Saturday 30th September 2017
Greetings from Vienna Airport. On a Saturday afternoon. With a hangover. Brought on by a Friday night in Minsk. To the people of Belarus, we thank you. You have been brilliant hosts and I can’t wait to come back.
When the draw was made we knew this one would be ‘different’. It has been that and more. A proper adventure with a few goals and a win to boot.
Compared to many of the major cities we travel to there are not as many flight choices to the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Our 6am departure from Heathrow on Wednesday morning was painful even with an overnight stay in a nearby hotel included. But, with a quick change of planes in Vienna our arrival into Minsk was both early and easy.
Our choice of both location and accommodation type was also something to think about on our 3 night stay but despite the city of Borisov having very few options for an overnight stay and it’s visitor entertainment choices being extremely limited, we decided on Wednesday and Friday in the capital and Borisov itself on the night of the game.
Having been to the likes of Moscow, Donetsk and Vilnius in the past they were my only sources of what to expect from Minsk and Belarus in general. I’m not sure what I was expecting but we have loved it. The people have been incredibly friendly and the whole place feels both safe and is spotlessly clean. And cheap too.
Accommodation number 1 was a good hotel next to a lake and within walking distance of everything central and after checking in we took a sundrenched stroll to find a location for food and refreshment. And the location we chose could not have been any better.
Like everywhere we go the local Gooners are extremely passionate and it was their hospitality we sampled next as we joined them at the ‘Friends Brewery’ until we turned in well into the wee small hours. A long, tiring but thoroughly excellent first day.
Match day is where everything got interesting!!
Borisov is around 40 miles from Minsk. So along with another group of Gooners we organised a minibus to get us to our destination. Despite most feeling slightly fragile our 10.30am departure time worked for all……or it would have done if the bus didn’t break down before we had even got out of Minsk!!
The sight of 15 English men stood by the side of the road most with a can of local beer on the go was one thing. Strawberry Blonde knocking up cheese sarnies using a credit card as a spreader was approaching sad!!
Fortunately the delay was short and another bus soon arrived.
An apartment for 4 had been booked in central Borisov but despite the good online reviews the fact it cost us about a fiver each I would be lying if I said my anticipation wasn’t laced with a dash of trepidation.
And then we arrived…….
It would be safe to say that if we didn’t have another choice we probably wouldn’t have got out of the bus. Much to the hilarity of our fellow travellers who were being dropped at their very comfortable hotel in the woods on the outskirts of the town!
Inside it was mildly better, clean, dry and near to the pub/restaurant that was to be our host for all our time in Borisov excluding the match. So it could have been worse!
And that very build up brings us to the game.
Bate’s new stadium is on the outskirts of the city and is quite a sight. This despite it being no bigger than Bournemouth. Modern and atmospheric the Gooners from the UK and local, many of whom were in the home end, definitely contributed to the atmosphere and sense of occasion.
Apart from conceding late on, the first half couldn’t have gone better. 3 goals and smacking the woodwork twice emphasising our domination and potency going forward.
But that wasn’t the whole story and our hosts creating numerous chances in the 2nd period provided ample evidence that it was a good job we had scored 4 goals.
Overall however, with a very young side, the game was enjoyable and the performance and result was very satisfying.
Post match we enjoyed the hospitality of the local bar again, making sure we’d all consumed enough to make heading back to our ‘penthouse suite’ was all the more comfortable!
Friday began with the bus trip back into the capital and our next accommodation, this time a very spacious and luxurious 2 bedroom apartment in the very centre of the city.
A quite superb lunch continued the top quality food theme we had enjoyed throughout the trip before we headed into the old town for a few Friday afternoon and evening liveners.
Friday nights in the vast majority of towns and cities are always going to offer plenty to entertain. And Coyote Bar certainly fell into that category for our group. The security staff on the door were a perfect example of the friendly and hospitable manner we have experienced throughout.
“Good evening gentleman, are you English? ”
“Here for Arsenal?”
After 2 positive responses….
“Welcome to you all, please enjoy your evening.”
And we did….a lot…..hence the hangover.
My flight to London is boarding very soon and I can finally look forward to tomorrow’s visit of Brighton.
Since the disaster at Anfield, every result has been hugely positive. It’s down to us to make sure we go into the international break with that continuing.
Come on you mighty reds!
Tuesday 26th September 2017
I’ve attended hundreds of games like that one. And I’m not exaggerating. An unattractive fixture. An average performance. And three points. So I’ll take that.
Monday night games have lots of negatives about them. But they do have their good side too. A football free weekend precedes the fixture and now and again that is very welcome. And with the traditional opening day of the working week never being anyone’s favourite, the thought it will end with a bit of footy definitely helps get you through the day.
And then there’s that special night game atmosphere, something that was definitely present in abundance last night despite that apathetic air surrounding our club right now.
Results this early in the season are often wrongly described as ‘crucial’. But if we can allow for the fact games away at Liverpool, Chelsea and (for us in particular it seems) Stoke are difficult to pick up points, we must look at fixtures at home to the likes of West Brom as ‘must win’. And I say that with the utmost respect intended.
We started pretty well last night I felt but The Baggies showed their intent when Petr brilliantly put a strike onto the post from their first attack on the break.
Alex nodding home after Alexis’ free kick was ‘crucial’ on the night if we are going to use that word. It gave as something to hold on to when our visitors threatened to score goals of their own.
And threaten they did. It doesn’t matter how much I am biased in fact, there is no doubt we were fortunate to be leading at half time.
Sometimes that works for you, sometimes it doesn’t. So when we are on the fortunate side I certainly don’t feel guilty about it.
We were by far the better side in the second period and when you are already leading that is more than satisfactory. But it always felt like we needed a second goal.
That came with a penalty, not something we get awarded very often it seems. And it was debatable.
There were 2 possible penalty incidents on the night, both of which went our way on this occasion. For arguably the first time ever I actually agree with the West Brom manager’s view on theirs that was not awarded. If a player is ‘honest’ but is fouled but doesn’t score I believe the incident should be pulled back and a penalty awarded. But is that rule in place? Who knows!?
Whatever way you look at it the incentive for an attacking player to stay on his feet is simply not there. And that can’t be right.
But Tony Pulis comes from one of those group of managers that includes the likes of Allardyce, Hughes and Pardew. It doesn’t need me to tell you what I mean by that. Those that don’t ever start or intend to start with the words, “In my opinion”…..as they are never wrong of course.
And despite me agreeing he had a point about the penalty he was certainly back to his blinkered and irritating ways when suggesting an incident in the first few minutes should have seen a yellow card and ultimately led to a sending off. I say that because the fact if the referee and linesman had got the second incident correct the same player would not have received a yellow later on in the match has of course been overlooked by Mr. Pulis. Now there’s a surprise.
For me our penalty award is a difficult one. Would it have been given a foul if it was anywhere else on the pitch? I would say yes. But do we ever see that kind of ‘challenge’ penalised when it happens inside the box? Very rarely and on that basis alone I would say we were a tad fortunate.
But overall I felt we just about deserved the three points. Not that I would be over bothered even if we didn’t!
A trip to the Belarusian town of Barysaw comes next, not a line I have said in my footballing life. But that is the beauty of following our great club in a nutshell. I am going to Minsk. I am going to Belarus. And I am going to sample the hospitality of FC Bate Borisov. And that is something I can safely say I wouldn’t be doing if it wasn’t for the Arsenal.
Over land and sea.
Thursday 22nd September 2017
To say I had a ‘bad feeling’ about last night is not quite accurate. I genuinely felt we would win…..but there was a degree of negativity in my overall body language. Thinking about it in bed when I struggled to get out of ‘driving mode’ in the early hours of this morning, I think it is just indicative of life in general right now.
There is a sense of apathy around our football club of course and whilst admitting the fixture not taking place during a school half term week definitely needs to be taken into account and 40 thousand plus ticket sales for a League Cup tie at home to Doncaster is still impressive, the attendance being the lowest ever for a first class match at our new ground seems to support the argument.
Brexit and the current weakness of sterling are both causing me untold problems in my working life and that doesn’t help my general mood. More importantly, worryingly and dreadfully sad of course are both the terrible loss of life and belongings brought on in recent weeks by this planet’s most destructive natural causes and the increasing genuine threat of nuclear war.
Overall there just doesn’t seem to be much to get upbeat about.
My car journey up was ok and I negotiated the capital city’s tube network relatively comfortably too and I was looking forward to some quick, easy and satisfying pre-match tucker. My mood therefore wasn’t improved when the 2 places I had in mind were closed and I ended up in a chippy that served me a soggy bone filled piece of ‘fish’ that had me leaving more worried whether I would see it again over the next hour or so than anything else!
Something that had me feeling a combination of irritation and amusement however, accompanied my consumption of the ‘abominable fishthing’. Most of us have watched the film ‘Fever Pitch’ and are very familiar of the pre match café scene where the young lad witnesses everyone ‘slagging off’ pretty much everything surrounding the club. In fact it is a situation I personally remember experiencing on a number of occasions as a young boy and I’m sure I’m not the only one!
Well, last night I had two such older gentlemen sitting behind me in the chippy. The bullshit was almost legendary. If I heard “My mate in the club has told me….” And “I’ve been told….” once, I heard it a hundred times! You know the kind of stuff;
Bloke 1 “That Sanchez is shit. The sooner we sell him the better. And as for Giroud, I have it on good authority he’s addicted to cakes. He’s been told unless he slims down we will be selling him to Luton in January”.
Bloke 2 “Yeah, I’ve heard that….something to do with a sponsorship deal with Greggs apparently.”
Bloke 1 “I’ve been told the only reason Ox left was because he didn’t like the décor in the changing rooms.”
Bloke 2 “That’s not true, my man in the club has said the newspaper delivery service from his local corner shop was appalling.
Bloke 1 “Really, I’ve also heard Ramsey’s off, he now wants to play rugby and Saracens have put in an offer.”
Bloke 2 “That’s rubbish mate, I’ve been told Elkie Brooks is looking for a new roadie. And he was seen at her latest show at the London Palladium. So I would say that’s a definite.”
Bloke 1 “No way, my mate in the club has told me he is more of a Kasabian fan…..so he’s far more likely to sign for them.”
Now……I am exaggerating a bit of course. But not much believe me.
As for the game it was probably a little more entertaining for a neutral than for those of us supporting the red and white. It certainly started well, our quite dazzling attacking play could and should have seen us 4 or 5 up in the first 20 minutes, including what would have been an absolute cracker from Olly had it not smashed against the woodwork.
The remainder of the game was pretty mediocre at times, Doncaster’s impressive following growing more hopeful the longer the game went on. It also included one guy looking to make a name for himself in front of his mates by entering the field of play. ‘Streakers’ are not a new thing in any sport. They have been around for many many years. Some almost became famous, Erica Roe running naked across the pitch at Twickenham in 1982 and a chap also lacking attire hurdling the stumps at Lords back in 1975 are two I seem to remember being quite amusing. They were quite unique back then too of course. Even at the World Athletics Championships last month I was ‘lucky’ enough to witness a rather large gentleman sprinting down the main straight in all his glory!
Lat night’s intruder could have made more of an effort I feel. Stumbling around in your food stained lounge pants with your arms in the air for no apparent reason doesn’t do much for your club or your county mate. At least you kept your clothes on I suppose and for that we can all be grateful.
Theo took his goal well from Alexis’ superb through ball and that was enough to see us through but our lack of additional goals saw Donnie gain confidence as the game went on and there were fleeting moments where extra time was a threat. To be honest my general mood dictated that felt almost inevitable. Getting home after 4am would have been the result of that so I was more than ecstatic when the final whistle blew and we were through. A home game against Norwich in late October is the prize.
Just the journey home to negotiate and that was fine until, without any mention of it on the Highways Agency website, they had closed the A3 at Guildford. Triffic. But, somehow, I made my ferry. So a successful conclusion and one I will take.
West Brom come to town next on Monday night. So we have a football free weekend to enjoy.
On we go.
Monday 18th September 2017
Our results away at Chelsea seemed to have fluctuated in lengthy periods down the years. I remember back in the late eighties and early nineties (only in the seasons they were actually in the top flight of course) it wasn’t a happy hunting ground for us. But during the years that followed we seemed to get a positive result pretty much every time we went there. In recent seasons that tide has turned again so above all else it was important we came away from our latest encounter with something for our efforts.
And we played well. Enough to deserve a point at the very least. It certainly made it a far more positive day out than our previous 2 away games this season.
We were absolutely slaughtered for our performance up at Anfield. And it’s very very difficult to come up with any reasons why that criticism wasn’t justified. But after yesterday we received a large degree of praise. Although I tend not to take too much notice of media opinion it was certainly nice to be on the end of some good stuff for a change.
More importantly of course we must take that forward as evidence we can be confident against anyone if we apply ourselves in the correct manner.
Walking along the seafront yesterday morning it was a beautiful but chilly morning and the rest of the build up gave me no indication that choosing to wear shorts was necessarily a good idea. It definitely gave the first indication that Autumn is close upon us and the warmer attire might need to come back out of the cupboard.
Confidence pre match wasn’t exactly sky high amongst the gathering Gooners but we also all knew some kind of reactionary performance would perhaps go some way to restoring the faith that we can be capable of challenging this season. But by kick-off the weather matched our performance. Bright and pleasing.
Dominating the game and looking the most likely to score for lengthy periods is not something we have witnessed away at Chelsea for some time. But, whilst keeping our shape extremely well, we did just that and with a little more composure and better luck we could have come away with 2 more points than we did.
A good point rather than a bad one I would say as we change competitions once again, this time welcoming Doncaster Rovers to London N5 for a 3rd Round League Cup tie. The last time we met was 2005, a game remembered for Gilberto’s equaliser in injury time of extra time, a strike that turned out to be the last ever League Cup goal scored in open play at Doncaster’s old Belle Vue Stadium.
We need to go back to the late eighties for when the last time we took them on at home, once again in the League Cup, a 1 nil 2nd leg victory on the night in front of 18 thousand people adding to the 3 nil away win in the 1st leg seeing us through to the 3rd Round and an eventual run all the way to Wembley.
A chance for some of our youngsters to shine I’m sure, these games very rarely turn out to be anything other than entertaining so it’s another night to look forward to.
Onwards and upwards….
Friday 15th September 2017
If ever the situation off the pitch matched the performance it was last night. Chaotic is the word I would use. But, we got the result. And that will do.
Thursday nights are different. I remember it was youth club night when I was a kid. Mainly because football training was never on a Thursday. And Arsenal never played then either. Even these days Thursday is not a football night. Pilates or Yoga maybe…..whatever they are. But not football.
But last night’s 9.05pm kick off is pretty unique. I think.
It wasn’t meant to be then of course. But many many thousands of Cologne fans turning up caused one or two issues.
I have a number of views regarding that. Travelling all over the world to watch my team, on the odd occasion we haven’t been treated very well. Disgustingly in fact once or twice. Like animals. And Arsenal, our club, pride themselves on the fact we have treated visiting fans like humans. With respect. And I like that.
But tonight that came unstuck.
What happened inside the ground was extremely difficult for stewards and the police to deal with. And how so many of them got tickets is very difficult to understand. Any Gooner who chose not to attend and sold on their ticket should be held responsible and should have to face any consequences in my opinion. But……..I have been to hundreds of overseas matches following our team and on many many occasions there have been travelling Arsenal fans in the home end. So, it happens. But when it is ‘en masse’ like last night it is extremely difficult to establish how it could have happened.
Admittedly there is a degree of ‘apathy’ around our football club at the moment. And when that happens less people attend matches. Especially when it is a competition that is considered inferior to the one we have been in for 20 odd years. And that means of course, there are more ‘spare’ tickets about.
But…..FC Cologne have not played in European competition for 25 years. Their first game is away. In London. On a Thursday. In late Summer.
We knew many thousands were coming. We knew the vast majority would not have tickets. And we knew that weeks ago. Surely Arsenal and the police knew that too. After all, we are just football fans. Not, when referring to the latter, people paid for their expertise and intelligence in these situations. 😉
As I say I would like to think Arsenal knew that too. Although tonight suggests maybe not I don’t go with that. The decision was taken to let them enjoy their trip and perhaps naively expect none of those without tickets to actually come to the stadium. Surely getting anywhere near the ground should have been made more difficult. Just like the situation us travelling fans face time and time again when travelling abroad. But that didn’t happen. And whatever way you look at it many paid the consequence of that being overlooked.
The game went ahead. But with absolutely thousands of Cologne fans in the Arsenal section. And other than us getting the points there was one other group of winners. The touts.
But I know friends and family who had a nightmare of a night. People in their seats is just one aspect. An hour delay meaning they had to miss the second half so they could get home is another. Younger fans genuinely frightened.
A mistake filled night off it then and I fear the fall out will be long, serious and involve enormous finger pointing.
On the pitch it was entertaining if nothing else. Our performance lacked structure, penetration and cohesion, especially in the first half but I also feel it was tainted by the atmosphere on the night after our visitors scored from long distance rather than anything they necessarily created. It was goal that matched the chaos of the whole night.
Come half time we genuinely had nothing to shout about but I wasn’t stressed. We would come good, I was convinced of it. In fact those around me got a bit bored of me saying, “I still think we’ll win 3-1!”
Sead coming on changed the game and our new shape immediately became more threatening. It was kind of apt therefore that his thunderous volley levelled things up.
Alexis got a little bit of stick when he came on to the pitch Saturday. And I get that. You would like to think he gets the reasons too. But he is a world class player and if he has the right attitude over the coming months that stick will disappear. It helps if you curl in and absolute ‘worldy’ to put your team into the lead of course. And last night’s is right up there with some of his very best.
I still felt our performance looked a little chaotic at times but Hector’s late third finally put the game to bed and meant we went home with exactly what we came for.
We weren’t brilliant on the night. And I’m clinging on to the fact we might have saved a performance of that nature for our visit to the Bridge on Sunday lunchtime.
See you in Fulham.
Monday 11th September 2017
Rarely do I find it difficult to write a blog after a decent performance and a good result. But Saturday was so comfortable and one of those matches where had we lost, drawn or even won by a small margin we would have been absolutely slaughtered by both others and rather unfortunately many of our own. Even with a dominant afternoon’s work, 3 good goals and countless other chances created we have of course received little praise. And I get that. Overall we desperately needed to win and we did. And well too.
Saturday 3 o’clock kick-offs are rare these days. Something that when you are old enough to remember a time when virtually every game took place at that time it feels a strange thing to be saying. And I think it’s safe to say it is the vast majority of fans’ favourite time too. Which makes it all the more frustrating that we get very few opportunities to experience it these days.
The Cherries came to North London on an afternoon graced with changeable weather. Having not enjoyed the best of starts this season, they definitely showed enough in their last outing against Man City to make sure we did not approach the game showing any complacency.
And to be fair, from minute one we showed no indication that we would be doing that.
3 excellent goals made sure we had fun in the sun and the rain and a few beers after accompanied with smiles were certainly far more enjoyable than those over the last couple of weeks!
Something to build on before we experience something we haven’t had the ‘pleasure’ of for over a generation in Thursday night football.
It’s not totally new of course but other than a couple of unique occasions such as games brought on by late season fixture backlogs and FA Cup replays back in the days when you played to the death (including our 1993 final triumph) it’s not since our run to the UEFA Cup final back in 1999/2000 that we have experienced regular games on that day of the week.
The match tickets have the words ‘Europa League’ on them for the first time in our history, as will the programme on the night. Those seasons where we celebrated qualifying for Europe with vigour and huge delight seem a long long time ago. Am I allowed to say that makes us slight ‘victims of our own success’?
German fans travel in large numbers to all games both home and abroad and from what I understand those from FC Koln will be doing just that. Should make it quite an atmosphere, whatever way you look at it. As a result I fully expect their team to right up for the game too. So if we are not we will come unstuck.
Come on you mighty reds!