Sunday 27th July 2014
I have never claimed to be a literary genius or am happy that everything I write is always grammatically correct but as far as I am aware the word ‘like’ tends to be used when we approve of something, as a verb. When we see something that is similar perhaps. Or at least that is what I thought before I came to New York! Sitting enjoying some brunch in Greenwich Village there is a young lady on the table next to me who has just said ‘like’ 5 times on the bounce without a word in between. It would be annoying if it wasn’t so funny!
Friday night in 14th Street was as messy as expected, thousands of Gooners descending on the area for a truly red and white evening. The beers flowed as those us from Blighty talked all things Arsenal with the many differing accents amongst those that had travelled from all four corners of North America and beyond. Thoroughly entertaining and unsurprisingly the only thing I can confirm is it ended well into the early hours of Saturday morning.
Saturday morning, New York City and matchday had finally arrived, a day that couldn’t come soon enough for the Gooners extremely aware it has been a full 24 years since we last visited this part of the world.
The Red Bull Arena is located in Harrison, New Jersey, a fair old distance from Manhattan and an area going through a period of regeneration similar to many major city suburbs all over the world. Deciding to enjoy the pre-match build up in the area, the PATH railway was taken and the number of red and white shirts were already numerous.
I’ve tried to work out why but my feeling about the amount of Gooners in the US has been totally different to our trips to the Far East over the past 3 years. The popularity of the Premier League in Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Japan seemed obvious before we even travelled. It was this I feel, that meant I was by no means shocked at the sheer scale of the fanaticism when witnessing it first hand.
I knew we had a lot of fans over here and was very much aware of how much our visit was being anticipated but I have been no less than astounded by just how many there are.
A good few beers were enjoyed in the centre of Harrison before we made our way to the stadium, a simple walk that was only made more difficult by a 20 minute monsoon that didn’t just cool everyone down but completely soaked them through to the skin……….unless of course you managed to sneak under a hospitality marquee until it passed! It’s all in the timing folks 😉
Inside the stadium emphasised my previous point about the number of Gooners present. It is no exaggeration to say 95% of the crowd were in Arsenal shirts. An incredible sight and once again demonstrating just how massive our club is. A fact that could not have been more apparent wherever we have visited pre-season, especially in recent years.
Virtually all of our World Cup stars have yet to return to the squad of course and the fact our starting eleven lacking a recognised centre half or centre forward is probably the best indication as to the position we find ourselves in when we head off on a pre-season tour in the year of a Summer international tournament.
The game was good work out for all our squad present however, both sides enjoying chances across the course of the game. One goal was to decide the outcome and as well as seeing the mighty Gooners ‘live’ we all enjoyed the pleasure of witnessing the legend that is TH14. The man looked class throughout and it was awesome to see for possibly the final time.
Overall then, a great experience to see our team play in the USA and especially to meet so many friendly, knowledgeable and passionate Gooners. Your hospitality has been great and I thank you.
Talking of which I’m sure I read somewhere the people of New York are amongst the ‘rudest’ in the world. After my relatively short stay I’m sorry, but I’m not having that. Everywhere I have been, from shops to restaurants, to cafés, to bars, to public transport and to tourist attractions, EVERY single person has been courteous, friendly, helpful and polite. I can’t offer compliments high enough. Many parts and people in my own country could learn a lot from those I have met out here.
For the next couple of days football and Arsenal will very much take a back seat and I will be doing the tourist bit.
And that like, is like, something like, to like, thoroughly like, end a quite awesome trip like.
New York, it has been a pleasure. Next up, the Emirates Cup.
Friday 25th July 2014
Many people have told me the ‘Big Apple’ is the greatest city they have ever visited. I have never been before and having been fortunate to visit numerous incredible places down the years (many watching the Arsenal of course), it really is going to need to impress to reach the upper levels of my own particular favourites.
The majority of our previous pre-season adventures have been very much ‘tours’, ie; no sooner have you settled in one location you are packing your bags and moving onto the next. With just the one game planned this time round, my 7 day 6 night trip gives me the chance to enjoy all things ‘Gooner’ whilst leaving at least a decent chunk of time to enjoy both the city’s day and night offerings. Having been here a couple of days it is extreme clear already there are many to experience.
Proceedings commenced on Wednesday with a United Airlines flight from Heathrow. Not much to report from that apart from one particular lady travelling with two young kids just across the aisle from me. This is not a criticism or indeed judgemental, just an observation. The lady was enormous…..and I mean enormous. Not a problem as I say but before we had taken off she produced a large sack of cakes, crisps, chocolate etc. From that point both her and children ate as if their lives depended on it. Only stopping for the inflight meal and snack I genuinely felt quite nauseous throughout. I make no apologies for my comments. I paid a lot of money for my ticket. She needed help.
Immigration in the US is known as sometimes being quite a lengthy process but on this occasion the whole aspect matched the on time flight for convenience so without a fuss New York City was just a train ride away.
Baseball is not a sport I have ever seen before and consequently my knowledge of the rules is very limited. I do know however, I have a passion for the world’s stadia and the Yankee Stadium is certainly one of the most iconic.
The huge Arsenal following stateside needs to be experienced to be believed and it is extremely obvious they are both excited and dead chuffed our great club is visiting their country and continent. The New York City Gooners are particularly relishing the whole event as you can imagine and consequently they have organised numerous events.
An ‘Arsenal Day’ at the baseball was the first, pre-match beers in a tavern located near the stadium seeing the locals a tad confused as to why their ‘local’ was full of people wearing red and white! The game itself was an interesting experience but I have little more to say about it! Not really my cuppa tea to be honest. A few more beers in central Manhattan preceded us heading across the city and into New Jersey for the official Fans’ Party, a chance for the locals to wear their colours, make some noise and meet some of the first team squad. Thierry Henry making a special appearance added to that on offer.
Today I have been a proper tourist. Three eggs, potatoes and corned beef hash sounds huge. It was hot, fresh, strangely light and quite possibly the greatest breakfast I have ever consumed. A walk through the quite magnificent Grand Central station in the rush hour was awesome and guess what. It was being set up for an Arsenal/Puma takeover. The biggest cannon you have ever seen with 5-aside matches and a visit by the FA Cup on the agenda for later in the day.
A slow stroll up 5th Avenue and it was time to view the incredible New York cityscape from top of the Rockefeller.
An unforgettable view and experience followed by a walk down Broadway and into Times Square. All amazing but creating a thirst nonetheless.
Consequently I am writing these thoughts in the sun drenched rooftop bar in my hotel with a nice cool beer on the go.
My work allows me to do these trips and for that I will always be grateful. It does mean however, I need to be awake at least by 9am UK time Monday to Friday. That, in New York terms, is 4am! Not a complaint but it has meant I have needed to take it a little bit ‘easy’ for the first two nights.
Today however, is Friday and tonight the New York Gooners have arranged ’14th Street is Red’. That probably doesn’t need much explaining but as the name suggests it promises to be quite a night. A whole street in New York, closed off to traffic as Gooners take over. Anything up to 3 or 4 thousand are expecting to attend. Things could and probably will get a little bit messy.
And tomorrow I do not need to set an alarm.
I like this place.
Monday 21st July 2014
Barnet away in mid July has been an enjoyable experience down the years and definitely the day when you know the new season will soon be upon us. Our trip to the new look Meadow Park was not our first down the years but certainly felt more like our many visits to Underhill.
This Summer’s entertaining World Cup understandably makes it feel like there hasn’t been a ‘break’ since our fantastic day out at Wembley back in May. But us Gooners, like every supporter of club football around the globe know that it feels every last bit like those 2 months since we had our fix.
I’ve very much enjoyed writing my ‘Fan’s Diary/Blog’ since my first thoughts were aired on arsenal.com back in 1999 and over the years I have not only wondered if I would ever get bored or lose interest in the ‘word’ side to my passion but also if that incessant desire to attend every single match would ever start to wane. Well…..38 years or so since my first game and 15 years since I first penned my thoughts as a fan, I approach my 39th season following my team over land and sea with every last inch of that passion intact. Arsenal til we die I guess 😉
Those of you who have followed my ramblings down the years realise I do have one or two other passions outside of the beautiful game and although I try and include them through the 10 months where football is number one, the couple of Summer months give me more of an opportunity. Consequently as in previous years activities since FA Cup Final day have included plenty of live music, comedy, cricket and enjoying the sunshine. And of course, making all the plans pre-season announcements and the new fixture list dictate us travelling Gooners need to make.
The hugely speculative transfer merry-go-round keeps us all incredibly entertained (or frustrated if you take any of it a little too seriously) and as I pen these thoughts we welcome both Alexis Sanchez and Matt Debuchy to the greatest club in the world, both signings that look nothing less than hugely positive. Time will tell over the next 5 or 6 weeks if any other players come and go from the 300 plus stories that the ‘sources in the know’ have fed us all Summer!
The fixtures being released is always an exciting time for all of us but planning has to wait for the TV companies to select their ‘live’ fixtures. Frustrating for all of us Gooners trying to arrange travel, hotels and the all important social side to our passion. Although like the majority, I believe Saturday at 3pm is the time when weekend games should be played I also accept that this has not been the way for many years now. To think that our first home game to take place at this ‘traditional’ day and time does not come until late November however, seems somewhat ridiculous! The first 2 months of our season and all the games that come with it definitely looks like ‘trial by television’!
All those things bring us nicely to Saturday’s outing in the sunshine and the opening day of another pre-season. I say ‘sunshine’ although it definitely didn’t look like that might be the case when I set off at about 6am, the forecast suggesting storms as ferocious as the previous two nights could well arrive in the Borehamwood area come kick-off time. Luckily of course, they chose to kick-off elsewhere and consequently the pre-match fare was enjoyed al-fresco.
Number one in everything pre-season has to be fitness. It is all about every player being at his peak physical fitness in time for when the important stuff starts in August. Above all else then, Saturday’s game goes some way to achieving just that. Our superb yellow away kit looked great in the sunshine, most of us fans of course delighted that the ‘skin tight’ version the players wear is not the only option available!
A good run out then and a two goal victory to take as we now look forward to the hugely exciting trip to New York. A city I have never visited but always wanted to, the chance to watch our team there, enjoy all the related entertainment that the army of US Gooners have planned whilst taking in much of what one of the world’s greatest cities has to offer is a mouthwatering prospect.
One I hope to bring you tales of, warts n all 😉