These articles are supposed to start with a good story, right? Something funny, maybe. I remember English class. Gotta start with a bang and all that.
Well, I’m afraid we’ve got a little problem here.
When I think back on joining Arsenal, I don’t have the same stories as the other lads. I’ve seen players saying, “Oh yeah, Wenger rang me up.” Or talking about fans showing up outside their house singing their names.
But my story? Honestly? When the news came out, the only thing I can remember is the entire world telling me that I was absolute sh*t.
It all started out so good, too. I had been called up by England for their pre-training camp before the Euros. It felt amazing to be a part of the build-up that summer. While I was there, my agent told me that Arsenal had “shown some interest” in me. In football nowadays, you never know what that means. I tried not to get too excited.
I said, “Interest. What’s that mean?”
He said, “I don’t know. There’s interest.”
“So they want to sign me?”
“Maybe. Maybe not. There’s interest.”
So the next day, I ran into Bukayo Saka getting a coffee, and I didn’t know him that well yet, so I thought, “Surely I can’t ask him, right?”
I mean, what am I supposed to say?
“Morning, Bukayo. How you getting on? Erm. Would you happen to know if your football club is interested in me?”
So yeah, that’s exactly what I did.
He told me that it was real, and that the manager had actually rang him to ask about my character and what I was like as a person. I guess Bukayo must have told him that I was a decent lad, because I got a call from my agent a few days later that the transfer was happening.
Unreal. Arsenal Football Club. One of the best days of my life. My mates are all texting me. You legend. You legend. Family is over the moon. How can it get any better?
Then I come back from training, and I go to pick up my phone, and it’s hot. Like, really hot. And I see about 100 notifications. That little bird. Ping, ping, ping. I’m like, “What’s happening?” Instagram. Ping, ping, ping. I’m used to maybe 15 or 20 notifications a day back then. (And three are from my mum.) Ping, ping, ping. I go to my Twitter, and I see that the news has leaked, and I am getting absolutely roasted.
I go to my Twitter, and I see that the news has leaked, and I am getting absolutely roasted.- Aaron Ramsdale
@AaronRamsdale98 DO NOT COME HERE. U ARE (SH*T EMOJI).
2 RELEGATIONS? HORRIBLE SIGNING.
£24 million??? WANKER.
Then there would be a really nice one, like:
Welcome to North London, Aaron! 🙂
Ping, ping, ping.
WANKER. WANKER. WANKER.
After the initial shock, I’m thinking: OK, fair enough. It’s my fault for having my notifications on. This is just modern football. Social media is toxic. Just a few trolls, right? No worries.
I go to my room and turn on the TV. Football is the only way I know how to relax. I’m mad. You can ask my wife. I’m basically a football fan who happens to play football. If I’m in the car, it’s football podcasts. If I’m at home and Georgina is watching her shows, I’m on the iPad on the couch next to her watching whatever match is on Sky.
So I flick on Sky Sports News, and you know when the ex-players and pundits are all sitting around on Sky, shaking their heads, and they got a lad’s picture up? Well it’s my face up there, and the pundits are not thrilled.
“Poor signing. Not good enough for Arsenal.”
“Too much money. I don’t like it.”
“Two relegations? £24 million? WANKER.”
No, the last one is a joke. But that was the general tone of the conversation. They were not exactly my biggest fans. It’s an interesting experience watching legends you grew up idolising saying that you’re rubbish in front of the entire country. That really affected me. It brought me back down to earth from cloud nine in a matter of hours.
I turned off the TV. Turned off all my social media notifications.
Thankfully, after the Euros, things settled down a bit. I was getting really excited to join the club of my dreams and start the whole experience.
Arsenal. Incredible. Forget the chatter. Forget the trolls. Let’s celebrate.
Called up my mates. Legends. They’ll never let me down, right? Never.
My mates come around the house, and the first thing out of their mouths….
“Woofffff, you see what people are saying about you?”
“No! I don’t want to know!”
“Mate, some of the memes are pretty funny. Look.”
You know, they say you’ve got to be a bit crazy to want to be a keeper. But in my family, I’m the normal one.
My eldest brother Edward is a prison guard. My middle brother Oliver is a performer in the West End. My dad, he’s a proper old-school character. He don’t like none of this fancy European football with the ball at the keeper’s feet. No, no, no. He kept saying he was gonna ring up Mr. Arteta and tell him: HOOF IT UP TO THE NUMBER 9, SON.
That’s my dad.
My mum, she’s the worrier. If my brother — the prison guard, mind you — is out at the pub with his mates, she’ll stay up until he texts her that he’s home safe. He’s 32 years old. Still gotta text: “Yes mum, home in bed, luv you x.”
I’m the youngest, and I’m probably the least interesting of the lot. Whenever people tell me it’s brave what I’ve done, pursuing this football dream, I just laugh. Oliver is the real superstar of the family. He’s the brave one. Three weeks before he was supposed to leave for uni in Bedford, he told my parents that he had a change of heart. He didn’t want to become a PE teacher. He wanted to chase his real dream and go to drama school. So he literally packed up everything and went to London to pursue a totally different life.
But that’s not the bravest thing he’s done. That’s not why I admire him. My brother is gay, and he’s lived his life in an open and authentic way since he went off to school. I’m so proud to say he’s my brother. I haven’t talked about it before, but with everything going on in football right now, I thought it was important to mention. Oliver is a lot like me, in many ways. He’s a regular bloke. Loves football. Loves knocking about with his mates. Loves the Gunners. He’s proud of me, and I’m really proud of him.
Over the years, I’ve probably bit my tongue a few too many times — both in dressing rooms and on social media — whenever I hear homophobic comments or stupid things being said. And I think maybe my brother has done the same, thinking it would make my life easier.
Well, all that ends today.
It’s not the easiest thing to be open like this, but there’s never a “right time.” I’ve been working on this story since the start of the summer, and my family has given me their blessing.
If I’m telling my story, I’m telling it proper.
When I signed for Arsenal, I could handle all the stuff that was said about me personally. But a few of the comments involved my family, and they totally crossed the line.
But this is about football. Football is for everyone. If you disagree, maybe you’re the one who needs to shut up and look in the mirror.- Aaron Ramsdale
As a keeper, I’ve heard it all. You can say almost anything about me, and I’ll have a laugh. I might even turn around and say something right back to you. But when it crosses a certain line into homophobia or hate, it’s simply wrong.
I can already hear the comments.
“Oh shut up, Ramsdale. Stick to football, lad.”
But this is about football. Football is for everyone. If you disagree, maybe you’re the one who needs to shut up and look in the mirror.
And listen, there was plenty to give me stick about without crossing the line. I’m a football fan like anyone else. If my club had signed me, I’d have probably been skeptical, too. Up until Arsenal, my entire life has basically been one long series of knockbacks.
I’ll be the first to tell you how many times I’ve failed.
When I was 15 years old, I was released by Bolton because I couldn’t even fill the shirt. I was so small that I looked like I was wearing my dad’s kit. I went around to five or six other clubs in the area, and every single one rejected me.
It was so embarrassing. All I ever talked about in school was football, and how I was going to be a keeper. I had this amazing English teacher named Mr. Kerr, and he always used to let me relate every single topic in class to football. He’d let me rattle on about West Brom or Chelsea for 10 minutes, and somehow relate it back to what we were learning. When I got released, I was crushed, because it was such a big part of my identity at school. He could see I wasn’t talking anymore. I was so humiliated that I didn’t even want to tell my mates.
In my head, the dream was over.
Mr. Kerr pulled me aside one day after class and asked what was wrong. I told him. And I just remember him saying, so genuinely, “Well, how many clubs are there in the country? Must be 80-odd, no? You’ll find one. Don’t give up. Never give up on your dream.”
A few weeks later, Sheffield United let me join their academy. I wish I could say they recruited me. But it was more like they let me.
Four years later, I started my first real professional game for Chesterfield. Playing away at Accrington Stanley. Middle of January. Pitch was a mud bath, at least in my memory. In the second half, I let in one of the worst own goals you’ll ever see. We’re down 3–0, and I’ve got the entire ground singing to me, “It’s all your fault! It’s all your fault! It’s all your fault!”
You feel about six inches tall in that moment. I remember turning around, and in League Two the fans are so close that you can look a geezer right in the eyes.
It’s almost awkward if you don’t say anything back — that’s how close they are. I thought, “You know what? If I was in the stands with my mates with a few pints in my belly, I’d be loving this.”
So the next away match, I don’t know what came over me, but the fans started giving me pelters, and I turned around, picked somebody out at random, and I just started waving with a cheeky little grin.
The whole section turned toward the geezer and started laughing.
It was like a weight came off my shoulders.
Yeah, you had a few idiots on the Internet chatting shit. Who cares? The real supporters have your back.- Aaron Ramsdale
The whole match, any time there was a break, I’d turn around and make a little joke. If I had a good one, the whole stand would start laughing. If it flopped, they’d give me stick. It might sound ridiculous, but it was almost like my way of dealing with the pressure. When you’re down in League Two and even in the Championship, you’re playing for people’s livelihoods. When we got relegated at Chesterfield, I remember the staff walking out the building after the last match with their stuff in cardboard boxes. I thought that only happened in the movies. I remember thinking: The kitman, the cleaners, the ticket staff … they’re all out of a job because of what happened on the pitch.
This is real life.
It was a very, very difficult lesson, and one I had to keep learning, unfortunately. My first four seasons in professional football, I finished 24th, 20th, 18th, and 20th. Until last season’s title race, I had literally never competed for a trophy before at the club level.
Maybe that’s just something to keep in mind for all the kids out there who are constantly told that anything less than perfection is the end of their dream.
As long as the right people believe in you, and they see how hard you work and what you can bring to a team, it doesn’t matter what the haters say. Mikel Arteta saw something special in me, and that’s all that mattered. I remember I met with him for the first time, he said, “Just be yourself.”
Maybe some people think we make a funny match, because he’s just unbelievably driven and might come across as serious. And I’m a lad who likes a joke. But for some reason, it just works.
I remember him explaining to me that he wanted me to play a lot higher, and a lot more aggressive. And so every day in training, I would play higher, and more aggressive.
And he’d say, “No, no, higher.”
Every day, higher.
“Yes, yes. No, Higher.”
I’m thinking: f****** hell, I’m near the halfway line. How much higher?
It was brilliant, actually, because he let me explain my emotions about feeling a bit exposed in playing so aggressive, and he showed me 10, 20 times different examples of teams playing the way he wanted. Sometimes I was thinking, “Shit, boss, we’re watching vintage Barcelona here. Are you sure we can pull this off?”
But in the end, we were able to come to a middle ground where I wasn’t overthinking out there, and the results spoke for themselves.
I’ll never forget starting my first match in the League Cup, away to West Brom on a Wednesday night, and our fans were up in the corner of the stadium in full voice. I thought, “God, I hope they don’t boo me.”
Within the first five minutes of the match, I had barely even touched the ball yet. Hadn’t even made a save. And they were all singing my name.
Obviously, we didn’t achieve our ultimate goal last season, and it still stings. But when I think about the progress we’ve made, I’m really proud.- Aaron Ramsdale
Got goosebumps. I had a look up into the crowd at one point, just to take it all in. I realised at that moment: Those are the real fans. Coming to West Brom on a Wednesday night. Yeah, you had a few idiots on the Internet chatting shit. Who cares? The real supporters have your back.
That’s when I felt at home.
These first two seasons in North London have been incredible, overall. Obviously, we didn’t achieve our ultimate goal last season, and it still stings. But when I think about the progress we’ve made, I’m really proud. If I can just put my football fan hat on for a moment, and see things from the outside, the quality of the lads at this club is excellent.
I’ll never forget this moment from the 2021-2022 season, when we had just missed out on the top four. To me, it’s when I knew that we were on the right path. I was on the bus sitting next to Bukayo after Newcastle away, when we lost 2–0. Everyone was devastated, but the young academy lads like Bukayo and Emile just have so much extra pressure on them. After the match, they were literally on the floor in the dressing room. When we got the bus, Bukayo was quiet. Usually, we always have something to chat about, even after a loss. But it was just dead silent. So I sent him a text, even though he was sat right next to me, asking if he was OK and if he wanted to chat.
We had a five-minute chat, and I’ll keep most of it between us, but I just tried to explain to him how many times I felt like I’d failed in this game, and how proud he should be of taking a team from 8th to 5th, especially after all the abuse he faced at the Euros.
The best I’d ever done was 18th.
You learn a lot more from failure than from the times when everything is going great and the whole world is blowing smoke up your arse.
Yes, we fell short of the title last season, but we’ve gone from 8th to 5th to 2nd, and I love the culture that we’re building at the club. It’s a great time to be a Gooner. And just on a personal level, I have to thank my teammates, my manager, the entire staff, and the supporters for having my back last season.
This is where things get a bit serious, I’m afraid.
There are things that go on in our lives that the public has no idea about, and the past year has been an emotional rollercoaster for me and my family. After the high of climbing to the top of the Premier League table and going off to my first World Cup, my wife and I found out that we were expecting our first child. Mikel gave me a few extra days off after the World Cup, so we went on a brief holiday. It was genuinely the happiest time of our lives. And yeah … there’s no easy way to say this, but I feel like it’s important that people know.…
On the flight home, my wife had a miscarriage.
There’s really no way that I can describe the pain of that six-hour flight back to London, even now. I just want people out there to know that they’re not alone if they’re going through it themselves. When we got back, I didn’t tell many people what happened. Only my family, my teammates, and of course Mikel. He was fantastic about everything. Even in the middle of the title race, with so much pressure on the club, he asked me if I needed some time off to deal with everything. Mikel went above and beyond to make sure me and my family were OK.
For me, that’s a manager.
We don’t always see eye-to-eye on everything. We have some very florid conversations about football sometimes. But he cares so much about his players, and he forever has my respect for how he handled our grief.
Three days later, we were playing Spurs in the derby, and for me that was the only way to get my mind off things. Football has always been my escape. I told the manager I wanted to play. It couldn’t have been a better night. We won 2–0 under the floodlights, and our away fans were going absolutely ballistic. If you watch the match back, you can see me beaming at the final kick of the ball. I went to get my water bottle behind the goal, and never in a million years would I ever think that I’d get kicked in the back by a Tottenham fan.
I remember when I got back to the dressing room, I couldn’t even celebrate because I got pulled out to give a police statement.- Aaron Ramsdale
I’ve had some very spicy banter with fans all over the English leagues. I’ve been called everything you can imagine. But it’s never crossed the line like that. I remember when I got back to the dressing room, I couldn’t even celebrate because I got pulled out to give a police statement.
You know, I almost felt bad for the bloke who had done it, because I thought to myself: If he only knew me as a person, and what I’m actually going through right now, there’s no way that he would’ve done that. If we bumped into each other one day and got chatting about football, we’d probably be mates.
That’s a part of why I wanted to write this article and to share me and my family’s story for the first time. The last few years especially, you see so much negativity and toxicity in football. Whether it’s on social media or at the grounds, it feels like a lot of people have lost all perspective.
After I publish this letter, as sad as it is to say, I know that I will receive messages about my wife, and about my brother. Other players receive even worse messages, especially my Black teammates. For some reason, the social media companies don’t seem to have any interest in stopping it.
But for me, it’s not about stopping it. It’s not about the trolls. I know I can’t reach them. For me, it’s simply about standing up for what’s right.
It’s about who I want to be as a person, and as a father.
This summer, Georgina and I got the best gift we could ever ask for. We found out that we’re pregnant again. We’ve got a little Gooner on the way, and we’re over the moon.
It’s not about the trolls. I know I can’t reach them. For me, it’s simply about standing up for what’s right.- Aaron Ramsdale
When you know that you’re going to be a father, it really makes you think about the future, what kind of man you want to be.
For me, I obviously dream about winning the league and parading the trophy through North London, for sure. World Cup. Champions League. I’ve got all those dreams, but those are all football dreams.
As a person, I have another dream.
I want this game I love to be a safe and welcoming place for everyone. I want my brother, Ollie — or anyone of any sexuality, race or religion — to come to games without having to fear abuse.
And when we lift a trophy at the Emirates Stadium, I want my brother there with me.
What could the trolls tell us then? Not a thing.
Love you, bro,