Monday 27th July 2015
Although we all share the same passion for our club and hope that everyone within from the staff to the players want exactly the same with equal desire, there is always going to be a certain degree of distance and separation between us fans and what goes on within the ‘four walls’. And I am fine with that. We have always been pretty good at keeping things on the ‘inside’ and by and large I am a great fan of not ‘airing your dirty washing’ publicly. Even though of course, we all would love to know every minor detail!
That ‘separation’ inevitably means the players and staff have no idea what we have to go through just to follow our team. (Being slightly tongue in cheek there believe me as below will demonstrate!)
Tickets bought and plans made for this weekend’s Emirates Cup, we never consider what might go wrong in the build up or during the whole event. We just look forward to enjoying ourselves and sub consciously at least, expect everything to run like clockwork.
For example, I like the Summer months in particular and during that period the shoes and socks come off, the shorts come out of the cupboard and any other Winter attire remains hidden away until at least when Autumn kicks in. Not everyone wants or indeed can do things like that but that is the way I roll.
Earlier this week I walked into my kitchen and went to the fridge. In bare feet. Something I and every single one of us has done on many many hundreds of occasions. I wasn’t prepared however, for a bottle of wine to fall out and land smack bang on my middle toe! Cue total agony, blood pissing everywhere and a digit that now resembled one of those little fat characters off the Ribena advert!
Once the pain subsided and after 24 hours or more the blood finally stopped flowing it dawned on me going to football for all us able bodied people involves considerable amounts of walking. The whole idea of getting a shoe on wasn’t even a possibility so flip flops and careful avoidance of all people, something so easy at a football match (!), was the only way to get through it. I wouldn’t have minded but I only went in the fridge to get some milk! Although I am pleased to say the wine bottle didn’t break. 🙂
Saturday evening was another example.
Walking back to my hotel in Kings Cross, my mobile phone screen goes blank followed by a message along the lines of ‘fatal system error’. I’m no expert but that didn’t look promising! I tried the usual stuff of changing the battery etc but it was no good. Computer says’ no’. It’s times like that when you realise just how reliant we have become on these things. Could I remember anyone’s number? No….why would I? They are in my phone. Did I still have some arrangements to make regarding ticket distribution on Sunday? Of course I did!
Things continued on that vein too. I couldn’t find my hotel. No prob, I’ll use the map on my phone……doh! As frustration kicked in more and more I eventually found it…..and reception advised I couldn’t check in because I didn’t have my passport. I am a very calm person generally…..but it was at that moment that I nearly turned her table upside down!
All this of course makes up the only reason I was in London. To see the mighty Arsenal. The things we go through just for that!
The Emirates Cup is relaxing. I can’t really use another adjective. It also gives us an opportunity to witness home games from a different vantage point. And on this occasion it was arguably the best viewing point of any stadium in the world. Half Way line Club Level. Simply awesome.
The sunshine meant my flip flops and short sleeves very much fitted in and with plenty of pre-match refreshment and my toe so far unscathed I settled down to watch our first game unfold. And a thumping 6 nil victory can be nothing but entertaining on an attacking front although deep down we probably needed something a little bit more ‘competitive’.
Six good goals, some great football, some pleasing performances both from our more established players and in particular one or two of our young up and coming talent all made for entertaining fare on the pitch. Great company and refreshment both before and after made sure it was an equally enjoyable day off it.
Sunday morning’s slightly sore head was also met by the sight of my mobile phone in various pieces on my hotel bedroom floor and the realisation of just how much ‘hassle’ a mobile phone breakdown can cause. And it wasn’t helped when I stepped outside, in my flip flops and it was absolutely pelting it down! The pavement felt like an ice rink and I was hardly dressed for the occasion! Time for a good old English stiff upper lip and I limped and slid my way, toe still surviving, in the direction of Kings Cross station for a bit of a brekkie and another day at the footy.
Among the many, another aspect of this particular competition is the number of families that get to come along. The colours, the smiles and the quite obvious excitement amongst all of our younger followers is hugely apparent and fantastic to see. Many will be attending a game for the first time of course and this was the case with Gemma and Kirsty, twin daughters of good friends and fellow season ticket holders. Their excitement throughout their first day was extremely obvious and along with their older brother Danny, a sheer veteran at 7, they joined in with all the singing throughout. I’ve always said football brings people together, of all ages and there can be no finer example than this weekend.
The previous day’s result against Lyon was inevitably going to see many thinking yesterday could produce something similar. With our starting eleven virtually completely different to 24 hours earlier however, the Wolfsburg game was always going to be totally different. And so it proved. Much more of a test in all areas of the pitch we can still be pleased with a clean sheet, another win and of course the second piece of pre-season silverware on the shelf. Winning is a fine habit, whatever the competition.
Looking forward to our latest trip to Wembley on Sunday, my journey home is pretty much where I will leave it for now. Oh….and with my toe. Avoiding all accidents my aim was very much nearly achieved. Until on the tube, half way back to Waterloo, a man with a child in a pushchair decided to run the front wheels straight over it. It was an awkward but genuine howl I let out….
As I said earlier…..if only the club knew what we go through :-))
See you at Wembley.
Sunday 19th July 2015
We saw it to a certain level in the Birds Nest Stadium in Beijing a couple of years back when we played Man City but the volume of support for our great club in this part of the world is simply mindblowing at times.
Everton are a big, traditional and hugely historical English football club. Yet with the Singapore National Stadium’s record crowd packed in last night there was no more than a small sliver of blue shirts on show. A good 90% or more had definitely ‘come to see the Arsenal’.
And I think by and large, we pretty much delivered.
On any overseas trip I try to include taking in some of the local sights, sounds, activities and culture so the build up to matchday 2 was spent looking round the city including the sun drenched party beach scene that is Sentosa, the incredible night time views from the roof of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and sampling delights such as ‘Chilli Crab’ at a seafood centre along the city’s east coast.
When it comes to food, restaurant, bar and club options there can be very few locations with such a concentration all over the world and trying as many as time allows was also high on the agenda.
As well as high end edible and visual delights created by extremely talented and passionate chefs there are many ‘hawker centres’ where fresh and delicious foodstuffs of all shapes and colours is knocked up in front of you for no more than the price of a pint of beer. Unusual believe me, in what is essentially an expensive city but we certainly tried both ends of the spectrum during our stay.
After a well earned Saturday morning lie in, matchday started doing just that and well fed we began the build up enjoying various alcoholic beverages in Robertsons Quay, one of the many many places in Singapore with an incredible amount of options for this kind of activity.
Suitably refreshed it was back to the highly impressive stadium as we looked to take the trophy against Everton.
And with an excited capacity crowd looking on we came out of the blocks fast with some quite superb passing and movement to look like the team firmly on the front foot from minute 1.
The discussions as to whether Theo could go on to prove himself through the middle have been going on for a long time now. Pretty much carrying on from where he left off at the end of last season, his run and finish to put us in front provides yet more evidence for all those who think he can.
The noise when the ball hit the net just added to the occasion.
Santi and Mezut’s goals in quick succession early in the 2nd period pretty much finished the match as a contest and put the icing on the top of a thoroughly enjoyable cake.
Pre-season? Yes. Crucial? No. But I get the ‘ump when I lose at Kerplunk so I’ll take that thanks.
Nice to see us score 7 goals this week. Even better to see us looking sharp and fit already. And a little bit of silverware is pretty ok too.
Clarke Quay played host for our post match fun and frolics as our friends and their friends who live and work in this great city showed their considerable hospitality once again.
A perfect end to the football side of this trip.
Today has been spent whiling away the last few hours with a relaxing stroll round the highly impressive ‘Gardens by the Bay’, a location many of our squad enjoyed visiting earlier in the week.
So a perfect end to the events off the pitch too.
The Emirates Cup is upon us next as we look to double this year’s pre season trophy haul next weekend.
For now however, the announcer on my Emirates flight has advised all electronic devices should now be switched off so it’s over and out from Singapore and yet another quite awesome pre-season tour.
See you on Saturday in London N5 for a pre-match jar or two.
Thursday 16th July 2015
We do like to moan about our weather back home but actually being able to walk 200 yards and not be dripping in sweat is something I prefer to be honest.
Singapore City is a fine place. Plenty to see and do, a huge abundance of eateries and bars and friendly and welcoming people.
And over the next couple of days before we take on Everton on Saturday, we plan to take in as much as possible.
As well as the large number of locals there are Gooners here from literally all over the world, Australia, USA, India, Malaysia, China……to name but a few. Staying with ex-pat fans and friends Biggles and Harriet helps to swell the numbers from home in addition to good mate and Gooner Tom who has traveled from Dubai.
Monday evening began with a relaxed bit of local food before Tuesday we headed to a pub that doubles up as the Singapore Gooners HQ, a good a place as any to meet and chat with the many familiar faces that make up the Gooner Family. Decked out in shirts and memorabilia, it looks fantastic and really feels like home from home.
I am well aware nothing beats actually attending the fixtures and am grateful to be able to do that week in week out but I would love to be a fly on the wall when the local Gooners gather at all hours to watch on the TV.
Tuesday night we headed to the highly impressive National Stadium to watch a good hour or so of training, a relaxing way for us and especially the locals to see the squad put through their paces. Hard work in this humidity believe me!
Like many cities, Singapore is made up of a number of districts or quarters. There is the central business district and all its skyscrapers, much evidence of colonial times, Chinatown etc etc. Post training we headed to ‘Little India’ for some fine tucker before bed called once more and matchday 1 was upon us.
Enjoying the build up was order of the day and this we did with gusto, initially in the ‘Boat Quay’ area before heading back to Molley Roffeys to join the increasing numbers of Gooners and a couple of surprise ‘guests’. Chippy Brady had come along for a Q & A session and had brought the magnificent FA Cup with him, something he had his hands on back in 1979 of course.
It all added to the great pre-match vibe before we headed to the ground for the main event.
Even with all the razzmatazz associated with pre-season tours, inevitably the games are not always the best. After all they are more about getting fit than anything else. But we played pretty well I thought, a win is a win and we got to see 4 goals to boot.
And Everton’s penalty shoot out win over Stoke sees us face The Toffees next.
Food and refreshment into the wee small hours followed…..hence the head.
But it was a fine day all round as we opened our latest Asian tour with a win.
Not sure on the new away kit……..but its already growing on me. And I’m ecstatic we haven’t gone down the ‘blue’ route again. Yellow, Gold, whatever.
We are Arsenal.
Friday 10th July 2015
Glancing through my previous piece some of the TV fixtures have been kinder than others. Chelsea away being moved to Saturday lunchtime instead of Sunday the biggest problem and disappointment, especially with both clubs playing in the Champions League a few days earlier. Just to make things a little tougher for all us fans as well, for the first time we have only been advised of the moved fixtures up until the end of September rather than November as in previous years. Thanks for that!
This piece however, is all about what happens before the real stuff begins in August.
Domestically I have been attending pre-season fixtures since back in the eighties and although the vast majority tend to be pretty low key affairs I have visited many towns and stadia right the way across the country, most of which we don’t get the chance to see on a regular basis. The likes of Peterborough, Gillingham, Southend, Luton, Lincoln and Northampton all spring to mind.
The ‘Makita International Tournament’ made its appearance too of course, initially with a few annual trips to Wembley followed by the tournament taking place at Highbury in its latter years. Totally wiping the floor with Middlesex Hotspurs and Bayern Munich immediately spring to mind and an absolute Friday night cracker by new signing Anders Limpar against Aston Villa sits prominently too. The prelude to today’s ‘Emirates Cup’ format I guess.
It wasn’t until the late nineties however, that the temptation to attend something overseas became too strong, the French city of St. Etienne playing host for a couple of days. My ‘Air France’ flight being cancelled on the way out, the later than hoped arrival as a consequence and a right dodgy hotel in the nearby city of Lyon suggest the whole trip was a bit of a nightmare but looking back I have far more fonder memories than this suggests. I think we were a couple of goals down in front of a noisy and fair sized home crowd before coming back to draw 2-2 on the day……although I might have got that wrong! All I do know, is as far as overseas pre-season trips were concerned, the relaxed atmosphere, the good weather and the relatively small amount of travelling Gooners had me totally hooked.
Fifteen years or so on from that trip and I’ve been fortunate enough to visit a further 17 countries around the world, all before a seriously competitive ball is kicked. Tournaments in Amsterdam….shall we?! A weekend in Valencia…..I’m in! Lisbon in August anyone? errrrr, oh go on then! A Warsaw 4 dayer? Yes please!
Until 2011, the majority of those 17 countries were within Europe and as well as the above included our ten year love affair with the wonderful country that is Austria. My memories of the whole place and the fantastic people, many of which have become friends, are both numerous and awesome. So much so in fact, that I seriously miss it.
The only aspect all those who made the annual pilgrimage agreed on however, was the sense of inevitability that eventually our whole pre-season format would change. So to have enjoyed a full ten years was arguably quite a bonus.
Travel around Europe has got easier and easier down the years too but when a trip to Malaysia and China was announced it felt a little more daunting. Not that it should have done of course, just because looking at those kind of pre-season arrangements were not something we had even considered before let alone actually undertaken!
For me personally it opened up a whole new world of sights, sounds and cultures over the coming years and having the chance to visit the likes of Kuala Lumpur, Yiwu, Beijing, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Hanoi, Nagoya, Tokyo and New York just by following my team is quite incredible and have seriously added to my whole life experience.
Of course it’s not just these cities that it gives you the opportunity to visit on these kind of travels and that brings me nicely to this year’s pending trip to Singapore.
Location wise it is a country that is not far way from Kuala Lumpur. With good friends and Gooners living out there I took the opportunity to visit them and their new home on a previous trip before taking a relaxing and interesting 7 hour train journey up into the Malaysian capital. These friends still live there so they are kindly playing host again this time round as we head out for two matches in the ‘Barclays Asia Trophy’.
My previous visit definitely confirmed there is plenty to see and do and Singapore’s National Stadium is another to ‘tick off the list’ so once again it is a trip I’m thoroughly looking forward to.
Let the fun begin!