Monday 29th August 2016
Three games in and it’s been around 20 – 30 minutes that have proved disastrous. As frustrating as that was we go into the first international break in a far more positive frame of mind. In fact it has been a pretty good few days to be a Gooner.
With a number of things to catch up on I’m going to start with cup draws on this occasion.
As much of the country enjoyed the sizzling August sunshine we initially found out who we face in the 3rd Round of the League Cup. As with all domestic draws I want something ‘interesting’. Preferably an away tie at a stadium I haven’t been to. With just 3 teams falling into that category for me personally that possibility always looked unlikely. But a trip to somewhere we haven’t been for a while would be nice.
The City Ground, Nottingham, 17 years since we last visited, that will do. A fixture full of great memories, it is one I am looking forward to and expect a stern test. Our trip to Hillsborough last season demonstrated what happens if you don’t turn up!
I found out our League Cup opponents at The Rose Bowl in Southampton, England’s one day cricket victory over Pakistan on a sticky hot (and very messy) day being my latest ‘away from football’ fix. 24 hours later and the ridiculously over the top draw ‘ceremony’ in Monaco determined the destinations for our next European tour.
In recent years we have seen repeat destinations happen time and time again, so much so in fact it seemed to suggest the draw process simply doesn’t work. And before Ian Rush’s hilarious inability to open the plastic balls this time round, I couldn’t see anything other than a similar set of fixtures.
But, I pretty much couldn’t have handpicked our draw any better. A stadium we haven’t visited for a European tie for over 20 years and 2 cities I have never been to before. Get in!
Travel and accommodation bookings come next as the dates are announced and down the years I have been pretty consistent with the way I do things. Time permitting, if we are playing on a Tuesday I try and go Sunday to Wednesday. Such a trip not only gives you time to enjoy the matchday build up but plenty to take a good look at what else our host destination has to offer.
Being at Bestival just prior to PSG away and flying back from Sunderland away the Sunday before the Ludogorets away match have made the plans a little trickier than normal but…….tours are booked and ready to rock for me and my fellow travelling Gooners. Bring them on!
Carrying on with last season’s theme of looking back at previous corresponding fixtures over the years, we travelled to Vicarage Road back in May 1997 for a low key fixture in honour of Watford’s then groundsman Les Simmons. After 50 years he was retiring and with the programme notes suggesting he was both well loved and quite a character, we brought our season to a close with a 4-1 victory.
12 months later and it was Martin Tyler’s cries of “Would you believe it” that us Gooners will never forget.
August Bank holiday weekend not only sees a massive annual Scooter Festival in my part of the world but Victorious Festival on Southsea Common too. So with a fellow Gooner kindly offering to drive I left home on Saturday morning armed with tickets for my live music fix as well as our Watford away game.
Steamy weather once again meant quenching the thirst pre match was more welcome than ever and it was accompanied by the news one of our lot has booked a trip to Razgrad for late October. I’m sure it will be very nice. Shame the match is being played 200 miles away in Sofia!!
Time for the real stuff and we headed into Vicarage Road confident but well aware our haul of just one point so far meant anything but a win would have been hugely disappointing. And with that comes a few nerves.
Not wearing our 1st or 2nd kit when we can shouldn’t annoy me. But it does. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever why we couldnt wear red and white on Saturday. The fluorescent thing was more of a colour clash if anything.
Watford are one of those teams who always make chances so I expected us to struggle if we didn’t take those we too would no doubt create.
But Saturday, at least in the first half, we certainly did that.
The first was a clear cut penalty having seen TV replays and the other 2 were quite superb (if the finish for the 2nd was a little ‘scruffy’). 3 nil at half time. Perfect.
If we were guilty of anything in our afternoon’s work it was not taking one of the many chances we created in the 2nd period. Just one more, either at 3 nil or 3-1 would have made it a lot more comfortable.
As it was, our host’s goal gave them hope and as a result we had to defend stoutly and big Pete had to make one or two saves to see us home.
Overall though a good performance and three welcome points sees us move up to 7th. And a cracking journey home, Saturday night and all of Sunday enjoying the beer and bands on Southsea Common finished off a pretty perfect couple of days.
It looks like over the next couple of days we will see a couple of new additions to the Arsenal family. I hope that’s not tempting fate of course! Any experienced signings that improve the depth of our squad are welcome and if the 2 being discussed go through they are certainly in positions where I think we all agree most needed strengthening.
Time will tell on those of course but for now we all hope and pray our internationals return injury free in a couple of weeks time.
I like many of us will be at our home on Saturday afternoon for the Legends game. It’s not the type of event I tend to like to be honest. But the chance to see players I followed all over the world in their prime, run out in the red and white for one more time will certainly prevent the trip from feeling a ‘grind’.
And after all……it’s that, gardening or shopping.
Saturday 20th August 2016
I’ve kinda said this before but there is a massive overriding reason why I go to football. Meeting my mates, having a few beers and talking utter bollocks. That’s what we do on match days. And that is what I enjoy most.
Political debate, the Olympics. What the sports presenters should be wearing. Or more importantly (surely), what they are saying. The environment. Etc etc.
They’re all not for me.
And the main reason.
We are there for the same things. We all want the same conclusion. And we are not judged. Apparently.
At the moment things feel a little bit different. Not the majority of it. But the chunk I don’t go to football for is increasing. Every week.
I’ve always had the attitude that if you genuinely don’t enjoy supporting the Arsenal…….your club…….don’t go to watch them. And I mean that. Totally. Your choice. I have mine. And you have yours.
But today, I felt like my choice was approaching a time where it is no longer mine. Arsenal fans, those people who supposedly support the same team as me, were fighting amongst themselves. On the way in, at half time, and at the end of the game.
And that is not why I go.
I make no apology for the way I am. And I guess those who choose to travel a long way just to air their negativity don’t need to apologise either.
And I get that too I think.
But my mate as just said if the kebab shop is not open when we get home, he’s kicking off.
Not relevent…..but it’s comments like that keep us going. Not because it’s literary genius….or even that funny. But it is why we go. It made us smile.
If 3 to 4 thousand of us went to away games every other week with an attitude where we are there for a laugh. For a good time. For a smile. For a release. For a moment. Etc etc etc
Yes, we get unhappy, frustrated, annoyed………when it don’t go well. And yes, when it does go well, we enjoy, get silly, get emotional too. Together.
But at the moment that togetherness, is not there.
And I don’t like that.
I mentioned earlier we have that choice. Whether to attend or not. Somebody (a Gooner I presume) shouted in my face, “If you don’t like it, don’t bother coming”.
It…..being you kicking off I guess. Not something that we can discuss. But when my mate questioned who.should replace our current boss. His reply was “anyone”……”my nan could do better”.
I don’t know your nan mate. But she couldn’t.
I’m a very calm bloke. Very.
But the original part of this ‘fellow Gooner’s’ comment has made me want to go all the more (having deleted my real thoughts 5 times now).
I am Arsenal through and through.
As are you (I think).
Victoria Concordia Crescit……..look it up.
Oh…..I forgot, there was a game. And the performance and the result was ok. Last week’s opener makes it less of a positive. If we had won last week, today was not so bad. But a point from Leicester away is not a terrible result.
And that is whether our current manager was in charge…..or a tracksuit wearing, peaked cap wearing, running down the touchline, never ending pot of money spending alternative was at the helm.
See you at Watford I guess.
Sunday 14th August 2016
Any idea as to whether Liverpool will go on to challenge at the very top of this year’s Premier League is impossible to predict. In one of their ‘tougher’ fixtures on paper however, they go home with the three points. On top of the disappointment of defeat is the frustration that our visitors really didn’t play that well.
Our pre-season went pretty well I feel but all of us experts are united in our opinion that a good squad could become a potentially great one with a couple of additions. And if ever that was emphasised that was today.
Don’t get me wrong, I thought we played quite well in the first half. A goal and a missed penalty backs up the fact we were the better side and equally as important we looked pretty sound in defence too, our visitors limited to no more than a couple of half chances.
And we were unlucky enough to go in level at the break to an absolute ‘worldy’ of a free kick.
But if we took the game by the scruff of the neck in a similar fashion after half time we were in with a massive chance of getting a positive result.
Whatever was said in the interval however, and I assume it was start with the same intensity as we did from kick-off, it certainly didn’t get carried out onto the pitch.
Two big defensive injuries in the same position pre-season is unlucky. I get that. But even if they didn’t occur we all knew it was an area that needed strengthening. And we haven’t done that.
And up front the story is the same. Olly Giroud is a decent centre forward. As is Danny Welbeck. But they are not available. We knew that many weeks ago. Alexis is an awesome player. But he is no centre forward. Today his role looked almost irrelevant at times.
Going forward however, is not our biggest concern. We have players in our squad all over the pitch who can score goals. And if you get three at home, you should win any game.
Our visitors today some good goals but all (apart perhaps from the opener) were avoidable with better defensive play. And in that crucial 15 – 20 minutes after half time when we needed to start again and make that first half dominance repeat itself we were nowhere to be seen.
I’ve seen us score 4 at Anfield. In fact in one game I saw us score 6. But very very rarely have I seen us concede 4 at home. But today that happened and we got beat.
Taking the positives, we were good in the first half and we battled to make a game of it from an impossible situation.
But letting in 4 goals and losing to a side that really weren’t that good is extremely worrying.
It is easy to criticise team choices and tactical decisions after a game and with the benefit of hindsight. Especially when you get beat. That cannot be argued. But after 45 minutes today it looked like we had got it right. What went wrong from there is more difficult to comprehend.
The trip to Leicester comes next, not a fixture that needs any additional build up. The Foxes are the Champions of England they host our team smarting from today’s disappointment.
That game can’t come round quick enough in my book.
Chins up people.
Monday 8th August 2016
Pre-season has always been a thoroughly entertaining adventure. And from Lens to San Jose to Los Angeles to Stavanger to Gothenburg, this has been no different. But along with all the incredible sights, sounds and experiences comes a whole heap of tiredness. And as I sit here in yet another airport reflecting on the last few weeks, the word ‘exhaustion’ springs to mind!!
I have been to Sweden 4 times before. As a teenager I spent a day in Helsingborg staggering around in circles due to the sheer volume of beautiful blue eyed blonde ladies present in the city, something a naive English teen was always going to struggle to hide!
A good friend’s stag weekend in Stockholm saw another visit, the same city playing host back in November 1999 when we beat AIK Solna in the Champions League, my only trip to the country for football to date.
A 4th visit was for a game but was kinda by default, an air traffic control strike in Oslo meaning our journey involved an unplanned flight to Stockholm followed by a 7 hour drive up to Trondheim in Norway for Rosenborg away!
This trip has technically included a few hours in Denmark, a flight via Copenhagen being our group’s chosen route given the fact there are no return flights from Stavanger to Gothenburg.
Back in 1980 I was too young to be making my way to European away games so I didn’t get to Gothenburg for our cup winners cup fixture. So the last few days has been my first visit. And with the Champions League format dictating it is becoming increasingly unlikely we will get to visit new destinations this was a city I was thoroughly looking forward to checking out.
The journey from Stavanger went relatively smoothly or at least it did if you forget the 1 hour delay on the 2nd portion due to the SAS pilot “being delayed on an incoming flight”. So he didn’t get out of bed then.
Nowhere in Scandinavia is ‘cheap’ and that includes eating and drinking. I guess you either go with that……or stay indoors and eat Pot Noodle. I can’t stand that stuff…..so we went to the pub. Well, pubs to be totally accurate. It was Saturday night after all. And it proved an excellent way to get pre-season’s final leg off to a fine start.
Matchday came next of course and after collecting our match tickets from the ground we met up with the usual suspects, the number of Gooners present massively swelled by the thousands of Swedes proudly wearing the cannon on their chests.
The Ullevi Stadium is one of the world’s most iconic sporting arenas and as a result I was really looking forward to seeing it. The structure’s huge curves make it pretty unique and being located pretty much in the city centre you couldn’t miss it.
After enjoying the afternoon’s refreshment filled build up however, inside the stadium was disappointing. Both ends had been ‘replaced’ with temporary stands made with scaffolding, a small one housing the few City fans in the ground and a huge monstrosity for the many thousands of Gooners.
I’m not a fan of these types of stands, not just because they look terrible but for me they never look or feel ‘safe’. Consequently I had a bit of a hissy fit and a kind steward allowed me and a couple of the other lads to take a place along the side……..5 yards from the bar. Result!! I needed something to calm my stress you see 😉
Pre-season so far has been pretty successful I would say. Victories, goals and decent performances against opposition of varying levels of ability have more than added to the overall enjoyment.
Man City was highly likely to be our toughest test yet.
Our 4th encounter in recent pre-seasons, 2 wins and 1 defeat in our previous 3 provide evidence that the games can go either way.
3 good goals and coming from one behind was very pleasing. Any defeat pre-season is not the end of the world but winning is a fantastic habit. And I hate losing in any game, no matter how important.
A brief firework display brought events to a close before chewing the cud back in the city centre for a few hours after.
A touristy stroll around the city’s picturesque streets today brought another pre-season extravaganza to a relaxing conclusion and pretty much brings us up to date.
The last few weeks have been energy sapping……but absolutely fantastic. The memories however, are purely personal. The football side will be quickly forgotten, certainly by the media etc.
It’s time to put my worn out passport away for a few weeks.
The important part begins now, starting with Sunday’s visit of Liverpool.
Come on you mighty reds!!
Saturday 6th August 2016
Last night was only the second time I have seen us play in Norway, an eventful trip to Trondhem a few years back being the first. And the way I feel writing these notes on my short flight from Stavanger to Copenhagen, our latest host city certainly delivered! Friday night I guess.
Following our team I have made many friends down the years, one of the dozens of positives in doing what we do. And our team’s globetrotting mean those acquaintances are from far and wide.
Norway is very much one such country and it has been good friends living just south of Stavanger who have looked after our travelling party on this occasion. Our first meet in the ‘Blue Room’ in Bad Waltersdorf, Austria seems a long time ago!
Arriving Thursday evening, great food, beer and company made sure this leg of the pre-season tour got off to a relaxing start before we headed into our host city yesterday morning.
I have been lucky enough to visit on a previous occasion and I recall it being a small, pretty and quiet place. The beauty certainly hasn’t disappeared but 2 huge cruise ships being moored up in the harbour took away any chance of it not being busy this time!
Having taken a stroll we took advantage of hospitality at its very best provided by a fanatical Norwegian Gooner living in the city’s suburbs.
Having converted his double garage into an ‘Arsenal room’ with full bar and huge amounts of memorabilia, his beloved Gooners being in town meant he couldn’t turn down the opportunity to hold a party all afternoon pre-match.
And with great food, beer, company and transport to the stadium, it could not possibly have been a better way to enjoy the build up.
I can’t pass up this opportunity to mention one amusing moment. Deciding to get the Maidstone Gooners flag out at the party, there was a little difficulty in finding where to hang it. Our host however, as hospitable as always, came up with an instant solution. Armed with a power drill he proceeded to wack two 6 inch screws into the side of his house!! Hilarious.
All in all it meant we arrived at the Viking Stadium ‘refreshed’ to say the least, a factor that always leads to us grown ups doing things like purchasing merchandise you would never buy in a million years on a day without a party in a crazy Norwegian Gooner’s garden!
So far this has been a trip of ‘firsts’ and winning 8 nil is another. It is always fantastic to see a few goals……but Viking probably didn’t quite provide the test we would be looking for in an ideal world. The first half was slightly tougher than the second of course but with a missed penalty and the goalkeeper making a string of great saves, the one nil half time scoreline didn’t reflect our dominance.
Not that I would want anyone to think the above means I am moaning! I’ll take 1 nil if it means a win. And fitness and good finishing made last night a thoroughly worthwhile exercise.
Post match events continued in the same way as those earlier in the day, Stavanger’s Friday night life proving thoroughly entertaining well into the wee small hours.
Hence the headache and nausea on this flight.
Talking of which, we have begun our descent on our first flight of 2 today so it’s time to sign off.
Sweden and Gothenburg on a Saturday night await as the party continues.
And if the Swedish Gooners prove as hospitable as their counterparts from Norway it will be another fine couple of days.
Our friends from Norway, thank you once again. You have been awesome.
Ole Gunnar Solsjaer, Henning Berg, Morten Harket, Erik Thorsvedt, Miss Norway(!)……your boys took one helluva beating!! 😉
Tuesday 2nd August 2016
Being a traditionalist I don’t like it if our away kit is anything other than yellow. So I am delighted with our new one. When it comes to the relatively recent development of requiring a third strip however, I genuinely couldn’t care less what colour it is.
In my opinion the one released this week is horrific! But……if we put in performances and get results like Sunday when wearing it, that’s fine by me.
San Francisco, San Jose and L.A. might all be in the same state but they couldn’t be more different as cities.
When I left off last time, our Amtrak train journey into the latter’s Union Station was in its closing stages and a short cab ride saw hotel check in undertaken and the last leg of the US tour was up and running.
Los Angeles is a big city and although there is a lot to attract a tourist like me, it is very spread out. As a result it is known as a location where getting around can be a bit tricky, especially without a car. To be honest, with a little bit of preparation and access to a decent transport map we have found it pretty easy, convenient and cheap to reach all corners of the city. And boy have we got around a bit!
Saturday began with a trip to enjoy the fantastic views from the Griffith Observatory, high in the hills above the city with the famous Hollywood sign in the distance.
Then it was off to the home of the stars itself, our visit including sights such as the Capitol Records Building, the awesome Chinese Theatre and of course the incredibly tacky Walk of Fame. Its the tourist thing to do!
Downtown was next, an area with a mix of historical buildings and ‘dodgy’ characters and saw us enjoy the Saturday night food, beer and blues offerings at the excellent Central Market, a fine way to conclude our first day in L.A.
Sunday was matchday 2 and we started by taking the metro/tram south through the suburbs and down to Long Beach to do a tour of the famous Cunard liner the ‘Queen Mary’. The sense of history walking around was something to behold and well worth the trip.
The Stubhub Center is the home of LA Galaxy and although an impressive stadium 10 miles south of Downtown, it is pretty much in the middle of nowhere!
A location for pre-match refreshment had been suggested but when we arrived the door was locked, the signs were down and the premises lease was up for grabs!
A short walk through the searing heat however and a suitable bar and grill was found to enjoy the match build up in the traditional way.
Once again Gooners from many locations joined us lot from the UK with many Mexicans present too donning the colours of Chivas.
Suitably refreshed it was time for the main event and with souvenirs purchased we took our place amongst the thousands donning the red and white (not fluorescent green fortunately!)
Time for the big kick-off and another chance to see how our preparations are progressing and despite the whole relaxed vibe, the sense of anticipation amongst the Gooners from this part of the world always creates a real sense of occasion.
Friendlies are not always the most competitive of affairs but that couldn’t be said about this one. Both sides quite obviously wanted to win the game, we played pretty well throughout and scored 3 good goals, in particular the one from the Ox.
I was very impressed with our 2 new signings too, Rob Holding showing a real knack of taking situations by the scruff of the neck and Granit Xhaka looking extremely commanding in the centre of the park.
Another good day then and two wins from two in USA 2016 make it look more than a worthwhile exercise. Chewing the fat continued back in the bar and grill and then, after an amusing bus ride, back in Downtown, leaving just one full day in LA to enjoy.
That day started feeling a little bit delicate of course as we headed initially for Beverly Hills and the whole retail therapy, Rodeo Drive, plastic surgery vibe. Again, you just have to as a tourist.
That completed and it was back to the coast, this time to the vast sands of Santa Monica Beach, a fine way to spend a few hours, especially if you like to people watch!
If like me that is something you enjoy it is fantastic. Nothing however, prepares you for when you have walked a couple of kilometres south and into Venice Beach! From old men walking on broken glass to a guy in an incredible headdress playing a guitar whilst wearing rollerblades to a dog in sunglasses, this is a quite incredible place.
If it didn’t make you smile then there is something wrong with you…….and that is a perfect way to sum up what has been yet another magnificent pre-season tour.
My flight back to London is today, an opportunity to reflect on everything and hopefully get some sleep before the inevitable jetlag kicks in.
No time to dwell though as the ‘tour’ starts its European leg with the trip to Norway’s west coast and the city of Stavanger.
California, I thank you. It has been awesome.
Over land and sea.