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08th Nov 2015

‘As a foreign fan, Man United will always be Arsenal’s biggest derby’

Kevin Beirne

Every fan loves derby day.

A big derby win can spark a season into life, while a loss can bring your momentum to a crashing halt. Players know this as well as fans, and you can see it on the pitch as they hit every tackle that bit harder and celebrate every goal that bit more.

That’s why there’s no better feeling for me as an Arsenal fan than beating Manchester United. Now some of you may have pointed out that Arsenal’s local rivals aren’t Man United, but rather Tottenham Hotspur. While that’s technically correct, it never felt that way for me – and I know I’m not alone.

You see, like many Premier League fans, I didn’t grow up in the UK. Instead, I was born and raised in Dublin. My father was a Leeds United fan. Supporting a foreign team was the norm.

Norman Hunter of Leeds United and Court of Arsenal

I wasn’t even an Arsenal fan at first. My first love was Nottingham Forest, thanks to the fact I shared the same first name as Kevin Campbell. After a brief flirtation with almost every team in the Premier League, I ended up supporting the same team as my brother (who had himself copied our older cousin) – Arsenal. That was 1996, and I’ve followed the Gunners ever since.

I have old Arsenal jerseys sporting names of Arsenal legends like Marc Overmars and Dennis Bergkamp on the back. When I broke my collarbone in 2002 I refused to allow doctors to cut me out of my Arsenal jersey because the Gunners had won the double that year. I am firmly an Arsenal fan.

But when the Arsene Wenger’s men take the field this Sunday against Spurs, it won’t feel all that special to me. I know that Tottenham are Arsenal’s local rivals – but I actually always quite liked them as a kid.

In the entire time I’ve followed Arsenal, the closest I came to seeing an Irish player in the team was Anthony Stokes. Spurs, meanwhile, had the likes of Robbie Keane, Stephen Carr and Gary Doherty – aka the ginger Pele.

Tottenham always played entertaining football, and because of my distance from London I never really had any experience of the rivalry beyond being told it existed on the TV.

Gary Doherty, Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira, Martin Keown

Even now, despite the fact that I live in Tottenham’s home borough of Haringey in London, I still get more of a thrill from seeing Arsene Wenger mastermind a 3-0 demolition of Man United than knocking Spurs out of the League Cup.

In Ireland, everybody either supports Man United or Liverpool, with a few Arsenal fans here and there and a new breed of Chelsea and Man City fans beginning to pop up now. I knew one Spurs fan as a child, but countless United fans.

I was there last season when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain equalised after Nacer Chadli had opened the scoring. The atmosphere was the best I’d ever seen it in the Emirates. But United are still the holy grail for me.

As an Arsenal fan, I saw Alex Ferguson lead his team to ten Premier League titles and two Champions League wins. Those 6-1 and 8-2 defeats are probably the most painful I have ever felt as a football fan.

Manchester United v Arsenal - Premier League

On the other hand, Arsene Wenger has only lost seven of his 47 North London derbies since his arrival in 1996. During that time, Spurs have finished above every single team in England in at least one season, except for Arsenal.

We’ve seen some fabulous games in that time. Between 2007 and 2012, the teams averaged 4.2 goals per game over the space of 16 matches. But Arsenal still almost always win.

I know the history of the North London derby, but a rivalry’s not something you know – it’s something you feel. For a foreign fan like me, Man United will always be Arsenal’s biggest derby.