Monday 29th August 2016
Three games in and it’s been around 20 – 30 minutes that have proved disastrous. As frustrating as that was we go into the first international break in a far more positive frame of mind. In fact it has been a pretty good few days to be a Gooner.
With a number of things to catch up on I’m going to start with cup draws on this occasion.
As much of the country enjoyed the sizzling August sunshine we initially found out who we face in the 3rd Round of the League Cup. As with all domestic draws I want something ‘interesting’. Preferably an away tie at a stadium I haven’t been to. With just 3 teams falling into that category for me personally that possibility always looked unlikely. But a trip to somewhere we haven’t been for a while would be nice.
The City Ground, Nottingham, 17 years since we last visited, that will do. A fixture full of great memories, it is one I am looking forward to and expect a stern test. Our trip to Hillsborough last season demonstrated what happens if you don’t turn up!
I found out our League Cup opponents at The Rose Bowl in Southampton, England’s one day cricket victory over Pakistan on a sticky hot (and very messy) day being my latest ‘away from football’ fix. 24 hours later and the ridiculously over the top draw ‘ceremony’ in Monaco determined the destinations for our next European tour.
In recent years we have seen repeat destinations happen time and time again, so much so in fact it seemed to suggest the draw process simply doesn’t work. And before Ian Rush’s hilarious inability to open the plastic balls this time round, I couldn’t see anything other than a similar set of fixtures.
But, I pretty much couldn’t have handpicked our draw any better. A stadium we haven’t visited for a European tie for over 20 years and 2 cities I have never been to before. Get in!
Travel and accommodation bookings come next as the dates are announced and down the years I have been pretty consistent with the way I do things. Time permitting, if we are playing on a Tuesday I try and go Sunday to Wednesday. Such a trip not only gives you time to enjoy the matchday build up but plenty to take a good look at what else our host destination has to offer.
Being at Bestival just prior to PSG away and flying back from Sunderland away the Sunday before the Ludogorets away match have made the plans a little trickier than normal but…….tours are booked and ready to rock for me and my fellow travelling Gooners. Bring them on!
Carrying on with last season’s theme of looking back at previous corresponding fixtures over the years, we travelled to Vicarage Road back in May 1997 for a low key fixture in honour of Watford’s then groundsman Les Simmons. After 50 years he was retiring and with the programme notes suggesting he was both well loved and quite a character, we brought our season to a close with a 4-1 victory.
12 months later and it was Martin Tyler’s cries of “Would you believe it” that us Gooners will never forget.
August Bank holiday weekend not only sees a massive annual Scooter Festival in my part of the world but Victorious Festival on Southsea Common too. So with a fellow Gooner kindly offering to drive I left home on Saturday morning armed with tickets for my live music fix as well as our Watford away game.
Steamy weather once again meant quenching the thirst pre match was more welcome than ever and it was accompanied by the news one of our lot has booked a trip to Razgrad for late October. I’m sure it will be very nice. Shame the match is being played 200 miles away in Sofia!!
Time for the real stuff and we headed into Vicarage Road confident but well aware our haul of just one point so far meant anything but a win would have been hugely disappointing. And with that comes a few nerves.
Not wearing our 1st or 2nd kit when we can shouldn’t annoy me. But it does. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever why we couldnt wear red and white on Saturday. The fluorescent thing was more of a colour clash if anything.
Watford are one of those teams who always make chances so I expected us to struggle if we didn’t take those we too would no doubt create.
But Saturday, at least in the first half, we certainly did that.
The first was a clear cut penalty having seen TV replays and the other 2 were quite superb (if the finish for the 2nd was a little ‘scruffy’). 3 nil at half time. Perfect.
If we were guilty of anything in our afternoon’s work it was not taking one of the many chances we created in the 2nd period. Just one more, either at 3 nil or 3-1 would have made it a lot more comfortable.
As it was, our host’s goal gave them hope and as a result we had to defend stoutly and big Pete had to make one or two saves to see us home.
Overall though a good performance and three welcome points sees us move up to 7th. And a cracking journey home, Saturday night and all of Sunday enjoying the beer and bands on Southsea Common finished off a pretty perfect couple of days.
It looks like over the next couple of days we will see a couple of new additions to the Arsenal family. I hope that’s not tempting fate of course! Any experienced signings that improve the depth of our squad are welcome and if the 2 being discussed go through they are certainly in positions where I think we all agree most needed strengthening.
Time will tell on those of course but for now we all hope and pray our internationals return injury free in a couple of weeks time.
I like many of us will be at our home on Saturday afternoon for the Legends game. It’s not the type of event I tend to like to be honest. But the chance to see players I followed all over the world in their prime, run out in the red and white for one more time will certainly prevent the trip from feeling a ‘grind’.
And after all……it’s that, gardening or shopping.
Saturday 20th August 2016
I’ve kinda said this before but there is a massive overriding reason why I go to football. Meeting my mates, having a few beers and talking utter bollocks. That’s what we do on match days. And that is what I enjoy most.
Political debate, the Olympics. What the sports presenters should be wearing. Or more importantly (surely), what they are saying. The environment. Etc etc.
They’re all not for me.
And the main reason.
We are there for the same things. We all want the same conclusion. And we are not judged. Apparently.
At the moment things feel a little bit different. Not the majority of it. But the chunk I don’t go to football for is increasing. Every week.
I’ve always had the attitude that if you genuinely don’t enjoy supporting the Arsenal…….your club…….don’t go to watch them. And I mean that. Totally. Your choice. I have mine. And you have yours.
But today, I felt like my choice was approaching a time where it is no longer mine. Arsenal fans, those people who supposedly support the same team as me, were fighting amongst themselves. On the way in, at half time, and at the end of the game.
And that is not why I go.
I make no apology for the way I am. And I guess those who choose to travel a long way just to air their negativity don’t need to apologise either.
And I get that too I think.
But my mate as just said if the kebab shop is not open when we get home, he’s kicking off.
Not relevent…..but it’s comments like that keep us going. Not because it’s literary genius….or even that funny. But it is why we go. It made us smile.
If 3 to 4 thousand of us went to away games every other week with an attitude where we are there for a laugh. For a good time. For a smile. For a release. For a moment. Etc etc etc
Yes, we get unhappy, frustrated, annoyed………when it don’t go well. And yes, when it does go well, we enjoy, get silly, get emotional too. Together.
But at the moment that togetherness, is not there.
And I don’t like that.
I mentioned earlier we have that choice. Whether to attend or not. Somebody (a Gooner I presume) shouted in my face, “If you don’t like it, don’t bother coming”.
It…..being you kicking off I guess. Not something that we can discuss. But when my mate questioned who.should replace our current boss. His reply was “anyone”……”my nan could do better”.
I don’t know your nan mate. But she couldn’t.
I’m a very calm bloke. Very.
But the original part of this ‘fellow Gooner’s’ comment has made me want to go all the more (having deleted my real thoughts 5 times now).
I am Arsenal through and through.
As are you (I think).
Victoria Concordia Crescit……..look it up.
Oh…..I forgot, there was a game. And the performance and the result was ok. Last week’s opener makes it less of a positive. If we had won last week, today was not so bad. But a point from Leicester away is not a terrible result.
And that is whether our current manager was in charge…..or a tracksuit wearing, peaked cap wearing, running down the touchline, never ending pot of money spending alternative was at the helm.
See you at Watford I guess.
Sunday 14th August 2016
Any idea as to whether Liverpool will go on to challenge at the very top of this year’s Premier League is impossible to predict. In one of their ‘tougher’ fixtures on paper however, they go home with the three points. On top of the disappointment of defeat is the frustration that our visitors really didn’t play that well.
Our pre-season went pretty well I feel but all of us experts are united in our opinion that a good squad could become a potentially great one with a couple of additions. And if ever that was emphasised that was today.
Don’t get me wrong, I thought we played quite well in the first half. A goal and a missed penalty backs up the fact we were the better side and equally as important we looked pretty sound in defence too, our visitors limited to no more than a couple of half chances.
And we were unlucky enough to go in level at the break to an absolute ‘worldy’ of a free kick.
But if we took the game by the scruff of the neck in a similar fashion after half time we were in with a massive chance of getting a positive result.
Whatever was said in the interval however, and I assume it was start with the same intensity as we did from kick-off, it certainly didn’t get carried out onto the pitch.
Two big defensive injuries in the same position pre-season is unlucky. I get that. But even if they didn’t occur we all knew it was an area that needed strengthening. And we haven’t done that.
And up front the story is the same. Olly Giroud is a decent centre forward. As is Danny Welbeck. But they are not available. We knew that many weeks ago. Alexis is an awesome player. But he is no centre forward. Today his role looked almost irrelevant at times.
Going forward however, is not our biggest concern. We have players in our squad all over the pitch who can score goals. And if you get three at home, you should win any game.
Our visitors today some good goals but all (apart perhaps from the opener) were avoidable with better defensive play. And in that crucial 15 – 20 minutes after half time when we needed to start again and make that first half dominance repeat itself we were nowhere to be seen.
I’ve seen us score 4 at Anfield. In fact in one game I saw us score 6. But very very rarely have I seen us concede 4 at home. But today that happened and we got beat.
Taking the positives, we were good in the first half and we battled to make a game of it from an impossible situation.
But letting in 4 goals and losing to a side that really weren’t that good is extremely worrying.
It is easy to criticise team choices and tactical decisions after a game and with the benefit of hindsight. Especially when you get beat. That cannot be argued. But after 45 minutes today it looked like we had got it right. What went wrong from there is more difficult to comprehend.
The trip to Leicester comes next, not a fixture that needs any additional build up. The Foxes are the Champions of England they host our team smarting from today’s disappointment.
That game can’t come round quick enough in my book.
Chins up people.
Monday 8th August 2016
Pre-season has always been a thoroughly entertaining adventure. And from Lens to San Jose to Los Angeles to Stavanger to Gothenburg, this has been no different. But along with all the incredible sights, sounds and experiences comes a whole heap of tiredness. And as I sit here in yet another airport reflecting on the last few weeks, the word ‘exhaustion’ springs to mind!!
I have been to Sweden 4 times before. As a teenager I spent a day in Helsingborg staggering around in circles due to the sheer volume of beautiful blue eyed blonde ladies present in the city, something a naive English teen was always going to struggle to hide!
A good friend’s stag weekend in Stockholm saw another visit, the same city playing host back in November 1999 when we beat AIK Solna in the Champions League, my only trip to the country for football to date.
A 4th visit was for a game but was kinda by default, an air traffic control strike in Oslo meaning our journey involved an unplanned flight to Stockholm followed by a 7 hour drive up to Trondheim in Norway for Rosenborg away!
This trip has technically included a few hours in Denmark, a flight via Copenhagen being our group’s chosen route given the fact there are no return flights from Stavanger to Gothenburg.
Back in 1980 I was too young to be making my way to European away games so I didn’t get to Gothenburg for our cup winners cup fixture. So the last few days has been my first visit. And with the Champions League format dictating it is becoming increasingly unlikely we will get to visit new destinations this was a city I was thoroughly looking forward to checking out.
The journey from Stavanger went relatively smoothly or at least it did if you forget the 1 hour delay on the 2nd portion due to the SAS pilot “being delayed on an incoming flight”. So he didn’t get out of bed then.
Nowhere in Scandinavia is ‘cheap’ and that includes eating and drinking. I guess you either go with that……or stay indoors and eat Pot Noodle. I can’t stand that stuff…..so we went to the pub. Well, pubs to be totally accurate. It was Saturday night after all. And it proved an excellent way to get pre-season’s final leg off to a fine start.
Matchday came next of course and after collecting our match tickets from the ground we met up with the usual suspects, the number of Gooners present massively swelled by the thousands of Swedes proudly wearing the cannon on their chests.
The Ullevi Stadium is one of the world’s most iconic sporting arenas and as a result I was really looking forward to seeing it. The structure’s huge curves make it pretty unique and being located pretty much in the city centre you couldn’t miss it.
After enjoying the afternoon’s refreshment filled build up however, inside the stadium was disappointing. Both ends had been ‘replaced’ with temporary stands made with scaffolding, a small one housing the few City fans in the ground and a huge monstrosity for the many thousands of Gooners.
I’m not a fan of these types of stands, not just because they look terrible but for me they never look or feel ‘safe’. Consequently I had a bit of a hissy fit and a kind steward allowed me and a couple of the other lads to take a place along the side……..5 yards from the bar. Result!! I needed something to calm my stress you see😉
Pre-season so far has been pretty successful I would say. Victories, goals and decent performances against opposition of varying levels of ability have more than added to the overall enjoyment.
Man City was highly likely to be our toughest test yet.
Our 4th encounter in recent pre-seasons, 2 wins and 1 defeat in our previous 3 provide evidence that the games can go either way.
3 good goals and coming from one behind was very pleasing. Any defeat pre-season is not the end of the world but winning is a fantastic habit. And I hate losing in any game, no matter how important.
A brief firework display brought events to a close before chewing the cud back in the city centre for a few hours after.
A touristy stroll around the city’s picturesque streets today brought another pre-season extravaganza to a relaxing conclusion and pretty much brings us up to date.
The last few weeks have been energy sapping……but absolutely fantastic. The memories however, are purely personal. The football side will be quickly forgotten, certainly by the media etc.
It’s time to put my worn out passport away for a few weeks.
The important part begins now, starting with Sunday’s visit of Liverpool.
Come on you mighty reds!!
Saturday 6th August 2016
Last night was only the second time I have seen us play in Norway, an eventful trip to Trondhem a few years back being the first. And the way I feel writing these notes on my short flight from Stavanger to Copenhagen, our latest host city certainly delivered! Friday night I guess.
Following our team I have made many friends down the years, one of the dozens of positives in doing what we do. And our team’s globetrotting mean those acquaintances are from far and wide.
Norway is very much one such country and it has been good friends living just south of Stavanger who have looked after our travelling party on this occasion. Our first meet in the ‘Blue Room’ in Bad Waltersdorf, Austria seems a long time ago!
Arriving Thursday evening, great food, beer and company made sure this leg of the pre-season tour got off to a relaxing start before we headed into our host city yesterday morning.
I have been lucky enough to visit on a previous occasion and I recall it being a small, pretty and quiet place. The beauty certainly hasn’t disappeared but 2 huge cruise ships being moored up in the harbour took away any chance of it not being busy this time!
Having taken a stroll we took advantage of hospitality at its very best provided by a fanatical Norwegian Gooner living in the city’s suburbs.
Having converted his double garage into an ‘Arsenal room’ with full bar and huge amounts of memorabilia, his beloved Gooners being in town meant he couldn’t turn down the opportunity to hold a party all afternoon pre-match.
And with great food, beer, company and transport to the stadium, it could not possibly have been a better way to enjoy the build up.
I can’t pass up this opportunity to mention one amusing moment. Deciding to get the Maidstone Gooners flag out at the party, there was a little difficulty in finding where to hang it. Our host however, as hospitable as always, came up with an instant solution. Armed with a power drill he proceeded to wack two 6 inch screws into the side of his house!! Hilarious.
All in all it meant we arrived at the Viking Stadium ‘refreshed’ to say the least, a factor that always leads to us grown ups doing things like purchasing merchandise you would never buy in a million years on a day without a party in a crazy Norwegian Gooner’s garden!
So far this has been a trip of ‘firsts’ and winning 8 nil is another. It is always fantastic to see a few goals……but Viking probably didn’t quite provide the test we would be looking for in an ideal world. The first half was slightly tougher than the second of course but with a missed penalty and the goalkeeper making a string of great saves, the one nil half time scoreline didn’t reflect our dominance.
Not that I would want anyone to think the above means I am moaning! I’ll take 1 nil if it means a win. And fitness and good finishing made last night a thoroughly worthwhile exercise.
Post match events continued in the same way as those earlier in the day, Stavanger’s Friday night life proving thoroughly entertaining well into the wee small hours.
Hence the headache and nausea on this flight.
Talking of which, we have begun our descent on our first flight of 2 today so it’s time to sign off.
Sweden and Gothenburg on a Saturday night await as the party continues.
And if the Swedish Gooners prove as hospitable as their counterparts from Norway it will be another fine couple of days.
Our friends from Norway, thank you once again. You have been awesome.
Ole Gunnar Solsjaer, Henning Berg, Morten Harket, Erik Thorsvedt, Miss Norway(!)……your boys took one helluva beating!!😉
Tuesday 2nd August 2016
Being a traditionalist I don’t like it if our away kit is anything other than yellow. So I am delighted with our new one. When it comes to the relatively recent development of requiring a third strip however, I genuinely couldn’t care less what colour it is.
In my opinion the one released this week is horrific! But……if we put in performances and get results like Sunday when wearing it, that’s fine by me.
San Francisco, San Jose and L.A. might all be in the same state but they couldn’t be more different as cities.
When I left off last time, our Amtrak train journey into the latter’s Union Station was in its closing stages and a short cab ride saw hotel check in undertaken and the last leg of the US tour was up and running.
Los Angeles is a big city and although there is a lot to attract a tourist like me, it is very spread out. As a result it is known as a location where getting around can be a bit tricky, especially without a car. To be honest, with a little bit of preparation and access to a decent transport map we have found it pretty easy, convenient and cheap to reach all corners of the city. And boy have we got around a bit!
Saturday began with a trip to enjoy the fantastic views from the Griffith Observatory, high in the hills above the city with the famous Hollywood sign in the distance.
Then it was off to the home of the stars itself, our visit including sights such as the Capitol Records Building, the awesome Chinese Theatre and of course the incredibly tacky Walk of Fame. Its the tourist thing to do!
Downtown was next, an area with a mix of historical buildings and ‘dodgy’ characters and saw us enjoy the Saturday night food, beer and blues offerings at the excellent Central Market, a fine way to conclude our first day in L.A.
Sunday was matchday 2 and we started by taking the metro/tram south through the suburbs and down to Long Beach to do a tour of the famous Cunard liner the ‘Queen Mary’. The sense of history walking around was something to behold and well worth the trip.
The Stubhub Center is the home of LA Galaxy and although an impressive stadium 10 miles south of Downtown, it is pretty much in the middle of nowhere!
A location for pre-match refreshment had been suggested but when we arrived the door was locked, the signs were down and the premises lease was up for grabs!
A short walk through the searing heat however and a suitable bar and grill was found to enjoy the match build up in the traditional way.
Once again Gooners from many locations joined us lot from the UK with many Mexicans present too donning the colours of Chivas.
Suitably refreshed it was time for the main event and with souvenirs purchased we took our place amongst the thousands donning the red and white (not fluorescent green fortunately!)
Time for the big kick-off and another chance to see how our preparations are progressing and despite the whole relaxed vibe, the sense of anticipation amongst the Gooners from this part of the world always creates a real sense of occasion.
Friendlies are not always the most competitive of affairs but that couldn’t be said about this one. Both sides quite obviously wanted to win the game, we played pretty well throughout and scored 3 good goals, in particular the one from the Ox.
I was very impressed with our 2 new signings too, Rob Holding showing a real knack of taking situations by the scruff of the neck and Granit Xhaka looking extremely commanding in the centre of the park.
Another good day then and two wins from two in USA 2016 make it look more than a worthwhile exercise. Chewing the fat continued back in the bar and grill and then, after an amusing bus ride, back in Downtown, leaving just one full day in LA to enjoy.
That day started feeling a little bit delicate of course as we headed initially for Beverly Hills and the whole retail therapy, Rodeo Drive, plastic surgery vibe. Again, you just have to as a tourist.
That completed and it was back to the coast, this time to the vast sands of Santa Monica Beach, a fine way to spend a few hours, especially if you like to people watch!
If like me that is something you enjoy it is fantastic. Nothing however, prepares you for when you have walked a couple of kilometres south and into Venice Beach! From old men walking on broken glass to a guy in an incredible headdress playing a guitar whilst wearing rollerblades to a dog in sunglasses, this is a quite incredible place.
If it didn’t make you smile then there is something wrong with you…….and that is a perfect way to sum up what has been yet another magnificent pre-season tour.
My flight back to London is today, an opportunity to reflect on everything and hopefully get some sleep before the inevitable jetlag kicks in.
No time to dwell though as the ‘tour’ starts its European leg with the trip to Norway’s west coast and the city of Stavanger.
California, I thank you. It has been awesome.
Over land and sea.
Friday 29th July 2016
My journey from San Jose to Los Angeles today will take approximately 11 hours. I could have flown of course but have joined a few of the usual travelling Gooners in Business Class on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train as it meanders south along the Californian coastline. Having just made a dinner reservation and with a wine tasting option looking extremely tempting it is all very civilised!
For now I’ve decided to lie back in my reclining seat and reflect on the last few days and my first ever visit to this part of the world, culminating of course in yesterday’s victory over the MLS Allstars.
Events began on Sunday with my flight from Gatwick to San Francisco via Reyjavik, a very smooth experience if no less tedious than every other long haul flight we ever undertake.
Arriving Sunday evening local time and the body clock asking the usual jetlag questions, a snack and a couple of beers were enough to make sleep essential and have you ready for the few days ahead.
With just the 3 full days in San Francisco to undertake as much as humanly possible it could probably be described as ‘extreme tourism’. A Fitbit (get me!) confirmed walking over 30 miles in what is an incredibly hilly city.
Throw in 10 miles on a tandem bicycle ride over the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge and I certainly don’t feel guilty for enjoying the numerous food and drink options during my stay!
Fisherman’s Wharf, the Ferry Building, North Beach, Chinatown, Nob Hill, Lombard Street, the sea lions at Pier 39, Union Square and Alamo Square were all taken in in addition of course to a trip over to the incredible Alkatraz. The tales and stories involving the likes of Al Capone and The Birdman were both interesting and spine tingling.
It is generally recognised that the whole hippy and free love period of the sixties started in San Francisco and in particular the area known as Haight & Ashbury. A visit here was mind blowing to say the least. Record stores of a size you wouldn’t believe, shops selling incredibly diverse clothing, bars and cafes galore, it was simply awesome.
And as for the people, they ranged from cool to the ridiculous. One old boy walking down the road naked apart from a sock on his chap begged the question is that strictly legal. “Oh yes” said the shopkeeper we asked, “as long as he is wearing ‘something’ he is fine. They changed the law about 5 years as total nudity was upsetting the tourists!!”
Thursday morning and matchday had arrived. Physically exhausted I might have been but I absolutely loved San Francisco. But for now it was goodbye and to the Caltrain station I headed to make the 1 hour journey south to the Silicon Valley city of San Jose.
With the guidebooks suggesting there wasn’t an enormous amount to see or do in the city there was nothing to persuade you to do anything other than enjoy the pre-match build up in the company of the many thousands of Gooners present, most of whom had travelled from all over the US.
And Jacks Bar proved a fine host in the traditional way.
The Avaya Stadium is the home of the San Jose Earthquakes. And on my travels so far, it is unique. It has just 3 seated sides to it, not something we haven’t experienced before of course, the likes of Braga immediately springing to mind.
But I don’t remember any ground with a huge and well stocked bar being available to all throughout, located directly behind the goal and at a height that gave you 2 options, both being quite appealing!
Not only could you purchase some refreshment and take your place on the small grassy sundrenched terrace but if you preferred you could simply stand at the bar and watch the game from there!!
Madness really but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t enjoyable. The only negative incident we experienced was when an inaccurate shot in the warm up flew past the post and knocked a bottle of vodka off its optic!!
The locals certainly take the whole ‘Allstars’ thing very seriously and the pomp surrounding the period just before kick-off was quite something. Fireworks, music, colour and a fly past by a huge US military aircraft all accompanied the build up as the teams stood in the traditional way.
The US National anthem was next before it was time for the action.
I’ve said it hundreds of times before but pre-season matches are never crucial. But in recent times the whole events surrounding many of them have become quite huge.
And the MLS Allstars don’t tend to lose these matches. In fact, reading the Ox’s comments on arsenal.com it almost feels as though spoiling the ‘party’ is not necessarily acceptable. Sorry our most hospitable friends, that’s not how we roll at the Arsenal.
Given the inevitability that Drogba was going to score we all knew we would probably need 2 goals to be victorious. And with so many players still missing from our squad it looked a relatively tough ask.
But we done ok.
And having taken advantage of watching the action from the various vantage points on offer it was very pleasing to see everyone perform pretty well and even more so to nick a late winner.
Nobody likes losing. But the opposite of that is we thoroughly enjoy winning. And we did. End of.
And that pretty much has us up to date.
This Arsenal family we have is something to behold. And it is the same in every single country we visit. We are Arsenal. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Next comes LA but for now I am going to watch the Californian countryside and coastline pass by my window before I head to the restaurant car for my 5pm dinner reservation.
I can do posh.
Come on you mighty Gooners.
Saturday 23rd July 2016
This was my 3rd visit to Lens. And like the previous 2, the locals could not have been friendlier or more welcoming. That compliment however, certainly cannot be extended to the help and assistance provided to us away fans at the stadium.
Back in September 1998 approximately 4 thousand Gooners made the short trip into Northern France for what was our very first match in Europe since the European Cup had developed into the Champions League. About 30 of us Maidstone Gooners travelled from what I remember and in what turned out to be an entertaining and incredibly messy day for a number of reasons, a line up that was pretty much first choice in our double winning 97/98 season came away with a point from a game we lead until the very last few seconds. Little did we know that after 6 group games it would prove an extremely crucial and costly goal to concede.
Looking back at my memorabilia from the game, the press pack makes interesting reading too, the then Lens manager Daniel Leclercq having attended our previous league fixture at Filbert Street appearing to be not over impressed by Dennis Bergkamp or Marc Overmars. “The Dutchmen didn’t impress me too much……but Parlour did” he said, concluding with “He is the real motor of the team”!
Dennis took the Eurostar to Lille for the match, the reason being described with a line straight out of ‘Google Translate’ perhaps, “Talking of motors, Bergkamp’s allergy to the aerial variety…”!
Leaving home Friday morning just after 6am on a glorious sunny day we were a bit concerned about the journey ahead. Not because I don’t like driving. Following Arsenal all over the UK and Europe would be a tad tricky if that was the case.
But the media warned us all week that Friday was the busiest day on the calendar travel wise and Eurotunnel’s email warnings were dramatic enough to suggest you should ‘bring plenty of food and water’!!
As it turned out we did ok. A quick journey from the south coast was followed by a relatively short delay at the tunnel and we were in France before you could say ‘Bonnet de Douche’🙂
Lens is in another country. But it’s really not very far from Blighty. Less than an hour from Calais it is far easier to get to than the likes of Burnley, Sunderland or Hull.
Consequently we found ourselves munching on a bit of al fresco lunch washed down by a couple of Duvels (or Duvets as Shaunie called them). Very civilised to be honest.
A very fine day all round only spoilt slightly by the lack of help or signage when we got to the stadium. Sometimes you can blame one or two beers for struggling, but every Gooner had the same issue. Not only were there no signs to the away end but none of the stewards or police knew where the entrance was and the normal practice of walking round the stadium until you find it proved fruitless.
The entrance turned out to be at the end of a cul-de-sac that resembled Brookside….although that wasn’t the way we got in.
Considering it was just a friendly it was a pretty full, colourful and noisy stadium that greeted us, but the game itself couldn’t really be described as gripping.
A one-one draw was just about the right result in a game of few chances, the funniest bit being the fact Shaun missed our goal. Too many Duvets I guess.🙂
I’m writing these notes back on the Eurotunnel train and I have a fat head. A good sign we enjoyed the post match stuff.
No time for hangovers though, the United States await.
And tomorrow that is where I am heading.
Victoria Concordia Crescit
Friday 8th July 2016
There are many occasions across the Summer months where I wondered whether I should write my first blog since yet another season came to a close in May. In the build up to the fixtures coming out for example or if not, just after they were released. Maybe when we announced our first Summer signing. Or at some stage during the European Championships perhaps.
In the end I thought I would wait until the TV companies chose their initial ‘live’ fixtures. Not only does this decision give me more subject matter but when you throw in all of the above and the various announcements regarding potential pre-season fare, there is a whole host of things to rabbit on about.
Many of those who have been in contact since the end of last season have either asked or in most case assumed I was attending the Euros in France. Although I am very much English and on that basis will always want my country to win in any event they take part in, heading out for that never even crossed my mind. I see international football as my ‘time off’ you see. Or at the very least to witness what everyone else goes through by watching it on the telly!
By and large I think the vast majority of our players have equipped themselves pretty impressively throughout. Being completely selfish however, I sincerely hope the length of time many of them have been involved doesn’t cause us too many problems with fatigue in the coming season. Realistically it has to be a concern. As for England there’s not a lot more any of us can add that hasn’t already been said. Referring to one of our own however, the decision to take Jack when he’d hardly kicked a ball all season was ridiculous in my book. Of course, his natural competitive nature and pride to wear the three lions would mean he would jump at the opportunity to go. But until he had at least a few months competitive football under his belt that shouldn’t have been his decision in my opinion.
Two new players have joined the Gooner family in the shape of Granit Xhaka and Takuma Asano. Welcome to the best club in the world. As always we wish you every success whilst wearing the cannon on your chest. Like all of us however, I still believe we are a couple of players short. Time will tell if that changes.
So what has the Summer held for me personally?
Well, off the pitch I have been fortunate enough to get some sunshine for a week in Majorca and also at a wedding in Marbella. Sport has seen me attend the Diamond League Athletics meeting in Birmingham and with international cricket to come in the next few weeks. When the sun is shining there isn’t too many better places to be than a festival and the Isle of Wight’s awesome version has been attended once again. Throw in a ‘Southampton Beer’ variety and 2 more in the shape of Victorious and Bestival to come (more on those later), as well as a little trip to Dingwalls in Camden to see The Struts and overall it has been yet another pretty entertaining period.
And then of course there was a little discussed event called the EU referendum, a democratic situation that if nothing else has proved that despite its importance there are many millions in this country that will vote one way or another even if they have absolutely no idea why they have chosen or of the consequences as a result!
With much travel to Europe and the USA coming up in this pre-season the timing of a frustratingly weak pound could not have come at a worse time for us travelling Gooners (and anyone else going overseas in the coming weeks). But with Lens in France, the west coast of America, Stavanger in Norway and Gothenburg in Sweden all due to play host over the coming weeks the UK economy collapsing around our ears is not going to stop us from enjoying ourselves. After all, we only live once folks.
As for the fixtures being released, TV’s choices mean we can finally start making specific plans, until the end of September that is!
Like always I have booked various events where football could prevent me from attending so I was hoping for the dates to be kind as always. And by and large I have been pretty fortunate in the first batch! Liverpool at home being moved means I will be at The Oval on the Saturday for the Test Match and with Victorious Festival at the end of the month, at least we are in London and kicking off at 3pm, meaning I have a good chance of being back for the evening’s events.
Bestival weekend in September has thrown up another London 3pm kick off so I am ok on that one too (although last year’s was particularly painful!) so all in all I am pretty happy with events so far.
Two weeks today and it is off to Northern France as everything gets underway once again. I’ll sign off with that thought and revert back as that day approaches.
So what am I going to do with myself this weekend?!
Relax….that was it.
Monday 16th May 2016
As amusing football moments go, yesterday has to be right up there with ‘Lasagne gate’ 10 years ago. But at least the fans of our friends from Middlesex didn’t have a long journey home to think about it. In the most unlikely of circumstances, its happened again guys. 21 years and counting……
Looking back at previous home league encounters with Aston Villa, three in particular spring to mind. The day The Villains won the league back in 1981 is often talked about including in yesterday’s match day programme and I also recall the night we won 5 nil and David Platt went in goal for Villa in front of the North Bank. A game in the double season of 2001/2002 also sticks in the memory, TH scoring a last minute winner after we were 2 nil down.
But on this occasion I’m going to take you way back to the second full season after World War 2 and October 1947. In a year that was to prove ultimately a great success as the league title was won the programme that day makes fascinating reading as always, especially in a world that was a very different place back then. On the pitch Villa were beaten 1 nil through a goal by Ronnie Rooke but alongside the fact Joe Loss & his Band were playing the Finsbury Park Empire that same night it was interesting to see how our opponents performance on their previous visit was described.
“Most Highbury fans will remember the 22 minutes of dazzling, brilliant football served up by the Villa on this ground last season. They scored 2 goals without reply, enough to show us the classic style of old time Villa football still lives and is dangerous indeed”. Scary stuff!
For me however, the most incredible piece came on page 6 of the 8 page publication as part of a piece called ‘Here and There’. It is a little bit lengthy but well worth reproducing here if only for just how incredible it is.
“Tom Whitaker has asked me to say that owing to the very large crowds now assembling at the stadium for first team home fixtures, the danger to children has become a serious problem. The board of directors have decided, after consultation with the Metropolitan Police, to adopt a procedure which is already in operation at many other large grounds for the purpose of discouraging the attendance of boys at big matches. In future therefore the half price admission will be discontinued for Football League matches. The educational value to youngsters of watching the professional footballer in action is fully realized and it is felt that the boys will get this equally well at Football Combination games so the reduced admission (6d) at the Schoolboys turnstiles will continue in operation for Reserve matches in the future as has done in the past”!!
So kids…..you aint coming in! And when I say ‘kids’, I mean boys of course. Girls couldn’t possibly want to go to football!!
Finishing above our geographical neighbours is not an obsession for us Gooners. These ‘bragging rights’ often talked about are all well and good. But until they go 20 years of finishing above us or far more importantly win 13 league titles instead of just 2, that particular situation doesn’t even exist in my book.
Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely don’t like losing to them. But then again, I don’t like losing to anyone. But if you do finish higher in the league table the only relevance for me is what benefit you actually get from that league position. The current Champions League format means if you finish 2nd or 3rd you get exactly the same thing. So yesterday to me really didn’t matter.
To us Gooners that is. And I feel that is the point as to why yesterday was so intensely funny. Not necessarily satisfying. But very very funny.
Deep down I don’t think any of us felt that lot would not get a result up at St James’ Park. After all, a number of their players had expressed quite vehemently how important it was for them to finish above us. Their manager couldn’t do an interview all week without mentioning us. And their fans have been in our faces yet again. And along with the fact we knew the Geordies would be getting passionately behind Rafa, it is that whole combination that meant they might just blow it. Obsessed with us as always. Rather than worrying about themselves.
Some have said the cheers around Arsenal yesterday, the almost party atmosphere at times, showed we felt the same. But if you were there you would realise the whole situation was born out of sheer hilarity. Finishing above Tottenham is not considered an ‘achievement’ you see.
Of course, even if they managed to get beat, we still had a job to do. And although it was comfortable in the end, it wasn’t like that all game.
Villa must be absolutely sick of the sight of us. Our last 5 matches have seen us score 18 and concede none. But unlike in the Cup Final for example, overall yesterday’s scoreline probably flattered us a little.
I felt we played well for the first 30 minutes but only had one goal to show for it. But for the half an hour split by the break we were very poor. Saying that, we kept our defensive shape relatively well and Villa had few opportunities even when we were not playing well. And once news came through the men from Middlesex had gone 3-1 down and Olly smashed in our and his 2nd for the best goal of the game, a laughter filled mini party started in the sunshine. And I would be lying if I said we didn’t enjoy it.
I remember when we went to Newcastle a couple of seasons back and saw the Sky Sports TV coverage of their lot celebrating as if they had won the league because the Geordies had scored. Even more amusing as they hadn’t. And still haven’t. Yesterday they did though. 5 times. Five. Cinq. Funf. Cinco. It’s the same in any language. Against a team relegated, with 10 men from 2-1 onwards. Embarrassing really. Almost humiliating in fact. Especially as they had emphasized not just how important it was, but how there was no way they were not going to make it happen.
Funny. Did I mention that?
We are not stupid enough that we don’t realise if things hadn’t have worked out as they did, the ‘lap of appreciation’ may well have been a bit of a damp squib. But with Mikel Arteta, Matt Flamini & Tommy Rosicky all saying their good byes I am delighted it wasn’t. A good way to conclude I feel.
So, somewhat surprisingly, we have finished in 2nd. I’m a great believer that the league table never lies, certainly not when all matches have been completed. Leicester have been incredible and are deserved champions. But we are the best of the rest. And that is in a season where we have every right to be disappointed. But its not all bad. 2015/16 will be looked back as the one that got away I feel. And if you believe the media we genuinely haven’t been very good at all. So….in a poor season….we have finished 2nd. Above Man City. Above Chelsea. Above Man Utd. Above Liverpool. Above everyone bar The Foxes in fact.
And imagine if in your best season for 20 plus years you still managed to finish below your neighbours in a season where they have been ‘rubbish’. I say imagine. As you need to look deep in your memory bank to remember when it happened. If you are old enough of course.
I will leave you with the following thought (kindly passed to me by one of our fellow Gooners)….
If you had bet a Tottenham fan £20 in 1995 that we would finish above them in the league, then doubled or quits with them ever since, they would now owe you £20,971,520.00.
Still can’t stop laughing.
Thanks for reading my thoughts over the months as always and enjoy the Summer boys and girls.