Being an Arsenal supporter is tough regardless of where you live, but, living in the US and not being able to easily get to a match is the worst. Well, at least I think so. Naturally, when presented with the opportunity to travel to London for work, it was a no brainer. Visiting the land of the Queen, left sided driving which is a complete mind fu&^, overcast and rainy weather, Big Ben, minding the gap, and above all, The Arsenal. How could I turn down that opportunity?!
Getting through customs and out of Heathrow was an absolute nightmare, or at least it felt like it, but, that wasn’t going to ruin my spirits. The only thing standing between me and visiting Highbury and the Emirates was a ridiculously expensive Uber ride, and sh*t loads of traffic. I thought it was bad in Boston or even New York City, but all joking aside, traffic in London is quite impressive. I’m convinced that if they actually drove on the right side, maybe it would improve the traffic issues?! Maybe not, but let me tell you, being from the US and sitting in the backseat of an Uber, when the driver took a left into a rotary, or roundabout like they say here, I nearly died. Then, I remembered that along with sitting on the right side of the car, they also drive on the left side of the road.
Matchday In Enemy Territory
Wednesday night, we were heading to the Carabao Cup match at Stamford Bridge. A rare opportunity to not only watch Arsenal live, but, a London Derby, does it get better than that? I guess it would have been much better if the match was at the Emirates.
Back home, supporters are able to sit amongst each other regardless of the club they support. Here, not so much.
I was ready for the match with my Arsenal pullover, but I was promptly notified of the risk I was taking. You can’t wear that into the match mate, Fergus told me. What the hell do you mean I can’t wear this? I’m going to an Arsenal match, my first one ever, and I can’t wear any Arsenal gear? Seems a bit ridiculous to me.
They may not even let you into the stadium if you wear that since you’re not sitting in the away end, he said. Fine, I went and put on a neutral pullover, but, still kept my Arsenal kit on underneath. It just didn’t feel right going to a match and not wearing anything Arsenal related.
Adding to the experience on the day was a memorable tube ride. From Tower Hill, we jumped in and out of a few. The last one before arriving at Fulham Broadway Station was surely one I will never forget.
Fergus was leading the way since he’s from here, and before the doors opened to the tube, I vaguely remember hearing him say Ok, push your way in. I didn’t think he actually meant push. Why would I push people around in the tube, seems a bit rude, right?!
Doors opened, and it was like when they open the front doors to Walmart on Black Friday and all the crazies scatter at a frenetic pace. Complete disbelief took over me, as the sound of Mind The Gap rung out over the intercom. WTF is going on right now?! Meanwhile, Fergus made his way into the tube, while Bill and I stood on the platform looking at each other trying to figure out how the fu^% we were going to fit. Fergus, there’s no way we are going to fit…
Yes you will, just push your way in, so that’s exactly what we did, or at least tried to do.
The doors tried to close behind us, but caught the back of my shoes. Ok, gotta suck in and take another step, that should do it. Attempt number two was successful, although I felt like I was completely violating the lady in front of me, or maybe she was violating me? Not sure which one it was, but my arms were by my side, and I didn’t even have to hold onto anything because we were packed in so tight. At one point I felt like I was pinned up against the door in a way that my feet weren’t even touching the ground, and I’m not even exaggerating. Bill even managed to get one arm free, tried looking at his phone, but he nearly had to put his arm around the nice gentleman beside him, so it was like they were browsing social media together. It was a cute moment for sure.
At this point, my only concern was that if we were to get off at our destination on our side, I was going to need to figure out a way to avoid sliding into the gap they were constantly telling us to mind. Fortunately, the platform was on the other side.
We parted ways with Fergus and the rest of the lads as they sat in the away end, and made our way into the stadium. The smell of sausages, pies and pints was already embedded in my clothes, but I was absolutely buzzing. I just needed to make sure to not give away the fact that I was an Arsenal supporter. Wanted to make it out of there alive, or at least without any facial bruises.
A kind gentleman in block four pointed us to our seats, and although we were still about 30 minutes from kickoff, you could feel the hostility already.
Chelsea supporters in our area were mostly older gentlemen, who had clearly lived through the average years of the club, pre-oil money, and you could just tell they bleed Chelsea. I wasn’t ready to test them, so, I prepared to watch quietly, and in the event of a goal, I’d celebrate quietly. If I’m being honest, had we actually scored, I’m not entirely sure I would have been able to sit in my seat quietly, so in a way, Arsenal not scoring may have saved me from getting mobbed at Stamford Bridge.
Supporters in the away end were in full voice, which made me jealous of the fact that I wasn’t sitting there. Should I have given up the great view at midfield, for complete chaos in the away end? Probably, but in this case, having a good view was worth it.
It didn’t take long for me to count my blessings that I didn’t actually try to wear my Arsenal top to the match.
Two Chelsea supporters behind us were having a go at each other, talking about how his wife sent him nudes, bla bla. At one point, I thought it was going to get physical, but fortunately it didn’t. Now, imagine a Gooner sitting in amongst those guys with an Arsenal top on? I would have left there looking like Marv from Home Alone, after getting absolutely battered by the one and only, Kevin McCallister. Get Fu&*ed!
The trickiest part of the entire match experience would have to be trying to figure out what to eat at halftime.
Walking around, there was loads of adult beverages, but since I was on antibiotics and on strict orders to not drink, water and Ginger Ale were my best friend.
We stood in a line for about three minutes, planning to get some Ciabatta Chicken sandwich, then changed our minds. Let’s go check out the stand back there selling pies. Unfortunately none of them looked appealing, so onto the next option. Finally, we found a place that had a burger and fries.
Despite playing to a scoreless draw, just the atmosphere itself was worth it. In the US, it’s very different, and, it will never get to this point. The passion and hostility in European footy make for an unmatchable experience.
In what seemed like a blink of an eye, the match was over, but I was left wanting more. All I had to look forward to now was a visit to Highbury and the Emirates.
Stadium Tour, Quick Chat, Loads Of Pictures And Of Course, Highbury
Before doing the tour, we walked around The Arsenal Armoury. I should have kept my wallet back in the hotel because there was just so much I wanted to buy. Once I was done, I kept it to £280, or something like that. Cut me some slack, first time at the Emirates, and although I can buy these things online, it’s just different doing it here.
Once we finished with the customizations on the kits, we made our way to the stadium tour line, where I was left scratching my head, literally.
A member of the staff was talking to his colleague about the next manager to replace Arsene Wenger, and I heard the words Martin O’Neill come out of his mouth. I wasn’t sure if he was joking, or he was serious. Martin O’Neill, really?!
He then went on to defend his statement, and how O’Neill has done well with what he’s been given, and how Pep or Mou or even Wenger wouldn’t manage a smaller side. I didn’t even want to engage in the conversation because I was so confused, and still trying to figure out if there was a candid camera somewhere. I’m not on some show, right? Just give me my damn tour passes, and I’ll be on my way. But seriously, Martin O’Neill?!
I won’t get into every detail from the tour, as I’ll share the photos on the Facebook page, but one moment that stood out for me was when we made our way down to the pitch.
There was a member of the staff there to make sure that people didn’t go onto the pristine grass, with who I had a very pleasant chat with.
I made a comment about how I wished Arsene Wenger would spend more time on the sideline than in his seat on the bench, and that fine gentleman agreed with my comment, and even added to it. Have a seat in Arsene’s seat, and tell me how poor the view of the pitch is. So I had a seat, and sure enough, the pitch is higher than where the bench is. At that level, from the bench, you’re about eye level with the players’ waist, which would make it incredibly difficult to really get a good picture of what the hell is happening on the pitch. It all made sense now. No wonder Arsene Wenger doesn’t see what we all see, he never leaves his fu&^en seat. Get out of your seat dammit!
Our conversation carried on, as we spoke about the current money in football, Stan The Tw*t Kroenke, Highbury, Arsene Wenger’s legacy and replacement, and lastly, transfers.
To my surprise, he told me that Roman Abramovich visits the Emirates quite frequently, even when Chelsea are not playing there. That made me even more frustrated with Kroenke!
He was also convinced that regardless of whichever manager succeeds Arsene, things will not change because of the board, Gazidis, and that American with a sh*t mustache.
The most memorable part of that entire conversation for me was when we spoke about the Ozil and Alexis situations, and the current money in football.
He began by saying there was one player in the current squad who played for the club, and wasn’t a mercenary just looking for a big contract. Jack Wilshere quickly spilled out of my mouth, he smiled from ear to ear, and said, correct!
When talking about Alexis and Ozil, one valid point he made was that neither of them have asked for a transfer.
Although the media talk about them every day, and how they are linked with everyone and they are unhappy, neither have asked for a transfer. Unlike Coutinho for example, who reportedly told Liverpool he wanted a move to Barcelona, or even other players who force their way out of a club. Despite everything we see on the internet, or in the newspapers, if they were both so unhappy, why wouldn’t they have already put in a transfer request?!
Before walking away and into the media area, which is one of the final parts of the tour, I said hopefully we’d get our first Premier League title at the Emirates soon. He looked at me with a look of disappointment and said, I don’t see it happening anytime soon.
Already about three hours into our visit to the stadium, I wanted to at least make sure we were able to visit Highbury. The guy at Arsenal Station looked at me in disbelief when I told him I wanted to visit Highbury, saying it’s just a bunch of flats. No sh*t you Chelsea loving douche (he told me he was), but although it’s now a bunch of flats, there’s a lot of history there.
We could see it in the distance, but somehow managed to take the long way there.
I got some pictures of the East Stand, and even went in to get a picture of Herbert Chapman. What an ending to an amazing tour, which allowed me to fulfill a dream. It was surely on my bucket list to visit London some day, but it came much sooner than I ever expected. I may live across the pond, but know that I don’t miss a single match. Until another day my love!