For others, a Cup and a good Champions League run will be evidence of solid progress. But the more impatient fans – and there are many – will expect nothing less than a first league title in four years, despite the substantially bigger spending of the other top clubs. There may be little empirical evidence to back these up, but it does not stop people hoping and expecting.

At times like this, before the true heat of battle has started the season-long process of bubble-bursting, it is easy to spot great portents in a resounding pre-season win, or an eye-catching performance from a new player. It’s easy to believe that things must surely be better this season, that the final piece of the puzzle has been found, that this has to be our year …

It’s the same for most fans of most clubs; the delicious taste of glory, out of reach yet tantalisingly close.

I’m no different. I’ve been carefully following all the football news and transfer rumours since last season ended, elated by every new signing – da Silva, Sagna, Fabianski – and strong rumour, depressed by those exiting the club – Henry, Ljungberg, Aliadiere – and those long-desired fish who escaped elsewhere. I’ve read all the pre-season match-reports, looking for those early indications of greatness from some of our younger players. I’ve watched the two televised preseason tournaments we’ve played in with rapt interest, looking to add the evidence of my own eyes to what I have read in print. I’ve seen right back Bacary Sagna’s pace and attacking power, which has allowed Emmanuel Eboue to convert into a swashbuckling winger. I watched Eduardo da Silva – 34 goals in 32 games last season, how can he not turn out to be brilliant (even if it was just the Croatian league)? – emphatically underline his potential with a brief cameo against Ajax. Two preseason trophies out of two must count as a momentum-builder, good for the confidence … surely nothing can stop us now?

I can even see the positives in the big name players we have lost over the summer. Thierry Henry, our all-time leading goalscorer, is a huge loss, no question about it: how do you replace one of the world’s top strikers, even if he is arguably not quite the explosive threat he was. And yet, he is also nearly 30 and increasingly troubled by injury, so was now a good time to cash in? Arguably, yes. Jose Antonio Reyes? A great talent whose heart had never truly left Spain – for every great performance he produced in an Arsenal shirt, there were four or five where he was practically invisible. Sending him home was the best thing for all parties – right for Reyes, and right in terms of preserving a positive atmosphere in the dressing room. Freddie Ljungberg? A once-great goalscoring midfielder who bore comparison with Paul Scholes, but for the past two years a fading force who spent more time injured than not, so no great loss.

When the warped mind of a maniacal fan is able to turn negatives on their head, it’s no surprise how easy it is to be seduced by the positives, no matter how small and insignificant.

The question really is: how much do I dare to hope? Hope is like a drug; it lifts you up and can become addictive, but it can also dump you rudely back to earth once it wears off. The thing is, even the most optimistic of football fans knows, in their heart of hearts, that in 99% of cases hope promises far more than reality will ever deliver. But it is that rare diamond, that 1% of the time when a team produces something extraordinary beyond even our wildest dreams, that makes the rest of it oh so worthwhile.

And that’s why hope will always spring eternal, rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the previous season’s despair. Odds are that hope will ultimately prove unfounded, but it’s one that I – and millions of others – are only too happy to embrace, because sooner or later we just know that magical 1% will happen to us too. (This season, preferably.)

Roll on the weekend. And come on you Gunners!

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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