I have seen my beloved Arsenal once before, April 27, 2010 at home to Man City. My wife and I planned to end our honeymoon in Europe at The Emirates (her idea!) and managed to get two seats in the North Bank. It was a seemingly uneventful 0-0 draw, but we don’t remember it that way. Instead, we remember the roar of crowd as our lads came out the tunnel and onto the pitch, the jeers towards Adebayor (who was sporting some ridiculous braided pigtails), and the various chants about Theo and a certain somebody who is not worth naming. Even though we enjoyed the game, it was the pregame antics that I remember most. Being shoulder to shoulder in a pub with equally passionate Arsenal fans was something that we had never really experienced. It was this feeling of belonging that led me to establish an Arsenal America branch in Charleston. And it was this experience that led me back there on Saturday.
This trip, however, was a bit different. There was no Mrs. Charsenal in arms, but instead my two mates, Adam and John. It made for cold nights in bed, but a delicious surplus of beer and fried food. In route to London we made a pit stop in Dublin. Given that this is a blog about Arsenal I will not dwell on our Irish escapade, but I should mention a few things: what they say about Dublin Guinness is undoubtedly true; it is the greatest consumable liquid on earth. (There is a difference between a good pint and the perfect pint.) And the Guinness brewery has an uncanny resemblance to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory—and like that factory it inspires a feeling of being a kid in a candy store. A fun time without a doubt, but the only thing on all of our minds in Dublin was how the weekend was going to unfold at The Emirates.
Friday morning and the three of us are fetching a cab at 5:00am for our flight into Stansted. Flying budget airlines are great if you don’t care where you sit and can manage just one carryon. However, not providing passengers a vomit bag could have had dire consequences for those sitting near us. Luckily for them it was only an hour flight. We arrive at 9:15 with tunnel vision, find the mini cab bloke and get to Highbury. The 45 minute ride from the airport seemed a lifetime. It also didn’t help that our Bulgarian driver drove like a bat out of hell. Nonetheless, we arrived at our flat which was no less than 600ft to the Danny Fiszman Bridge. On the day’s agenda: Emirates Stadium tour. But first, smug pictures at the Arsenal letters, a couple pints at The Gunners, and some fish and chips at The Highbury Barn.
I remember the first time I walked across the now Danny Fiszman Bridge, with The Emirates bearing down on my wife and me. It certainly took our breath away and by the looks on Adam and John’s faces, I’d guess it had the same effect. But nothing could prepare me for what was around the Clock End bend, The King. As far as iconic Arsenal figures go, Thierry holds a special place in my heart. When the Premier League was first televised in the U.S. it was he who drew me in. His skill, swagger, and class ultimately turned me into a gooner.
The Emirates stadium tour was almost as highly anticipated as the game itself. And since we missed the tour back in 2010, I also did not know what to expect. Exiting the club level doors onto the stands to see that bright picture perfect green pitch was like walking out of a dark strip club on a sunny morning. I think we all stood in awe for a moment, imagining the stands full of devoted fans the next day. We sat for a good while, in somewhat of a daze, before we worked up the energy to continue on down the club level elevator and into the changing rooms. This is what I looked forward to the most; an opportunity to stand where both victory and heartache has taken place, imagining the pregame strategizing, halftime talks, and post-match celebrations. Just as we thought we had reached the apex of Arsenal induced joy, we were led through the player’s tunnel, and onto the sidelines. Looking down onto the pitch from a fan’s point of view is one thing, but looking up into the stands as that of a player produces a whole other feeling of amazement. The thought of putting one of those neon green blades of grass in our pockets was heavy on our minds. On the other hand, so was the watchful eye of the omnipresent, 250lb+ guard.
Match day and having spent most of the prior evening in The Armoury, like kids in FAO Schwarz, we were ready for the pregame antics. We surveyed all the pub options and while we wanted to try them all, we knew our focus was on the day’s events. We decided on a quick pint at The Gunners on the way to The Tollington.
Gooners seemed to congregate from about 50 or so when we first arrived to over 500 in the course of an hour. We drank, heckled at some bloke named Van something on the tele, and drank some more pints. Before we knew it, it was time for us to head towards the Emirates. Our seats were in the North Bank, center upper right above the keeper. We could see every corner of the stadium, sidelines, and players. The atmosphere in the first 10 minutes was a bit tense to say the least. We all knew the importance of this game and hoped for an early goal to put us at ease. The unlikeliest of all heroes responded to our calls. Gervinho! Wait, what? But unfortunately, for Reading, Saturday turned out to be Gervinho’s finest performance this season.
Going into the second half the three of us felt confident. We were also hoping for more Arsenal goals since Reading’s goal was now right beneath our feet. Some fine work by Gervinho and a beautiful lob into the back of the net by Santi left us really at ease. There’s not much more to say about the other goals besides that they were much deserved. Le Situation, The Ox, Arteta, and really most of the team put in a shift and we left London with three vital points and discussions of our next trip to see The Arsenal.
Watching Arsenal at our pub in Charleston is fantastic. We cheer and grieve with the rest of gooners. However, there seems to always be something lacking; the atmosphere at The Emirates. What we experienced on Saturday is something that can never be conveyed via media broadcast. The vibration of the stadium, off camera communication by the players, and varying chants of the fans are unfortunately masked by television commentators critiquing our lads or camera men zooming in on Wenger’s zipper malfunctions. It would make for a much more entertaining match if we could just crank the stadium up. Cheers!