Australia….it’s been emotional!
Sunday 16th July 2017
Air China are my latest hosts as the pre-season juggernaut moves on to its next country. And as we say goodbye to that enormous island down under it is safe to say Australia has thrown up emotions from amusing to downright astonishing. 3 weeks of my life I definitely will not forget.
On previous tours the ‘Fans Party’ and open training sessions have been totally separate events. On this occasion one followed the other on Friday back in the ANZ Stadium and although entertaining for our host country’s fans I’m sure, it perhaps lacked the intimacy that others were graced with. The chance to see the squad put through their paces is definitely very different to an actual match and the many thousands of Gooners who attended looked happy with the fare on show.
It feels a long long way however, from those Austrian days where being able to watch training twice a day was just a short stroll from our hotel!
Being a Friday it seemed only right that we take in the city’s nightlife. And in the company of my fellow travellers and friends old and new we did just that. From our ‘local’ the Keg & Brew in Surry Hills to the quite vast Star Casino we hit it hard until some time (I think!) between 5 and 6am.
Tony and his colleagues from the Australian Gooners have worked extremely hard organising a variety of events for the huge number of fans in this part of the world. That culminated in a ‘Harbour Cruise’ yesterday afternoon.
The 12 noon start was tough to the say the least but boy were we glad we scraped ourselves out of bed and wearily made our way down to Casino Wharf. Although it is worth mentioning here, a couple of our Friday night Australian hosts didn’t manage to make it……lightweights!! 😉
Picture the scene. Hundreds of Gooners waiting in the sunshine for their boat to arrive. Will it be big enough? Will it be uncomfortable? And most importantly of all…….will it be easy to get a drink?! All questions on the lips of those of us from the other side of the world. With plans being discussed such as ‘setting up camp’ at the bar we hadn’t really considered that they might actually get it right!! Crazy really but probably as a result of knowing how chaotic the Thames boat trip to Fulham has often been!!
The Romford Pele arrived, closely followed by the FA Cup and as we boarded we were met by the crew handing out beers, champagne cocktails and freshly cooked food! Large, airy, fantastic outdoor decks and drinks & food literally being handed to you as you finished your previous one, our ship for 3 hours departed decked out in Arsenal flags for a tour round the spectacular Sydney Harbour. And in glorious sunshine too. It could not possibly have been better.
The scene felt almost surreal. Standing on a boat, a beer in one hand and a king prawn something in the other, Ray Parlour stood over there, Gunnersaurus posing for pictures, the FA Cup sitting proudly on a podium in the corner and the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge as a backdrop. A quite incredible 3 hours and a fine way, other than the second game on the tour, to conclude what has been a mind blowing 3 weeks.
If Thursday’s game felt a real occasion, last night took it to another level.
Throw in the fact there was an Aussie Rules match and ‘Frozen on Ice’ also taking place in the same complex, the 120+ thousand people attending could prove a logistical nightmare.
With trains departing the city centre every few minutes however (and free to every person with a match ticket), it proved an efficient way for the majority of the 83+ thousand football attendees to make their way to the stadium. A kind of mass mini red & white migration of Gooners full of anticipation.
Different to Thursday Aussie Gooner and friend Mark had very kindly and generously invited me to enjoy a bit of half way line hospitality with him and his family.
A first for me in all the years I have been going to football, I was sat next to a beer filled fridge! Which was terrible as you can imagine! So when Olly and Rambo’s excellent goals were joined by Mo’s deflected effort in putting us 3 goals to the good, I was enjoying some fine food and refreshment at the same time.
The second period should have seen further goals, the width of the woodwork preventing just that on more than one occasion. But overall it has given us a 100% positive start from the first 2 of our pre-season campaign.
Every town, city and area we have visited has proved to be beyond expectation. From snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef to wine tasting in the Barossa Valley. From Melbourne’s hidden bar scene to driving the Great Ocean Road. From the Karunda Scenic Railway & rainforest near Cairns to the incredible Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island. From Kangaroos to Koalas. From Wombats to Wallabies. From the Saturday nightlife of Adelaide & Brisbane to the wildness of Tasmania. From parmagiana to oysters. And of course, the excitement and iconic sights of Sydney, it has been one helluva cracking journey.
I mention kindness and generosity above, both positive things to experience. Along with friendliness they all apply to everything we have experienced since stepping off our plane in Melbourne 3 weeks ago. Australia is a country with a huge amount to offer the visitor. But without the above it might not be such a fantastic experience. More than any other country I have been to so far, these 3 things apply. And for that, on behalf of my travelling party of 6, I thank you all.
So, with friends old and new left behind and a painfully early start this morning, that pretty much brings me up to date. I am only a couple of hours into my 11 hour flight to Shanghai and an extremely different package of culture, life and people to those experienced in Oz.
Over land and sea.