Friday 29th July 2016
My journey from San Jose to Los Angeles today will take approximately 11 hours. I could have flown of course but have joined a few of the usual travelling Gooners in Business Class on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train as it meanders south along the Californian coastline. Having just made a dinner reservation and with a wine tasting option looking extremely tempting it is all very civilised!
For now I’ve decided to lie back in my reclining seat and reflect on the last few days and my first ever visit to this part of the world, culminating of course in yesterday’s victory over the MLS Allstars.
Events began on Sunday with my flight from Gatwick to San Francisco via Reyjavik, a very smooth experience if no less tedious than every other long haul flight we ever undertake.
Arriving Sunday evening local time and the body clock asking the usual jetlag questions, a snack and a couple of beers were enough to make sleep essential and have you ready for the few days ahead.
With just the 3 full days in San Francisco to undertake as much as humanly possible it could probably be described as ‘extreme tourism’. A Fitbit (get me!) confirmed walking over 30 miles in what is an incredibly hilly city.
Throw in 10 miles on a tandem bicycle ride over the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge and I certainly don’t feel guilty for enjoying the numerous food and drink options during my stay!
Fisherman’s Wharf, the Ferry Building, North Beach, Chinatown, Nob Hill, Lombard Street, the sea lions at Pier 39, Union Square and Alamo Square were all taken in in addition of course to a trip over to the incredible Alkatraz. The tales and stories involving the likes of Al Capone and The Birdman were both interesting and spine tingling.
It is generally recognised that the whole hippy and free love period of the sixties started in San Francisco and in particular the area known as Haight & Ashbury. A visit here was mind blowing to say the least. Record stores of a size you wouldn’t believe, shops selling incredibly diverse clothing, bars and cafes galore, it was simply awesome.
And as for the people, they ranged from cool to the ridiculous. One old boy walking down the road naked apart from a sock on his chap begged the question is that strictly legal. “Oh yes” said the shopkeeper we asked, “as long as he is wearing ‘something’ he is fine. They changed the law about 5 years as total nudity was upsetting the tourists!!”
Thursday morning and matchday had arrived. Physically exhausted I might have been but I absolutely loved San Francisco. But for now it was goodbye and to the Caltrain station I headed to make the 1 hour journey south to the Silicon Valley city of San Jose.
With the guidebooks suggesting there wasn’t an enormous amount to see or do in the city there was nothing to persuade you to do anything other than enjoy the pre-match build up in the company of the many thousands of Gooners present, most of whom had travelled from all over the US.
And Jacks Bar proved a fine host in the traditional way.
The Avaya Stadium is the home of the San Jose Earthquakes. And on my travels so far, it is unique. It has just 3 seated sides to it, not something we haven’t experienced before of course, the likes of Braga immediately springing to mind.
But I don’t remember any ground with a huge and well stocked bar being available to all throughout, located directly behind the goal and at a height that gave you 2 options, both being quite appealing!
Not only could you purchase some refreshment and take your place on the small grassy sundrenched terrace but if you preferred you could simply stand at the bar and watch the game from there!!
Madness really but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t enjoyable. The only negative incident we experienced was when an inaccurate shot in the warm up flew past the post and knocked a bottle of vodka off its optic!!
The locals certainly take the whole ‘Allstars’ thing very seriously and the pomp surrounding the period just before kick-off was quite something. Fireworks, music, colour and a fly past by a huge US military aircraft all accompanied the build up as the teams stood in the traditional way.
The US National anthem was next before it was time for the action.
I’ve said it hundreds of times before but pre-season matches are never crucial. But in recent times the whole events surrounding many of them have become quite huge.
And the MLS Allstars don’t tend to lose these matches. In fact, reading the Ox’s comments on arsenal.com it almost feels as though spoiling the ‘party’ is not necessarily acceptable. Sorry our most hospitable friends, that’s not how we roll at the Arsenal.
Given the inevitability that Drogba was going to score we all knew we would probably need 2 goals to be victorious. And with so many players still missing from our squad it looked a relatively tough ask.
But we done ok.
And having taken advantage of watching the action from the various vantage points on offer it was very pleasing to see everyone perform pretty well and even more so to nick a late winner.
Nobody likes losing. But the opposite of that is we thoroughly enjoy winning. And we did. End of.
And that pretty much has us up to date.
This Arsenal family we have is something to behold. And it is the same in every single country we visit. We are Arsenal. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Next comes LA but for now I am going to watch the Californian countryside and coastline pass by my window before I head to the restaurant car for my 5pm dinner reservation.
I can do posh.
Come on you mighty Gooners.
Saturday 23rd July 2016
This was my 3rd visit to Lens. And like the previous 2, the locals could not have been friendlier or more welcoming. That compliment however, certainly cannot be extended to the help and assistance provided to us away fans at the stadium.
Back in September 1998 approximately 4 thousand Gooners made the short trip into Northern France for what was our very first match in Europe since the European Cup had developed into the Champions League. About 30 of us Maidstone Gooners travelled from what I remember and in what turned out to be an entertaining and incredibly messy day for a number of reasons, a line up that was pretty much first choice in our double winning 97/98 season came away with a point from a game we lead until the very last few seconds. Little did we know that after 6 group games it would prove an extremely crucial and costly goal to concede.
Looking back at my memorabilia from the game, the press pack makes interesting reading too, the then Lens manager Daniel Leclercq having attended our previous league fixture at Filbert Street appearing to be not over impressed by Dennis Bergkamp or Marc Overmars. “The Dutchmen didn’t impress me too much……but Parlour did” he said, concluding with “He is the real motor of the team”!
Dennis took the Eurostar to Lille for the match, the reason being described with a line straight out of ‘Google Translate’ perhaps, “Talking of motors, Bergkamp’s allergy to the aerial variety…”!
Leaving home Friday morning just after 6am on a glorious sunny day we were a bit concerned about the journey ahead. Not because I don’t like driving. Following Arsenal all over the UK and Europe would be a tad tricky if that was the case.
But the media warned us all week that Friday was the busiest day on the calendar travel wise and Eurotunnel’s email warnings were dramatic enough to suggest you should ‘bring plenty of food and water’!!
As it turned out we did ok. A quick journey from the south coast was followed by a relatively short delay at the tunnel and we were in France before you could say ‘Bonnet de Douche’ 🙂
Lens is in another country. But it’s really not very far from Blighty. Less than an hour from Calais it is far easier to get to than the likes of Burnley, Sunderland or Hull.
Consequently we found ourselves munching on a bit of al fresco lunch washed down by a couple of Duvels (or Duvets as Shaunie called them). Very civilised to be honest.
A very fine day all round only spoilt slightly by the lack of help or signage when we got to the stadium. Sometimes you can blame one or two beers for struggling, but every Gooner had the same issue. Not only were there no signs to the away end but none of the stewards or police knew where the entrance was and the normal practice of walking round the stadium until you find it proved fruitless.
The entrance turned out to be at the end of a cul-de-sac that resembled Brookside….although that wasn’t the way we got in.
Considering it was just a friendly it was a pretty full, colourful and noisy stadium that greeted us, but the game itself couldn’t really be described as gripping.
A one-one draw was just about the right result in a game of few chances, the funniest bit being the fact Shaun missed our goal. Too many Duvets I guess. 🙂
I’m writing these notes back on the Eurotunnel train and I have a fat head. A good sign we enjoyed the post match stuff.
No time for hangovers though, the United States await.
And tomorrow that is where I am heading.
Victoria Concordia Crescit
Friday 8th July 2016
There are many occasions across the Summer months where I wondered whether I should write my first blog since yet another season came to a close in May. In the build up to the fixtures coming out for example or if not, just after they were released. Maybe when we announced our first Summer signing. Or at some stage during the European Championships perhaps.
In the end I thought I would wait until the TV companies chose their initial ‘live’ fixtures. Not only does this decision give me more subject matter but when you throw in all of the above and the various announcements regarding potential pre-season fare, there is a whole host of things to rabbit on about.
Many of those who have been in contact since the end of last season have either asked or in most case assumed I was attending the Euros in France. Although I am very much English and on that basis will always want my country to win in any event they take part in, heading out for that never even crossed my mind. I see international football as my ‘time off’ you see. Or at the very least to witness what everyone else goes through by watching it on the telly!
By and large I think the vast majority of our players have equipped themselves pretty impressively throughout. Being completely selfish however, I sincerely hope the length of time many of them have been involved doesn’t cause us too many problems with fatigue in the coming season. Realistically it has to be a concern. As for England there’s not a lot more any of us can add that hasn’t already been said. Referring to one of our own however, the decision to take Jack when he’d hardly kicked a ball all season was ridiculous in my book. Of course, his natural competitive nature and pride to wear the three lions would mean he would jump at the opportunity to go. But until he had at least a few months competitive football under his belt that shouldn’t have been his decision in my opinion.
Two new players have joined the Gooner family in the shape of Granit Xhaka and Takuma Asano. Welcome to the best club in the world. As always we wish you every success whilst wearing the cannon on your chest. Like all of us however, I still believe we are a couple of players short. Time will tell if that changes.
So what has the Summer held for me personally?
Well, off the pitch I have been fortunate enough to get some sunshine for a week in Majorca and also at a wedding in Marbella. Sport has seen me attend the Diamond League Athletics meeting in Birmingham and with international cricket to come in the next few weeks. When the sun is shining there isn’t too many better places to be than a festival and the Isle of Wight’s awesome version has been attended once again. Throw in a ‘Southampton Beer’ variety and 2 more in the shape of Victorious and Bestival to come (more on those later), as well as a little trip to Dingwalls in Camden to see The Struts and overall it has been yet another pretty entertaining period.
And then of course there was a little discussed event called the EU referendum, a democratic situation that if nothing else has proved that despite its importance there are many millions in this country that will vote one way or another even if they have absolutely no idea why they have chosen or of the consequences as a result!
With much travel to Europe and the USA coming up in this pre-season the timing of a frustratingly weak pound could not have come at a worse time for us travelling Gooners (and anyone else going overseas in the coming weeks). But with Lens in France, the west coast of America, Stavanger in Norway and Gothenburg in Sweden all due to play host over the coming weeks the UK economy collapsing around our ears is not going to stop us from enjoying ourselves. After all, we only live once folks.
As for the fixtures being released, TV’s choices mean we can finally start making specific plans, until the end of September that is!
Like always I have booked various events where football could prevent me from attending so I was hoping for the dates to be kind as always. And by and large I have been pretty fortunate in the first batch! Liverpool at home being moved means I will be at The Oval on the Saturday for the Test Match and with Victorious Festival at the end of the month, at least we are in London and kicking off at 3pm, meaning I have a good chance of being back for the evening’s events.
Bestival weekend in September has thrown up another London 3pm kick off so I am ok on that one too (although last year’s was particularly painful!) so all in all I am pretty happy with events so far.
Two weeks today and it is off to Northern France as everything gets underway once again. I’ll sign off with that thought and revert back as that day approaches.
So what am I going to do with myself this weekend?!
Relax….that was it.