A Different Level

Sunday 12th August 2018

Confidence is not something I can claim I had before today’s season opener. Hope? Yes. Optimism? Of course. But City were simply streets ahead of us last season. And deep down I haven’t seen anything pre-season that suggested that gap has been bridged.

It’s not been the best of weeks for viewing sport for me personally. Thursday I went to Lords for the 1st day of the 2nd test against India. Stepping out of St John’s Wood station it was raining. And it stopped just as I headed back there about 8 hours later with not a single minute’s play in the bag.

A thoroughly entertaining weekend with friends followed before that familiar routine was undertaken this morning.

An early (and painful) alarm call, a walk up the pier, a ferry crossing, a train to London and the Northern and Piccadilly lines saw me take my place in the usual spot of the usual pub and the next few hours with friends were thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining.

That walk to the ground along Gillespie Rd, the smell of the burgers, the inevitable and intensely irritating ticket touts, the throng of people who have arranged ‘to meet someone outside of Arsenal station’, the stalls selling colours of numerous shapes, kinds and sizes, the walk over the North bridge with anticipation to the fore, the purchase of the matchday programme, the short queue (and in my case bag search) and the click of the turnstile. A routine full of sights and sounds that in my 43rd season of supporting and following my team, are very very familiar but never tiring.

And with a new manager at the helm and a different looking squad the whole lot was accompanied by a real sense of new era.

I don’t tend to write too much about the match itself as regular readers of my blog will know, mainly because there are literally hundreds of other places where you can do that. But I can’t help but be travelling home very disappointed.

If I felt we matched our opponents and things didn’t go our way I would state that. But I don’t. I genuinely thought we were a million miles away. And that is perhaps as worrying as it is disheartening.

I also feel however, judging our new look team after our first game against last year’s runaway league champions is a little harsh and unfair.

I’m on my train home now and Monday morning will be all the more tougher just like on any occasion where we get beat.

And a trip to Stamford Bridge is not exactly the easiest way to try and bounce back. But we can. We have to believe that.

Come on you mighty reds!

Frank
@stubbsy70

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Thank You Sweden, Let Battle Commence

Sunday 5th August 2018

From Borehamwood to Stockholm. A journey that has taken in Singapore and Dublin makes it a funny old adventure. And one that can only mean a pre-season tour. Despite how incredible each of our overseas destinations have been, you will never find anyone who would put all 3 into their fortnight Summer holiday plans! But our club has dictated just that and last night’s victory over Lazio has brought the preparations to an unbeaten close. And its been thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.

My taxi journey to Dublin Airport on Friday morning was accompanied by pretty miserable drizzly weather. If nothing else it proved there are some isolated times and areas within Europe where it is not stiflingly hot. After our short direct flight to Sweden’s capital however, Stockholm certainly wasn’t one of them!

Our Champions League group game away at AIK Solna was my last visit, 20 odd years ago, a game that saw Marc Overmars net a brace in a 3-2 away victory that was too little, too late as we exited the competition. But although I remember the weather being particularly chilly I also recall really liking this waterfront city. And this time round definitely hasn’t changed my opinion.

Making the most of the quite stunning warm weather, a lengthy walking tour saw us taking in the city’s stunning old town, some of the many areas adjacent to the water’s edge, one or two of the numerous and diverse shopping and dining areas before Friday was completed in a bar enjoying the excellent hospitality and friendliness offered by some of the Swedish Gooners.

Gunners

Matchday arrived and a bit of brunch was followed by more walking and an entertaining and relaxing boat trip around some of the waterways, canals and harbour areas, again accompanied by glorious sunshine.

Boat trip

This time round our friendly against Lazio was to see us return to the Solna area of the city but to their new ‘Friends Arena’, a totally different stadium just a short distance from their old home (since converted to accommodation in a similar fashion to our very own Highbury).

A short train journey was very simple but the walk to the stadium’s location was pretty unique, perhaps only slightly matched by West Ham away since they have moved to their new abode. A walk through a modern and glossy shopping mall brought us to the absolutely vast O’learys bar and indoor sports ‘complex’ located right opposite the stadium.

Even a pub traditionalist like me couldn’t fail to be quite impressed by the sheer size of this place, the dozens of TV screens all showing football, the pool tables, dart boards, 12 lane bowling alley amongst many other aspects including a large bar and eating area.

Vast

Seeing a typical ‘Westfield’ like shopping centre just full of people in Arsenal shirts was a little bit surreal and despite its size, the venue for our pre-match refreshment was nothing short of a Gooner takeover.

Friends

The slightly futuristic Friends Arena was impressive (as far as brand new stadia goes) and despite the crowd of just over 14 thousand isn’t enormous, the fact 95% minimum were fans of our great football club shows an impressive turn out from our Swedish contingent.

Turn out

The match itself saw another victory of course and left my overall thoughts of pre-season remaining the same. I feel we look dangerous going forward and with a little bit more composure can score at any time. But defensively we are still conceding a number of chances. That was no different last night as despite the pleasing scoreline our opponents could have easily changed that had they been more clinical with some of the opportunities they created.

Kick-off approaches

And we could be tested to the extreme on that front as we take on last season’s runaway league champions this coming Sunday.

My 43rd season of attending Arsenal matches I am looking forward to the months ahead with the same intense anticipation and hope as always. And I hope each and every Gooner out there is feeling the same way.

All the pre-season work, changes to our squad, new ideas, discussions and opinions have taken place. The real stuff, on the pitch, starts now.

Thanks Sweden for having us and bring on Sunday.

Come on you mighty mighty Gunners!

Frank
@stubbsy70

Green, Red and White

Thursday 2nd August 2018

This trip to Dublin has ticked a few ‘first’ boxes for me. I have visited the city once before but that was back in the early nineties for a stag weekend. The 25+ years since that trip mean my memories are limited to be honest and overall it just added to how much I was looking forward to visiting this time round.

The above confirms I have never seen us play in Dublin, or anywhere in Ireland and in turn it was to be my first ever visit to the Aviva Stadium, built on the same site as the more famous Lansdowne Road, home to our host country’s international football and rugby matches.

Travel to and from Ireland’s capital is easy with dozens of daily flights from all parts of the UK and the option to fly out of Southampton on Tuesday morning was very welcome given the fact the body and head were seriously struggling to establish what the hell was going on after arriving back from Singapore early on Monday morning!

Having checked into our apartments in the very heart of the city, it was time for our party of 5 to enjoy the offerings available. That started with a fantastic lunch and our first experience of the fantastic hospitality, considerable wit and sheer friendliness that has been the theme in every establishment throughout our stay.

From Dublin’s oldest pub to the live music on offer in many of the hostelries in Temple Bar and surrounding areas, we certainly got involved as you would expect.

Shall we?

And matchday morning’s thumping headache confirmed we’d certainly had a right old go at it!

A top notch Irish breakfast (think the English version but add in white pudding) helped improve the body condition as did the pint accompanying it. I know that’s not big or clever but there is no doubt ‘hair of the dog’ works! And it was matchday. And I’m on my holiday!

An Irish pre-match shindig

The Dublin (and other Irish Gooners) were out in force as you can imagine and in collaboration with Arsenal organised a thoroughly entertaining afternoon in a city centre pub and function venue including an interview and Q & A with Sol Campbell. Unsurprisingly the majority of the subject matter surrounded the big man’s move down the Seven Sisters Road all those years ago, something that, after 20 odd years, is still as famous and historic as it is absolutely hilarious.

Double, Double, Double…..

Making our way to the stadium it was extremely obvious just how many more Gooners there were attending the match than those supporting that mob from the Russian end of Fulham. This extremely green city was a mass of red and white and it made the approaches to the Aviva Stadium quite a sight.

Once inside, the situation was no different. I must admit however, I found the stadium itself a bit odd. Design wise, space limitations mean what is a typically coliseum like sporting arena on 3 sides has one end that resembles a small modern greenhouse! Making the best of the space available I guess but it still felt a tad strange.

Attacking the Greenhouse

The first 15 to 20 minutes of the game our opponents were by far the better side, deservedly taking the lead with a completely unmarked header from a set piece. We were fortunate that lead wasn’t extended to be honest but our performance for the rest of the game was considerably better. With chances created and plenty of possession we deservedly equalised with pretty much the last kick of the game.

I don’t tend to look too much into anything with pre-season matches but I hate losing. So the goal was most welcome and the noise around the stadium emphasized our earlier observations as to how many Gooners were present.

The ridiculous situation we find ourselves in where a strange and irrelevant competition has been created around pre-season plans meant, just like in our first match in Singapore, a penalty shoot out followed and scoring all our 6 whilst big Pete managed to keep out one of theirs meant it goes down as an overall victory in the record books.

Thanks and goodnight

And it added to the overall mood as this marvellous city looked after us well into the wee small hours post match.

Today is Thursday and our trip has concluded with a sundrenched walking tour and the promise of a nice bit of tucker a little bit later.

Crossing the Liffey

Dublin and the good people of Ireland, thanks for your wonderful hospitality, it has been fantastic.

Tomorrow it’s Sweden’s turn as Stockholm awaits.

Frank
@stubbsy70

Memories New & Old

Saturday 28th July 2018

Technically my blog’s date is inaccurate. As it’s the early hours of Sunday morning here. Equally that means my blog is highly likely to be more grammatically incorrect than usual. After all, Singapore is pretty hedonistic on a Saturday night, whether Arsenal are in town or not!

Back in early January 1977 is not a way I expected to be starting my words. But, much has happened over the last few hours to make me do just that. My dad (and grandad if my memory serves me right) took me to my first game as a 5 year old boy. My memories of that day are not particularly numerous or indeed detailed. But I do remember 4 things. Being handed a programme is one. The second is the packed lunch, in a brown paper bag, my nan had lovingly prepared. I also remember the sounds and smell from one of those metal burger stalls on wheels, gathered on every street corner. The fourth and undoubtedly most important was my the sheer feeling of childhood awe as I got to the top of the stairs in the West Stand lower tier and headed to my seat for the game (at home to Leeds for the record).

The reason for me telling you this is probably quite obvious. I’m lucky to have very good ex-pat friends in this part of the world and like everywhere in turn that has meant I have met many more people, be they Gooners or not.

Today has been a bit odd. Not every single bit of it. But some of it. And you’ll get the direction my blog is going in shortly!

Breakfast, slightly late if I’m honest, was enjoyed late morning due to the lie in a Saturday allows and slight hangovers from our chosen Friday night activities. And then we enjoyed the rest of the day as a pre-match build up.

That started with a few beers in a local bar before more in a location by the river dominated by glorious sunshine and the pits and seating area for next month’s F1 Grand Prix taking shape just the other side. But more than all that the following events took their course.

One of our Gooner friends was taking his 5 year old son George to his first ever game. And, donning his home shirt he could not have looked more excited. Except perhaps than his very proud mum and dad Dave and Emma.

43 years apart

We decided with a 30 minute walk (according to Google maps) in the blistering heat to leave about 6.30pm. Late enough to enjoy our fine setting but early enough to comfortably make kick-off. We’ve all been there. So we left at 6.40.

“Let’s use the bikes” somebody confidently suggested. Think ‘Boris Bikes’ but where even having a chain is a gamble. Throw in a few pints of Green Devil IPA and you get the overall picture.

What followed was one of the most surreal 10 minutes or so I have ever witnessed following Arsenal. Firstly, similarly to last time we were here 3 years ago Singapore’s National Day celebrations are fast approaching. And that involves pretty much a full dress rehearsal. Including military and commercial aircraft. And we had pedal power.

Flypast

We did eventually all find a bike. So picture the scene. Cycling, half pissed, along the river, towards the National Stadium, with an incredible fly past in the skies above. Slightly crazy. And (no disrespect) not quite what you experience at Burnley away!

Part of all this of course was George.

And I say that because I’m trying to analyse his first ever game in comparison to mine. He travelled on a bike, with his dad, in crazy heat. My dad drove and parked within 5 minutes walk of the ground. He saw an incredible demonstration of aircraft technology high above his head on route. I listened to the sounds of “programme & handbook” echoing into the sky. He sat in his seat, saw fireworks and when the inevitable Mexican wave came past he joined in and chucked his popcorn high in the sky like the beers every single World Cup YouTube video proudly demonstrates. I went in the West Stand with the seat ticket my dad had bought on the day and listened why he and grandad tried to do the crossword on page 16 of the programme. He saw 5 goals from his new heroes (in the flesh) and grinned from ear to ear as his dad took him home on his shoulders. I saw a 1 all draw and all was well when I walked through my grandparents’ front door in Finsbury Park safe and well and just in time for tea.

It’s not the same as when I first went. It really isn’t. And we all know a friendly pre-season match in Singapore is not the same as a ‘run of the mill’ home fixture in London N5. But It was kinda cool you know. And I was pleased to witness it. If that young lad, 43 years from now, has enjoyed the same ‘live’ experiences as me, the same highs and lows, then life is still the same as it ever was.

And I really got that today.

Cheers George. And welcome to the Arsenal family.

Ready

All that aside, the game was enjoyable of course. But believe me I do put it in the same bracket as all pre-season friendlies. A good work out (in a full stadium), 5 goals (it genuinely could have been 10) and I happily enjoyed my host city’s hospitality post match, for 1 final time, before heading back to London tomorrow night and thoughts turn to our trip to the Emerald Isle.

Singapore has been immense. Again.

Football & Fireworks

And the boys in ‘mint’ did alright tonight, no matter how much I hate the fact I’m not using the word ‘yellow’.

See you in Dublin. Right….where’s the bar?

Frank
@stubbsy70

When Things Go Wrong

Thursday 26th July 2018

Matchdays don’t always go down this line. Travel, pre-match fare and entering the ground pretty much sum up the usual routine. But this is Singapore. And it’s a friendly. Yep, a friendly. Where the squad continue their pre-season preparations. Nothing more, nothing less.

So, as my ‘holiday’ continues, I had a bit of a lie in. And then headed to yet another amazing part of this amazing country/city. For a stroll round, in intense and humid heat. To look at the area, try and take in the culture and perhaps sample some food.

Streets

Mid afternoon, a very enjoyable few hours that included visiting the Mustafa Centre, an establishment so vast that you would leave highly satisfied if you had a tube of toothpaste, a flat screen telly and a fishing rod on your shopping list, we decided to go and get a bite to eat. And with my love for Indian food and our location the choice of delicacy seemed obvious.

So, a backstreet establishment, chilli chicken, pepper chicken, biryani with the customary boiled egg, extra sauce, popadoms and accompaniments, in Little India, what could possibly go wrong?!

Further walking followed by a few beers in the Suntec area of the city, both to put the fire out and create some kind of normality in the pre-match routine and then it was time to head to the Singapore National Stadium for our 1st match on the Asian leg of pre-season and our 2nd in the overall preparations.

A pre-season line up

3 years ago, the stadium was pretty much full for both our games. If my memory serves me right in fact, one was a stadium attendance record. This time round however, our first match was less than half full. Our friends said it might be the fact the game(s) have received very little publicity in this part of the world. The fact many of their non Gooner friends confirmed they would’ve had no idea there were any games on if they had not have been told probably confirms that. And something where lessons need to be learnt I feel.

The good news was the vast majority of those present had come to see the Arsenal.

And in a half decent game we did ok. Both teams had chances, both teams played good football at times and both teams scored a goal for their efforts. And to be fair, our promising teenager Emile Smith Rowe’s strike was a cracker.

K.O.

Keeping up the good work to make sure we are fit and ready coming the opening game of the season is the ultimate goal in pre-season as always. Anyone who thinks different to that is missing the point. And the game will help us achieve that goal.

Penalties are what they are. And it was the bit of the day that went wrong. But overall it has been another good one. And post match refreshment can hardly be described as downbeat.

Cheeky

If tomorrow holds similar it will prove another fine day.

Thursday has just become Friday in this part of the world. Happy days.

Frank
@stubbsy70

Penalties

Singapore Vacation

Wednesday 25th July 2018.

I’ve been in Singapore since Saturday evening. Part of my annual 2 week holiday, a chance to catch up with a couple of my ex-pat friends living in this part of the world (and their recent new edition in the shape of a bonny smiley future Gooner Oscar) and of course a chance to take in both the latest pre season activity and the incredible enthusiasm present for our club in this corner of the Asian continent.

Until today it has been all about tourism. Enjoying the sights and sounds of a country where the colonial history represented by the architecture all around is matched by the incredible skyscraper landscape that has built up all round it. A city that in places could not look more modern and hi tech yet has a cricket pitch smack bang in the middle and examples of many many cultures scattered all around.

Mix

Chinatown has been visited and on a hot, humid, sticky day too. Enjoying Soy Sauce Chicken and rice after queuing for 20 minutes to purchase (for £1) from an establishment that claims to be the only hawker stall in Singapore with a Michelin star was a highlight in a fine day and a couple of pints by the river in Clarke Quay was enjoyable too, an hour or so graced with the almost surreal moment of seeing Gunnersaurus stroll by, evidence alone that the mighty Arsenal are in town.

Chinatown

Last night we had a curry. And it was a cracker. The type where the first mouthful feels pretty mild but within just a few minutes the spice and heat kicks in making you very aware this was excellent Indian cuisine. Just another example of the variety of culinary delights available in this thoroughly engaging country.

Today it rained briefly. Not for long. But just enough to cool it down a tad. And I mean a tad.

Coach

And it coincided with the official Fan’s Party for this 2018 tour, taking place at the Shangri La Hotel. Those who had travelled from the UK gathered, as did Gooners from Australia, Indonesia, China, USA, Myanmar among many others joined those from our host country for the festivities.

Let me in!

Ray Parlour is always good value and a quick interview with him opened proceedings before 6 squad members took to the stage to undertake activities from a drawing competition to learning ‘singlish’ before a Q & A ended an entertaining couple of hours for all those present.

Party

Quenching both the thirst and hunger the day has brought on brings today to a close before tomorrow’s opening match of the tour.

Over and out for now.

Frank
@stubbsy70

He comes from Borehamwood

Saturday 14th July 2018

When I woke up this morning it didn’t feel like a ‘normal’ day. I openly admit I’m not at my best first thing so I wasn’t particularly looking forward to my 6.15am alarm, especially on a day where I could stay in bed if I chose to do so. Throw in the fact the wonderfully hot Summer we are enjoying means night time temperatures don’t lend themselves to quality sleep and the fact Rocky and Chippy (my 2 cats) decide it is time for me to feed them the moment the sun comes up, my journey to Borehamwood was always going to be laced with a degree of tiredness.

“The football season never ends” is a quote we tend to hear all the time. Usually said by non believers to those of us who spend 10 months of the year travelling all over the globe to watch and get behind our club. And we can support our particular argument if Huddersfield away was your last game back in May and Man City at home will be your next in August. With our pre-season opener coming before the World Cup has actually finished however, it feels difficult to argue with those who get no pleasure from the beautiful game.

Yet my walk up the pier this morning, my ferry over to the mainland, a walk and crossing I will make dozens of times in all weathers over the months ahead, was graced with gorgeous rising sunshine and a feeling of a ‘new era’ for our magnificent football club. And all traces of tiredness were quickly forgotten.

Ladies and gents, welcome to the 2018-2019 season.

Solent sunrise

Yet more players have joined us since my last notes of course and whilst I offer them a very warm welcome to the greatest football club in the world, any other thoughts would be based on nothing. I watch extremely limited amounts of football from other parts of the world and pay little or no attention as to what other teams’ players are doing so my knowledge of our new squad members’ talents, coupled with the fact absolutely none of us know whether they will be a success in English football or not, means I can wish them no more than the very best of luck and success with the cannon on their chest.

I’ve been to Borehamwood a few times over the years. Some on a Friday too. When it’s location near the M25 makes it feel less than ‘local’ if you choose to travel by car. But today I went by train. I remember having a beer in a pub near the ground in previous visits. And a curry too for that matter. But it didn’t stop me taking a look at TripAdvisor for details and reviews on what was on offer today. Especially as there was every chance I would be in the area by about 11am.

After an ‘Eggs Benedict’ in a local cafe (or a bagel with bacon, a poached egg & a sauce that was borderline to be exact) our first point of call was The Wellington. A pub that has quite obviously been there for many years, had a car park just about big enough for a fight and served the grand total of no ales, to be fair they were very welcoming. And they opened at 11am and had the cricket on. Bingo.

Then it was off to the Alfred Arms. They were very welcoming, sold the grand total of zero ales. And they had the cricket on.

The Wishing Well came next. You get the story. But they didn’t have the cricket on.

Elstree away?

With all the usual people attending however, our first pre-season pre-match jolly was mighty fine and I totally enjoyed it.

The game was highly likely to see us put out 2 teams. One in each half. And so it proved. And in our first pre-season outing we scored 8 and let in none. And we can’t really ask for much more than that.

And we’re off

Everyone looked relatively sharp and professional. Everyone looked like they were thoroughly engrossed in pre-season and before we travel the globe, a sundrenched Meadow Park enjoyed the fare on show.

I’m on my train home now. To get a ferry.

Singapore awaits.

Frank
@stubbsy70

Summer is boring…..apparently

Tuesday 26th June 2018

Looking back to when the final whistle blew at Huddersfield back in May or even at the legends game out in Madrid earlier this month, we all could very easily come to the conclusion there is very little to talk about before it all starts again in August.

Well, where do you want me to start?!

Away from the game for me personally it has been the usual story. Sunshine, cricket, gigs, festivals…..they’ve all been given the ‘treatment’. And the awesome Isle of Wight version of the latter links us nicely to the World Cup.

Watching football on the telly when I’ve got an interest in who wins due to an allegiance is extremely rare. And i’ve enjoyed that novelty factor more than anything else.

Of course I completely understand and can relate totally to the fact it is extremely difficult to cheer and encourage someone who I wouldn’t give the time of day to during the season but I am English. And on that basis I want my country to win it. And watching the Panama game in a sundrenched festival was quite something.

Awesome IOW

VAR is the big talking point of course. The fact it means off side decisions should always be correct is a massive plus for me. But the fact there are still clear penalties not being awarded and spot kicks being given when no offence has been committed suggests the system doesn’t remove the problems that were already there before it was introduced.

Events surrounding our own mighty football club are incredibly numerous considering we are ‘off season’. Comings and goings are always regular at this time and that will continue for some time yet. The biggest news of all is we welcome Unai Emery as our new leader. Time will tell as to how successful he will be of course but the way he has already stamped his authority is more than a good thing for me. Good luck Unai and welcome to the greatest football club in the world.

The fixtures are out. Or the rough guideline is anyway. TV will dictate the accurate version early next month. Whenever they are played we certainly face a tough start.

For me however, the most historical announcement is our club’s decision to take part in the Checkatrade Trophy. It might be an u21 side taking part but they will be considered ‘first class’ fixtures so it makes it a decision of considerable interest.

The competition is regionalised meaning we could be travelling to 3 very local teams during the group stages. But looking at last season, how Chelsea was considered to be ‘local’ to Yeovil, Plymouth and Exeter is beyond me! Or Southampton to Cambridge, Northampton and Peterborough for that matter!

Pre-season sees as head to Borehamwood for Unai’s first game before 2 games in Singapore and a couple of tasty looking trips to Dublin and Stockholm complete the line up. Very nice in my book and all before a ‘ball is kicked’ in the 2018/19 season.

Our forthcoming Eurooean tour will hopefully throw up some interesting and different destinations and we have as much chance of that happening than not. With the draw for the group stages not being until the end of August however, much will have already happened before that comes around.

But spare a thought for some of our potential (if highly unlikely) opponents. 14 clubs start their European adventure this coming Thursday in the 1st leg of the competition’s preliminary round!

Anyone fancy a trip to UE Engordany or Kl Klaksvik??

Frank
@stubbsy70

Madrid in the Sunshine

Monday 4th June 2018

So, is this classed as the final game of last season or the first of next? Surely with a 6 week break to Borehamwood away it must be the former. But we wore our new home kit for the first time. That throws a bit of a spanner in the works!

All this admittedly sounds mighty irrelevant but believe me it was discussed, at length, by those who decided to join 70 odd thousand others on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the Bernabeu Stadium. It’s what many of us do you see. Discussing matters like this and thinking long and hard about other facts, statistics and history in a quiz like fashion form good conversation and banter, be it whilst sat in a bar enjoying a few beers or trying to make the long journeys to away games go a bit quicker!

Going all the way to Madrid for a Legends game could be described as a bit mad. Stupid, pointless, irrelevant in fact. And I get that point of view. But cheap return flights, the promise of beautiful weather, an afternoon in one of the great sporting arenas and the magnificent sights, sounds, food and weekend nightlife served up by one of our continent’s very best cities proved too big a temptation to turn down when the match was announced a few months back. And please tell me which bit of that lot doesn’t sound attractive.

Rooftop cocktail? Don’t mind if I do

City wise, our host didn’t disappoint, the dozens of uber cool streets serving up exquisite tapas, fine beer and wine all making up a thoroughly relaxing few days. And meeting up with the usual travelling suspects added to that.

Outside the stadium come Sunday evening, the glorious weather, Real’s recent Champions League success and the prospect of the locals getting to witness some of their club’s past heroes in the flesh meant there was a proper party atmosphere and sense of occasion.

Into the couldron

Last time we visited it was one of ‘those’ nights. Memorable beyond belief I can still see Thierry waltzing through the Real defence to slot home and clinch an historic victory. There were Gooners all over the stadium that night but the vast majority of us were in our usual allocated position in Spain of way up in the Gods (tier 5 in fact).

Sunday we didn’t need to do that of course so taking our position along the side next to the press box we really got to take a good look at the stadium on matchday.

Hairs on end…..

If I’m honest, in the warm up and in the first 15 minutes or so I genuinely thought those representing the red and white could be on the end of a hammering. Not only did our hosts have almost twice as many players in their ‘squad’ as we did, the vast majority looked slim and fit enough to have retired the day before! Many of our lot (and I apologise now for my lack of respect) on the other hand looked……well…….like they were enjoying their retirement!

But d’you know what, in an entertaining encounter, they very much held their own and in the latter stages, arguably when fitness could have told (especially as Real brought on about 7 fresh pairs of legs!) they can count themselves a little unlucky not to have come away with a result from the game. Still, at least we got the away goal! 😉

A legendary cast

A thoroughly enjoyable day in and equally enjoyable weekend and I think it’s finally time for a football break. At least as far as actually attending matches is concerned that is. What with the World Cup being on the telly and all that.

Enjoy the Summer Gooners.

Borehamwood is just 6 weeks away!

Frank
@stubbsy70

Moments

Sunday 13th May 2018

That moment. That moment when Huddersfield Town Football Club gave our manager a guard of honour when they absolutely didn’t need to. That moment when shortly after, our manager diverted right, strolled purposely towards the away end, stopped just beyond the goal line and applauded and bowed to all those who were there to witness it. That moment when after 22 minutes every single person in the John Smiths Stadium rose and applauded in recognition of one of the English game’s greatest. Those moments were powerful. Emotional. Respectful. And It was a privilege to be there.

That moment when Marc Overmars latched on to Nic Anelka’s flick to make everyone believe in March 1998. That moment when Tony Adams smashed home Bouldy’s through ball to ‘sum it all up’ a few months later. That moment when we defeated the Geordies at a sundrenched Wembley to clinch the double. That moment when Dennis Bergkamp scored arguably the greatest goal the Premier League has ever seen. That moment ‘it was only Ray Parlour’. That moment Sylvain Wiltord slotted home to clinch the league title in the back yard of the biggest club in the country. That moment that we went to White Hart Lane and won the league. Again. That moment when Patrick Vieira slotted home our 5th penalty in Cardiff. That moment when Leicester went ahead in game 38 and we scored 2 goals to achieve something that has never been equalled. That moment in the Bernabeu when Thierry took them apart. Those moments in the San Siro. All 3 of them. Moments from Wales’ capital city to the London suburb of Sutton. Moments from Bucharest to Belgrade to Borisov. Moments from Vigo to Ostersund to Istanbul. Moments from Warsaw to Hamburg to Rome. That moment when Jens saved a penalty to avoid heartbreak in Villareal. That moment when moving to a new stadium just minutes from our spiritual and historic home rather than somewhere miles away became reality. That moment when Rambo steered home in extra time against Hull. That moment when we destroyed Aston Villa 12 months later. That moment when Olly Giroud chased a ball to the touchline and Rambo nodded home to clinch yet another FA Cup.

Last minute wins with 10 men at Bolton. Volleys from Kanu, Adebayor and Flamini at WHL. 2 cup wins in a week at Anfield. 5-2. Twice. 7 nil victories. More than once. 49 games unbeaten. I need to stop. The list is endless when you put your mind to it.

There have been frustrating, difficult, annoying and soul destroying moments too of course. We all know that.

Today sent shivers up my spine. And no matter how hard I tried for it not to happen, a tear to my eye too. As did all the memories I have mentioned above.

No matter when we got beat I loved it when our manager stuck up for us. In all those interviews when we were being criticised. It’s alright for us to analyse, debate and slate our own when we are together. That’s fine. But nobody else is allowed! And when that happened to Arsene’s face, often moments after a difficult defeat, he stood his ground for our club. And I loved that.

I’m no writer. No talented journalist. I’m a fan. And as a result others have written the kind of tributes that will be far better written than mine.

All I know is over 22 years he has been hugely responsible for some of the greatest moments in my life. And that is powerful beyond belief.

So whilst massively recognising it is time for a change of direction I will never forget the Wenger years at our great football club.

With Huddersfield securing another season in the top flight today was always going to have a celebratory feel about it. But with an icon such as Arsene Wenger about to see the curtain come down it could have been difficult for our hosts to get it right. After all we were at the home of The Terriers, not the Gunners.

Celebratory

I would like to finish by thanking and complimenting Huddersfield Town Football Club and their fans today. They were awesome. And showed class almost beyond belief.

And….we won away from home to boot!

So that’s it. A domestic final. A European Semi Final. A European tour secured for another season. And our manager, our boss, our leader has moved on to pastures new.

A new chapter in Arsenal Football Club beckons.

Exciting yes. Scary too I feel.

Frank
@stubbsy70