Sunday 30th August 2015
The captain of my flight back south has advised we will have a cruising height of 23 thousand feet. I’ve never really understood why us passengers are always told that and exactly what relevance it has. I couldn’t give two hoots how high we are flying as long as he is happy and gets me home safely.
Then again there are many things in life I don’t get. Like why if you take everything that has been said about yesterday’s victory you’d think we’d lost.
We’ve gone to Newcastle, dominated the game without being particularly fantastic, kept our discipline when it was extremely obvious Mclaren had sent his team out to kick lumps out of us, kept a clean sheet and secured those all important 3 points.
Am I wrong to be happy with that?
Flying to both Newcastle and Sunderland away has become the norm for me in recent years but it was an early old departure yesterday morning that made it a very long (and entertaining) day.
But it was a warm and sunny north-east that met us when we stepped off the plane just after 8am, not something that is always the case! And a short cab ride had us in our host city in time for a bit of brekkie. That ‘lining’ for the entertaining events ahead.
Newcastle is a good city. Full of passion, welcome and considerable hospitality. And a football club and stadium smack bang in the middle. Of the grounds we regularly visit that feels kind of unique and consequently the atmosphere on match day has an altogether different buzz about it.
We chose to have our breakfast in a cafe. And then we went to Wetherspoons. 9.45 am is a bit early for a beer I guess but we had been up since 5 and were thirsty! And that brings me nicely to another ‘law’ I don’t really understand.
The bar staff couldn’t serve us a pint until 10am unless we ordered food. So if you munched on some muesli you could drink a bottle of vodka. But if you just wanted a pint it was a no go! Ridiculous.
Despite Rich asking for a pint and a slice of toast it wasn’t happening. So you were left with the ridiculous situation of the bar 2 deep with people all waiting for that 10 o’clock ‘bell’.
An hour later we heading to our usual pre match haunt in the city and very soon it was time to join the thousands making their way to the ground.
And that means the exhausting climb to the away end up in the clouds.
It was to prove a strange game. Our possession was good and lengthy as we’ve almost come to expect and until the sending off we looked at our sharpest. It’s slightly odd to summarise that we were definitely at our most dangerous before our hosts went down to 10 men.
Petr Cech had probably his quietest game ever, we should have been awarded a stonewall penalty and we created all the chances, Theo probably the most guilty of not taking them.
But with patience we got that all important goal and the massive 3 points. That’ll do. I’ll have that.
August bank holiday Saturday, just after pay day and the Geordies being at home, it was always going to be a lively old night out. And it was. And we thoroughly made the most of it. With those 3 points neatly stashed away in the back pocket.
Bringing nicely back to the present. I have a headache. Naturally. And the turbulence on my flight is not helping the nausea.
But it’s bank holiday tomorrow. So I’m going to be hardcore with the pain and take in Victorious Festival in Southsea for the day. It would be rude not to I feel.
Enjoy the first of this year’s international break guys n dolls and i’ll see you in London N5 when we entertain Stoke.
Victoria Concordia Crescit
Monday 24th August 2015
If I don’t finish these notes before my train reaches its destination then it will be Tuesday. And that is not my home. Unless I want to get in at 4am it’s a hotel for me tonight. For a home game. On a Monday. I’m not complaining but that is the kind of stuff and more importantly costs we have to endure when TV move our game from its weekend slot.
Not a game for the purists tonight I feel, especially in the first half.
It was quite exciting admittedly but the mistakes far outweighed the opportunities created by brilliant football. And how it finished nil-nil is beyond me.
The news both our regular centre halves were missing was a little worrying but it was also a fantastic opportunity to see how our other options would cope against a good side.
And the word I would use in the first period is ‘nervous’.
We started pretty well I felt and I understand TV replays have offered evidence our goal was wrongly ruled out for off side. Although it is impossible to know how either game would have panned out if the officials made the correct decision, you could argue that is 4 points Liverpool have already picked up due to bad refereeing mistakes. Not particularly impressive that.
Saying that, our nervous defensive display in the first period saw us go in at half time grateful to our goalkeeper for at least 2 world class saves.
They are within the rules though. And so was our ‘goal’.
We needed to control more of the play in the second half and in particular not give the ball and away so cheaply and we did this far better I think.
Dominating possession, probing and pushing for a winner, striking the woodwork and missing the opportunities that can our way meant we come away with just a point for our efforts.
Disappointing of course but if after our opening day defeat we can take a positive it comes in that old football adage, if you can’t win the game then don’t lose it.
That game has gone now so we look forward to Newcastle away on Saturday lunchtime.
That means a hotel on Friday for me and a hotel on Saturday too. But that’s ok because everyone who doesn’t attend can watch it on the telly Saturday lunchtime.
Bitter? Not me :-)
I have nothing against showing football live on the TV. But just on the odd occasion it would be nice if when looking at the location of the two clubs they considered the attending fans for once.
Come on you mighty reds.
Monday 17th August 2015
We could have shared ten or more goals with our hosts yesterday afternoon. But no matter how many were scored one team deserved to come away with the all important three points. And that team did.
Last week saw a sunny and highly anticipated day end in deflation and disappointment. The sunshine was there again but this week, with the added pressure of our opening day defeat, saw our journeys home accompanied with a whole bunch of different feelings and emotions. Three points on the board, we are up and running.
For those of us living in London and the south, Crystal Palace away is one of our more local trips. Looking at the fixtures these local games are pretty much the norm early doors with us only needing to leave London twice in the first 12 weeks of the season! I haven’t of course, taken our Champions League or League Cup exploits into consideration when looking at this, two competitions that will very much be more in the limelight in a couple of weeks time.
Live TV dictates any Premier League game could take place at one of approximately six different time slots over the course of Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Great for the couch based supporters out there but not easy when it comes to making plans as an attending fan. For all the negatives however (and there are many), differing days and kick-offs do also have some advantages. We all look back fondly to times when every weekend game kicked off at 3pm on a Saturday. And I believe the majority of us really enjoy them on the relatively rare occasion when they happen now. But I do ask myself if that is because such a day and kick off time has joined all the other potential slots as quite a novelty.
If like they used to a few years ago every game was at the same time and you chose to attend every fixture, it would pretty much wipe out every single Saturday for 9 months of the year! At least with the current set up we not only get some free Saturdays but can, as with our next league fixture at home to Liverpool, get whole weekends become unexpectedly available for activities away from the beautiful game. And having been the situation for a number of years now I have not only got used to it but have grown to kinda like it too.
Getting up ridiculously early on a Sunday morning is not something I relish or enjoy doing like most of us but a lunchtime kick-off like Sunday’s at Palace is not my least favourite. That ‘accolade’ goes to 4pm on a Sunday afternoon for me. Always a late late day as a result and hitting the sack knowing when you awake its back to the daily routine of work always makes that kick-off slot a little bit depressing!
And getting up early on a Sunday this time of the year is also far easier than in the depths of Winter starting warm on sunny as we headed off to Selhurst Park was another bonus.
Personally there was a good crowd of us Maidstone Gooners who gathered in what has become our usual Palace away haunt and all in all it made for a thoroughly entertaining build up. A pre-match routine that also sees what is quite a battle to reach your ‘seat’ in older and traditional stadia such as Selhurst Park. Believe me I like all of us have nothing but great memories of the various old stadia we used to visit week in week out but we naturally only ever remember the good bits. The crowded and chaotic turnstiles, severe lack of space once through, toilets lacking in number and accessibility and viewing that can be as poor as looking through a letter box are all aspects we tend not to describe when talking about the ‘good old days’!
There is no doubt however, those that still exist do feel far more atmospheric than some of the newer locations we visit these days and with a London derby and rivalry that seemed to intensify after we signed Wrighty back in the early nineties, it promised to be a noisy and passionate couple of hours.
If we lacked a sense of sharpness and urgency last week we certainly couldn’t be accused of that on Sunday afternoon. The first quarter of an hour in fact, could and arguably should have seen us take a 2 or 3 goal lead, always a promising situation on one hand but one we hope doesn’t come back to haunt us as the game approaches its conclusion.
It was crucial I feel that we made that early dominance count and when that opener did eventually arrive it was a thing of real beauty. An awesome strike from our big centre-forward and we had our first, and long overdue jostle of the season.
Palace’s equaliser was disappointing. That might be an obvious statement but feeling like you should be 2 or 3 up and finding yourselves level all of a sudden feels like a real kick in the stomach. As a result it was a relatively deflated away end during the half time break.
Despite always looking dangerous going forward our hosts enjoyed some good chances too in the second period but once again our goal came at a good time. And that lead, however fragile it looked on occasion, was just about enough to give us the three points our performance deserved.
From a very tricky away day, that will definitely do.
Next we come to one of the most attractive fixtures on the calendar in any season, Liverpool at home. Our results over the last two seasons alone show just how unpredictable this game can be. We’ve been well beaten……and we’ve inflicted the same on them, all within a couple of years.
Hopefully we have got last week well and truly out of our system and we can now build on yesterday’s big three points.
On Saturday…..if games were all at 3pm…..I would be in London N5. As a result of TV’s coverage I get to revel in England’s Ashes glory on a day at The Oval.
See you all Monday night.
Sunday 9th August 2015
There’s absolutely no way I would want to take anything away from West Ham when writing these notes. They thoroughly deserved their victory. It’s as simple as that. Our own lacklustre performance however, is a trifle worrying.
Despite our impressive and successful pre-season I had a bad feeling about our opener. Not because I am negative. In fact my positivity is that strong that I am often accused of seeing things through rose tinted glasses. But I definitely felt that everywhere there was an air of inevitability about the result. That we needed to simply turn up and we would win comfortably.
Of course I was confident that on the pitch it would be very different and we would be ready. All the more reason why I find everything from today a little puzzling amongst all the disappointment.
Glorious sunshine and those match day journeys and routines that we all miss so much during the Summer months were back and the discussions and banter with fellow long time friends and Gooners was probably the best part of the day. I would rather be saying they were an enjoyable part of the whole experience though.
We did have our moments of course and if we had taken the lead things could have been different. But overall, on the day we were poor and our visitors seized the opportunity to make the very most of it.
It might seem very obvious but the most important thing when you are not playing well is to avoid conceding. But today we let in 2 extremely sloppy and avoidable goals. Again, there is no other way to describe them.
Whenever we go into the last 15 or 20 minutes needing a goal, especially at home, I always feel confident we can get one. Our constant pressure and movement always suggests that door will eventually be knocked down. Not today though.
So, we were sloppy, lethargic, offensively lacking in ideas and penetration and on the day, easy to beat in our own back yard.
Not a summary I thought I would be writing.
Things can (and will I’m sure) get better.
That needs to start at Selhurst Park in a week’s time.
Keep the faith.
Wednesday 5th August 2015
The phrase ‘trapped nerve’ sounds painful without even knowing the full extent of its power. Having experienced one in my back a few years ago I knew they were painfully uncomfortable. I also remember being able to ‘handle’ it. More of a constant nagging irritation than completely debilitating. That one eventually went but over the last few weeks I have developed a new version in the left side of my neck. Again this has been irritating but manageable but as of Friday morning I woke up with the most excruciating pain I have ever experienced in my life. I’m not going to claim my pain threshold is any better or worse than anyone else but I genuinely did not know what to do with myself.
A trip to the quacks saw me depart with a sack full of pills designed to ease pain, reduce inflammation, help sleep etc etc, with all the potential side effects thrown in.
Come early Sunday morning I was 2 sleepless nights in and if I’m honest, not looking forward to the day ahead, an altogether crazy situation when it comes to seeing the mighty Arsenal playing at Wembley.
All day was spent fidgeting and moving around just trying to get into a position that eased the pain. Not easy with train travel, the London Underground, walking to and from our National Stadium and enjoying the season’s traditional opener in glorious sunshine all on the agenda!
With this in mind (and probably because I was drugged up to my eyeballs), I don’t remember a huge amount about the build up off the pitch. On entering the stadium however, the massed ranks of Gooners showing their colours is enough to take your mind off any kind of pain however briefly that might be.
Its an old cliché admittedly but I don’t read too much into anything pre-season. And for me that includes the Community Shield. Before a ball was kicked that was my view so just because we have won I am not going to change that. But, as I’ve mentioned before, winning is a great habit, as is keeping our momentum going. And beating that lot from the Russian end of Fulham is always highly satisfactory, especially in recent times when they have become a rival in more than just geographical terms.
I would describe our performance as dangerous when we needed to be, professional and more importantly very disciplined, possibly something we haven’t achieved enough against the top teams in recent years. If Chelsea has gone 1 up, you have to think they would have won the game one-nil. Or is that just me? The fact we went one up and reduced our opponents to just a couple of chances in the whole match is pleasing. And it adds a 3rd piece of ‘minor’ silverware to sit along side the ‘major’ one we picked up back in May.
The Ox has a big big season ahead of him I feel despite still only being 21 years old, something we are all guilty of forgetting. When he is on song he is dangerous, strong and great to watch. His superb strike on Sunday demonstrates just what he is capable of.
A great day out and the famous old octagonal trophy can go back in the cabinet it left just for a few hours on Sunday. A good end to a fine day with Gooner friends despite the ever increasing pain as the day wore on!
Normally a long journey home feels even more lengthy after a defeat. Despite a good day out and another win Sunday’s seemed to take forever. Played 5, Won 5, Drawn 0, Lost 0, 15 goals scored, 1 conceded is almost perfection as far as pre-season goes but it didn’t prevent another sleepless night!
Today is Wednesday and without counting my chickens, dozens of tablets, physio, acupuncture, vibrating machines and careful movement mean it is feeling slightly more bearable today. An improvement I am desperately hoping continues so I am fit and well for our all important opener against West Ham.
The Hammers will arrive having already played 6 games in their season, the Europa League format dictating this kind of ridiculous situation. Being used to each other, a London derby and determined to start their league season positively is enough of a combination to make sure we are ready too.
So buckle up folks, its time be that 12th man once again.
Come on you mighty mighty reds!
Monday 27th July 2015
Although we all share the same passion for our club and hope that everyone within from the staff to the players want exactly the same with equal desire, there is always going to be a certain degree of distance and separation between us fans and what goes on within the ‘four walls’. And I am fine with that. We have always been pretty good at keeping things on the ‘inside’ and by and large I am a great fan of not ‘airing your dirty washing’ publicly. Even though of course, we all would love to know every minor detail!
That ‘separation’ inevitably means the players and staff have no idea what we have to go through just to follow our team. (Being slightly tongue in cheek there believe me as below will demonstrate!)
Tickets bought and plans made for this weekend’s Emirates Cup, we never consider what might go wrong in the build up or during the whole event. We just look forward to enjoying ourselves and sub consciously at least, expect everything to run like clockwork.
For example, I like the Summer months in particular and during that period the shoes and socks come off, the shorts come out of the cupboard and any other Winter attire remains hidden away until at least when Autumn kicks in. Not everyone wants or indeed can do things like that but that is the way I roll.
Earlier this week I walked into my kitchen and went to the fridge. In bare feet. Something I and every single one of us has done on many many hundreds of occasions. I wasn’t prepared however, for a bottle of wine to fall out and land smack bang on my middle toe! Cue total agony, blood pissing everywhere and a digit that now resembled one of those little fat characters off the Ribena advert!
Once the pain subsided and after 24 hours or more the blood finally stopped flowing it dawned on me going to football for all us able bodied people involves considerable amounts of walking. The whole idea of getting a shoe on wasn’t even a possibility so flip flops and careful avoidance of all people, something so easy at a football match (!), was the only way to get through it. I wouldn’t have minded but I only went in the fridge to get some milk! Although I am pleased to say the wine bottle didn’t break. :-)
Saturday evening was another example.
Walking back to my hotel in Kings Cross, my mobile phone screen goes blank followed by a message along the lines of ‘fatal system error’. I’m no expert but that didn’t look promising! I tried the usual stuff of changing the battery etc but it was no good. Computer says’ no’. It’s times like that when you realise just how reliant we have become on these things. Could I remember anyone’s number? No….why would I? They are in my phone. Did I still have some arrangements to make regarding ticket distribution on Sunday? Of course I did!
Things continued on that vein too. I couldn’t find my hotel. No prob, I’ll use the map on my phone……doh! As frustration kicked in more and more I eventually found it…..and reception advised I couldn’t check in because I didn’t have my passport. I am a very calm person generally…..but it was at that moment that I nearly turned her table upside down!
All this of course makes up the only reason I was in London. To see the mighty Arsenal. The things we go through just for that!
The Emirates Cup is relaxing. I can’t really use another adjective. It also gives us an opportunity to witness home games from a different vantage point. And on this occasion it was arguably the best viewing point of any stadium in the world. Half Way line Club Level. Simply awesome.
The sunshine meant my flip flops and short sleeves very much fitted in and with plenty of pre-match refreshment and my toe so far unscathed I settled down to watch our first game unfold. And a thumping 6 nil victory can be nothing but entertaining on an attacking front although deep down we probably needed something a little bit more ‘competitive’.
Six good goals, some great football, some pleasing performances both from our more established players and in particular one or two of our young up and coming talent all made for entertaining fare on the pitch. Great company and refreshment both before and after made sure it was an equally enjoyable day off it.
Sunday morning’s slightly sore head was also met by the sight of my mobile phone in various pieces on my hotel bedroom floor and the realisation of just how much ‘hassle’ a mobile phone breakdown can cause. And it wasn’t helped when I stepped outside, in my flip flops and it was absolutely pelting it down! The pavement felt like an ice rink and I was hardly dressed for the occasion! Time for a good old English stiff upper lip and I limped and slid my way, toe still surviving, in the direction of Kings Cross station for a bit of a brekkie and another day at the footy.
Among the many, another aspect of this particular competition is the number of families that get to come along. The colours, the smiles and the quite obvious excitement amongst all of our younger followers is hugely apparent and fantastic to see. Many will be attending a game for the first time of course and this was the case with Gemma and Kirsty, twin daughters of good friends and fellow season ticket holders. Their excitement throughout their first day was extremely obvious and along with their older brother Danny, a sheer veteran at 7, they joined in with all the singing throughout. I’ve always said football brings people together, of all ages and there can be no finer example than this weekend.
The previous day’s result against Lyon was inevitably going to see many thinking yesterday could produce something similar. With our starting eleven virtually completely different to 24 hours earlier however, the Wolfsburg game was always going to be totally different. And so it proved. Much more of a test in all areas of the pitch we can still be pleased with a clean sheet, another win and of course the second piece of pre-season silverware on the shelf. Winning is a fine habit, whatever the competition.
Looking forward to our latest trip to Wembley on Sunday, my journey home is pretty much where I will leave it for now. Oh….and with my toe. Avoiding all accidents my aim was very much nearly achieved. Until on the tube, half way back to Waterloo, a man with a child in a pushchair decided to run the front wheels straight over it. It was an awkward but genuine howl I let out….
As I said earlier…..if only the club knew what we go through :-))
See you at Wembley.
Sunday 19th July 2015
We saw it to a certain level in the Birds Nest Stadium in Beijing a couple of years back when we played Man City but the volume of support for our great club in this part of the world is simply mindblowing at times.
Everton are a big, traditional and hugely historical English football club. Yet with the Singapore National Stadium’s record crowd packed in last night there was no more than a small sliver of blue shirts on show. A good 90% or more had definitely ‘come to see the Arsenal’.
And I think by and large, we pretty much delivered.
On any overseas trip I try to include taking in some of the local sights, sounds, activities and culture so the build up to matchday 2 was spent looking round the city including the sun drenched party beach scene that is Sentosa, the incredible night time views from the roof of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and sampling delights such as ‘Chilli Crab’ at a seafood centre along the city’s east coast.
When it comes to food, restaurant, bar and club options there can be very few locations with such a concentration all over the world and trying as many as time allows was also high on the agenda.
As well as high end edible and visual delights created by extremely talented and passionate chefs there are many ‘hawker centres’ where fresh and delicious foodstuffs of all shapes and colours is knocked up in front of you for no more than the price of a pint of beer. Unusual believe me, in what is essentially an expensive city but we certainly tried both ends of the spectrum during our stay.
After a well earned Saturday morning lie in, matchday started doing just that and well fed we began the build up enjoying various alcoholic beverages in Robertsons Quay, one of the many many places in Singapore with an incredible amount of options for this kind of activity.
Suitably refreshed it was back to the highly impressive stadium as we looked to take the trophy against Everton.
And with an excited capacity crowd looking on we came out of the blocks fast with some quite superb passing and movement to look like the team firmly on the front foot from minute 1.
The discussions as to whether Theo could go on to prove himself through the middle have been going on for a long time now. Pretty much carrying on from where he left off at the end of last season, his run and finish to put us in front provides yet more evidence for all those who think he can.
The noise when the ball hit the net just added to the occasion.
Santi and Mezut’s goals in quick succession early in the 2nd period pretty much finished the match as a contest and put the icing on the top of a thoroughly enjoyable cake.
Pre-season? Yes. Crucial? No. But I get the ‘ump when I lose at Kerplunk so I’ll take that thanks.
Nice to see us score 7 goals this week. Even better to see us looking sharp and fit already. And a little bit of silverware is pretty ok too.
Clarke Quay played host for our post match fun and frolics as our friends and their friends who live and work in this great city showed their considerable hospitality once again.
A perfect end to the football side of this trip.
Today has been spent whiling away the last few hours with a relaxing stroll round the highly impressive ‘Gardens by the Bay’, a location many of our squad enjoyed visiting earlier in the week.
So a perfect end to the events off the pitch too.
The Emirates Cup is upon us next as we look to double this year’s pre season trophy haul next weekend.
For now however, the announcer on my Emirates flight has advised all electronic devices should now be switched off so it’s over and out from Singapore and yet another quite awesome pre-season tour.
See you on Saturday in London N5 for a pre-match jar or two.
Thursday 16th July 2015
We do like to moan about our weather back home but actually being able to walk 200 yards and not be dripping in sweat is something I prefer to be honest.
Singapore City is a fine place. Plenty to see and do, a huge abundance of eateries and bars and friendly and welcoming people.
And over the next couple of days before we take on Everton on Saturday, we plan to take in as much as possible.
As well as the large number of locals there are Gooners here from literally all over the world, Australia, USA, India, Malaysia, China……to name but a few. Staying with ex-pat fans and friends Biggles and Harriet helps to swell the numbers from home in addition to good mate and Gooner Tom who has traveled from Dubai.
Monday evening began with a relaxed bit of local food before Tuesday we headed to a pub that doubles up as the Singapore Gooners HQ, a good a place as any to meet and chat with the many familiar faces that make up the Gooner Family. Decked out in shirts and memorabilia, it looks fantastic and really feels like home from home.
I am well aware nothing beats actually attending the fixtures and am grateful to be able to do that week in week out but I would love to be a fly on the wall when the local Gooners gather at all hours to watch on the TV.
Tuesday night we headed to the highly impressive National Stadium to watch a good hour or so of training, a relaxing way for us and especially the locals to see the squad put through their paces. Hard work in this humidity believe me!
Like many cities, Singapore is made up of a number of districts or quarters. There is the central business district and all its skyscrapers, much evidence of colonial times, Chinatown etc etc. Post training we headed to ‘Little India’ for some fine tucker before bed called once more and matchday 1 was upon us.
Enjoying the build up was order of the day and this we did with gusto, initially in the ‘Boat Quay’ area before heading back to Molley Roffeys to join the increasing numbers of Gooners and a couple of surprise ‘guests’. Chippy Brady had come along for a Q & A session and had brought the magnificent FA Cup with him, something he had his hands on back in 1979 of course.
It all added to the great pre-match vibe before we headed to the ground for the main event.
Even with all the razzmatazz associated with pre-season tours, inevitably the games are not always the best. After all they are more about getting fit than anything else. But we played pretty well I thought, a win is a win and we got to see 4 goals to boot.
And Everton’s penalty shoot out win over Stoke sees us face The Toffees next.
Food and refreshment into the wee small hours followed…..hence the head.
But it was a fine day all round as we opened our latest Asian tour with a win.
Not sure on the new away kit……..but its already growing on me. And I’m ecstatic we haven’t gone down the ‘blue’ route again. Yellow, Gold, whatever.
We are Arsenal.
Friday 10th July 2015
Glancing through my previous piece some of the TV fixtures have been kinder than others. Chelsea away being moved to Saturday lunchtime instead of Sunday the biggest problem and disappointment, especially with both clubs playing in the Champions League a few days earlier. Just to make things a little tougher for all us fans as well, for the first time we have only been advised of the moved fixtures up until the end of September rather than November as in previous years. Thanks for that!
This piece however, is all about what happens before the real stuff begins in August.
Domestically I have been attending pre-season fixtures since back in the eighties and although the vast majority tend to be pretty low key affairs I have visited many towns and stadia right the way across the country, most of which we don’t get the chance to see on a regular basis. The likes of Peterborough, Gillingham, Southend, Luton, Lincoln and Northampton all spring to mind.
The ‘Makita International Tournament’ made its appearance too of course, initially with a few annual trips to Wembley followed by the tournament taking place at Highbury in its latter years. Totally wiping the floor with Middlesex Hotspurs and Bayern Munich immediately spring to mind and an absolute Friday night cracker by new signing Anders Limpar against Aston Villa sits prominently too. The prelude to today’s ‘Emirates Cup’ format I guess.
It wasn’t until the late nineties however, that the temptation to attend something overseas became too strong, the French city of St. Etienne playing host for a couple of days. My ‘Air France’ flight being cancelled on the way out, the later than hoped arrival as a consequence and a right dodgy hotel in the nearby city of Lyon suggest the whole trip was a bit of a nightmare but looking back I have far more fonder memories than this suggests. I think we were a couple of goals down in front of a noisy and fair sized home crowd before coming back to draw 2-2 on the day……although I might have got that wrong! All I do know, is as far as overseas pre-season trips were concerned, the relaxed atmosphere, the good weather and the relatively small amount of travelling Gooners had me totally hooked.
Fifteen years or so on from that trip and I’ve been fortunate enough to visit a further 17 countries around the world, all before a seriously competitive ball is kicked. Tournaments in Amsterdam….shall we?! A weekend in Valencia…..I’m in! Lisbon in August anyone? errrrr, oh go on then! A Warsaw 4 dayer? Yes please!
Until 2011, the majority of those 17 countries were within Europe and as well as the above included our ten year love affair with the wonderful country that is Austria. My memories of the whole place and the fantastic people, many of which have become friends, are both numerous and awesome. So much so in fact, that I seriously miss it.
The only aspect all those who made the annual pilgrimage agreed on however, was the sense of inevitability that eventually our whole pre-season format would change. So to have enjoyed a full ten years was arguably quite a bonus.
Travel around Europe has got easier and easier down the years too but when a trip to Malaysia and China was announced it felt a little more daunting. Not that it should have done of course, just because looking at those kind of pre-season arrangements were not something we had even considered before let alone actually undertaken!
For me personally it opened up a whole new world of sights, sounds and cultures over the coming years and having the chance to visit the likes of Kuala Lumpur, Yiwu, Beijing, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Hanoi, Nagoya, Tokyo and New York just by following my team is quite incredible and have seriously added to my whole life experience.
Of course it’s not just these cities that it gives you the opportunity to visit on these kind of travels and that brings me nicely to this year’s pending trip to Singapore.
Location wise it is a country that is not far way from Kuala Lumpur. With good friends and Gooners living out there I took the opportunity to visit them and their new home on a previous trip before taking a relaxing and interesting 7 hour train journey up into the Malaysian capital. These friends still live there so they are kindly playing host again this time round as we head out for two matches in the ‘Barclays Asia Trophy’.
My previous visit definitely confirmed there is plenty to see and do and Singapore’s National Stadium is another to ‘tick off the list’ so once again it is a trip I’m thoroughly looking forward to.
Let the fun begin!
Wednesday 17th June 2015
Summer time is not normally a period where I add my latest blog. But, just like the season’s opening day or the FA Cup 3rd Round draw, the fixtures coming out is one of ‘those’ days where I feel like a little kid. And it is lunchtime. And I need a break from my day to day working routine….mainly because 4 days at the Isle of Wight Festival has seriously taken it out of me yet again!
Like many of us I treat the fixtures very personally. Especially as I am an Arsenal addict so not attending a fixture doesn’t ever come into any initial equation!
Saying that however, although my choices are relatively flexible, you’ve probably guessed by now I do have a life outside football. When it comes to my passion however, I’m very selfish too. I don’t like doing things I don’t want to. No pretending from me I’m afraid. If there is something I would prefer to be doing that’s pretty much the direction I head. And yep, as I sit here in my mid-forties I have lost relationships, jobs and worse as a result.
Norwich away for a league cup replay when on holiday north of Inverness was one such choice. Scarborough away in the fog when I was supposedly at a meeting in Crawley another. But do these (and many other) occasions make me a bad person? Inconsiderate? Maybe. Unable to compromise? Probably. Stubborn? On occasion. But fixtures like this were not on an initial ‘list’. So I had made other arrangements. Now, quite simply, other than the odd gig ticket I could sell if it clashes, I don’t. It’s easier you see.
On the other hand am I truthful and honest to myself? Definitely. Love and respect my family and friends? 100%.
And I don’t smash up telephone boxes, be abusive to others, get physically violent, push drugs, steal, be racist, stitch people up etc etc etc.
So as an overall package, I am extremely happy in my life choices, despite like each and every one of us, making many mistakes along the way.
All of the above mean however, that when I look at the fixture list announcement my brain works something like this;
Who we got first game? Could do with a London fixture as wedding reception Saturday evening. West Ham at home. That’s a good start. Even better if its moved to Saturday lunchtime or Sunday. Saturday evening would cause an issue. One I’d deal with of course. But one it would be handy to avoid.
Weekend of the 22nd is the next I need to look at. Got tickets for The Ashes cricket at The Oval for the Saturday. So could do with a game that can be moved to Sunday. Liverpool at home. Definitely TV possibilities there. Promising stuff. Again if it doesn’t get moved the Arsenal come first. I’ll sell the cricket tickets if that happens.
The following week I have music festival tickets for both days. So it was always highly likely I would miss one of the 2 days. Something Saturday in London would be good. Moved to Saturday lunchtime would be perfect. Newcastle away. Shit. Not very helpful that one. I can fly up and back to that one though. So I will still get to one day of the festival. And its bank holiday weekend. No Champions League Fixtures to follow. So I’ll cling on to the fact it could be moved to the Monday night! You never know.
Bestival is on the weekend of the 12th/13th September. And I have tickets of course. Why wouldn’t I. It’s awesome and just down the road. Knew I would be missing a little bit of it for football but a London game would be very handy. Stoke at home. That’ll do. Make it Saturday or Sunday lunchtime please TV companies. No hang on. Won’t be moved to Sunday. We have our first Champions League Group match that week! Go for Saturday lunchtime please TV people. That would be just perfect.
The following week and I do have a potential problem. One of my very best mates is getting married. The idiot! ;-). Not for getting married of course. But for doing it in the football season. He should know the rules. June is the month for weddings. Need a fixture that not only could be moved for TV but one that is the biggest fixture of the weekend. Surely then there is a massive chance it could be Sunday at 4pm. Chelsea away. Probably couldn’t have handpicked that any better. Especially as both clubs will be playing in the Champions League the previous midweek. Fingers crossed on that one.
Etc. etc. etc.
Mid July we normally find out TV’s full selections. Then and only then can I start to put together my totally selfish and personal diary. Only until the end of November though of course.
December 2015 and onwards will have to wait for the next TV announcement.
I should have one or two days free in June 2016 though.