Maria Petri shuffled achingly alongside the sideline and collapsed into her seat. It was final spring, and the 83-year-old Petri was feeling frail, her normally booming voice diminished to a whisper, however nonetheless she got here to Borehamwood to see Arsenal, the membership she had fiercely supported for 72 years and that grew to become the love of her life.
She was tiny in stature, outdated in age and loud within the mouth. This sport was only one amongst hundreds she had attended — from youth video games, to senior males’s and ladies’s matches at Highbury, the Emirates and Borehamwood, to worldwide away days. She attended a staggering quantity, each time she probably might, her ardent loyalty to Arsenal unflinching.
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Petri was the membership’s most iconic fan, well-known for her booming chants that might be heard so properly that fellow followers would hear out for them on WSL broadcasts. Former taxi driver Paul Chisnall, who was mates with Maria and had given her a experience to the sport, remembers being impressed that she nonetheless got here from her regardless of her failing well being. She merely did not appear as much as the duty. Quickly after, he made the brief stroll to the bar to get her a espresso, however was shocked on the scene when he returned: Petri was belting out chants and imploring the gang round her to do the identical.
Vic Akers, the coach of Arsenal Ladies from 1987-2009, provides the identical response that any Arsenal participant, coach or fan provides while you point out her identify. “All I can keep in mind was this voice that used to echo by way of my thoughts, considering who is that this individual?”
“After I finally met together with her, I noticed that is the woman you might hear all around the floor. You’ll all the time know ‘Maria’s over there.’ You would nonetheless hear her from her amongst all that crowd, “Akers provides.
On July 22, Maria Petri died. Final season can be her final of her within the stands, 64 years after her first sport of her. Through the years, she grew to become recognized for her many quirks from her, like how she refused to say the identify of Arsenal’s archrivals “Tottenham,” as an alternative calling them “N17.” Or how she would take a number of cameras to every sport, which all the time included a disposable one so she might snap no matter caught her eye de ella: Her de ella favourite gamers, the dugouts, followers cheering.
She had been recognized at hand out white sheets of paper to different followers with chants she had written and created herself. For Beth Mead, a star of the Arsenal crew and the highest scorer at Euro 2022, she sang “There was a lady from England, Meado! Meado!” For star ahead Vivianne Miedema, she sang: “Miedema is magic, she’s bought two magic ft, and when she weaves her magic spell, she’s bought defenders beat!” For ladies’s soccer, it was: “Should you like women soccer, clap your palms!”
Petri’s love affair with Arsenal started in 1950 when she was 11 years outdated and would hear the membership’s identify repeated a number of occasions on the radio. She grew up in London to Greek dad and mom who wouldn’t permit her to observe soccer: They’d inform her soccer was “not for women.” It was solely when she was away from house eight years later, whereas she was learning to be a trainer on the south coast, that she noticed her first match: Portsmouth vs. Arsenal in 1958.
She has supported Arsenal at hundreds of video games since, together with house and away matches. She attended away days in European capitals like Brussels, Prague and Rome — the peak of which was the boys’s 2006 Champions League ultimate defeat to Barcelona in Paris, and the UEFA Ladies’s Cup ultimate win at Borehamwood in 2007. She was ever-present, whether or not it’s a youth sport or an annual shareholders assembly. (Petri additionally owned Arsenal shares and would repeatedly use her platform de ella to name for extra funding within the girls’s facet.)
Her life was Arsenal. She by no means married, nor did she have any kids. Her household de ella was the membership itself, though that was not all the time straightforward. In a narrative for Mundial journal, when referring to the misogyny she skilled at males’s video games, she wrote: “I would hear folks say, ‘Oh shut up! Get again to the kitchen! Does your husband know you are right here?’ And I’d simply chant again at them, ‘You will by no means preserve me quiet!’ and everyone would giggle. So I turned it round on them.”
Petri’s relationship with the membership’s gamers was additionally particular. She was a daily at U23 video games and youth video games, there to help Arsenal in all its varieties. Petri spoke a number of languages - her day job de ella was as a language trainer in a north London highschool – so she made an effort to talk to gamers of their native languages. By the point gamers reached the primary crew, they’d be on first-name phrases with Petri.
Jordan Nobbs, who has performed at Arsenal for over a decade, recalled a time when Petri rolled her ankle outdoors the crew bus: The gamers helped her on board and drove her again from the sport with them so she might get quick therapy from the membership’s medical employees. She sang songs the entire journey again.
Within the early years, she would typically experience again with Akers and his squad, one thing that continued with European away days, too.
“If she was staying on the resort we had been, then we might attempt to take care of her,” Akers says. “Typically she was on our flight as properly, and the women loved speaking to her.” There was additionally a time when her flight again from a preseason tour in Asia was cancelled, so she was invited to leap on the membership constitution flight with crew executives.
As Petri bought older, she had a help system of Arsenal followers who’d assist her purchase tickets for matches and prepare her journey to video games. Marcia Milnes met Petri over a decade in the past and shortly grew to become akin to a private assistant, sorting tickets, accompanying her to video games and getting her meals on the stadium. “It might take about half an hour [to reach her seat at a game] as a result of everybody would come as much as her,” she says. “They might both simply wish to chat to her, or somebody would say, “Oh, God, Maria, I met you 10 years in the past.
“She used to say Arsenal was like her household, and it made her really feel particular that everyone had this love for her and needed to talk to her and listen to her tales.”
Endlessly in our hearts ❤️ pic.twitter.com/spPp3s2z1Y
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) July 23, 2022
Simply as Petri all the time caught by the membership once they wanted her, Arsenal appeared to rally round her. A number of years in the past, Petri spent a number of nights in hospital and two members of the teaching employees paid her a go to. In the course of the first coronavirus-enforced lockdown, the membership despatched former midfield legend Ray Parlor (339 appearances from 1992-2004) spherical to Petri’s small north London home with a gift: The FA Cup. The membership additionally organized a particular allow for her taxi driver , Paul, that might permit him to drive below the Emirates and right into a bay straight subsequent to an elevator, the place membership employees would assist her get to her seat.
when she died, the tributes had been prompt and plentiful: The membership despatched a tribute adopted by a number of gamers — including England defender Leah Williamson, Arsenal midfielder Jordan Nobbs and former Arsenal/England striker Ian Wright — in addition to thousands of fans. Inside hours, her identify was trending on Twitter. FIFA even paid tribute, whereas the Arsenal membership store represented her prominently in a display. Mikel Arteta, talking at a information convention that night, described her as an “integral” a part of the membership’s help for her.
“The way in which she transmitted Arsenal values and the sensation of this soccer membership was one thing I’ve by no means seen earlier than. She was all over the place, each single week and he or she shall be missed. Huge time,” he stated.
“Soccer is for the followers. It may be the best sport on this planet but when there aren’t any folks to observe it, it turns into nothing.”
Tonight, Arsenal gamers previous and current, in addition to followers, are mourning the lack of a singular, a lot beloved member of their household. Relaxation in Peace Maria. https://t.co/dlhpHwlL3F
— FIFA.com (@FIFAcom) July 22, 2022
Arsenal went even additional: “Hardly ever can it’s stated that ‘video games simply will not be the identical’ and not using a supporter, however Maria’s presence… will really depart a void on matchdays at Emirates Stadium, Meadow Park [Borehamwood] and at away matches wherever we’re enjoying.”
The information of her loss of life got here as a shock even to these closest to her. When Petri’s good friend Milnes obtained a name on that Friday afternoon in July she was heartbroken. Simply that morning she’d been on the cellphone with the membership to rearrange her season ticket for the 2022-23 WSL season.
Petri’s funeral happened in north London on Aug. 30. The doorways of the church had been crimson and white, whereas a lot of her closest mates wore Arsenal shirts to the service. Various employees at Arsenal attended too, together with Arsenal girls’s captain Kim Little — one in all Petri’s favourite gamers — and Arsenal chief govt Vinai Venkatesham.
With their season opener with Manchester Metropolis postponed, Arsenal will kick off the marketing campaign towards Brighton at Borehamwood. It will likely be the primary house sport with out Petri. Tributes have been deliberate, whereas Petri’s face will adorn the sport’s official programme.
It was a time she informed others would someday come, though she prayed for one cause solely that it by no means would. She would say: “I shall be oh so upset after I die, as a result of I will not have the ability to watch Arsenal anymore.”