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Meet Layth Yousif: The Arsenal Insider

Oppdatert: 15. nov.

In the world of football journalism, there are few people who manage to bridge the gap between personal passion and professional integrity as gracefully as Layth Yousif. With a career spanning several decades and a portfolio that includes contributions to renowned publications such as the Islington Gazette, Football.London, and his current role as editor of the long-running Arsenal fanzine The Gooner, Layth Yousif is a name well recognized by any Arsenal enthusiast who has set their foot in England. But what is it like to be so closely linked to such a historic and passionately followed club as Arsenal? How does Layth manage to balance his deep-rooted personal passion for the Gunners with his journalistic responsibilities?

What is it like to be constantly on the road and capture the essence of Arsenal through thick and thin?

First Arsenal memory?

Watching the 1979 FA Cup final on TV with my dad as a seven-year-old

Best Arsenal memory?

Being alongside 10,000 Gooners on the terraces behind the goal at White Hart Lane on March 4, 1987, when we came from behind to beat that lot 2-1 in the Littlewoods Cup semi-final replay. You can date the start of the modern-day Arsenal from that momentous evening. It laid the foundation to win our first trophy since ’79, after we ‘mucked’ Rushie’s record up in the final. Quite simply Anfield 89 would not have happened had we not built the resilience to come back in challenging situations - and that stemmed from that never to be forgotten night at the Lane.

Favourite game and why?

See above. Also being at Wembley for the 1987 Littlewoods Cup final. I’ve been fortunate enough to be at most of Arsenal’s triumphs over the last 35 years either as a season ticket holder or a journalist. Copenhagen in 94 was wonderful. I even wrote a book about it. Being in the home end at Spurs when we won the league in 2004 was also an incredible high point (long story). Sampdoria away in 1995 was pretty special. As was watching Henry roast Ramos to score one of the best goals in Arsenal’s long and illustrious history at the Bernabeu in February 2006.

Worst game and why?

Being at the Littlewoods Cup final in 1988 was pretty awful for an impressionable teenager who was convinced Arsenal could never do wrong. Being in the away end at Old Trafford at the height of our rivalry with United when they tonked us 6-1 in February 2000, prompting a mass exodus on 28 minutes at 4-1 down. I’m proud I stayed till the bitter end, as I’m a masochist.

Or how about the 1991 FA Cup semi-final? Sat behind the goal where Gazza scored that free-kick past Seaman. That was a truly dreadful day.

Losing the 2006 Champions League final was painful. I remember me and my pals drowned our sorrows in a Parisian city centre bar after getting back from the Stade de France, then staggered back in daylight, as bakers' were loading up their deliveries. As we had literally been drinking for 20 hours and not eaten a thing, my pal grabbed a lump of wet dough off a trolley, presumably destined to be a croissant, and ate it in one. It was the only thing that made me smile for weeks afterwards. I still haven’t watched the game back.

Losing to Chelsea at Highbury in the Champions League quarter finals in 2004 was hard to take. Especially as we would have beaten Monaco and Porto to become the first London team to win the Champions League. I was at Chelsea last weekend for the 2-2 and it still rankles deeply. Especially when they sing: 'Champions of Europe, you’ll never sing that.' Bastards.

Being at Wrexham in 1992. They weren’t such a friendly club back then I can tell you for nothing. Losing at Bradford City of the fourth tier in the League Cup. I could go on.

The 2011 League Cup final was also dreadful. My friends and I got so drunk after the game we tried to commandeer a night bus to drive us home in a completely different direction. A trader mate has a flat at Highbury and we eventually all went back to his and quaffed red wine until dawn. I remember getting the train home still hammered the next morning and it broke down for an hour and I sat there on an empty train at 11am on a Monday morning, tired, hungover, and hurting, pondering on my life choices that had brought me to that moment. It was that sort of weekend.

Which players do you want in January? (realistic)

I’d rather have a Leandro Trossard than an Andre Arshavin

Could Emirates reach Highbury's status one day?

No. Never. Although it would be fun to finally win a trophy there at some stage before I die

Next statue outside Emirates would be?

Gus Caesar. I don’t care for statues and baubles and all that nonsense. As Tony Adams said: ‘Play for the badge on the front of the shirt, and they’ll remember the name on the back.’ I see people literally kissing Wenger’s statue’s feet when they wanted him out, and were personally abusive to him when he was still here, and it sticks in the craw.

To be fair Arsenal have done a good job all around the ground of recognising our heroes inside, and outside the stadium and concourses.

When do we stop calling for more statues? Perhaps we should start lining them up from the platform at Arsenal tube onwards. The fact is The Arsenal have been fortunate enough to have hundreds of playing heroes. That’s what the history books are for. Perhaps if people read a little more when we wouldn’t need such visual stimulation. But then I’m just a grumpy c*** at times

Kroenke in or out now?

It’s complicated. Where do you start?

I don’t want an uncaring billionaire who wouldn’t know his Arshavin from his elbow, who sees us purely as a portfolio plaything, and who doesn’t put a penny in, and takes plenty out in dividends, and in fees. That said, I really hope Stan’s son Josh is more invested emotionally. The proof of the pudding is on pitch performances, as Todd Boehly knows only too well, so at the moment I’m neutral in this debate.

That also said, I don’t ever want a petro-dollar state only interested in sportswashing taking us over. Certainly not while they persecute women, the LGBTQ+ community, journalists, and activists.

Everyone knows that football is fresh produce, but are football fans a little naive? As soon as the club achieves sporting success, people quickly forget. After all, it is only four years since the super league disaster?

Fans have short memories. As a long-lost former Birmingham City manager called Gary Pendrey once said ‘People will stand on shit to watch a winning football team.’ That’s still the most eloquent answer to the dichotomy of being a football fan with a social conscience, and one who cares about the way the future of football is heading.

The difference/similarity between the team we have today versus the Invincibles and which line-up would you choose/pick a top 11 of the two teams

Until this current side win the title I would pick every single Invincible player. Do it then talk about it is my motto

Kai Havertz - good signing?


Your opinion on the Raya vs Ramsdale situation?

No-one wants a player to play badly in the red and white of Arsenal - but Raya is simply not an upgrade on Ramsdale. Don’t @ me distribution stats, or saves per gallon, or shutouts per hour and any of that arrant numbers nonsense. What little I do know after watching and writing about professional football as a fan and a journalist at the coalface for 40 years tells me Raya is not going to be a success at Arsenal. I hope I’m wrong. But if Arteta is wrong he’ll simply buy another keeper next summer - Ramsdale’s time is up I’m afraid, as Arteta won’t countenance re-installing Ramsdale as his No1. And it’s all such a shame. As an old Arsenal pal said to me over a late-night beer at Lens ‘Marginal gains are only marginal gains if there are marginal gains.’ Raya is not an upgrade.

Question from former Arsenal player Ian Selley: Ask him what his thoughts were before we played the cup winners cup final? Did he think we would get smashed?

Yes of course! No, that’s not entirely true. Me and my pals had been to every game home and away during that cup final bar Odense away. We went to Liege (our first Euro away at the tender age of 21 and we were hooked, I’ve probably done more than 100 since) and people were writing us off against the Belgian side and we beat them 7-0 in a match and trip we still laugh about now.

We went to Torino at the Stadio Delli Alpi - the first English team to play in Italy after Heysel - and we got a 0-0 draw and went through at Highbury. People wrote us off against PSG and we grabbed a 1-1 draw. My claim to fame is being in the away end at the Parc de Princes that night, with a home ticket we picked up in Paris that afternoon and being part of the away end singing ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’ at half time when the PA played that Pet Shop Boys song. The rest is history as they say.

So, we didn’t travel to Copenhagen with undue fear - we are The Arsenal after all - but when you face Zola, Asprilla and a Brolin at the top of his game, not the fat hoover salesman as he became - and we’re without the suspended Ian Wright and had a limited midfield, then you do wonder. But what we had - what all the best trophy winning Arsenal sides have always had - was tremendous character. The type that makes your hairs stand on end as you recall such sporting bravery and courage and commitment and pride more nearly 30 years on. And on that wonderful night, with a bit of luck, and a cracking goal from Smudge, got us over the line. I couldn’t begin to tell you what we got up to in Copenhagen later that night, but it was an utterly utterly wonderful trip, result, and performance.

What do you remember from this day in Copenhagen?

Not much I’d been drinking for three days solid in Denmark. I do recall my mate Mozzy grabbing an airhorn from somewhere and going up to an Italian TV anchor who was broadcasting live outside the ground and absolutely blaring it in his ear. I’d still love to see that footage. Can I just say I absolutely love Scandinavians for so many reasons on so many levels.

One thing I have never understood is why Wenger made so many changes after the Invincibles season. That team and that formation then had more time in them and we never rose back to that level under Wenger. What is the reason why he did not keep more of energy, formations and tactics? What do you think?

It was hard to reconcile the Arsene Wenger I knew from my years of attending press conferences at London Colney and post-match pressers up and down the country and all over Europe, to the isolated and unsure figure he became at the end.

Urbane, articulate, intelligent, knowledgeable- he knew just as much about African politics as he did about the latest promising 16-year-old from Sierra Leone say – but it was hard to reconcile that perceptive man with the decisions he made as Arsenal manager towards the end of his career.

I still fondly recall the times I would simply savour being at his press conferences, while the big boys quizzed him on football and he would effortlessly ease into a discussion about economics, or literature, or politics, or simply display an emotional intelligence to any of his people or friends outside sport. He was fiercely loyal. Sometimes to his detriment, because some of the players he trusted did not have the same values systems as he did.

I asked him a fair few questions over the years. And he was always courteous, always respectful, always engaging. Always interesting.

Yet he would never concede a thing to rivals. And it was true he was a bad loser. An awful loser in fact. It was a thing of wonder to be sat two rows from Wenger in the press room after a game, when he was apoplectic with rage about a referee or rival.

Like all the most intriguing characters he was an enigma full of contradictions. The sophisticated Frenchman, yet so full of fire and fury. This intelligent European, yet so wrapped up in an utter hatred of losing. This charming man who would be utterly disingenuous about poor results when it suited him. This urbane culture loving creative who only had time for football. Yet we loved him.

I will still never forgive anyone who personally abused him. Yes, criticise the football - I certainly did when I didn’t think it was good enough - but to those grotesque internet caricatures who denigrated such a wonderful man with personal abuse at the time, well it was sad. Those scumbags helped create such a dreadful toxicity in and around the club – and Wenger was in the slap bang in the firing line. It was a footballing civil war – with friends falling out over whether they were AKB or WOB. It was a truly horrible time. Anyone who was there will tell you that. And the sad thing is it didn’t have to be that way – a) if people had shown him the respect he deserved as a revolutionary who changed the face of English football, and b), if, sadly, he had stepped aside in 2014. Or even 2017. And to see some of those same people suck up to his statue for the sake of their YouTube channels. Well, the hypocrisy makes me sick.

Wenger was a one off. There will never be another. And for that we should all be grateful

Per Mertersacker does a great job with the academy and the development of young talents. Can you name any players who you think have the potential to become future stars for the club? My son is 11 he thinks Lewis Skelly

Your son is very wise. I cover a lot of the academy, not just because it is my job to do so, but because I simply love watching football at any level, anywhere. If I’m on a train and it goes past a playing field, and kids are playing football, I’ll strain my neck and watch for as long as I can until the train moves on.

First and foremost you have to be an excellent player to be at the Arsenal academy. This is a fact that needs to be remembered by some. Because you have already beaten tens of thousands of your peers if not hundreds of thousands. So well done. Unless you are injured or have an extremely bad attitude, you will achieve your dream of becoming a professional footballer - because whatever the football world thinks about Arsenal in public, in private the club is hugely respected for everything it does. Including producing young players for other clubs. So, for me it’s then more about temperament and application, commitment and desire, motivation, and a little bit of luck.

If you’re 18 and drive a top of the range Merc or BMW and are obsessed about upgrading to a Ferrari the day you get your first big deal, then forget it. If you are swayed by your pals - and the leechlike hangers on - I see them at every academy game, not to mention agents, don’t get me started on them, Dante’s seventh circle of hell isn’t good enough for them - and believe you can go clubbing at 18, just like your pals can, and can buy this watch, or that designer top, empowered by your ‘advisor’ who is generally only interested in you as a cash cow, then you’ve got no chance. I’ve seen it so many times over the years. No names, but take a look at a few of the 2009 FA Youth Cup winning team. There’s textbook stuff in that line up.

Thankfully this current team have their feet very much on the ground. I have high hopes for Amario Cozier-Duberry, Myles of course, James Sweet, Reuell Walters and Lino Sousa to name but a few. They’re all grounded and they’re all talented. Fingers crossed a few come through and play for The Arsenal as we all love a local lad. I’ve still got high hopes for Charlie Patino, who incidentally is a true Gooner. He’s even got a subscription to the Gooner Fanzine - which reminds me, I haven’t plugged our printed edition yet. Please subscribe to the Gooner Fanzine and help keep us alive. I will also promise to buy any Norwegian Gooner who does, a post-match pint when they’re over for a game. Speaking of Norway, I absolutely loved spending time in Bodo last season. I stayed for four days and loved every single minute.

What was the idea behind Gooner Fanzine and tell a little about it for those who don't know the magazine

The Gooner was started in 1987 by Mike Francis before Kevin Whitcher became editor for 30 years. It provides a platform for Arsenal supporters to make their voice heard in print. It’s intelligent, it’s informed, and yes, it’s irreverent at times. It’s a labour of love that has cost me a fortune, but I won’t let it die, because I love it. And so do our band of loyal readers. Some of who have been reading since day one 35 years ago.

With my impeccable timing as ever, I took over a month before the pandemic. It has been one long struggle ever since. Losing matchday sales (which have never really recovered) along with the spike in printing and postage costs during the cost-of-living crisis - which saw more subscribers cancel to save money – has been hard.

I completely understand people trying to save money and I’d never knock anyone for doing that - but when you see people forking out £20 for a half and half scarf at the North London derby, while I’m standing ten yards away flogging the Gooner - 68 colour pages of top quality Arsenal writing including Charles Watts, Le Grove, Jon Spurling, and so many others not including exclusive interviews with everyone from Tony Adams to Liam Brady (our current issue is dedicated to the great man) for a fiver, then it does frustrate.

I understand that no-one buys print anymore, but I’m hoping that printed magazines can become a popular niche purchase once again, similar to vinyl - but in the meantime it has been hard work.

On top of my day job as a local journalist, and also freelancing covering the Premier League including every Arsenal game including the women and the academy. I regularly work between 80 to 100 hours a week. But then they say if you do something you love you’ll never work a day in your life. And I absolutely love what I do. I’ve also met so many wonderful people while being Gooner editor and the warmth and humour I meet every home game when I flog the Gooner for up to four hours before kick-off prior to ducking into the press box to do my job has been little short of amazing.

When my dad died in January, I seriously thought about jacking it all in as I was so gutted. But it was the love and support and best wishes and hugs and handshakes and kind words from so many people before home games that kept me going - on top of the love and support from my family and partner of old pals of course. People even offered me cans of beer, and one bloke even wanted to buy me a hamburger as he knew how much I love my food. And that’s what keeps me going at 3am when I’m lying awake wondering how we’ll pay for the Gooner when the Royal Mail and printers hike their prices without warning.

Mikel Arteta even sent me a signed letter of condolence. I wrote about it in issue 300 back in May.

You have interviewed many players and managers. Who do you remember best and why?

Enough of serious things, I like this question! Jack Wilshere invited me to his mansion and was the perfect host for two hours. I interviewed Tony Adams at a Paddington hotel and he didn’t mention the word Arsenal for half an hour, as I simply let him talk about himself and how he was still trying to conquer his addictions - which was incredibly admirable and powerful. Yet, being Mr Arsenal, he couldn’t help himself any longer and started to probe my knowledge of the club. When I recalled a few obscure matches in the 1980s he immediately opened up and I had the most incredible two hours listening to him speak about The Arsenal. At the end we hugged each other. I’d still be hugging him now if he hadn’t have somehow managed to extricate himself from me.

Laurent Koscielny was a strange one. I managed to get him one-on-one, and he walked in with a scowl and said: “I hate journalists.” Without missing a beat, I asked him about his love of playing the accordion - which threw him completely, and he was another who opened up, firstly about his accordion, then Arsenal, and we got on like a house on fire afterwards. It was such a shame he left the way he did. But he was a nice bloke.

I loved interviewing George Graham. And Bob Wilson is a true gentleman as is Pat Jennings. David Seaman too. Most Arsenal people are. Ray Parlour is always good for a laugh but knows his football. Nigel Winterburn is quite serious but also good company. I once interviewed Lee Dixon in a private cinema, and we chatted for about two hours. He was a top bloke. Kevin Campbell is a true gent too.

I was fortunate enough to be at the premier of 89: The Film and it was like the best dream ever, apart from the fact I actually managed to interview all my teenage heroes in real life. Ian Wright was brilliant. What you see is what you get with Wrighty, although I’m not sure I’d ever want to get on the wrong side of Steve Bould as he’s a fearsome bloke.

At the risk of continuing to name drop shamelessly I used to love interviewing Freddie Ljungberg, when he was in charge of the academy sides. He was always different class. And such a good-looking bloke. It became a running joke for my partner Faye and my kids, because after I’d finished interviewing Freddie I’d always post on my Instagram account a pic of us both with the line “Me and Freddie. FYI I’m the one on the left.”

Having interviewed the majority of Arsenal players over the last four decades either through work or with the Gooner, I’d now like to interview a few so-called big name Arsenal Z-list 'celebrities' and absolutely grill them - grill them to an inch of their lives with my best Paxman technique that I only use for politicians - on their knowledge of our club, as I know for a fact most of them haven’t got a clue. And are using our club simply for publicity purposes. And also because I have a visceral hatred of vacuous celebrities. But then, that’s exactly why they refuse to be interviewed by me.

How do you balance your personal passion for the club with your journalistic work? Are there any challenges associated with covering a club you are so closely associated with?

Yes and no. I pride myself on being a different beast when I’m on duty at work in the Arsenal press box - or any press box anywhere in the world. You have to be utterly professional. You have to be serious. You have to respect the industry, your colleagues, and the people you come into contact with. With everything you do. I am so proud of being a journalist - of earning my living through writing, realising my childhood dream - and I hope that shines through in all my dealings with everyone, from the tea ladies to CEOs. I have worked on Fleet Street and huge football websites, and been sent here, there, and everywhere. I’ve got no time for false modesty either because I have worked my bollocks off to get where I wanted to be. So, when people go ‘I want your job’ I just think ‘No you don’t.’

Because if you did, you’d be driving back at 4am from Bishop Auckland in a snowstorm just to take a look at a 16-year-old, who didn’t even play, just so it informs your work further down the line. Or that you’d miss a plane because your editor wanted extra copy - which is what happened to me after Arsenal lost 5-1 in Munich in 2016. Or that you’d sleep in your car at a motorway station because you’d just done nine games in ten days and hadn’t been able to take your partner out for Valentine’s Day. Or that you’ve missed your best mates’ wedding because he got married on cup final day (although, actually, that one I’m still not convinced about because as I keep telling him, who the fuck gets married on cup final day, even if you did plan it two years in advance.) Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining as it’s the second-best job in the world (after playing). It is just simply all-consuming.

The fact is you have to live and breathe this job. It has to be the first thing you think about when you wake up and the last thing you think about before you go to sleep. When interns say ‘I like football, so I want to become a sports journalist’ that doesn’t impress me. It’s like saying I like breathing. Of course you like football. Now show me how much.

To go back to your original point, it’s all in the detail. For example you cannot show emotion in the press box. It’s a complete no-no. So I don’t. It’s hard at times but you have to be professional. I recall one time I covered Arsenal beating Sunderland 4-1 at the Stadium of Light in a Saturday lunchtime kickoff. I was up at 4am to drive there. Covered the game. Filed my report and post-match stuff, and was halfway back down the A1 to that sign that underlines you’re still so far from home, the sign that says ‘Manchester and Leeds 65 miles’ (south) and I suddenly let out a massive cheer. A primal scream type roar. The type you only release when you score a goal, or win a game. And it was because, as a fan, I had just realised that Arsenal had beaten Sunderland 4-1 - so much was I in the zone of simply covering the game as a press box reporter it hadn’t registered that my team had won the game. Quite simply you can’t be a fan in the press box.

Which countries or cities have you found to be particularly hospitable to Arsenal fans and journalists? Can you share any interesting stories about your time in these places?

One of the joys about following sport - and this applies as much to being a fan as it does to being a sports journalist - is that you get to meet so many wonderful people in so many wonderful places. And a few dodgy ones too.

I’ve watched Arsenal and England in so many places and continents and have had so many memories - and made so many friends - in the course of 40 years watching sport. Never trust anyone who doesn’t like sport, an old sports editor once told me, and I think it rings true. There’s a camaraderie that sport gives, that you won’t get anywhere else. A link, a bond between complete strangers that can lead to a lifetime’s friendship through our shared passion.

There are so many places that I’ve had wonderful times in. I was in Japan for nearly a month during the 2002 World Cup - my word what a place, parts of Japan are as near as you can get to being on another planet. An endlessly fascinating place. I’ve watched England play Ashes cricket and rugby in Australia and loved every minute of that, not least because it’s such a sports mad country.

I spent six months travelling through Central America from Belize and Guatemala through Honduras and Nicaragua to Costa Rica and Panama and saw plenty of crazy football matches as well as a riotous world title boxing fight in Managua - where it felt like the whole county was drunk on homemade sugar cane rum. I scored the Colombian fighter ahead in points (I was there as a punter not in a professional capacity), but I couldn’t help myself. Yet there was absolutely no way whatsoever that the judges could give the fight to the visiting boxer - the baying crowd would have burned the place down. And that's the passion that sport inflames. And I fucking love it. It is like a drug.

I also saw football in the Azteca Stadium alongside 120,000 fans which was special. So many memories.

I’ve been to most places across Europe and particularly like covering football in Portugal and Spain, as well as the Netherlands and Italy. I’d still like to experience the Maracanã, as well as sample a River Plate Vs Boca Juniors derby. I did a game at Red Star Belgrade, and it was crazy. I’ve done the Milan derby, which was special, but despite covering an Arsenal match at the Nou Camp and being there as a fan a further four times watching Arsenal, I’d love to do a Classico. As I mentioned I also did Real Madrid when Thierry Henry scored that goal. I even wrote about it in my first Arsenal book.

I also loved doing the America pre-season tour over the summer in Washington DC and New York. We met so many passionate Gooners, it was wonderful.

I have to say I also love attending games in Scandinavia. I spent five days in Stockholm when Arsenal played AIK Solna in 1999 and Copenhagen twice in 1994 and the UEFA Cup final in 2000. And really enjoyed being in the Arctic Circle for Bodo Vs Arsenal.

I think what also appeals to me is that, to generalise, Scandinavians are no-nonsense people, with no bullshit about them. If they let you into their circle it means they like you. If they don’t, well then have a good life. That’s kind of how I work too…

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