Going East

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!



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