Maria, Arsenal’s biggest fan

Dedicated Gooner dies, aged 82, after a lifetime of following both the men’s and women’s teams

Friday, 29th July — By Richard Osley

Arsenal Supporters-Credit-Catherine-Etoe

Maria watching Arsenal women’s team – she had supported them since the team’s creation in 1987

YOU may meet many people in this world claiming to be ‘Arsenal’s biggest fan’ – you will know the ones, they brag about how many matches they have been to and the lengths they have gone to in order to watch the team.

But all, even the ones still wrapped up in red and white Arsenal duvets at night, fall short of Maria Petri.

The most dedicated Gooner of them all, Ms Petri died last week aged 82 after a lifetime of religiously following both the men’s and women’s teams, as well as watching the youthful prospects in academy games.

Her unmistakable screams of support could often be picked up on the Match of the Day microphones at the old Highbury stadium.

“I was always vocal and there were people there in my young days who didn’t like women making themselves heard,” she once said. “I would get stupid comments like ‘does your husband know you’re here?’ and ‘get back to the kitchen’. But it never stopped me and the chant I used to say back was: You’ll never keep me quiet.”

She had begun her amazing support for the club in 1950 and more recently told DAZN sports streaming: “’I’m now an 82-year-old orphan. Because I don’t have any nuclear family, I sort of cling onto Arsenal as my family.”

Fellow fans were touched when she said in the same interview: “I shall be oh so upset when I die, I won’t be able to watch Arsenal anymore.”

A photo of a young Maria posted this week

Ms Petri was described by the club this week as “the ultimate supporter”. Not every fan gets that when they pass away, but in a statement Arsenal said: “It’s very difficult to put into words what Maria meant to everyone involved at Arsenal Football Club: players, staff and fellow supporters. Rarely can it be said that ‘games just won’t be the same’ without a supporter, but Maria’s presence, her legendary ‘Come on You Gunners!’ and many, many supportive songs created over the decades, will truly leave a void on matchdays at Emirates Stadium, Meadow Park and at away matches wherever we are playing.”

The club’s manager Mikel Arteta knew exactly who she was and certainly not just another face in the stands.

“She was an integral part of our support and our community,” he said after hearing news of her death. “The way she transmitted Arsenal values and the feeling of this football club was something I have never seen before. She was everywhere, every single week and she will be missed. Big time.”

Ms Petri had begun supporting the Gunners as a 12-year-old and there was no turning back. She worked as a schoolteacher but her passion was always football. Her home in Friern Barnet was a mini museum filled with memorabilia including matchday pennants and even lifesize cut outs of some of the players.

Among the tributes last week, Gunners legend Ian Wright posted heartbreak emojis on social media, while another former striker Alan Smith added: “To me and my teammates, Maria was simply a part of Arsenal, someone always there with that familiar cry.”

Arsenal wore black armbands in a pre-season friendly against Chelsea in the United States on Saturday. Their first home fixture of the league season without her is a match against Leicester City on August 13.

Right there at the start…

Maria Petri with former player Alex Scott

AS the nation gets behind the Lionesses this weekend in the final of the European Championships against Germany, it might be easy to forget the long road to this stage.

Arsenal were one of the clubs who were pioneers in getting recognition for the women’s game and driving public attention.

And Maria Petri – as all the Arsenal legends will tell you – was there at the start when the Gunners founded its team in 1987. She used to make up some of the chants that other supporters now also sing at the players – including a famous tune about England international Beth Mead.

During her DAZN interview, she said her favourite Arsenal memory had to be the women’s team winning the European Champions League – the men’s team have yet to do that – and then the quadruple.

She lamented that the male players were often kept away from the fans while the women always used to stop at the terraces for a chat after their matches.

And that’s why they remember her so fondly. Among the tributes, former player Alex Scott – now a BBC presenter and pundit – said: “Thank you for the love, passion, the songs and support for us… from the very beginning.”

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