Friday 30th November 2018
Yes there has been bits of this trip that have been costly and inconvenient. And personally it is disappointing that we didn’t actually get to stay in our intended destination of Poltava. But everything has been listened to, digested and plans adjusted accordingly. And all with a smile and that sense of adventure. We all follow the Arsenal, over land and sea (and warzones!)
Our flight out was a bit odd. We should have perhaps seen it coming on this one as soon as our original flight was cancelled a few weeks before the trip! But overall it meant we departed 24 hours earlier so although a little inconvenient, not exactly problematic.
But, being at Gatwick Airport during the early hours of the morning when it is pretty much closed was strange nonetheless, our 3am Tuesday departure for Kiev (bearing in mind at this stage we had no idea the game was going to be moved) dictating us being there. And I simply cannot sleep on aeroplanes. So after we changed planes in the Ukrainian capital and arrived at our final destination of Kharkiv, the taxi drive through the freezing streets of snow and ice was taken with considerable weariness.
We’ve all been there though, when bed is probably the sensible option, “We’ll meet in the hotel bar and see how we go from there.”
So instead, we enjoyed the wonderful hospitality of our hotel staff and an excellent bar and grill, eventually turning in a full 42 hours after last waking up. And about 20 quid lighter after a 3 course meal and about 20 beers! Kharkiv is no Basel on the costs front believe me!
Late on that Tuesday night in the bar was when the rumours regarding the game started. And in the world of social media we live in, rumours were exactly what they were initially. But, very quickly, confirmation was received and our plans were in tatters.
Kharkiv is around 2 hours drive from Poltava and our group had a minibus transfer booked for Wednesday morning, 3 nights in a hotel, before returning to Kharkiv for our flight back to Luton on Saturday. But we needed to get to Kiev. During that next hour we looked at our options. Flights maybe, trains or a road trip. And of course, how we got back to the UK, especially as Kharkiv was now a city where the Ukrainian government had declared martial law.
Flights were out of the question although other Gooners we know chose this option, 10 hour (with potentially no seat) or overnight trains looked nothing short of painful. So we opted for a 6 hour plus road trip. Not ideal of course but it meant we would arrive in Kiev in good time to enjoy a night out and in plenty of time for the match.
So, with that booked, our Poltava plans scrapped, a new hotel secured in Kiev and flights found for Friday evening back to London we were back in the game. Bed was very welcome.
Alexandr our minibus driver was a friendly chap. And if you can describe overtaking juggernauts through the snow and ice whilst sending a text ‘confident’ I’ll give him that too. And by the time we arrived at our destination, having passed through Poltava on route, nobody had died. So that’s fine.
My 4th time in Kiev to see the Arsenal, it felt a bit strange to be back, especially when we never intended to be there! But it is a good city with plenty to offer anyone in search of entertainment. So a degree of normality had returned when following our team overseas. And thoroughly enjoyable it has been too.
But it’s been cold. Very very cold. And the long johns and thermals were a fantastic decision as we took our places in the Olympic Stadium for arguably the most surreal setting we have ever witnessed as a travelling Gooner. More police and security staff than people attending the match, at least 4 full body searches before and after the turnstiles and being given just one small section of the ground felt all a little unnecessary given there was hardly anybody there.
With the tough schedule we have ahead I think every Gooner hoped we wouldn’t be bringing our strongest squad out so the decision to do just that was welcomed. But it was still a tidy looking line up that started the game in the freezing temperatures.
And a couple of hours later, with numb toes and stinging cheeks, all us Gooners present were very proud of the professional, clinical and winning performance we had just witnessed. Top of the group and job done.
Post match back in the pub it was wonderfully warm and it felt like what has been quite an adventure was coming to a close. And plans to enjoy a typically Ukrainian lunch today before heading home will bring it to its conclusion.
Football fans are hardy and loyal to the core and us Gooners very much fall into that category. And this is an away game that demonstrates that more than ever.
See you Sunday as we take on that lot from Middlesex.
Monday 26th November 2018
International breaks are odd. I can’t think of any other way to describe them. Just when a domestic and European season is gaining some momentum it all comes to a halt again. Arguably this break came at a decent time for us, a chance maybe to take stock and push on again after a decent run of results since the very early days back in August. That chance of course, came with yesterday’s difficult looking trip to high flying and in form Bournemouth.
Gigs, comedians and birthday bashes are just 3 of the things that have filled the latest non football period for me, along with that sincere hope that none of our squad return with injuries that make them unavailable for selection. Especially as we now head into an incredibly intense period with 2 games every single week.
Bournemouth as a town can be described and analysed in many ways. I can see why some would call it the Blackpool of the south. Beaches, kiss me quick hats and large numbers of stag or hen dos provide enough evidence to support that. But although the latter were still evident in many of the town’s large selection of pubs on Saturday night, the huge Christmas market in the very centre gave it a very different feel to a location you might go for a typical British Summer holiday.
A Saturday night out proved too strong a temptation to turn down and it was evident by the number of familiar faces in the town that our group were not the only ones!
Matchday arrived then feeling a little bit ‘fuzzy’ and the lunchtime kick-off didn’t exactly give much time to enjoy the kind of recovery only a lie in can offer so it was up and out to enjoy the usual pre-match routine in the Boscombe/Pokesdown area of the town, home of course to our hosts for the day.
The Cherries have become a well and truly established Premier League outfit these days, something that their small stadium and budget has always seen ‘experts’ predict they would have no chance of achieving. They are fantastic evidence to every club country wide that if you do things the right way you can compete at the very top. And with a win, a draw and a defeat in our previous visits, there is enough to prove Sunday was always going to be a very tough day at the office.
Overall I believe we just about did enough to deserve to win the game but there is no doubt it could have been very different. Tight or marginal offside decisions are very much part of the game and will remain that until VAR becomes reality in the Premier League next season. We got the benefit of one on Sunday, where the fact Mustafi was lying on the deck and it was pretty much his head that played the attacker on, you can see why the linesman raised his flag. But we’ll take it, along with all those we have to swallow when they don’t go in our favour.
Our hosts bemoaned their luck when they thumped the post late on too, conveniently forgetting when we did exactly the same midway the first period through Lucas Torreira’s fine drive.
Whatever way we look at it Auba’s winner was well received and enjoyed by all those of us lucky enough to get a ticket to be there. Three points from a tough afternoon, we’ll take that.
As I am typing these thoughts after what has felt a tiring weekend, the sun is pouring through my office window. And it mirrors the way the away end was sundrenched for much of yesterday’s proceedings. But my thoughts turn to the next few hours.
My party’s original flight out to the Ukraine were cancelled by the airline and we were left with a choice of very costly and inconvenient alternatives or bringing our plans forward by 24 hours. We all went for the latter and that dictates heading up to Gatwick for an early hours departure, our first flight of 2 that will see us arrive in Kharkiv by mid morning tomorrow. And come Wednesday, all being well, we should be descending on Poltava.
The forecast is it is going to be cold. Very very cold in fact. Not like a sunny November afternoon on the south coast really. Hats, scarves, snoods, longjohns and thermal socks at the ready guys and dolls!
Yet again the Europa League, if nothing else, promises one hell of an adventure!
Come on you mighty Gunners!
Wednesday 14th November 2018
Results wise, remaining unbeaten in all competitions since way back to the middle of August suggests considerable consistency. The reality is however, when you compare our performance at home to Liverpool with those against both Sporting Lisbon on Thursday and Wolves on Sunday, we are a long way from reaching that. But, on a difficult afternoon, we’ll take another point into the latest international break and look forward to the games ahead.
A late kick-off on a Sunday with no TV coverage felt a little strange but my weekend’s football entertainment began in, if anything, even quirkier circumstances. Saturday morning arrived and I felt the need to get out of the house and go and see some live sporting entertainment. A quick look at the internet found an afternoon Sydenhams Football League (Wessex), Premier Division fixture available as Cowes Sports entertained Tadley Calleva. An opportunity simply too good to turn down!
A couple of Gooner pals joined me for some pre-match refreshment and with nothing but a few passing showers forecast it looked like being a fine afternoon.
There is something very attractive about non-league football. You get a whole different package to watching the sport at the very highest level as we are fortunate enough to do week in week out. You can feel every crunching tackle being made, hear every call from players and coaching staff alike, smell those scents you only associate with changing rooms and dugouts and sense the frustration of a poor pass or a bad miss along side the joy of scoring a goal. And I’ve enjoyed many such games down the years from the likes of Whitley Bay to Worthing.
After a fine pint of Mild in Cowes Sports’ quite excellent clubhouse we definitely weren’t quite expecting the torrential rain that then fell throughout the ninety minutes. Us three having swelled the crowd to 134, every one of us was grateful for the roof over the main stand believe me! And the two teams deserve every credit for providing an entertaining one all draw in what were at times almost impossible conditions.
Thoroughly enjoyable then and very much a reminder, in particular to all those of us who watch Premier League and European football every week, of how wonderful the football pyramid is in this country.
Sunday was a busy old day in London, with sports events taking place on Remembrance Day and arriving into Waterloo station there was much to confirm both. That included sharing a few jars with some veterans in a local hostelry before heading up to London N5 for our game.
After many decent ones already this season, Sunday wasn’t so good. Wolves played very well and it is extremely important we recognise that. And as a result, on another day we could quite easily have got beaten. But we didn’t. And that is a massive plus.
For me, our biggest chance of victory on the day came and went with Auba’s bad miss right in front of goal with about 20 minutes left. I’m convinced if we had equalised at that point, not only would the momentum been with us but we had plenty of time to keep our shape and go on to get a winner.
As it was however, we eventually did get back on level terms but the last few minutes support my view above. With so little time remaining, it was perhaps too late to keep that structure and we went very ‘gung-ho’, leaving ourselves extremely exposed on the break. Consequently it was our visitors who could have twice gone ahead in the dying minutes and taken home the three points.
Overall then, the draw was the absolute most we deserved from a game where Wolves have gone away disappointed they didn’t get the victory. More depressing of course is the injury to Welbs. He doesn’t have a lot of luck that boy and in a season where he has already proved his worth to our squad it is a blow. Good luck with your recovery mate.
Last night’s result in our Checkatrade Trophy group was great news as far as I’m concerned. Finishing second in our group means we will definitely get an away tie in the next round. And with a couple of new destinations watching Arsenal in Friday’s draw for me personally I have my fingers cross it will be kind!
And then it’s off to Bournemouth, the first game in a very tough couple of weeks that will seriously test our credentials.
Personally I can’t wait!
Come on you mighty Gunners!
Thursday 8th November 2018
Went to Covent Garden.
Had a few beers in Thursday Club.
Went to London N5.
Had a few more.
Walked along Gillespie Road and over the bridge.
Witnessed a really rubbish game.
Went back to Woking.
Went home to the Isle of Wight in the morning.
Thoroughly looking forward to Wolves at home on Sunday.
Thursday 7th November 2018
We all know a vegan. Or a vegetarian. Not because any of us have asked. Just because they’ve told us anyway. 😉 Or a teenage relative has gone through a ‘phase’ because someone showed them something horrific on YouTube. But to go somewhere where those of us who choose not to go down that line don’t have a choice is a little bit odd.
Unlike the Ricoh and Waddon Road (or the Jonny Rocks Stadium to be accurate), I have seen an Arsenal team play at Forest Green before. A pre-season friendly against a reserves/youths/academy eleven saw a quite incredible game end with a 7-5 victory a couple of years or so back. And to be honest I genuinely didn’t think I would be returning, certainly so so soon.
But the return has been well worth it. And then some.
Actually making the game looked a little bit doubtful on a couple of occasions. With a strong westerly wind the Solent was proper choppy for a start. And with an extremely high tide to boot, actually getting on the mainland was the initial issue. Train and road delays are one thing but being stuck on an island is another!
Choosing to go by train certainly has its advantages. If you get a decent seat (ie; one away from screaming kids, people who choose to listen to music that everyone can hear or anyone eating onion based snacks!), it allows me to work if I need or want to and offers a far more relaxing way to travel than fighting your way through this country’s ever busier road network.
My journey from Portsmouth to Stroud however, included 3 trains, my first change in Southampton being a comfortable but fairly tight one should there be any delays. After my nauseating Solent crossing things were looking back on track (pardon the pun) departing dead on time for the short initial journey west but towards it’s conclusion it became slow going due to ‘a build up of trains in front of us’. Triffic.
Pulling in to Southampton on platform 4 10 minutes late I could see my train to Reading on platform 1 already running 4 minutes late. A run up the stairs and a sprint Usain Bolt would have been proud of and I dived through the first available door just as it was closing. Get in!
I booked my travel well in advance and being someone who finds travelling backwards quite nauseating I clicked the website option requesting a seat facing forwards. What did I get? A seat facing backwards, just over the coach from 2 kids playing a video game next to a lady munching away on a pack of cheese and onion crisps. Super relaxing this train travel lark!
Fortunately the short journey to my last change point soon came and went and I arrived in Stroud and checked into my overnight accommodation without any further stresses or hiccups. And a couple of beers in some considerably ‘local’ establishments started the evening’s fare in a fine manner. Me, 2 blokes half asleep, the 3 eyed lady behind the bar and a couple of dogs, you know the kind of places.
These slightly unusual destinations being thrown up are massively attractive to many Gooners and consequently some travel quite considerable distances to attend. And sharing my taxi up to the village of Nailsworth with a couple of the Swedish Gooners is a perfect example.
Like at Cheltenham a few of us had decided to go VIP for this one. Not to be all ‘lah-de-dah’ might I add. But just a few quid to enjoy Forest Green Rovers Football Club’s extremely warm and welcome hospitality, get a seat in the main stand, a drink and your programme, it seemed too good an opportunity to turn down. And when an absolute legend of an Arsenal captain strolls in for a chat, only because he lives locally these days, it put the icing on the cake.
And then there was the food.
Vegetable lasagne, pizza swirls and a variety of salads made up the buffet. Oh, and chips. All washed down by a fine pint of vegan real ale. And to be totally fair, it was all very nice. So definitely no complaints from me, very much a meat lover. But unless I was advised my health was seriously deteriorating due to my diet choices, it was alright as a ‘one off’. My choice is my own. I just don’t like to tell everyone about it 😉
Losing is irritating and worse. The majority of us think that I believe. Consequently our defeat at Cheltenham, despite the many circumstances I detailed in my blog that night, was still annoying.
It meant anything other than a win last night would see us exit the competition. And with a stronger side still missing the likes of Smile Smith-Rowe and Eddie Nketiah we were deservedly victorious. And It was quite a game too!
Highly competitive with some considerable needle at times only our hosts’ keeper kept us from going in at the break with considerably more than our two goal lead. But the half time coffee and vegan cake tasted all the sweeter with just that.
On a dirty horrible Wednesday night in Gloucestershire the impressive turn out of 400 odd Gooners got well involved as the tackles started flying in during the second period and when probably our first mistake of the night led to Rovers halving our lead there was a real edge to the game in the latter stages.
The lads kept their discipline and held their shape extremely well however, and always looked dangerous on the break. One goal either way would change the whole tie and our 3rd finished the contest. Thoroughly deserved you could tell want it meant to our young players and I can’t help but admit those of us who had attended shared their satisfaction.
Into the next round we go then and next week’s last game in our group will determine whether that will be home or away. The latter preferably!
A few post match beers with Gooners from Sweden to Kent to Gloucester and I turned in looking forward to tonight’s Europa League tie as we entertain Sporting Lisbon in a bid to secure qualification with 2 group games to spare.
I’m off for some sausage, bacon and black pudding. Coz I can.
Saturday 3rd November 2018
Many have said this evening would offer a good guideline as to where we are as a team. And I agree with that to a certain extent. But had we got well beaten it wouldn’t have changed my opinion that I feel we are still an outside bet for a top four place.
Evening kick offs on a Saturday, especially this time of year, usually mean a cracking atmosphere. A combination of the automatic euphoria a Saturday ‘night out’ brings, a few extra hours to enjoy pre match fare and a home game under the lights make up a heady package. And the buzz around kick off time is quite something.
And we came into the game on an unbeaten run stretching back to our first game after being a little unlucky to have come away with nothing from Stamford Bridge. Is it just me or does that game seem an awful long time ago?!
That was a great game of football tonight. Make no bones about it. And we thoroughly deserved something from the game. But when we went a goal behind it looked like that might not happen. The feeling of disappointment was clear. But we also all knew we were playing well enough to have a chance.
And, then it came. Laca made a fine run and his turn and finish were sumptuous. Cue carnage and a point we thoroughly deserved was in the bag.
Being greedy, you need to win your home games. So not winning is still graced with a little bit of disappointment. But I’m certainly not upset with our performance. And against a Liverpool side being described as world class throughout, we matched them in every department at the very least.
We’ll take the point and the confidence our performance should quite rightly give us and look forward to Sporting Lisbon at home on Thursday.
Or of course, the trip to Forest Green on Wednesday. Our defeat at Cheltenham last week means we need to go to Nailsworth and win.
But whatever happens, anyone fancy Thursday Club? 🙂