We were sitting in the tunnel watching the players come off the pitch. Some looked quite intense and ready for action such as Aaron Ramsey. The substitutes looked more relaxed. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain smiled over at us and gave thumbs up (not a special one) as he walked past into the changing room. Then, as I was being told what my ball carrying duty would entail, I saw a massive shadowy figure in the corner of my eye and my brother say something. Turned out he shook the hand of the BFG A.K.A Per Mertesacker.
From what I could see, the ground was now filling up nicely and the entrance music was beginning. Not long now. The referee came over to give me the ball. It felt extremely light yet it felt like a huge weight because of my nerves. The referee joked with me that I dare not drop it but I soon did. Firstly, the ball is very slippy and it’s difficult to get a firm grip without gloves. Secondly, a man (not sure who it was) said “Enjoy the match, Gary” which put me off and meant I took my eye off the ball. Luckily, that was the last time.
When I looked up, both teams were lined up in preparation. The ref counted down from 5 before leading the players out. Vermaelen turned round clapping and shouting, “come on lads”. This made me smile because it felt like he was addressing me as well as his colleagues. We waited for everyone to leave the tunnel before taking to the pitch.
This is where my recollection becomes hazy. Not in terms of memory because I will remember the day for the rest of my life but how it felt when I came out of the tunnel. The best way to describe it is like entering a bubble. The atmosphere becomes muffled and the crowd become a mass blur. I could only see a few metres in front of me at the cameras. This must be what it feels like to be famous. The only problem was that I didn’t know whether to look directly at the camera (freaky) or act natural.
The referee was Mike Jones, which was lucky because he is one of the few I still have respect for and like him even more now. He is a great bloke with a firm handshake (which is always a good sign of character) and like I said, had a great sense of humour too. When he took the ball, he told me it was “nice to meet you” and to “enjoy the game”. I did… in the end.
Before going back to my normal space to watch the game, I briefly spoke to Arsene Wenger. I shook his hand, panicked and said “good luck”. To which he laughed and replied “thank you”. I didn’t pluck up the courage to say, “spend some money” though. As soon as I was off the pitch, I felt a lot better like a weight had been lifted. This was soon replaced by an awful sinking feeling when we were 1-0 down with 5 minutes left. But, the euphoric feeling of turning it round to win 3-1 capped off an incredible day.
I look at these pictures/videos and still cannot believe it finally happened. I keep pinching myself and think I will be for a long time.
Bye for now!