Derby day special | Arsenal gun down Spurs

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Arsenal fan Nick Ekkeshis on what the North London derby means to him and how it has shaped his identity as he turns his focus on his fellow supporters for pivotal clash against Tottenham Hotspur.

Arsenal 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur. Emirates Stadium. 01.10.22

“My football club is my identity”. So says Nick Ekkeshis, Arsenal fan born and bred. One of four siblings raised in an Arsenal mad North London home, he has followed the Gunners for over 20 years, now taking pictures, “capturing a moment in time that can’t ever be recreated.”

“Time constantly passes,” he says, “but we can freeze moments and relive them through photography.”

Arsenal fans versus Tottenham Hotspur. North London derby. 01.10.22. Arsenal win 3-1.
© Nick Ekkeshis / @analogue.arsenal

Like die hard football fans around the world, there is nothing quite like beating your most local rivals. And for Ekkeshis there was plenty to savour this particular derby day both before, during and after Arsenal’s 3-1  triumph.

“It’s absolutely impossible to pick out one singular moment as a highlight,” he said.

“Partey finally bending one into the top corner after 57 attempted shots from outside of the box, Saliba’s nutmeg on Skipp in their eighteen yard box, the DJ playing crowd pleasers at full time, the Spurs players clapping an empty away end, seeing everyone back at the pub after and having that first sip of beer in the sunshine… each moment is better than the last. 

“I’ve had horrible luck with derbies over the years, I went to six derbies on the bounce without seeing us win both home and away (2008, 2010, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019). I genuinely believed I was cursed and didn’t buy tickets to both of the 5-2 wins at home on purpose. 

“I had the exact same reason not to go last season but I was offered a ticket on the morning of the game and thought I’d try my luck. Lo and behold the curse was broken and we won 3-1. This year was the exact same result except this time, I was able to savour the occasion and enjoy it way more.”

Arsenal fans versus Tottenham Hotspur. North London derby. 01.10.22. Arsenal win 3-1.
© Nick Ekkeshis / @analogue.arsenal

His appreciation of the importance of photography came as a student, working alongside his father helping select the images to accompany travel articles. Ekkeshis now works as an account manager for a creative agency, but has not lost his love of pictures.

“Being exposed to beautiful photos of beautiful places ended up creating a passion for photography and travel that I’ve never lost,” he said.

“Naturally my passion for photography merged with my passion for football. Going to games so regularly meant that I stopped buying programmes and fanzines and with the introduction of membership cards I no longer had tickets as a keep sake to remember matches. 

“I decided to take my camera to games to document my experiences at each and every single game and give me something to remember and cherish.”

Arsenal fans versus Tottenham Hotspur. North London derby. 01.10.22. Arsenal win 3-1.
© Nick Ekkeshis / @analogue.arsenal

His love of all things Arsenal was ingrained as a toddler.

“There’s a ton of home videos of my brothers teaching three year old me Arsenal songs; making me wave flags around the house “singing 1-0 to the Arsenal” and pointing out photos of players. 

“Their walls were adorned with pictures of Adams, Seaman, Wright, Rocastle, Bergkamp and from the moment I could talk I was speaking the language of The Arsenal.”

For Ekkeshis, Thierry Henry is the all time great.

“Wenger said football is an art when done well,” he recalled. “Henry was certainly one of his masterpieces.”

He continues: “If you ask any Arsenal fan born in the early 90s I’m sure they would give you the same answer. I adored Bergkamp, Cole, Vieira and Pires but Henry was an attitude as well as a player. 

“Socks covering knees, black Nike gloves in winter, mercurial vapours, celebrations that oozed cool (vs Wigan in 2006) and endless goals of the highest possible quality.”

His first time watching Henry live was against Leicester at Highbury in 2000. 

“I was sat in the North Bank with my brother and his two friends and said from the moment we left my house till the 80th minute that Henry would score a goal in the last minute of the game. 

“He scored a hat-trick with his third being in the 82nd minute – it’s a game I’ll never forget.”

Arsenal fans versus Tottenham Hotspur. North London derby. 01.10.22. Arsenal win 3-1.
© Nick Ekkeshis / @analogue.arsenal

His first ever time watching Arsenal was unforgettable for different reasons. He didn’t see a thing, standing on a waste bin trying to see into the ground during a sold out friendly at Barnet. His first experience of Highbury, however, was another story all together.

“The first time I saw Highbury was the first time I fell in love,” he enthused.

“Walking up the stairs and seeing the immaculate green turf with thousands of people singing, chanting, swearing. Then seeing the demigods dressed in red and white jogging around the pitch. What isn’t there to love?

“My football club is my identity. Being born in the UK to parents from a different country has given me a bit of an identity crisis growing up. I can’t ever truly feel British just as much as I can’t ever truly feel Cypriot. 

“However at The Arsenal, I am exactly the same as the other 60,000 people who love and support the club. 

“We have a common purpose, a collective ambition and a shared history. I’ve found my country at Arsenal and I’m sure many others have too. 

“I’ve heard from many non Arsenal supporting football fans of different generations that Arsenal has always had one of the most diverse fan bases. I take so much pride in knowing that regardless of your age, gender or sex there is a place for you as long as you love the club.”

Arsenal fans versus Tottenham Hotspur. North London derby. 01.10.22. Arsenal win 3-1.
Shane, proud owner of a mammoth collection of official and bootleg Arsenal memorabilia. “When he turned around I noticed a bootleg t-shirt describing our North London rivals as second best. I asked him why of all of the grails in his collection did he wear a bootleg shirt on the most important day of the season: “Why I chose this shirt? Plain and simple. Middle finger to sh*t”. Don’t get more straight to the point than that. © Nick Ekkeshis / @analogue.arsenal
Arsenal fans versus Tottenham Hotspur. North London derby. 01.10.22. Arsenal win 3-1.
Keith Martin, pre match pints. © Nick Ekkeshis / @analogue.arsenal

There can be no more loyal Arsenal supporter than Keith Martin, a legend among Gunners fans, having only missed six first team games in 40 years, including pre season friendlies.

Chatting to him before the Tottenham game presented Ekkeshis with another highlight. 

“Anyone who walks into the Kings Head Pub on Blackstock Road first passes by Keith’s seat to shake his hand before going to the bar and ordering a drink,” he said.

“There’s an endless conveyor belt of people following this routine that shows the respect this man has in the Arsenal community. Replace the friendly smiling face with an Italian gangster and this ritual wouldn’t look out of place in a Francis Ford Coppola mob film. 

“Keith isn’t just the number one Gooner, he’s the godfather of the Arsenal fan base. His commitment is unparalleled.”

Using his Olympus Shoot & Go R, it’s the people Ekkeshis prefers to focus on, while fully appreciating just how vital those people are to the clubs they support.

“I used to like capturing architecture or scenery,” he said, ” but landscapes  and monuments can only change so much. Expressions in people are limitless.

“It’s become cliche but football without fans is nothing. The million pound business is worthless regardless of how much money is being made through advertising, sponsorship and kit manufacturers. It’s the people who love the game that breathe the life into it – not the corporations who fund it. It’s the people who are the beauty of the game. 

Arsenal fans versus Tottenham Hotspur. North London derby. 01.10.22. Arsenal win 3-1.
Thomas Partey puts Arsenal ahead. © Nick Ekkeshis / @analogue.arsenal
Arsenal fans versus Tottenham Hotspur. North London derby. 01.10.22. Arsenal win 3-1.
Players and fans celebrate after Gabriel Jesus scores Arsenal’s 2nd goal. © Nick Ekkeshis / @analogue.arsenal
Arsenal fans versus Tottenham Hotspur. North London derby. 01.10.22. Arsenal win 3-1.
By far the greatest team: Fans in full voice. © Nick Ekkeshis / @analogue.arsenal

“Capturing the mundaneness of a match day ritual is to capture what the match day experience means. Football creates emotion euphoria, heartbreak, elation, relief… The sport wouldn’t be the phenomena it is without the people who live, feel and express these emotions week by week, game by game. 

“Photography can trigger familiarity through other sensory experiences. I can take a photo of a burger van that has been selling in the area for 30 years and if you’re a match day regular you can smell the grilled onions. I could take a picture of a dingy pub and you can smell the alcohol stained carpet.  

“For me Arsenal is my identity, for others it’s their escapism from illness or injury, from grief or sadness, it’s a connection to loved ones who are here and a bridge to loved ones who have been lost.”

Arsenal fans versus Tottenham Hotspur. North London derby. 01.10.22. Arsenal win 3-1.
North London is Red banner next to the Tottenham away support in the bottom left. © Nick Ekkeshis / @analogue.arsenal

If you enjoyed that, you may also like Chris Read’s Arsenal project, showcasing his amazing portfolio of fans with the backs of their shirts emblazoned with the names of their Highbury heroes.

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