“Some days I am just left speechless… Thanks to RvP, another such day arrives”. This was what I read when the blinky thing on my phone finally managed to wake me up. What had RvP now done to force a person who is usually not prone to extremities to send such a message? Well, that something was the fact that a deal with the Devils was made and RvP was to be sold to Manchester United. And of course, I did not go to sleep again.
What is it about sportspersons that makes us want to glorify them and make them our heroes? What special qualities do they have that makes us want to worship them and put them on a pedestal? They are, after all, ordinary human beings just like you and I, albeit with a different set of talents. Is it because they can do something that we only dream of that we give them such a huge place in our lives? If so, would the same players look at you and cheer you on for doing something that they are not capable of? They wouldn’t now, would they? So why do you and I still do so?
I blame the history books for this. Thanks to them, we need our very own Hectors, Alexanders and Asokas to worship. When historians tell the tales of the mighty warriors of the past, it is always about the courage they showed, the valour with which they fought and the respect they got from ordinary people. Special emphasis was always given on how it was the noblest thing to do fight for the kingdom. If you were a warrior, then you were a hero to the people and they worshipped you for fighting their battles.
While war no longer holds the same romance as it did in the past, the closest thing we have is the sports field. When two teams are involved, they don’t just play each other, they battle it out. It is no longer just competition, it is fierce rivalry. When Arsenal plays Tottenham, it is not just a simple game between neighbours. It is all out war. And those who come out in flying colours are the heroes.
At Arsenal, as with any other football club, many heroes have come and gone. Each has made his mark at the club and sadly, a lot of them have left tears for the supporters. Every player that was worshipped wanted to leave the club, and it was the supporters that have suffered. From Frank Stapleton to Robin van Persie, they have come and they have gone.
I have a particular bone to pick with Robin van Persie. Since the time I have been supporting Arsenal, there have been many stars that have left. In fact, after news of Henry’s defection to Barcelona came out, a few of my friends called me to offer their condolences. But it didn’t really feel that hurtful. You always knew that the club was always greater than one individual. Don’t get me wrong, though. I loved the players and wished they hadn’t left. But it was alright. Because, deep down, I knew that my real hero was still at the club.
All the other players were established stars by the time I got around to becoming a disciple of the Arsenal religion. But when Robin van Persie came here, he was a nobody. And I immediately took to him. When he scored his goals, I celebrated that little bit more. When he got injured, which was more than most times, it felt like I was the one who was on the treatment table. The first numbered jersey I had was the No. 11 of Robin van Persie. My first ever wall poster had Robin van Persie on it. Yes, RvP was my hero. He was my Hector. Alexander was not the greatest, it was Robin the Great!
When he said, “The bottom line is that I want to win trophies with Arsenal, not with anybody else. I know you can win trophies in many countries and in many ways, but I want to do that in our way and in an Arsenal shirt. I’m sure I could win things at another team in another country, but would it feel like our trophy, my trophy? I’m not sure it would. Anything we win here will come from the heart and that’s what I want. It’s my dream and I see no point in speaking about other teams when I have these dreams. I think other people know that about me; I’m just hungry to win with Arsenal and that’s it”, I believed him and loved him even more for it. I knew he gets what it was to be at Arsenal. I knew he would stay at Arsenal and retire here, just like Dennis Bergkamp.
He was made captain and I knew that Wenger had finally got it right. He led the team from the front, pulled them out of the quagmire, fought with opponents, celebrated with passion and ensured the club finished at an unbelievable 3rd. There was pride in being the captain of Arsenal. My favourite memory of last season was his end of game fight with the Newcastle goalkeeper. This was what it was to be an Arsenal player. To hell with the Nasri’s and the Cesc’s, we had Robin van Persie.
I fought with friends, stating that van Persie was going to lead us out of our trophy drought. He had character and the team had the strength to fight for each other. That’s what a hero does, isn’t it? Wrong. Robin van Persie is not Hector. He wouldn’t lay down his life for the cause. His “update” brought my world crashing down. In spite of his come-and-get-me plea, I still hopelessly believed that he did it for the good of the club and at the end of the transfer window, he would still be the Arsenal captain. He then does the ultimate betrayal and joins Manchester United. Hector wouldn’t have joined hands with Achilles, would he?
You see, that’s the difference between history and reality. For Hector, there was no choice. But Robin van Persie had, and he took it. To most people outside football, it is just another player moving from one team to another. This is the sort of disappointment you can experience only when you hero-worship one player in a team. To Man Utd fans, it is a laughathon. To Arsenal fans, it is betrayal.
I can’t bring myself to hate Robin van Persie. I will, of course, boo him when we play his team. I will erase the number and the name at the back of my cherished jersey. People will call him Robin van P’u’rsie. For me, he will be Robin van Stapleton. But I won’t hate him. Because, I realise, I shouldn’t have made him my hero. Because, you see, heroes don’t exist.