Saturday 28th July 2018
Technically my blog’s date is inaccurate. As it’s the early hours of Sunday morning here. Equally that means my blog is highly likely to be more grammatically incorrect than usual. After all, Singapore is pretty hedonistic on a Saturday night, whether Arsenal are in town or not!
Back in early January 1977 is not a way I expected to be starting my words. But, much has happened over the last few hours to make me do just that. My dad (and grandad if my memory serves me right) took me to my first game as a 5 year old boy. My memories of that day are not particularly numerous or indeed detailed. But I do remember 4 things. Being handed a programme is one. The second is the packed lunch, in a brown paper bag, my nan had lovingly prepared. I also remember the sounds and smell from one of those metal burger stalls on wheels, gathered on every street corner. The fourth and undoubtedly most important was my the sheer feeling of childhood awe as I got to the top of the stairs in the West Stand lower tier and headed to my seat for the game (at home to Leeds for the record).
The reason for me telling you this is probably quite obvious. I’m lucky to have very good ex-pat friends in this part of the world and like everywhere in turn that has meant I have met many more people, be they Gooners or not.
Today has been a bit odd. Not every single bit of it. But some of it. And you’ll get the direction my blog is going in shortly!
Breakfast, slightly late if I’m honest, was enjoyed late morning due to the lie in a Saturday allows and slight hangovers from our chosen Friday night activities. And then we enjoyed the rest of the day as a pre-match build up.
That started with a few beers in a local bar before more in a location by the river dominated by glorious sunshine and the pits and seating area for next month’s F1 Grand Prix taking shape just the other side. But more than all that the following events took their course.
One of our Gooner friends was taking his 5 year old son George to his first ever game. And, donning his home shirt he could not have looked more excited. Except perhaps than his very proud mum and dad Dave and Emma.
We decided with a 30 minute walk (according to Google maps) in the blistering heat to leave about 6.30pm. Late enough to enjoy our fine setting but early enough to comfortably make kick-off. We’ve all been there. So we left at 6.40.
“Let’s use the bikes” somebody confidently suggested. Think ‘Boris Bikes’ but where even having a chain is a gamble. Throw in a few pints of Green Devil IPA and you get the overall picture.
What followed was one of the most surreal 10 minutes or so I have ever witnessed following Arsenal. Firstly, similarly to last time we were here 3 years ago Singapore’s National Day celebrations are fast approaching. And that involves pretty much a full dress rehearsal. Including military and commercial aircraft. And we had pedal power.
We did eventually all find a bike. So picture the scene. Cycling, half pissed, along the river, towards the National Stadium, with an incredible fly past in the skies above. Slightly crazy. And (no disrespect) not quite what you experience at Burnley away!
Part of all this of course was George.
And I say that because I’m trying to analyse his first ever game in comparison to mine. He travelled on a bike, with his dad, in crazy heat. My dad drove and parked within 5 minutes walk of the ground. He saw an incredible demonstration of aircraft technology high above his head on route. I listened to the sounds of “programme & handbook” echoing into the sky. He sat in his seat, saw fireworks and when the inevitable Mexican wave came past he joined in and chucked his popcorn high in the sky like the beers every single World Cup YouTube video proudly demonstrates. I went in the West Stand with the seat ticket my dad had bought on the day and listened why he and grandad tried to do the crossword on page 16 of the programme. He saw 5 goals from his new heroes (in the flesh) and grinned from ear to ear as his dad took him home on his shoulders. I saw a 1 all draw and all was well when I walked through my grandparents’ front door in Finsbury Park safe and well and just in time for tea.
It’s not the same as when I first went. It really isn’t. And we all know a friendly pre-season match in Singapore is not the same as a ‘run of the mill’ home fixture in London N5. But It was kinda cool you know. And I was pleased to witness it. If that young lad, 43 years from now, has enjoyed the same ‘live’ experiences as me, the same highs and lows, then life is still the same as it ever was.
And I really got that today.
Cheers George. And welcome to the Arsenal family.
All that aside, the game was enjoyable of course. But believe me I do put it in the same bracket as all pre-season friendlies. A good work out (in a full stadium), 5 goals (it genuinely could have been 10) and I happily enjoyed my host city’s hospitality post match, for 1 final time, before heading back to London tomorrow night and thoughts turn to our trip to the Emerald Isle.
Singapore has been immense. Again.
And the boys in ‘mint’ did alright tonight, no matter how much I hate the fact I’m not using the word ‘yellow’.
See you in Dublin. Right….where’s the bar?
Thursday 26th July 2018
Matchdays don’t always go down this line. Travel, pre-match fare and entering the ground pretty much sum up the usual routine. But this is Singapore. And it’s a friendly. Yep, a friendly. Where the squad continue their pre-season preparations. Nothing more, nothing less.
So, as my ‘holiday’ continues, I had a bit of a lie in. And then headed to yet another amazing part of this amazing country/city. For a stroll round, in intense and humid heat. To look at the area, try and take in the culture and perhaps sample some food.
Mid afternoon, a very enjoyable few hours that included visiting the Mustafa Centre, an establishment so vast that you would leave highly satisfied if you had a tube of toothpaste, a flat screen telly and a fishing rod on your shopping list, we decided to go and get a bite to eat. And with my love for Indian food and our location the choice of delicacy seemed obvious.
So, a backstreet establishment, chilli chicken, pepper chicken, biryani with the customary boiled egg, extra sauce, popadoms and accompaniments, in Little India, what could possibly go wrong?!
Further walking followed by a few beers in the Suntec area of the city, both to put the fire out and create some kind of normality in the pre-match routine and then it was time to head to the Singapore National Stadium for our 1st match on the Asian leg of pre-season and our 2nd in the overall preparations.
3 years ago, the stadium was pretty much full for both our games. If my memory serves me right in fact, one was a stadium attendance record. This time round however, our first match was less than half full. Our friends said it might be the fact the game(s) have received very little publicity in this part of the world. The fact many of their non Gooner friends confirmed they would’ve had no idea there were any games on if they had not have been told probably confirms that. And something where lessons need to be learnt I feel.
The good news was the vast majority of those present had come to see the Arsenal.
And in a half decent game we did ok. Both teams had chances, both teams played good football at times and both teams scored a goal for their efforts. And to be fair, our promising teenager Emile Smith Rowe’s strike was a cracker.
Keeping up the good work to make sure we are fit and ready coming the opening game of the season is the ultimate goal in pre-season as always. Anyone who thinks different to that is missing the point. And the game will help us achieve that goal.
Penalties are what they are. And it was the bit of the day that went wrong. But overall it has been another good one. And post match refreshment can hardly be described as downbeat.
If tomorrow holds similar it will prove another fine day.
Thursday has just become Friday in this part of the world. Happy days.
Wednesday 25th July 2018.
I’ve been in Singapore since Saturday evening. Part of my annual 2 week holiday, a chance to catch up with a couple of my ex-pat friends living in this part of the world (and their recent new edition in the shape of a bonny smiley future Gooner Oscar) and of course a chance to take in both the latest pre season activity and the incredible enthusiasm present for our club in this corner of the Asian continent.
Until today it has been all about tourism. Enjoying the sights and sounds of a country where the colonial history represented by the architecture all around is matched by the incredible skyscraper landscape that has built up all round it. A city that in places could not look more modern and hi tech yet has a cricket pitch smack bang in the middle and examples of many many cultures scattered all around.
Chinatown has been visited and on a hot, humid, sticky day too. Enjoying Soy Sauce Chicken and rice after queuing for 20 minutes to purchase (for £1) from an establishment that claims to be the only hawker stall in Singapore with a Michelin star was a highlight in a fine day and a couple of pints by the river in Clarke Quay was enjoyable too, an hour or so graced with the almost surreal moment of seeing Gunnersaurus stroll by, evidence alone that the mighty Arsenal are in town.
Last night we had a curry. And it was a cracker. The type where the first mouthful feels pretty mild but within just a few minutes the spice and heat kicks in making you very aware this was excellent Indian cuisine. Just another example of the variety of culinary delights available in this thoroughly engaging country.
Today it rained briefly. Not for long. But just enough to cool it down a tad. And I mean a tad.
And it coincided with the official Fan’s Party for this 2018 tour, taking place at the Shangri La Hotel. Those who had travelled from the UK gathered, as did Gooners from Australia, Indonesia, China, USA, Myanmar among many others joined those from our host country for the festivities.
Ray Parlour is always good value and a quick interview with him opened proceedings before 6 squad members took to the stage to undertake activities from a drawing competition to learning ‘singlish’ before a Q & A ended an entertaining couple of hours for all those present.
Quenching both the thirst and hunger the day has brought on brings today to a close before tomorrow’s opening match of the tour.
Over and out for now.
Saturday 14th July 2018
When I woke up this morning it didn’t feel like a ‘normal’ day. I openly admit I’m not at my best first thing so I wasn’t particularly looking forward to my 6.15am alarm, especially on a day where I could stay in bed if I chose to do so. Throw in the fact the wonderfully hot Summer we are enjoying means night time temperatures don’t lend themselves to quality sleep and the fact Rocky and Chippy (my 2 cats) decide it is time for me to feed them the moment the sun comes up, my journey to Borehamwood was always going to be laced with a degree of tiredness.
“The football season never ends” is a quote we tend to hear all the time. Usually said by non believers to those of us who spend 10 months of the year travelling all over the globe to watch and get behind our club. And we can support our particular argument if Huddersfield away was your last game back in May and Man City at home will be your next in August. With our pre-season opener coming before the World Cup has actually finished however, it feels difficult to argue with those who get no pleasure from the beautiful game.
Yet my walk up the pier this morning, my ferry over to the mainland, a walk and crossing I will make dozens of times in all weathers over the months ahead, was graced with gorgeous rising sunshine and a feeling of a ‘new era’ for our magnificent football club. And all traces of tiredness were quickly forgotten.
Ladies and gents, welcome to the 2018-2019 season.
Yet more players have joined us since my last notes of course and whilst I offer them a very warm welcome to the greatest football club in the world, any other thoughts would be based on nothing. I watch extremely limited amounts of football from other parts of the world and pay little or no attention as to what other teams’ players are doing so my knowledge of our new squad members’ talents, coupled with the fact absolutely none of us know whether they will be a success in English football or not, means I can wish them no more than the very best of luck and success with the cannon on their chest.
I’ve been to Borehamwood a few times over the years. Some on a Friday too. When it’s location near the M25 makes it feel less than ‘local’ if you choose to travel by car. But today I went by train. I remember having a beer in a pub near the ground in previous visits. And a curry too for that matter. But it didn’t stop me taking a look at TripAdvisor for details and reviews on what was on offer today. Especially as there was every chance I would be in the area by about 11am.
After an ‘Eggs Benedict’ in a local cafe (or a bagel with bacon, a poached egg & a sauce that was borderline to be exact) our first point of call was The Wellington. A pub that has quite obviously been there for many years, had a car park just about big enough for a fight and served the grand total of no ales, to be fair they were very welcoming. And they opened at 11am and had the cricket on. Bingo.
Then it was off to the Alfred Arms. They were very welcoming, sold the grand total of zero ales. And they had the cricket on.
The Wishing Well came next. You get the story. But they didn’t have the cricket on.
With all the usual people attending however, our first pre-season pre-match jolly was mighty fine and I totally enjoyed it.
The game was highly likely to see us put out 2 teams. One in each half. And so it proved. And in our first pre-season outing we scored 8 and let in none. And we can’t really ask for much more than that.
Everyone looked relatively sharp and professional. Everyone looked like they were thoroughly engrossed in pre-season and before we travel the globe, a sundrenched Meadow Park enjoyed the fare on show.
I’m on my train home now. To get a ferry.