Friday 11th August 2017
You can’t let three goals at home and expect to come away with three points. With 20 minutes to go that very line was in my head. And it still is. But, on occasion, you get a game where that is not accurate.
The whole novelty factor that goes with Friday night fixtures makes them ok in my book. Don’t get me wrong I am with the traditionalists who believe 3pm on a Saturday afternoon is king. But of all the other options I quite like this one.
Everyone is in an upbeat mood. Many are well oiled. If that is a phrase I am allowed to use. And if you get the right result it is a great package. And i’m writing these thoughts on my train journey home from that exact scenario.
The late afternoon build up was cracking. Loads of people having ‘knocked off work early’. Everyone in a mood that reeked of ‘i’m not going to admit I missed the football…..but feck did I miss the football’. The old routine back in place.
The funny bit about all that is I don’t remember one single person asking me how I felt about our ‘chances’ this season. Not one. And if that doesn’t put my feelings and thoughts in a nutshell nothing does.
My walk along Gillespie Rd felt the same, my purchase of my matchday programme still happened, my swift ‘one for the road’ just before kick off was still too tempting to turn down and even though it was match 1 of 38 I still had that same buzz.
Come on you mighty reds!
We could not possibly have asked for a better start. And that feel good factor as a result was hugely apparent. Get in.
But at the highest level defensive mistakes get punished and those in the ‘basic’ category got the ultimate treatment.
Our equaliser just before half time was crucial and at 2-2 I was hugely confident we would go on and win the game.
But, from an unmarked header, we found ourselves behind again. Disappointing, frustrating and extremely annoying. Two goals required to make it a less than satisfactory opening day once again.
Going forward we still looked dangerous and we came close on more than one occasion but time was flashing by.
But Rambo slotted home the equaliser and with more than ten minutes to go we could win this.
Accompanied by a crackling atmosphere it could happen you know.
And Olly’s quite superb header made sure it did. Cue bedlam.
An average night all round.
See you in Stoke.
Wednesday 9th August 2017
All of a sudden there seems to be a 70s music vibe surrounding sport in this country. Swedish sensations ABBA are now associated with a penalty shoot out and after we successfully negotiated this new format, Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ is now, apparently, a fitting way for us to celebrate picking up some silverware! All very odd.
This is a Proper sporting week for me. Watching England’s cricketers complete a series win over South Africa has been viewed on a small screen in the corner of my PC whilst trying hard to concentrate on my work and witnessing Mo Farah’s victory on Friday night was quite special, even if athletics is not really my thing. I don’t think West Ham’s ground has seen anything that good since Alexis slammed in a hat-trick! 😉
Two other evening sessions in Stratford, full of emotion, drama and controversy, sandwiched our latest relaxing trip down Wembley Way on Sunday afternoon.
A thoroughly enjoyable few hours was on the cards whatever happened on the day but it was pleasing to see a competitive game, lots of incident, a decent performance from our team and ultimately another bit of silverware on the shelf.
With a number of key players missing I thought we acquitted ourselves really well, particularly in the first and last half hour periods.
Being the better side in 2/3rds of the game would have made a defeat a little cruel. A draw was the very least we deserved and Sead’s far post header made sure we got that.
Even without the penalties I would have been quite happy with that. But the fact i’d kind of resigned myself to probably losing given Pete Cech’s strangely unsuccessful penalty record doesn’t take away any victory is sweet.
Fun in the sun then and we start our league season next on Friday night. January 1977 seems a long time ago but being the first time I saw my team play this is my 42nd season. I might be wrong but I think this is the first where our opening game has been on that day of the week. Not the first time overall of course, numerous games spring to mind, none more so than the 26th May 1989.
Come May next year it would be nice to think we could be top of the pile once again. Positivity, that’s the name of the game!
Sunday was a good day. It ended for me personally back at the athletics. And as events drew to a close Neil Diamond was blaring out once again! What is going on!?
Leicester at home brings specific memories back for me personally. Way back in April 1984 saw an incident packed game where Charlie Nicholas and a Leicester player (maybe Andy Peake?) had an altercation that resulted in them both being sent off. At that time there were 5 minutes to go and we were 1 nil down, a result that would seriously dent our chase for a UEFA Cup spot. But late late goals from Paul Davis and Tony Woodcock saw us turn it around and win 2-1.
The personal side to all that was I, along with my team mates, were waiting to enter the field of play whilst this was all going on. Having won the Junior Gunners Easter Five-a-Side Tournament in the JVC centre behind the Clock End a few days earlier, we were to play a ‘decider’ against the winners of the Christmas Tournament. My memories of the whole affair are mixed to say the least. It was nothing short of fantastic to be running out onto the pitch as the crowd were still celebrating our late victory and to almost mingle with the players as they left the field. But fresh from being genuinely chuffed at finishing top scorer in the indoor tournament I remember the pitch (understandably) being in a shocking state, completely snapping my groin when turning to have a strike on goal and to top it all off we lost 1 nil!!
Thirty-three years on and its time to dust off your colours boys and girls, that rollercoaster awaits.
Come on you mighty reds!
Thursday 3rd August 2017
Most of pre-season I seriously enjoy and that has been the same for many years now. The chance to attend games with no stress, the chance to travel to some incredible destinations, the whole ‘circus’ that surrounds each tour and meeting up with fellow Gooner friends old and new making up an extremely enjoyable package.
But I genuinely dislike the world of transfers. Although it makes no odds to me who walks out wearing the cannon on their chest as I will be there supporting anyway, the constant never ending speculation surrounding who might be leaving and who might be joining drives me nuts. Those who have followed my thoughts are well aware I am not one for newspapers and that hasn’t changed now they are all available electronically. I’m not on Facebook and although I do quite like Twitter that is more for the occasional amusing tweet it throws up rather than some of the constant other rubbish it throws up. On the odd occasion I have been somewhere with Talksport on I have more than disliked the vast majority of its content and as a result my thoughts are not ‘influenced’ by anything on there and likewise there are no TV football debate shows I tune into.
Despite all that however, I do need to turn my computer on every morning. And with the BBC website being my homepage I do get to witness some of the daily barrage of speculative crap. And although much of the above makes me look an unsociable so and so I do like to go to events where there are other people present with views and opinions and questions regarding our great football club. If I hear the line, “I’ve heard from someone within the club……” one more time I will scream! Looking at some of the information this ‘someone’ has provided down the years I assume he is the programme or peanut seller.
The Emirates Cup was an enjoyable if altogether ‘tough’ weekend for me personally, in particular Sunday. Not for any other reason than my mum’s 70th birthday party and my gorgeous sister’s hospitality meant Saturday was an extremely ‘messy’ night!
Despite rail works meaning my journey up took considerably longer than usual, Saturday on the other hand was relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable. Pre-match refreshment was consumed as usual, a small sampler of the home game routine before the real stuff starts in a couple of weeks.
As always the whole weekend could not possibly be any more family orientated, group ticket discounts and a good atmosphere all contributing to this fact. And to see numerous generations of Arsenal fans all sat together is a massive positive.
Our game against Benfica was thoroughly entertaining too. Defensively mistake ridden if we are going to be over critical but with some fine goals at the other end too. And it was a result that although ultimately it was to be enough to see us win the overall competition, that fact doesn’t really sit comfortably with me!
Although the rules are admittedly clear, if one team wins both their matches I don’t believe a team that doesn’t should be able to win the trophy. And I’m sure our friends from Seville think exactly the same.
Sunday was one of those days where the journey up from Kent was more than painful. Packed trains, thousands of people, overheating and nausea are not aspects that make up an ideal package. And although I completely accept ‘hair of the dog’ is not necessarily big or clever it was definitely going to be the only ‘medicine’ that would sort me out on this occasion!
In a fairly even contest we conceded a couple of goals once again and on this occasion we were unable to overcome that deficit at the other end of the field.
So our second defeat in 6 pre-season matches but once again I emphasize over analysis is unnecessary I feel. I can think of more than one occasion in the past where we have won every pre-season encounter but got beat on the opening day. And on that basis in my opinion the results mean nothing.
Sunday and we head to Wembley for the Community Shield, just 2 months or so since we overcome the same opponents on that heady May evening. And incredibly this is our 9th trip to our national stadium in just 4 years. We have won the previous 8 so it is not only a place we have become used to but one we have thoroughly enjoyed.
Although win, lose or draw it is not the end of the world, come Sunday evening I do of course hope we have made it 9 out of 9.
And I also hope we are not wearing pink or that dreadful sky blue thing.
Come on you mighty reds!
Sunday 23rd July 2017
Firstly, happy birthday mum. Love you x
In my experience Beijing and Shanghai do have some similarities. But overall I have found them very very different. That is matched of course by the match results. Admittedly I hate losing but for me any negative result in a friendly doesn’t fill me with any larger degree of disappointment than a victory does elation.
Walking through Beijing Airport’s passport control this morning there were millions of people. Of course there were. That appears to be the case everywhere I have been in China. And after a week, accompanied by the heat, I am exhausted and glad to be heading home. In fact I could do with a holiday! 😉
The chinese capital city’s metro system works very well and is cheap too and it was this form of transport that got us to our accommodation for 3 nights when we arrived on Thursday.
Food choices have been generally pretty good since leaving the UK 4 weeks ago but it pays to be a little more ‘careful’ in this part of the world. Diving straight in for the full ‘street food’ experience was consequently decided against, choosing to take on another local speciality in the shape of a ‘hotpot’. An extravagant fondue would be the best way to describe it but thoroughly enjoyed nonetheless.
Sun Li Tum’s Bar Street doesn’t really need an explanation and it does do exactly what it says on the tin. An interesting conclusion to a Thursday that ended with an almighty thunderstorm and the deluge of rain that comes with it, a fairly regular occurence in this part of the world.
Friday saw our first visit to the huge Olympic Park constructed for the 2008 games, initially for the Fans Party in the ballroom at the players hotel. An entertaining hour or so including a brief introduction to the weird and wonderful world of Chinese Opera.
Unless you are very squeamish a walk through the crazy Wanfujing market is an absolute must. A mix of everything from exciting to downright horrific the ‘foodstuffs’ are almost beyond belief. From scorpions to beetles, spiders to grubs, lizards to snakes, seahorses to starfish, it appears if it moves the Chinese are happy to cook and eat anything!!
Looking on in amazement I decided against a sample. I am not fussy when it comes to food but insects on sticks are definitely something I don’t require in my life.
It was Friday night drinks next including a trip to a bar called ‘Heaven’. Think of the alcohol aisle in the supermarket, a few checkouts and plenty of tables inside and out and you’ll get the picture!
One last trip to Bar Street followed including a ‘Mojito’ purchased from a street bar. I’m sorry but throat burning rum, sugar, green leaves some distance from mint and 7up do not make a great version of this cocktail classic. Not good.
The night concluded with late night tucker of course but definitely not insects.
And so to the last matchday of the tour but before that we shook off our hangovers by joining the thousands of people who descended on the Forbidden City and thought provoking Tianamen Square, pretty much the last touristy aspect of the whole tour.
Descending on to the Birds Nest Stadium is quite something. Unique and extremely iconic it is difficult to not be impressed.
As for the game however, that is definitely not the case. Chelsea were better than us all over the pitch. Maybe if Rambo had scored just before half time it might have been different. But we looked tired and longing for home so I doubt it.
But pre-season is very much that. End of.
British Airways are taking me home and my flight boards in a few moments.
So its time to sign off, get back to reality and look forward to next weekend’s Emirates Cup.
I have a feeling creepy crawly kebabs
are unlikely to be the inflight meal.
Thursday 20th July 2017
Sitting on my very comfortable train currently hammering it somewhere north of Shanghai I have a dilemma. My ticket price includes some food and drink and it has recently arrived. Having consumed the small packet of curry flavoured dried ‘meat’ I don’t know what to enjoy next. Should I go for the ‘Mixed Peanuts, Broad Beans and Peas’ or the packet that simply states ‘Do Chinese Own Happy Ginkgo’?!
Whilst giving those options consideration I am taking this opportunity to record my latest thoughts as this epic pre-season tour approaches it’s latter stages.
The absolutely vast city of Shanghai is currently experiencing a heatwave. Consequently the humidity has been almost unbearable. The air conditioning inside buildings and/or the city’s metro system has proved to be an absolute necessity at times.
Sunday’s flight proved smooth and unproblematic, something that can’t be said for the club’s staff and officials apparently having been held by Chinese customs for 5 hours demanding a large payment to even let them into the country.
But this is a part of the world where anything is possible. Having checked in to our accommodation for the next 4 nights, I met with fellow Gooner and friend ‘Gonk’ recently arrived from the UK to enjoy a couple of beers in the searing heat. And on the table next to us was a monkey. In full clothing, wearing slippers, a rucksack on its back and eating his fruit based dinner. Of course there was.
Rising quite late on Monday we headed into the financial district with its quite incredible skyline and joined the many fanatical Chinese Gooners for a fans party in the basement of the players’ hotel that saw 6 of our squad in a Q and A session followed by an amusing attempt at some kung fu moves.
This was followed by a trip to the fascinating Tianzifang Market and a kind of cocktail bar tour late on that proved highly entertaining for the slightly crazy yet inspirational variety of fare and watching the talented staff knocking up their creations. Crispy bacon with a cocktail! Whatever next!? But it kinda worked you know….
Tuesday included a trip to the Jade Buddha Temple, slightly disappointing if I’m honest, the city’s huge number of high rise accommodation blocks making it feel like the A13 in Barking instead of the tranquil setting amongst the carnage that I kind of expected.
With the heat becoming more and more stifling we then made the decision to let one of those open top bus sightseeing things take the strain for an hour or so. A quick look at the Yuyuan Market and a good way to see the city but the reduction in body temperature was not forthcoming.
I have been to Shanghai before as part of the previous pre-season tour in this part of the world but with games in Yiwu and Beijing, our Tuesday evening’s visit to the imposing Stadium for open training was a first. Again, one for the passionate and fanatical locals, the heat making it difficult to ‘enjoy’.
It was cocktails once again to finish the day (what has happened to me!?!), ingredients such as blue cheese proving once again it’s amazing what actually works in these drinks! And the gamble with late night ‘street food’ followed, one that appears to have paid off!
Wednesday and it was match day. With our host city being absolutely fascinating we felt we needed to witness something perhaps a little more ‘traditional’. So a taxi was take to Zhujiajiao, an ancient town with 1700 years of history about an hour from the city centre. Well worth a visit it proved a good idea although I would be lying if I didn’t admit we struggled with the heat once again.
But if that was hot, it was nothing compared to the stadium for the match. Guilty of simply walking from the metro and putting my flag on display, I have never been so hot in all my life!
With the local and travelling Gooners pretty much matched in numbers by those supporting Bayern it was to prove a pretty competitive and entertaining game. And ultimately, with our late late show, it was the former who went home happiest.
Without meaning to be detrimental to some of the players who played the team had a makeshift look to it in certain areas and as a result we rode our luck at times and Petr Cech was in fine form. But the penalty was ‘soft’ and Theo, Mesut and in particular Alexandre failed to convert 3 excellent chances.
Given our previous 2 games in China against Man City and Hangzhou Greentown didn’t provide a huge amount for our Chinese fanbase to enjoy I was genuinely chuffed for all of them when they got to see our cracking late equaliser. The joy on their faces was a heartwarming sight. And given the fact I hate losing at anything it was pleasing for us too as we struggled to avoid passing out in the heat!
There was some confusion as to what happened next but the penalty shoot out proved successful and the Arsenal end of the ground enjoyed it to the full, a funny old ending to an interesting night.
Dr Beer and World of Beer don’t really need any explanation as to what they specialise in and they played host for a couple of thirst quenchers post match, their air conditioning proving as welcome as their beer menu.
Early this morning it was off to Shanghai’s enormous Hongqiao, the largest railway station in the whole of Asia as we move on.
And that is the trip up to date.
Another win….of sorts…..just. And the city of Beijing awaits for the very last leg.
Please let it be a little bit cooler!!
Right…..where’s that peanut/bean thing…..
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.
Friday 14th July 2017
Although it can be dressed up as a holiday, our great football club have been my own personal excuse for the destination for a number of years now. And that has resulted in me being extremely lucky to have visited some incredible locations around the globe.
Those trips will always involve pre-season matches of course and after a highly entertaining couple of weeks or so I am writing these notes after the first on this particular adventure.
I left you last time during my highly relaxing train trip out of Cairns and down the North East coast to Airlie Beach, a town recovering from a hugely powerful and damaging cyclone that hit them just a couple of months back. Definitely a party town for backpackers, the young and the young at heart we made the very most of that aspect in addition to taking a boat out to the Whitsunday Islands and the quite stunningly beautiful Whitehaven Beach. Definitely a highlight in a trip of many.
Saturday morning’s short flight to Brisbane gave as the chance to enjoy another city at the weekend and like those before it, they certainly know how to party! The Fortitude Valley area was as entertaining as it was crazy before Sunday we scraped ourselves out of bed to take a look at some of this country’s resident animals at the Lone Pine Sanctuary. The chance to cuddle a Koala and spoon a kangaroo proved too much of an opportunity to turn down!!
The island of Tasmania played host next, the city of Hobart and nearby town of Richmond providing another totally different glimpse into life in this vast country.
And that brings us to Sydney, a city that couldn’t be any more different both to our lasr or any city we have visited.
Our attendance coincided with a showery first afternoon and a stroll around Darling Harbour, the CBD, the historical Rocks area and Circular Quay, our first chance to see the iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House being as the sun set.
Two of those in our party have better heads for heights so spent yesterday morning walking over the very summit of the bridge whilst the rest of us took to the water for the quite spectacular views the gorgeously sunny day presented.
The number of Arsenal shirts around the city has been incredible. Genuinely. Every single street of every single area, all smiling and full of anticipation for the days ahead.
And they were all part of the 80 thousand strong mass that headed to Sydney’s ANZ Stadium famous for Olympic feats and England’s World Cup win in the egg chasing.
Although there are never any nerves for these games, when you get there the sense of occasion is both massive and something to behold.
And as always, like everywhere else in the world we play, the stadium was a mass of red, white and eager anticipation.
The game was interesting and mildly entertaining with the BFG and Alex grabbing the 2 goals to claim victory but as always the levels of genuine excitement are secondary to the importance of preparation.
So a good introduction to the busy city that is Sydney.
Today we have walked from Bondi Beach to Coogee, incredible views along one of the world’s most iconic coastlines.
And now we are on our way to the fans party and open training.
More to follow….
Thursday 6th July 2017
Just like with my last thoughts you join onboard another aspect of travel, this time on the ‘Spirit of Queensland’ train having departed Cairns this morning.
I’ll try not to bore you with too many details and I’m certainly not going to reveal photographs of me or our group on the beach, at stunning locations or in late night bars. Other people’s holiday snaps are never welcome!
But the one thing I will say is I have never been to a country where the people have been more welcoming or friendly in my entire life. It has been a total pleasure to be here.
We loved Melbourne, walking tours, a trip to the MCG and the city’s awesome ‘hidden’ bar scene proving to be a fantastic introduction to our adventure.
4 days driving the Great Ocean Road up to Adelaide followed with beautiful beaches, wildlife and scenery followed by a Saturday night out at our destination and a very entertaining trip into the Barossa Valley for wine and port drinking. I would like to use the word ‘tasting’ here but I don’t remember anyone spitting any out!!
Then it was onto Cairns and beautiful warm weather has accompanied both our trip into the rainforest and the incredible experience that is swimming, snorkelling and diving at the Great Barrier Reef.
So overall it has been packed, tiring but all in all a wonderful experience so far.
Football wise we are still going through the ‘silly’ season of course but yesterday’s new signing is certainly welcome and the player comes with the type of pedigree that will hopefully see him go on to be a fine addition to the squad. Welcome Alexandre, we hope you join the numerous French players who have gone on to be Gooner legends.
Although imminent the wait goes on for the TV companies to determine our accurate early season fixture list and as a result very few specific plans can be made as yet. The Community Shield ticket application window being open however, is a good sign the new season is fast approaching.
And Sydney awaits as our pre-season gets very much underway.
Before that however, we arrive in the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands, Airlie Beach later today, head to Brisbane next and then off to Hobart in Tasmania for a couple of days early next week.
Right….where’s the bar on this train?
Saturday 24th June 2017
There is nothing even the slightest bit entertaining about flying. So a flight to completely the other side of the globe fills me with dread. I think if I could sleep ok I would be much more positive about a form of transport where the fact it is even possible still astounds me. But I can only sleep if I am comfortable. And in hundreds of flights down the years I have yet to find one where I could feel just that. Despite trying a variety of gadgets, pillows and seat positions I still find it impossible.
Dragons Den should be my aim I guess as surely I can’t be the only one who finds himself waking from anything resembling a doze as soon as his head nods forward. An invention that prevents that would make a far happier journey for anyone who falls into this category.
And this, the first of 2 flights that will get me to my initial destination of Melbourne, has been quite turbulent too. Not the unsettling, violent, unnerving type you can experience sometimes. Just that kind you would associate with some kind of ‘sleep torture’ where each time it looks like you might actually be dropping off, someone gives you a little shake to make sure you don’t!
And as for the lady sat next to me, picture the scene. For those into that sort of thing my aircraft is a 787 ‘Dreamliner’ with 50 + rows and hundreds of seats. As I walked down the air bridge to board the flight there was a lady with a kind of obvious and noisy ‘tic’ involving a rather stomach churning snorting sound. Not her fault of course, but knowing how much I struggle with long flights I selfishly but understandably hoped she was sitting in another part of the plane to me.
Yep, you’ve guessed it. Triffic!
So, it’s the middle of the night, I’ve watched a couple of bits of TV I downloaded and I’ve given up on trying to sleep……so I’m writing a blog.
With some of our players still representing their countries in Summer tournaments pre-season for 2017/18 approaches. And this will be my first blog covering this annual adventure.
Before all that however, there are an incredible amount of things that have happened since I last wrote shortly after that dizzy crazy May day at Wembley a few weeks back. I thought about writing a ‘concluding’ or ‘season summary’ blog at the time. But to be honest I didn’t come down from that natural high for weeks! Beating Hull was laced with huge relief and the Villa game was arguably the most perfect cup final performance in history (be it against an extremely poor outfit on the day) but this time round topped the lot for me. A dominant, unexpected and deserved victory against the best team in the country gave an emotion that felt well beyond satisfaction.
Ok, it could be viewed as almost ‘tainting’ what overall had been a disappointing season. But I would rather bask in the glory of yet another major trophy being in the cabinet. After all, I look back on the likes of 1979, 1987, 1993 and 1994 for exactly the same reason. Our league campaign in any of those seasons simply doesn’t enter our minds.
The highlights from last season?
With Wembley in May naturally at the very top of the tree and our league form containing that hugely disappointing middle part of the season the majority of my personal favourites are unsurprisingly made up of games/trips in cup competitions.
Chelsea at home springs to mind and I enjoyed the trips to Swansea, West Ham, Southampton, Stoke and that cold Monday night up at the Riverside but for differing reasons I absolutely loved Preston, Southampton and Sutton away in the cup. And then there was the fine win in the semi in April of course.
Champions League wise I have great memories from the group games too. Paris, Halloween in Sofia and Basel all proved thoroughly entertaining. And Mesut’s goal in the latter was a pleasure to behold.
All of the above prove my team still provided me with some great memories to take forward. But that doesn’t hide the fact there were some hugely forgettable moments too. West Brom and Palace away immediately spring to mind as proper lows.
Overall, winning our 13th FA Cup is massively satisfying and something to take into next season as a huge positive. But this squad are far from proving they can go the distance in the biggest one of all. And only a genuine league title challenge will be a step forward.
In other Summer news, our new home kit has been launched, although the word ‘news’ probably doesn’t befit that announcement and we welcome our first new recruit of the Summer in the shape of Sead Kolasinac. Welcome to the best club in the world big man and here’s to a long and successful career with that cannon on your chest.
The fixtures are out of course although they have a pointless feel to them these days as along with waiting for TV to choose their live games our first ever Europa League adventure means the vast majority of our games will end up being moved. The fact 5 of our 6 matches that immediately follow our European dates are away from home is hugely disappointing to all those travelling Gooners based in the south.
And finally, Arsene Wenger ended speculation that was bordering on frenzy by signing a new 2 year deal. And whatever your thoughts on that (and although I fear the following is nothing but a pipe dream) it’s time for all us Gooners to stick together. Arsenal Football Club means the world to each and every one of us. Including our boss. And we all want the same thing. With Mr Wenger signing a new deal it’s time to stand up and support or shut up. At least for 2 years.
And that brings me back to my long, uncomfortable and tedious flight.
The first of our pre-season matches is in near on 3 weeks time. But I have never been to Australia so, like on many occasions previously, I am using our team as the excuse for making it my annual holiday.
Although I will try and bring the trip alive through this blog I am very conscious of the fact all my ramblings surround what it is like being a week in week out travelling fan. So I will do my very best to make sure it is not just a ‘holiday report’!
My descent into Guangzhou has begun. Apparently it’s 98 degrees……not that I will experience that in the departure lounge for my connecting flight.
I need to bid farewell to Snorty McSnortface. Next stop, Melbourne.
Over land and sea.
Monday 29th May 2017
It feels more than obvious to be saying winning a cup final at Wembley will live long in the memory. But in that incredibly long list that us Gooners are so fortunate to have, Saturday evening has to be right up there with the very best.
The feelings and emotions in the build up to our 3 finals in 4 years could not possibly have been more different. If pre-Hull was filled with nerves and fear of failure after 9 trophyless years and for Villa we couldn’t really be anything else than confident, I had totally made my mind up to try and take it all in and enjoy the day this time round, realistically resigned to the fact there was every chance we might get beat on the day.
With Kos missing, Gabriel also out after going through by far his best vein of form since joining and Mustafi also not available we were down to the bare bones in the very heart of defence. And this, against the best team in the country. Coupling all that with the fact we had to somehow pick ourselves up after the disappointment of not quite getting in the top four, very few felt we had a chance.
But……..and massively deservedly so on the day, we produced a match winning performance that was up there amongst the very best we have produced in our long and illustrious history.
Arsenal Football Club. FA Cup winners 2017. Absolutely magnificent.
I slept terribly on Friday night. An uncomfortably warm temperature and a massive thunderstorm didn’t help….but thoughts about the game have to take a huge responsibility. And now, well into my forties, that is still the case. Maybe a bit sad….but totally and utterly genuine.
The sun, as it always does on Cup Final day was well and truly shining brightly as I left my house early in the morning. But more importantly, that buzz was there. Even if it was tainted with a little bit of pessimism. Deep down however, I felt there was as much chance of us winning as there was us getting absolutely spanked. And the latter was being predicted by many so called ‘experts’.
And that gave me enough optimism to experience pre-match emotions heavily laced with the kind of nerves Cup Final day always produce.
We followed the same routine as our previous 7 victorious visits. And why wouldn’t we. A great pub, virtually all of my very best friends and Arsenal supporting family joining me in a thoroughly entertaining afternoon. And with people who not only want the same thing but are going through the very same emotions. So they get it.
Leaving the pub, confidence had grown considerably. Not realistically of course. Just alcohol driven. But the journey to the stadium, that incredible walk up Wembley Way, the atmosphere, the colour and the sheer emotion was something to behold. I’ve done it many times but it never ever gets any less special.
‘Abide With Me’ rings out, an emotional moment in itself, and all the debate becomes irrelevant. Its all about all those things that make up the package that decides a football match. Desire, ability, attitude, tactics and of course luck.
We started the game well. But we’ve done that before. But that excellent play, that dominance went on. Even after we scored. It was a strange goal of course. One with a degree of controversy and by the nature of how long it took to be allowed, an absolute nightmare to watch! The offside decision got the right outcome….but on another day the possible hand ball might have worked against us.
A lead we thoroughly deserved and our domination throughout the rest of the half could and should have seen us almost home and dry by the break. The fact we weren’t however, meant we all knew despite the delight and possible surprise in our how much we were on top in the first period, we still had a very long way to go.
Keeping our shape during the early stages of the second half was incredibly important I felt and we did just that. And on the break we looked very dangerous.
I still hadn’t considered at this stage we might go on a win the game. But when the Chelsea player tried to cheat and got sent off, I looked at the clock and a wave of confidence swept over me for the first time. Winning, our opponents down to 10 and more importantly than anything else playing really well, I genuinely thought we had a massive chance all of a sudden.
Of course, being Arsenal, we don’t do things the easy way. Ever!
And against the odds and during a period where we looked no more under pressure than at any other stage, Chelsea equalised. And with a goal that our goalie will be more disappointed than anybody that he didn’t save it.
But, with disappointment clear all around, I felt it was crucial we didn’t change anything. We had been the better side all afternoon and there was still plenty of time to win it.
What followed was what footballing dreams are made of. Big Olly Giroud ran into the channel for his first touch since coming on. His ball in was perfect, if nothing more than a calculated gamble. And that is where the brilliant bit comes in. Rambo’s run wasn’t luck. It happens too often. He gambled when nobody else did. And right in front of the Gooners he buried the header. Get in you absolute beauty! I have never seen an Arsenal end jump up in unison in that way for any other goal with such intensity. It was incredible. Nothing can explain it. A moment. A genuine moment.
Chelsea were beaten. But they are league champions for a reason. And they had one more chance. Probably their best in the whole game. And David Ospina saved it. He deserved that. And not only was it crucial it saw us over the line.
We had been simply magnificent. And our celebrations were intense with as much surprise as joy.
Every single one of our players put in a shift on the day. But given how things had developed over the previous couple of weeks it would be wrong not to give special praise to our defence. And in particular the BFG. Faultless. It is as simple as that.
A great great day.
I’m not going to say any more. It’s Monday night and I’m still smiling. And in a difficult season it feels like one of our greatest ever victories.
And I mean that.