Sunday 22nd March 2015
Newcastle has to be a top contender for best away game destination. I love the place and it never fails to deliver. Writing these notes at Newcastle Airport whilst supping on a fine pint of ‘Bitter & Twisted’ the feelings all over my body confirm once again it has been a top top trip. Wack those massively important 3 points into the equation and we are approaching perfection!
The whole experience started in the usual manner in recent times, an early flight from Southampton on Saturday morning and an on time arrival and comfortably locating our hotel meant pre-match refreshment and banter was enjoyed with the usual gusto.
The hotel was ok. Nothing special. But we were made to feel very welcome, located near the city centre and the stadium and the view from my room was stunning (if you like blocks of flats).
The away end at St James Park is a long way from Terra Firma. Approximately 7 floors away in fact. That means a lot of stairs. Ok if you are fit. Not if, like me, it is not an adjective you would use to describe yourself! So to be puffing a bit on reaching our section was no surprise. I’m not sure what it says about us football fans but I was definitely in the majority believe me!
No game is a ‘gimme’ and for me anyone who believes any different is naive. There are so many factors that can influence any game’s outcome. One of those is fatigue and given our current run of form that was the only aspect that concerned me about our latest encounter with Newcastle.
Without being at our best we could and quite probably should have been 4 or 5 up at half time. Little did we know however, that those missed opportunities might come back to haunt us as the game progressed. 2 more Olly goals had us jostling up in the clouds and less than emphasized our overall dominance. A cracking half time score nonetheless and it looked like being another mighty fine away win.
If we had kept it at two nil for the first 15 minutes of the second half I am convinced we would have won comfortably. Our hosts were much faster out of the blocks however and very much found themselves back.in it.
The impetus and drive the goal created, coupled with the fact we certainly began to tire meant we seriously had to dig in to get that all important victory. We all love ‘pretty’ football of course but the fact we saw the game through and achieved our goal felt equally as satisfying. Three more away points, that will do very nicely.
The night out in our host city was always going to be there. That however, is always influenced by the result, despite some not agreeing. A win and it’s party time. A defeat on the other hand (or letting slip a four goal half time lead) and the whole trying to enjoy yourself thing doesn’t feel the same.
We won though. So we partied. Well into the wee small hours in a variety of locations and establishments. ‘Geordied’ is the word I think!
Unlike the cold and windy matchday we faced, today it is gloriously sunny t-shirt weather. Spring is definitely upon us and things are looking extremely positive.
We have the momentum going into the latest international break and it feels good.
See you in a couple of weeks when we welcome the red side of Liverpool to the Home of Football.
Enjoy the break Gooners.
Wednesday 18th March 2015
Every trip I arrange for myself and fellow friends and Gooners involves a large amount of instruction and direction both before and during the adventure, to make things as easy as possible for everyone if nothing else.
Extremely rarely however, do my directional tips involve the line ‘walk pass the big bloke with his cock out’! This morning the only thing I can think of that is rarer is coming back from 3-1 down away from home in the last 16 of the Champions League. In fact it has never happened.
Last night, with a near on perfect performance we came very very close.
Despite the wet and relatively dreary weather do its best to spoil it has been yet another momentous trip following our team. This morning it is difficult to hide the disappointment of going out of a competition where we all know deep down we should be in the quarter finals.
Monday we decided to go into Monaco itself, one of the few opportunities you have to actually walk a grand prix street circuit. Without too many plans, some decided to take in the casino whilst most walked the circuit taking in the incredible architecture, marina and picturing how the city transforms on grand prix weekend.
Heading back into Nice we enjoyed more good food and vino before we found out our opponents in our latest Wembley trip as Reading overcame Bradford.
Another cracking night and matchday was finally upon us.
Like every city and town in the world Nice has its share of Irish Bars. Tuesday being St Patricks Day made it hugely likely that these establishments would certainly be a fun place to enjoy the pre-match build up. And they certainly made us very welcome.
There is a reqular train service along the beautiful coastline and into Monte Carlo and this was our chosen method for travelling to the game, especially as a special return service is organised on matchday nights to get us back again after the game.
Arriving in one of the most affluent cities in the world the travelling Gooners were all relatively confident we could climb the mountain our 1st leg defeat had created. We had a chance, yes…..but to go through would take an incredible performance.
With such a small population, the ground matches that so 1200 away tickets is all we got. Never enough of course and consequently there were many many Gooners all over the ground.
Kick-off came and over the next couple of hours we would know if these season’s European adventure would continue.
Tactically I felt we could not have got it any better. In fact I thought we were magnificennt on the night. We kept it tight in the early stages abd slowly started to create chances. Olly smashed home to give us hope and we could have doubled that lead on more than one occasion before the break.
Half-time, one-nil, so far so good.
Roared on by the travelling Gooner army we created more chances, even more so when offensive substitutions were made to try and get us over the line.
Rambo smashed home our second and in at least three sides of the stadium it was pandemonium. If we didn’t know there were Gooners everywhere, we did now!
“One more for the Arsenal!” echoed into the night sky……we couldn’t, could we?!
The answer of course is ‘no’. But we came desperately and painfully close. It was a great European night…..but not a glorious one.
And our exit brings me to my current location on Wednesday afternoon.
Nice Airport is drenched in sunshine. It would be after the last few days have been damp and dreary as we are heading home.
Another great European adventure comes to an end. But as that door closes, that craving for more starts as we head up to Newcastle on Saturday.
As always, lets make some noise!!
Monday 16th March 2015
Writing my blog in various different locations is very much part of the whole experience. Airports, trains, planes and boats have all played host to me reflecting down the years. On this occasion I wish you a very ‘bon matin’ from my hotel bed in Nice.
The way my head feels means my title for this piece feels apt for a different reason to its planned relevance too! Hardly surprising I guess when 35 of us arrived on the Mediterranean coast yesterday lunchtime in fine spirits after Saturday’s good victory.
On occasion a lot more logistical planning goes into attending matches than just jumping on the train and going straight to London N5. With our flight from Gatwick departing very early on Sunday morning this was one of those.
An early Saturday morning departure took us to Gatwick initially where we checked into our hotel and then headed up to our capital city for our latest London derby.
The fact I like an occasional pint is no secret of course and with my fellow Gooners all joining me in that passion, a very early Sunday flight departure had us stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to matchday refreshment!
That became even harder after we all witnessed a thoroughly professional and entertaining three-nil victory.
Overall it was a very comfortable win but until that 2nd goal you cannot help but feel the lead is little bit fragile.
Defensively we looked strong again I felt and it was fantastic to see Rambo looking back to his brilliant best. Man of the match for me however, was Olly. His goal was a cracker and he was involved in everything we did going forward.
Three more massive points to take with us and the inevitable celebrations meant it was a relatively painful Gatwick departure lounge for many yesterday morning.
Although the weather down here could hardly be called Mediterranean we spent yesterday enjoying the local fare and hospitality and that pretty much brings us up to date.
Apart from a picture I must share I feel. Our supporters club chairman is not known for his music taste (or is depending what way you view it). Late last night however, he turned into some strange dancing ‘groupie’. Nothing more needs to be said!
So Tuesday. Its half time and we are 3-1 down. We need to score 3 goals or we are out. Simples.
Come on you Gooners!
Tuesday 10th March 2015
I’d never been to Manchester Airport. It’s not a destination I have ever considered getting a flight to. Once our game was moved to Monday night however, a few of us liked the look of a ‘jolly’ and plans were made. It’s not the best of airports if I’m honest but even with the huge slice of nausea this morning’s return was accompanied by, it felt like the best place on earth. Get those yellow ribbons out once again boys and girls, we are heading back up Wembley Way!
My trip should have been so so different. I have some good Gooner friends who live near Stavanger in Norway. It is a beautiful part of the world and at this time of the year the nearby mountains are still covered in snow. Skiing has never been something that has attracted me, in fact I have never so much as put on a pair of skis let alone do a poor impression of Franz Klammer!
My Norwegian friends however, are huge fans of Winter Sports and have given an open invite to head out there and sample their passion.
Dates have never quite worked but with our game being Monday night, even when I had already booked my return flight from Southampton to Manchester, I discovered Norwegian Air had a direct flight from Stavanger to Manchester on Monday morning……for just over 17 quid!
So plans were made and a flight route booked from Gatwick to Stavanger to Manchester to Southampton!
Then the pilots decided to go on strike!!
With all flights cancelled the Norway trip was off and it was back to plan A, the fact I couldn’t cancel my outbound flight from Southampton being a godsend on this occasion.
Only those who ‘know’ understand how good nights like that are. Walking up a Sir Matt Busby Way mobbed with Gooners singing “We’re the famous Arsenal and we’re going to Wem-ber-lee” after beating the mighty Manchester United in the FA Cup Quarter Final in their own backyard is really rather pleasant. And boy did we celebrate.
Pre-match activities started quite early on this occasion, our flight having us in Manchester and comfortable by lunchtime but it was a strange moment on route to our chosen hostelry that sticks in my mind.
One of my Gooner mates popped into a bank and whilst waiting outside I looked up at one of the city’s many tower blocks. On the side it said ‘Manchester One’. For a reason that it is impossible to explain I had a massive air of confidence wash over me and had the words ‘Arsenal Two’ in an imaginery position on the side of the building.
Pre-match activities undertaken we headed to Old Trafford to join our 9 thousand strong travelling army in getting behind the team. The noise we made was simply magnificent.
Like away at Man City tactically we got it spot on I felt. Our hosts had few clear cut chances throughout, in fact 2 quite awesome saves in the second period prevented it from being 3 or 4.
If the jostle after our quickly cancelled out opener was raucous the one undertaken for Welbs’ winner was bordering on carnage.
As the dust settled that 20 minutes or so to go looked like a lifetime. We were not to be denied however, and the final whistle was met with scenes of jubilation. Wembley bound again, get in there you beauties.
A tremendous result warrants a similar level of celebrations and getting in at just before 4am definitely suggests we did just that.
Bringing me nicely to the present. The seatbelt sign has just been illuminated on my short flight so it is time to sign off.
I’m uncomfortable admittedly…..but I’m smiling from ear to ear.
See you on Saturday as we entertain The Hammers.
Thursday 5th March 2015
We are all guilty of saying it is ‘hugely important’ to pick up three points when other teams around us slip up. In situations like this week we also find ourselves saying the same when the teams around us all win. So overall, can’t we all just admit that each time we win a league game it is…..well…..’hugely important’!
I like going to Shepherds Bush. Having attended many a gig in the ‘Empire’ overlooking the Green I know the immediate vicinity quite well, even if our trips to Loftus Road have been a little bit inconsistent down the years. With much of London changing all the time I also find it is an area that doesn’t look or feel any different to the first time I visited back in the eighties.
Arsenal memorabilia and programmes are something I enjoy collecting. I’m not really sure why, I am a grown adult after all! But ‘collecting’ is something many of us like to do. Only recently have I realised just how much ‘stuff’ I have managed to accumulate down the years and as a result I have decided to revamp my office to incorporate as much of it as possible! Earlier this week I almost stumbled across an ‘unfiled’ programme from April 1978 and being QPR v Arsenal felt like a huge coincidence.
There are a number of similarities to this week’s fixture, being played midweek in the latter stages of the season, and incredibly us sitting in 3rd place with our hosts third from bottom. More than anything however, it demonstrates how much our wonderful sport has changed over the last 37 years. Our starting eleven contained 4 Englishmen, 3 Northern Irishmen, 3 Southern Irishmen and a Scot. Not a player from any other part of the footballing world in sight! Last night we started with 2 Germans, 2 Spaniards, 2 Frenchmen, 1 Columbian, 1 Brazilian, 1 Chilean, 1 Czech Republican and 1 Englishmen! A quite incredible contrast and example of how small the world has become.
The letters page back in 1978 is extremely amusing and although I would like to think it was ‘tongue in cheek’ I feel I must relay the details of one of them;
“Dear Sir, I wrung up General Enquiries and I asked the lady who said you were up Chiswick training. I said to the lady I wanted to play for the juniors and she said write us a letter and then let you see it. And they will answer it and come down for a trial. I said to the lady I am bit fat, she said you’ll get thinner. I am 12 years old. My favourite position is Inside Left. Yours, Leslie”!!!!!
The facts and figures are interesting too. The programme cost 20p for starters and if you wanted to follow the R’s on a luxury coach to Nottingham Forest away it would set you back £3 for travel and £2.50 for a match ticket.
And how did the season finish? Well, we went to QPR after beating Orient 3-0 in the FA Cup Semi Final at Stamford Bridge 3 days earlier to take us to Wembley for our first of 3 finals in consecutive years. Silverware was to allude us on this occasion but European football was secured in the League. The R’s avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth, the victory they secured against us on that April night proving crucial.
The final similarity comes in the 2-1 scoreline…….but bringing us up to date it was our hosts on the receiving end on this occasion of course.
Like Selhurst Park a couple of weeks back Loftus Road is very much one of those ‘old style’ grounds. Just like Highbury, night games when you walk amongst the terraced houses to reach the stadium definitely hold something very special compared to many of the new modern stadia. But if its a degree of comfort, facilities and viewing lines that are important to you, forget it!
Many of the match tickets in the away end at QPR are donned with ‘Restricted View’ or ‘Restricted Sight Line’. Fantastic when you think tickets are still 50 odd quid a pop! My ticket did not have such a message but having visited before I was confident my view wouldn’t be in the ‘outstanding’ bracket! And sure enough, although I saw the build up to both our goals and was even fortunate enough to see both Olly and Alexis strike the ball, I didn’t actually see them hit the back of the net. Only the reaction of the players and the expected jostles that ensued confirmed we had scored on both occasions.
With our hosts fighting for their Premier League lives and that London derby atmosphere, it was always going to be a potentially difficult fixture I felt. And like in a number of games in recent weeks, it was a victory for patience. QPR arguably had the slight upper hand in a fairly uneventful first half but going in at half time level definitely didn’t set the alarm bells ringing. And those chances we always create eventually arrived, Olly and Alexis slamming home to the joy of all us Gooners present.
Once again we tried to make it a little more difficult than it should have been when Austin’s unopposed strike narrowed the lead but although that had us all on edge a little, the remaining 15 minutes or so were seen out comfortably and professionally to secure three more massive points. That’ll do nicely.
The first of our two visits to Old Trafford over the coming weeks comes next as we all head to the ridiculously timed FA Cup Quarter Final on Monday night. Of the 9 odd thousand travelling Gooner Army heading to Manchester I am extremely sure my exact route will be different to every other person travelling…….but more on that next week.
For now, get those yellow and blue colours out the cupboard and sing up for the mighty Arsenal!
Sunday 1st March 2015
Travelling up to London this morning, I knew Everton were beatable. I also knew if I was fan of today’s visitors I would see this as a really good time to be taking us on. Not because I lack confidence in our team but as a natural reaction to our very disappointing midweek outing today was always going to be tough.
The atmosphere inside the ground was always going to be a bit ‘flat’. It shouldn’t be. But it was. Getting the game out of the way with a win was on the agenda. And anything less would have been considered a total and utter disaster.
We certainly wasn’t at our often free flowing best today. The performance in the first half an hour in fact, matched the atmosphere in the stadium. Then we enjoyed a ten minute spell where for the first time in the match we seriously put Everton under pressure, culminating in Olly’s fine strike.
We all wanted to take the lead of course but I think we were all delighted when it was the big man up top who broke the deadlock. He had a ‘mare in front of goal in the week, there is no other way to describe it. But the last thing we wanted was him to lose confidence and today hopefully goes some way to preventing that from happening.
One up at half time then and I think we just about deserved it.
Our visitors enjoyed a lot of possession this afternoon and the 2nd half was no different. We defended well however, our shape in particular looking solid for the most part.
The crucial point in the game for me came in a five minute spell midway through the half when David Ospina made two good saves from Everton’s only clear cut openings of the afternoon. It kept that lead intact and provided that springboard to go on and grab those all important three points.
Off the pitch you could really sense our supporters could see our team were working immensely hard and seriously digging in a game where we looked a little jaded I felt, especially going forward.
Tommy Rosicky’s fresh legs were introduced at the perfect moment too and after a superb pass from Mesut, his strike doubled our lead and pretty much made sure the points were in the bag.
Not our greatest performance admittedly but we certainly kept that all important shape very well, defended competently, worked extremely hard and dug in. Keeping that clean sheet is so so crucial right now as we look like we can score in any game. Today was a fine example.
I don’t tend to get too involved with other teams results and how we want them to go unless they crucially and directly effect us. Whatever happened this weekend we are in amongst an extremely tight race for the Champions League spots. That includes being only 4 points off second of course.
West London plays host next as we head to the home of the Hoops on Wednesday night.
In the away end known for its grossly overpriced restricted views, let’s make some noise.
Come on you mighty reds!