Monday 19th August 2019
The opening home game of the season is always one of those special dates on the calendar. There is always the air of anticipation but after our ‘active’ Summer there was an increased upbeat feel in the pub and streets around London N5. Anything other than a win however, would have brought everyone back down with a bump! I make that job done then.
Early kick-offs, even in London, mean an almost ridiculously early start for many Gooners, including me. But this time of the year, even getting out of bed at 6.30am on a Saturday with a mild hangover, you do have the chance of it being a gloriously sunny day. And as I made the walk along a seafront with only the odd dog walker and jogger for company, the stroll up the pier to my first transport of the day could not have been more pleasant. A simply gorgeous August morning.
It meant my slightly weary train ride up to London’s Waterloo was definitely graced with a good feeling. My first visit to the home of football back in January 1977 might feel an awful long time ago but my passion, will to support my great club, appetite for travel and hope for success has not waned in the slightest. I still love every minute of it. And I offer no apology for that.
Not living local to the club, my pre-match hostelry is not somewhere I go throughout the Summer. So it can’t be called my ‘local’ I guess. But all the other ingredients are there to suggest otherwise. I’ve grown to know the landlord and his staff for example, from the guys who work the door to those who pull my latest pint. I sit in the same corner of the pub every time and even without mobile phones I would need to make absolutely zero arrangements with my very best mates as to when and where will be meeting. And with like minded people all there for the same reason, the stories and banter are immense!
The walk along Gillespie Road has changed down the years of course. But compared to many things in life, not very much. Sure the shady looking characters selling roasted chestnuts have gone as have the bent up silver trollies trying to persuade you to proper gamble by consuming one of their burgers! But technically, they are still there and have merely been replaced, the cooking smells you only associate with the football still very much being present.
“Programme and Handbook!”, I remember fondly. As well as “Roasted peanuts, all roasted, 30 pence a bag!” But they again have only been replaced I guess, with the likes of, “Anywhere you like, anywhere you like” from the sweet man and, “Get yer Gooner” as fanzines still prove popular amongst many since their introduction back in the mid eighties. And then there’s the dreaded touts of course. Still there in their dozens as they have always been. “Who want’s tickets, I’ll buy any spares.”
All part of my personal home matchday experience from that day back in 1977. And Saturday early afternoon started it all again for another 9 months or so.
That upbeat feel was also noticeable in the stadium. Very few empty seats and a crowd full of anticipation for what our new looking squad would have to offer against a well organised Burnley outfit fresh off the back of a thumping opening day victory.
Overall it wasn’t an outstanding performance. But there was a huge amount to be positive amount, none more so than witnessing what our new signings and some of our exciting younger talent had to offer on the hallowed turf. 2-1, a couple of fine goals from Laca and Alba and 3 more points in the bag. A thoroughly decent start I would say.
My post match celebrations were slightly different to the norm on this occasion. A bestie and his good lady tied the knot on Saturday afternoon (stupid timing) 😉 back down on the south coast so it was to their reception I headed to enjoy their festivities and the company of others. Enjoyment that lasted unexpectedly well into Sunday! Oops!
Shortly before our opener at St James Park I took a glance at the first 4 league games in our fixture list. 12 points, I thought, would be unbelievable and 10 I would be absolutely delighted with. 9 would also not be too disappointing. 7 for me, although no disaster, would feel a little bit ‘average’. Anything less I would almost expect as a gimme.
Both our openers have been tough. And although 6 out of 6 is extremely pleasing of course, those who have watched both games in their entirety will also know there were incidents that could have seen the results go against us. And if they were tough, the next 2 are on a different level feel.
That starts with the daunting task of getting something from our trip to Liverpool. Klopp has created a squad that has made Anfield the kind of fortress those of my age and older remember it being like in the late seventies and throughout most of the eighties. And consequently not many come away with something for their efforts right now.
We need to be at our very best I feel to not be the latest. But there is no reason why we can’t be.
Come on you mighty yellows!
Sunday 11th August 2019
Grinding out a 1 nil away win on a grotty old day. In yellow. It makes me feel almost nostalgic! And we’ll take those three points on the road with pleasure thanks very much.
Travel is very much part and parcel of following your team. And although most of the time it is pretty trouble free. On occasion things conspire against you.
Living on a small island off the south coast of England is lovely. But we have to accept that can also have its limitations when it comes to travel. We always fly from Southampton to Newcastle away but with the only Saturday flight being at 7am it means an overnight stop in a local B & B is essential. And on this occasion ridiculously high winds being forecast had us doubting the flight would even take off.
So it was no shock when our 5am alarm was followed by an email from flybe confirming our fears. Remarkably however, it wasn’t the weather but a ‘lack of flight crew’ that had our plans in tatters.
Us football fans have got used to thinking on our feet down the years so a nice little 6 hour train journey with a very civilised 1st class upgrade successfully negotiated the cross country rail network meaning we were enjoying a pint in Newcastle by the time Sky Sports Saturday started on the telly. Delayed maybe. But not defeated!
The locals certainly like to enjoy their weekend. Mid afternoon and the city’s bars, restaurants and clubs are already packed out with people fully dolled up for their night out. Crazy, fun and thoroughly entertaining. And it was very clear there were hundreds of Gooners who had travelled to join the party.
Mid morning on matchday it started to rain. And I mean tip it down. And as I sit here late at night at Newcastle Airport it is still coming down. A summer’s day in the North East. But getting drenched before making the long old climb up to the away end was all worth it.
It wasn’t the greatest of games. And the atmosphere, especially for the opening game of the season, was a bit flat. A combination of the locals not being particularly happy about the ways their club is being run and the fact it was very obvious half of the away end had enjoyed a particularly heavy night out on the Toon!
But we scored. And we kept a clean sheet. That combination means a win and three points. And that will do nicely.
My flight back to Southampton is happening. But its delayed. Which means I now can’t get home tonight. So another night in a hotel beckons before I finally get home tomorrow morning. Far easier to swallow with a victory in your back pocket believe me but intensely frustrating nonetheless.
Some fellow Gooners on the table next to us in the bar are flying back to Heathrow. And they are delayed too. But rather than dwell on that they’ve just got a round of pornstar martinis in! Cos that’s how we roll.
Game 1 of 38 and we are off and running. Burnley come to London N5 for game 2.
Come on you reds!
Monday 5th August 2019
Pre-season comes to a close with our first defeat then. But we played well I felt. And our hosts’ first clear cut opening happening in the last 20 minutes after the score had become 1 all probably highlights that. Defensively however, our same worries remain.
The match was a personal milestone for me, being the 200th time I have seen my team play ‘overseas’. How do I know that? Well before I set off for the States I thought I’d work out how many I’d gone to over a lunchtime sandwich and at 194 it became apparent that if all worked out as planned the Nou Camp would play host to that fixture.
Returning to Gatwick on Saturday less than 48 hours after getting back from Angers felt a little strange and also being Brighton’s Pride event my train journey was colourful to say the least. Many of you reading this will know the Flying Horse pub in Gatwick’s south terminal. Throw in it being the school holidays and an August weekend, the families, hen and stag dos meant it was absolute carnage!
Despite the pandemonium the journey went smoothly and within a short time Finbar and I had checked into our accommodation and were enjoying the city’s Saturday night hospitality in anything from a Brazilian blues guitarist in the superbly named Bar Barbara Ann to ridiculous cocktails in a location claiming to be Spain’s first ever Tiki bar.
Sunday was matchday of course so rising quite late after the previous night’s exploits we enjoyed a tapas filled brunch and met with the usual faces for the build up on a scorcher of a day.
The Nou Camp is certainly one of the world’s iconic stadia. But coupled with the fact we have left it disappointed on numerous occasions and our away tickets always being right up in the gods, it is a stadium desperately in need of upgrading. Crumbling might be too strong an adjective but its not that wide of the mark.
On this occasion we decided to go down the VIP route. Just for a change and to try and see the Nou Camp from a different perspective. And the price was enormous value for money when we were treated extremely well, could eat and drink as much as we wanted from 2 hours before kick-off and our seats were front row with a superb view.
For me it also made the stadium look even more spectacular than any previous vantage point and with a full house it felt quite an occasion.
Auba’s superb strike gave all the travelling Gooners something to remember from the trip and as mentioned above, by and large I thought we played pretty well. As time ebbed by we looked comfortable, dangerous on the break and the more likely to go away with a victory. But we handed our hosts a calamitous equaliser and it changed the game. Both teams had a grear chance to win it in the dying moments. Barca took theirs. We didn’t.
The players left the field with what looked like the right royal ‘ump. And I like that. If losing a meaningless friendly warm up game hurts that has to be a good thing in my book.
Post match was enjoyed in the usual way and that brings us up to date.
A magnficent and thoroughly enjoyable pre-season comes to a close. From Borehamwood to Denver, Los Angeles, Charlotte, Washington DC, Sittingbourne, London N5, Angers and finally Barcelona it has been lengthy and tiring but one helluva experience.
But now its the real stuff.
My 44th season supporting our great club. See you in Newcastle.
Come on you mighty Gunners!
Thursday 1st August 2019
One of the questions I get asked quite a lot is if I can suggest somewhere slightly ‘unusual’ as a potential weekender destination. After the last couple of days my answer has become a lot easier. Go to Angers. It is beautiful, very clean, the people are friendly, the food and drink options are plentiful and it couldn’t be more relaxing.
My journey on Tuesday included a short flight from Gatwick to Nantes and a 45 minute train ride into the very heart of Angers. So, having checked into my accommodation, the whole thing felt easier and quicker than getting from London to Manchester.
A bit of tucker and a few glasses of vin rouge made it an altogether relaxing and enjoyable day 1.
Matchday arrived and it was time to explore a town I had absolutely no knowledge about. But I’m so glad I did choose to have a look round. Every corner turned revealed yet more beauty, from sundrenched squares to medieval houses, to chateaus and castles. Unexpectedly stunning.
A long old walk had built up quite a thirst of course so meeting up with the usual suspects we enjoyed pre match refreshment al fresco before walking to the Raymond Kopa Stadium for SC Angers’ centenary celebration match against the mighty Arsenal.
The locals enthusiasm was infectious in what was a bang average game to be honest but once again I don’t believe we can read anything into what was no more than our latest warm up.
I’m currently on my train back to Nantes before returning to Gatwick early evening. And my head thumping as it is serves as a reminder of how lengthy and entertaining the post match activities were. Its what you do you see.
Barcelona comes next as our pre-season tour reaches its conclusion.
Its quite tiring this preparatory lark!
Sunday 28th July 2019
Criticise the way every match we play overseas is surrounded by the same kind of excitement that is normally associated with a cup final but today’s pre-season friendly at home to Lyon demonstrates how much we need to look at everything in perspective. Low key, lacking tension and/or excitement and substitutions galore it was exactly how you would expect a warm up game to pan out. Win, lose or draw.
My body clock is a bit ‘disco’ right now. The trip to America is massively influential on that of course. But a weekend with my sister and brother in law contributes enormously. Friday night with family always meant today would be taken on with a degree of drowsiness. But Saturday night ending about 4am Sunday morning had me in bits. Especially when the incentive to drag myself out of bed after only a small amount of drunken sleep was a pre-season friendly!
We had a proper giggle Saturday. Sittingbourne Football Club and announced they would be entertaining an Arsenal XI and being in Kent for my mum’s birthday there seemed no reason to not pop along with a few pals for a bit of a jolly. Off the pitch pretty much panned out exactly as expected but on it was a whole different ball game.
We were all very aware that an Arsenal XI were also playing away at Hitchin Town. And we also knew that was likely to be a stronger squad than the one being sent to Sittingbourne. But……
Whilst enjoying a few jars and top banter in the clubhouse, we heard news that not only had our ‘team’ turned up in a couple of mini buses but we had just about managed to scrape together a bare eleven. Definitely not Arsenal Football Club in any way. After a glance at the programme revealed not a single recognisable name and the team ran out in all blue everything seemed a bit odd.
The last time I saw an Arsenal side play in Sittingbourne a very young Nicolas Anelka played and scored 2 goals (his first for the club) in a 5-2 win. Arsene Wenger was present and three and a half thousand enjoyed the match. Whilst the programme offered an article reminiscing about that game, yesterday was absolutely nowhere near a similar situation.
Further enquiries revealed it was an ‘Arsenal Development Squad’. Whatever that is. But it certainly wasnt an Arsenal XI sent by the club. So for Sittingbourne to dress it up like that was wrong in my opinion. It didn’t particularly bother us if I’m honest as there was plenty of us out for a good day out. But there were plenty others present that would have felt short changed. For the record it poured with rain and finished nil nil. Which probably didn’t help!
More post match beers, banter and a quality curry continued events and more fun and frolics at a friend’s house meant my alarm this morning was considerably unwelcome.
Today was ok. I didn’t go to the womens’ match. So I cant offer any analysis on that. But the mens’ match was total pre-season fare. And after taking the lead and not taking numerous chances we lost.
Heading home I feel exhausted.
Tuesday I go to Angers. Not been there before. So I’m looking forward to it.
Up the Arse.
Thursday 24th July 2019
As always with these trips (or any holiday for that matter), it feels crazy that it was 2 weeks ago this amazing tour commenced. But here I am, sat in the departure lounge of Washington’s Ronald Reagan National Airport for the 1st leg of our journey home to Blighty. Thanks USA Gooners, it has been an absolute blast.
The Washington DC part of the tour was always going to be a bit ‘whistle stop’ and with the capital city offering so much to see it was simply impossible to do everything. Arriving Monday afternoon we initially did the tourist bit and took in the likes of the White House, the National Monument and Capitol Hill. It also coincided with a large group of Costa Ricans demonstrating against the current situation in their home country.
That completed, we enjoyed plenty of food, beer and banter in a Tap House style establishment before pushing it a little further in ‘Lucky Bar’, the home of the DC Gooners. What we experienced wasn’t quite what we expected though. Both talented and perhaps casual salsa dancers were enjoying their evening and although entertaining to watch we politely declined any encouragement to join in! Although I don’t mind cutting a few shapes now and again (poorly), the only salsa I know is the kind that might come with a taco, fajita or burrito!
Yesterday was match day of course and for the first time all trip we awoke to rainfall. Not the bouncing off the pavement stuff but a constant drizzle to accompany the steamy temperature. To pass the time we headed into the picturesque and very hipster Georgetown district to pick up a few souvenirs including a visit to the vast Washington University Campus Store.
FedEx Field, the home of the Washington Redskins NFL club is both iconic and huge. But it’s not the easiest stadium in the world to reach. Other than Charlotte in fact all the stadia we have visited on this tour have been located well outside the city centre. For all its faults for those of us who fondly remember Highbury, it always makes me recognise how lucky we are that our home remains in Islington just spitting distance from what will always be our spiritual home. Back before we moved, being located somewhere out near the M25 was one of the avenues speculated. And looking at the 3 ‘out of the city’ grounds we have visited in the last fortnight, that would have been even more of a nightmare than we ever could have imagined had it come to fruition.
Our 40 minute uber however, had us on one of the vast approach roads to the stadium by about 2pm and it was time to enjoy the build up. 5 hours before kick-off and people were already queuing in a variety of cars and trucks to enjoy the ‘tailgate’, a very popular pre-match activity for all big sporting events all across this country. For those not aware it involves parking up, opening up your boot (or trunk over here), setting up a BBQ and guzzling from a coolbox full of beers. Very civilised, but hardly like a few pre match jars down your local!
The fact the nearest bar was a generic TGI Fridays, a good 20 minutes walk from any turnstile gives you an example as to just how remote the FedEx Field is but after collecting our match tickets it was here we headed for our pre-match fare. It served a purpose if nothing else but kick-off approached so it was time for the final run out before returning to Europe.
Inside the stadium and unlike any other game this month, it was very much a 50/50 split in supporter numbers and consequently produced not only the biggest crowd but arguably the most intense atmospheres of the tour.
And the game, with a referee who struggled, proved an entertaining spectacle for all attending. A 2 -2 draw against a good Real Madrid line up is a decent result in what, despite what the tournament organisers like to tell us, is only a warm up.
The penalty shoot out at the end is full of razzamatazz and a huge amount of excitement develops amongst the majority attending. Along with the pre-match onscreen entertainment and the completely over the top PA announcements the whole package demonstrates how all these matches and the ICC tournament in general has been created for overseas fans to enjoy. It’s a long long way from our pre-season trips to Austria and if I’m honest most of it gets on my tits! But, that aside, not only have these games given me the chance to visit some incredible destinations all over the world and meet some wonderful people, the opportunity that thousands and thousands of Gooners get to see the players in the flesh is an enormous positive in my book.
A long and sticky hot post match walk to the nearest metro station followed, another example of the ‘inconvenience’ these out of city locations post, but the rail system proved efficient and smooth seeing us enjoy some final food and refreshment back in the city centre to bring our final leg to a satisfactory conclusion.
The USA is a vast country. And we have covered a huge number of its many miles over the last couple of weeks. All 4 cities have been totally different. Apart from 2 aspects for me. The number of people who proudly support our great club never ceases to amaze me and Gooners proudly wearing the cannon on their chest have turned up in their thousands wherever we have been. And accompanying that has been a totally combined sense of welcome, warmth, friendship and hospitality.
And for that alone I offer my sincerest gratitude. As I say goodbye USA, I’ll look forward to the next time.
Two Arsenal 11s are involved in pre-season fixtures on Saturday, one at Hitchin Town, the other Sittingbourne. I’m looking to attend the latter before joining the first team squad on Sunday as they take on Lyon in this year’s shorter Emirates Cup.
As I wait for the 2nd leg of my journey home to commence its bye for now from New York’s La Guardia Airport. Yet another uber will take us to JFK for our flight back to Gatwick, see you at the weekend.
Monday 22nd July 2019
Childish humour of course but many years ago on a weekender up north somewhere with a group of pals, we met a girl called Beverly from Beverley. Not that funny but it produced fits of giggles after a few beers. So, when we were in Denver we thought it might be equally as amusing if we could find a similar combination on the 3rd leg of this amazing US tour.
We have failed dismally but yet again the Queen City Gooners and all those that have travelled from all over the US have made us feel fantastically welcome.
Writing my thoughts on an aeroplane seems to be the norm on this trip and on this occasion it’s our American Airlines leg from Charlotte to Washington DC (or initially Baltimore in a ‘Ryanair’ kind of near to where you actually need to be kind of claim!)
My last entry had me flying from LA but the actual journey wasn’t exactly trouble free. Having taken off all on time everything seemed well. Until the captain informed us with 30 minutes to go that due to a massive thunderstorm Charlotte Airport was currently closed and we were being diverted to somewhere called Greensboro! In a country where 500 miles is ‘just up the road’ we initially feared the worst. For around an hour or so sat in our plane at an airport that clearly wasn’t set up for taking in this size of aircraft we remained unsure as to exactly where we were and what happened next. But it ended well. The storm cleared, the plane was refuelled and we took off again on a short 20 minute flight reaching our intended destination about 2 hours late. So slightly irritating but it could have been a whole lot worse.
Saturday and it was a scene that is mirrored in every city we seem to visit. The short walk from our accommodation, firstly to the Bank of America Stadium to collect our tickets and any relevant souvenirs and then into the centre saw Arsenal shirts from the approaches to the very heart amongst the high rise buildings of what is USA’s 2nd financial centre.
In the quite blistering heat, the fan zones and parks were absolutely buzzing as were the areas in and around the Ri Ra pub, the weekend’s chosen location to host all things Gooner. Yet another quality pre-match build up enjoying the company of friends both new and old.
With many of the city’s streets closed for the day the walk to the stadium was full of colour and gave a real sense of occasion. Home of the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte’s NFL club, the ground was a huge bowl and a pretty impressive place to watch live sport. Admittedly however, we thanked our lucky stars our seats were located in the shady end. Anywhere else and in the intense heat we would have fried!
35 odd thousand attendees, 99.9% of which were definitely there to see the Arsenal, the ground was approximately half full. Pretty impressive in my book.
And a youthful side put on a display to enjoy I felt. 3 good goals in our wonderful yellow away kit, once again there was little not to like.
The game being over by 8pm on a Saturday, it was time to party. Why wouldn’t you? And it proved to be a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable night once more. Having blagged our way into a rooftop bar 24 stories up just for a beer and to take in the views we were politely asked to leave because apparently flip flops are not suitable attire. But a bar called 210, where the local Gooners had reserved a space for up to 700 on it’s own rooftop, played host for the rest of a crazy few hours. The people of Charlotte certainly know how to enjoy their Saturday night!
Sunday was exactly that. Sunday. A day for a top notch late late breakfast, a few lazy beers in yet another one of this country’s abundance of great bars and conversation and banter of the highest order.
Ending in a club, in the early hours, still in my flip flops, with the cannon on my chest was probably not big or clever. But hey-ho, life is short.
Somewhere in Charlotte, there is a girl called Charlotte. There simply has to be. But she proved elusive. And although it’s ridiculously unfunny, the thought still makes me giggle.
On to Washington DC we go.
Up the mighty Gunners.
Friday 19th July 2019
Los Angeles has its good and bad. Like pretty much all towns and cities around the world. I’ve been here before and it was extreme tourism all the way, taking in the likes of Hollywood, Rodeo Drive, the observatory, the Queen Mary in Long Beach, Santa Monica and Venice, along with our match at the ‘Stubhub Center’ against Chivas.
And I thoroughly enjoyed it. But, unlike many of the worldwide places I have been lucky enough to visit, all those things didn’t make me want to rush back.
Arsenal dictate my destination however, so leaving Denver Tuesday morning our Delta Airlines flight was all on time and the combination of being a little weary after our exploits in Colorado and not necessarily longing to return to the tourist areas mentioned above meant it was a fairly low key start to our visit. A bit of tucker and a few beers in an excellent ‘dive’ style bar started proceedings in a highly acceptable manner.
Despite my job giving huge flexibility in allowing me to enjoy my Arsenal travels, I do have to continue with elements of my role wherever I am. And California couldn’t be worse time difference wise. Starting at midnight I tend to set an alarm every hour on the hour throughout the night to keep an eye on things. Not ideal but necessary and broken sleep is better than no sleep.
And my Tuesday night and Wednesday working daytime in the UK had its share of problems so it was a very tired Stubbsy that headed out for a typical US breakfast on matchday morning.
The same stadium as our previous visit, the renamed Dignity Health Sports Park is based in the Carson area of the city, a good 30 minutes out of downtown and being one of the most spread out cities in the world, using the likes of uber and lyft is almost essential at times. This time was no different and after collecting our match tickets from a box office in the shadow of a huge statue of David Beckham we headed to our overnight motel for the night.
Last time we were here, a Mexican bar/restaurant played host to our pre-match build up and as it proved highly entertaining then we had no reason to change it for our latest visit. And a decent decision it proved with food, drink and the usual banter making it and enjoyable few hours.
The LA Gooners had organised a ‘tailgate’ and although we heard it was enjoyed by all those who attended, we, in typical British style, left not enough time to fit it in before kick-off! We did however, bump into Ray Parlour once more and took the chance to have our picture taken with the gold ‘Invincibles’ trophy. Did we mention nobody else has got one of those?
I’ve said many many times down the years, both back in the diary on arsenal.com and in this blog, how much I absolutely hate us having an away kit in any other colour than yellow. So forgive me for behaving like an excited child on Christmas morning when our new one was announced.
And the Arsenal that made its way out onto the pitch just before kick-off looked striking, mighty and magnificent. Come on you yelloooowwwssss!
Once again massively outnumbering the fans of our opponent, the enthusiastic and noisy crowd were treated to a pretty entertaining and open game throughout. Going forward we looked exciting and created numerous chances across the 90 minutes and overall, in a performance with lots to be positive about and despite Bayern also having a few chances of their own, we were definitely deservedly victorious.
And everyone likes a late winner!
The one area of LA I did quite fancy returning to if time permitted was Venice Beach and after a few post match beers back in the Mexican and some work affected sleep (again) the lure of a day in the sunshine on the golden sands proved too much of a temptation.
For those who havent been it is one of the most bohemian, quirky and crazy locations you are ever likely to visit. If you are a fan of people watching there can be few better places. Throw in some quite mad architecture, the ocean, rooftop bars and restaurants, the beautiful beach and the huge chance you will see something that could see you react with anything from a gobsmacked smile to just simply scratching your head, its quite a combination.
A man who had converted a car so it had a stage on the roof is interesting enough for example. But when his instruments were a large piece of broccoli, a man that those of us old enough will remember as off the ‘Smash’ potato substitute advert and with baked bean tins on his feet, I think you get the picture!
So, our final night was spent back in the city’s downtown quenching the thirst that a day by the sunkissed seaside tends to produce and our thoughts turn to Charlotte.
Whilst I’ve written these latest thoughts on my United Airlines flight out of the quite vast Los Angeles airport, I’ve uploaded it in Houston, Texas. Of the various routes and choices available, this price/timings combo worked best for us.
Shortly we board our 2nd flight for a weekend in Charlotte and our 3rd game of the trip against Fiorentina.
The tour continues.
Tuesday 16th July 2019
Anyone who has done the annual pre-season tour knows how incredibly entertaining they can be. And as I wait to board my flight to Los Angeles, if the rest of the trip proves to be anywhere near as good as the quite wonderful city of Denver, we are not going to be disappointed this time round.
Admittedly I had done little pre trip research about the city but as my on time flight touched down on Thursday evening I was genuinely unsure as to what to expect. And I guess my lack of knowledge and consequently expectations has contributed to the fact I have loved the place so much.
Staying in the pretty Historic Haven area of the city, around 40 mins gentle stroll from the centre, it had it’s own local ‘scene’ and proper lively it was too. Enjoying the hospitality of our ‘local’ we pushed ourselves as late as we could to try and get our body clocks in sync with local time.
Friday morning and it was time to have a good look round, starting with that walk into the city centre in the searing heat. Something that built up a thirst. And Denver is certainly a place that can help on that front! Along with its staggering 30 breweries I’m struggling to think of anywhere I have visited with quite the amount of pubs, bars and restaurants. And it was Friday. So what can you do?!
The Denver Arsenal Supporters Club or ‘Denver Gooners’ as they prefer to be known were genuinely excited to have their club coming to town. And for those who had travelled from far and wide, their hospitality has been quite something. Their ‘home’ for gathering in good numbers to watch us play is a pub called the ‘Celtic on the Market’ and it was here we headed for the first of the numerous events they had planned in the shape of a welcome party.
One of the most satisfying things about being a travelling Gooner is the enormous number of friendships that are forged. And the next few hours started a weekend that could be described as a perfect example. Our small party consisted of Joe (baby), Kylie (uncle) and yours truly (grandpa) but departing today we genuinely feel like our group of friends has expanded considerably. We’ve met some truly wonderful people and enjoyed every minute of it.
As good as the party was, getting up the following day for their second event was painful to say the least. But, we were so so glad that we did. Back in the eighties U2 recorded a live album and video called ‘Under a Blood Red Sky’ and my vinyl copy got played to death back then. The video was equally as entertaining and saw the band’s performance at the iconic and visually stunning Red Rocks and ever since then it’s been somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit. Saturday was my opportunity to do that as a short hike had been organised. A hangover, strong sunshine and a walk at altitude are admittedly not an ideal mix but the goosebumps seeing Red Rocks for the first time gave me made the effort and pain all worthwhile.
A few more drinks with our new friends in a few more of the thousands of bars to choose from followed by what turned out to be probably the worst decision we have made on our visit. I went to the baseball in New York back on the pre-season trip where we played the Red Bulls and if I’m honest it wasnt really for me. But the Colorado Rockies were at home Saturday evening and the combination of seeing a new stadium, feeling the atmosphere and joining the Denver Gooners and friends up in a sundrenched rooftop bar overlooking the action became too much of temptation to miss.
So, tickets purchased, we made our way inside. And then it started to rain. And I mean proper rain. Shuddering thunder claps, spectacular fork lightning, the whole package. So, we stood around, waiting for it to stop, drinking grossly overpriced beer, before abandoning the whole idea and going back to the Celtic! So no rooftop bar, no baseball, no experience and no money back. But that’s ok as our tickets are valid for when the fixture is rearranged later in the year! Believe me Denver I would love to come back to your wonderful city but I wont be making the trek for a game of rounders!
Colorado Rapids’ Saturday night away game being live on the TV continued the entertainment as we got involved with locals and their whole weekend vibe. And boy do they like to party.
Sunday held another event that we debated whether to attend. Especially with our other option being to watch all the incredible live sport happening back in the UK. But, when we saw all the Gooners who were waiting for their transport on a bus that looked like something straight out of The Simpsons, we just couldn’t not go along. So a day at the races it was and what a belter of a decision it turned out to be.
Watching England win the cricket world cup on Kylie’s mobile phone (yep, an Australian!), whilst bouncing along the highway on a school bus was quite surreal! But wow. Sporting drama simply doesn’t get any better.
The sheer feeling of elation created a kind of party mood and the races day (including a trip to the winners enclosure for the race the Denver Gooners had sponsored) was thoroughly enjoyable. Especially when I backed the winner on 5 races out of 7. A lovely little bonus for the spending money budget thank you!
Another wonderful day with wonderful people and matchday was just around the corner. All weekend and been a little ‘heavy’ if I’m honest but I wouldn’t have changed any of it for the world. Our claim come Monday morning however, that we would take it a little bit steadier was ridiculous. On a matchday. Stupid.
So amongst friends, both old and new, and with the Romford Pele making an appearance, the Celtic played host once more to an awesome pre-match build up.
The Rapids home ground is called Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Not a name that easily rolls off the tongue but in a football world where a large number of new modern stadia look very similar I quite liked it. And in a crowd simply full up with Gooners, a young Arsenal side treated all attending to a relatively entertaining encounter and a nice 3 nil victory.
Game 2 of pre-season completed then and game 1 of the tour. Next stop LA and a city I’ve visited once before when the Arsenal last played. Time will tell what the next few days will have in store.
But for now I just want to offer my sincerest thanks to all the new friends we have made, to Noel and his staff at the Celtic and to Drew, Krista and all their fellow Denver Gooners in particular for their incredible hard work and hospitality.
Denver, it’s been an absolute scream. And Dave, you know you’re a Gooner really
Frank (or Bob or Graham or Brian)
Sunday 7th July 2019
Despite yesterday being an under 23 fixture and the first team squads’ pre-season preparations continuing elsewhere, the game at either Barnet or Borehamwood has definitely become almost tradition over the last 20 years or so. And for that reason alone it was not only always going to be one I attended but is rarely anything other than a thoroughly entertaining day out.
Friday ended up being one of those nights. One where you pop out for a couple but end up rolling it at midnight after numerous real ales and a ridiculously cheap dinner courtesy of Mr Wetherspoon. Nothing shocking or law breaking about that of course but when your plans the following morning include catching the 7.45am hovercraft flight your alarm going off is always going to be greeted with a big chunk of discomfort!
It’s weird in that kind of situation you know. Whilst I’m never going to pretend it doesn’t hurt, I’m generally pretty good at it. By concentrating and almost self encouraging, Finbar and I trudged along the seafront on yet another quite beautiful Isle of Wight Summer’s morning and the world felt a wonderful place. But it didn’t take much of our train journey surrounded by hundreds of excitable overseas students for the feelings associated with the ‘morning after’ to thoroughly kick in.
Borehamwood High Street has a number of hostelries. But sampling each prior to last season’s corresponding fixture revealed it seems none of their current customers can be interested in real ale. So on this occasion we decided to meet up at a very nice establishment in Kentish Town with an ‘award winning garden’ no less. Very nice maybe. But when my pint of ‘Bob’ was costing me £2.15 a pint on Friday and it was £5.20 in a Kentish Town backstreet, it does quickly remind you your day out is in the country’s capital!
Like many of us followers of the beautiful game I am a collector of memorabilia. All things Arsenal generally. And one area of that is match tickets, every single one of mine since I started going to games back in the mid seventies kept neatly in numerous photo albums. Recent times however, have given us an indication of the future with more and more being just an emailed barcoded attachment or just something where you just need to scan on your mobile phone. I am an adult of considerable years so this shouldn’t really be that irritating. But it is! Give me a paper ticket that I can add to my collection and I’m far happier!
Like most stadia Meadow Park has changed dramatically down the years and even since my last visit (the thoroughly entertaining FA Youth Cup 5-2 victory over Tottenham) one end of the ground has completely been rebuilt. A brand spanking new terrace with a roof donning the words ‘North Bank’. Didn’t we have one of them once?!
A decent crowd numbers wise had gathered considering the fixture has never been marketed as involving the first team squad and we were treated to an entertaining encounter, 6 goals and, particularly in the second half a spirited comeback from our young team. The game however, for a large chunk of us, is no more than the excuse for our destination and meeting up with like minded pals. And if that was the target it was certainly one that was met with aplomb.
So, the football’s back. And next on the agenda is the small matter of a little jolly to America.
I will of course try and give as good an account of the whole experience as possible, through the medium of words.
Up the Gunners.