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Random ramblings about Arsenal. 

Filtering by Tag: Local 616

Live in London: An American Gooner’s Tale

SJS

By Daniel Brock

(@rockandbrock / @charsenewenger)

Right, so recently I ventured to Jolly Old to celebrate my 30th birthday by taking in my first Arsenal match, a 2-0 win over Fulham.

Happy birthday, indeed.

Right to it, then.

I landed at Heathrow at 7:30 a.m. on Jan. 17, hopped on the Piccadilly line and 50 minutes later emerged from the Holloway Road Station, London, N7.

I had booked a room in the Morgan Mansions via online travel service Airbnb, and my lodgings were an easy 4-minute walk from the tube. Unit 40 was on the third floor of the complex, a quintessentially English set of row houses, and quite nicely I could glimpse a BBQ Express from the window -- oh, and also the Emirates Stadium.

After a reinvigorating shower, I made for the stadium, which itself was only about four minutes away. I felt very comfortable strolling around, as I had Google Earth … ed? the shit out of Islington leading up to my visit.

I was not disappointed upon my arrival at the main gates of the Grove. The bowl's glass-and-steel exterior gave the arena something of a spaceship feel, while further steel accents and ubiquitous gray stone in the plaza and on the wide staircases lent an apocalyptic menace. (Think a tamer Agro Crag.)

It was straight into the self-guided stadium tour, where I was greeted with a hearty, "Welcome to Arsenal," and a hand-held media player and head set. I was ushered through the bowels of the Emirates and up into the Directors Box, which was replete with busts of Arsenal legends such as Herbert Chapman and Arsene Wenger. (Unfortunately the bust of Mandy Capristo was not included.)

I passed through the hospitality area (where each week Ivan Gazidas serves up secret-recipe “Larseagna” to officials from visiting clubs) and emerged into the open air and glorious scenes of the Emirates interior.

A sea of red, the undulating roof, the white cannon dotted in the seats on the far side, the banners, the famous emerald green pitch, the clock.

I wept. Or felt like it, at least. The morning was crisp, invigorating. I felt alive in a foreign land.

I took a seat in the director’s chair, front row, aisle. Never has there been a more posh place to rest one’s backside. Plush, supple, like being cradled in the Father’s bosom.

After a time, I stirred. I didn’t want to leave, but there was much to see. Suddenly a man in a top hat showed me the way to a boat afloat on a river of chocolate.

Wait, that’s not right.

No, it was up to the Diamond Club, where the highest high rollers raise their collective pinky skyward. The way I understand it, seats must be purchased in pairs, at 15,ooo each, for a minimum of three years. That’s 90,000 in all. (I’m not sure if it’s paid in dollars, pounds or souls.) Whatever the case: Up the Arsenal? Up my credit line.

There was one sour note in the Diamond Club, however, as the attendant admitted to being a Spurs supporter. Aghast, I immediately reported him to Human Resources. The last I saw of him, he was being thoroughly tased by a pair of burly security officers in neon yellow jackets.

My next stop was the players’ entrance and changing rooms. Peering into the car park, I saw ample portions of both concrete and high-end cars. There was so much of each that, for a moment, I thought the American rapper Pitbull might appear for a couple of verses and a soda endorsement. I assume he would have referred to himself not as Mr. 305 but rather Mr. 4-2-3-1.

Following a quick glance at the time capsule (The Deeper the Foundation …), it was a short, photo-lined walk to the visitors changing room, a space graced by greats such as Wayne Bridge and Bolo Zenden. Truly hallowed ground.

Straight away, I was off to the home changing room. The hallway down featured a black-tiled wall on which, in white tiles, was written Arsenal. (I will make every effort to replicate this look on my kitchen's backsplash the next time I remodel.)

On the left of the corridor was what I can only describe as a stainless steel hot tub, one in which I assume Arsenal WAGs party post-game. Along the right of the hallway was the Abu Diaby Fitness Emporium.

Finally, I rounded the corner into the inner sanctum. Wooden cubbies lined the wall and curved around the room in a U shape. Arsene apparently insisted on this setup because its feng shui facilitates better communication. Players are assigned their seats by formation, starting with goalkeeper, and the captain is placed in the middle of the U.

The kit man’s table was in the center room and at the far end hung a tactics board that the tour informed us had never actually been used.

After (smelling Mesut Özil's jersey) some quick photos, I doubled back down the corridor and took a left into the tunnel that leads to the Emirates pitch. I kept an eye out for pizza, but saw none.

I stopped for a moment, rolled my neck, wriggled my arms and jumped up and down a couple of times, then exited the tunnel onto the pitchside technical area. I was now just feet from true holy ground, but a barrier of some sort (probably a velvet rope) had been strung up to discourage me from sprinting out and sliding across the grass on both knees. Instead I took a right toward the home bench, known colloquially as the Ju-Young Park Stand.

I plopped down in Steve Bould’s chair and was able to coerce an attendant into snapping a photo before he covered up the seats, as it had started to rain.

Once back in the stadium, I ducked into one of the post-match interview rooms, all of which are incredibly small. So small, in fact, that I don’t quite understand how Arsene – or any number of our players through the years – haven’t throttled a journalist or six in there.

Finishing up with a tirade about a dodgy penalty, I proceeded to give a frosty press conference in the media center before storming out and concluding my tour in the Armoury, Arsenal’s retail mecca. The store featured a massive clothing selection, as well as a selection of massive coats. At one point I tried one of them on and was immediately transported to Narnia.

Purchases made, I hoofed it across the Danny Fiszman Bridge with the intent of viewing Highbury. I was lagging at this point, so I stopped in for an espresso near the Arsenal tube station. Refreshed after that respite, I embarked on what turned into an impromptu mini pub crawl.

First up was the Auld Triangle (@AuldTrianglePub) where I chatted with Jaime, a Gooner, and Mark, the proprietor. From there it was to the Twelve Pins and finally the The Gunners. It was at the latter that I bumped into quartet of Norwegian Gooners I had seen during the tour. Tor Alf, Jburkensen, Dumbledør and David were a lively bunch, as were Kevin and George, Gooners from Phoenix who were celebrating a 50th birthday. The latter two began discussing whether to purchase Diamond Club seats at the Emirates for entertaining clients. And, might I say, I brought up the idea, so, um, ring me up some time.

A final note on The Gunners: the Spanish bartender, for some reason, had a terrifying hand puppet with which she pantomimed eating one of the Charsenal cards. Very odd.

By the time I left The Gunners, I was well sodded, but I felt I would have been remiss to neglect Highbury. I wandered into the garden area at the now luxury apartment complex and soaked in the history. Unfortunately, in my reverie I must have passed some sort of time milestone, because when I went to leave, the gates were closed and I was trapped inside. (I eventually escaped when I followed a resident out.)

Relieved, I staggered to a nearby fish and chips shop, the Chip-In, where I shoveled down some golden-fried deliciousness. Eventually, I made it back to Morgan Mansions and slipped into a coma for three hours.

That night I went out in Islington and was up until 5 a.m., but I won’t bore you with all that. Suffice to say, the Charsenal card and the backstory of my trip got mad respect, yo.

Match Day
There are consequences for staying up drinking until 5 in the morning, notably, as Arseblogger would say, the *boilk*.

Still, I rallied and was out the door just after noon, on my way to the Tollington, henceforth referred to as the Tolly, a pub just blocks from the Emirates.

(Now would be a good time to address my communication situation. I had no power source for either my computer or phone, and no service for the phone anyway. Essentially, once those went dead, I was incommunicado. Well played. Only later did I learn my hosts had an iPhone charger with a British plug-in and that I could still use Wi-Fi abroad.)

At any rate, the plan was to meet Chris (@suburbangooner), my ticket facilitator, for a pint ahead of the match.

When I arrived at the pub, I was struggling. Still, I soldiered on, nursing a Guinness until I was able to strike up some friendly banter.

The crowd had steadily grown into a teaming, packed mass, and a check of my watch revealed that 1:30 had come and gone. Then 1:45, then 10 ‘til two. I wasn’t entirely sure what Chris looked like, and the sea of humanity was doing me no favors.

It was then the possibility that I might not get a ticket began to weigh heavily.

I made a lap around the bar, but turned up nothing. So, arriving at the front of the pub once more, I hopped up on a bench to survey the crowd, to no avail. As I was getting down, I sort of brushed against a guy and offered a quick apology. He turned around and asked if I was all right.

Suddenly, there was a beat of silence and a furrowing of our brows.

And then … the heavens opened, a light shone down and I even think a dove flew by.

Him: “Are you Brock?”

Me: “Yeah!”

Both: “Aaaaaaah.”

From there the day sped up into this whole Guy Ritchie montage sort of thing.

We’re drinking pints, sharing laughs, Chris is introducing me to his mates, we bolt from the Tolly and join lockstep with @Block_5_Gooner, I stop to take a picture outside the Emirates but get dragged along by the guys who had doubled-back, we’re going inside The Rocket (base of @REDactionAFC), we’re pouring pints out of pitchers with Chris’ boss, we’re out of there and heading to the stadium.

(An aside about Chris: He seemed to be ripped from the pages of a Nick Hornby novel. Stylish jacket, quick wit, well-coiffed. He actually reminded me of Jimmy Fallon. The point is, he was a top, top quality host.)

Finally we summited the steps at the Emirates, heading toward Turnstile 3. Chris handed me the card that served as a ticket, I scanned it and entered The Home of Football.

“Welcome to Arsenal,” Chris said once I was inside.

“That’s what they told me on the tour,” I replied.

“Welcome to the real Arsenal.”

We passed through the concourse, into Block 5 and down to Row 11. I was on the aisle, Chris just inside.

The scene was sumptuous: a stadium at capacity, the crowd expectant. The teams emerged as we arrived at our seats. (Those were never put to use, by the way. That area of the stadium doesn’t sit.)

A quick glance over our left shoulders revealed that Thierry Henry was present in his box. If you squint, in one of the selfies Chris took of us, you can see Titi up there. So, yes, we were (in essence) photobombed by Henry. Another interesting note from his box is that we could have sworn Emmanuel Eboue was serving drinks. I assume the club signed him for free in that role.

Our opponent on the day was Fulham. The football in the first half, as you know, was a bit flat and, an Özil chance aside, not much happened. But that was no matter.

At the half, we popped out for a couple of Carlings, a program and some good banter.

Things livened up after the break (including one “how did that and that AND THAT not go in!?!?” sequence). When the first goal finally came near the hour, it was through Cazorla’s sliding, right-footed shot.

The crowd erupted volcanically, cinematically. Chris was to my right screaming as we jumped up and down together, the whole of the North Bank was heaving, the PA announcer was declaring the goal scorer, Santi’s name was ringing out around the stadium.

Magic.

The second goal arrived minutes later, again through Santi. This time it was from his left foot outside the box. Same reaction as before, and the game was killed off. (Although last year’s 3-3 draw with Fulham had been discussed earlier in the day.)

Still, “We are top of the league,” said everyone.

Lukas Poldolski also had an interesting cameo. The crowd was quite enthused when he came on, and he nearly blasted home from 30 yards with one of his first touches. Chris and I talked at some length about the German’s puzzling exclusions, but having watched him in person (yes, I went there), I think there are legitimate concerns about his movement and work rate.

We exited at the final whistle and made the short walk back to the Tolly, for what Chris called a “stubby,” essentially a Hobbit-sized pint. He lives in Uxbridge, you see, which, in distance, is sort of like the Summerville of London. So he was facing quite a train ride. At any rate, when he walked over from the bar, he was carrying two regular-sized Carlings – apiece.

Top man.

We guzzled the beers, Chris said his goodbyes to a group that included @janeybear123 and disappeared into the night.

I carried on and watched the Liverpool-Southampton game with some more blokes who purchased me a couple of birthday pints. (Oh, yeah. Saturday was my birthday, after all.) Sorry chaps, I can’t recall your names, because by that point in the day, well, you can understand.

Later on, I headed back to Morgan Mansions, but not before grabbing some chicken wings and chips. I must say the Brits are much bigger fans of chicken – fried and otherwise prepared – than I gave them credit for.

Anyway, I slipped into a coma once more, went out again later and did a ton of tourist stuff the next.

Who cares about any of that?

I saw The Arsenal win.

Epilogue: On Supporters
During our time together, Chris posed an interesting question about American supporters, but then sort of answered it himself. He, and I’m sure many Brits, wanted to know why Americans would get behind a team from thousands of miles away.

He said, for him, the best part of football was going to the ground with his mates, developing a community with the people in the block and sharing a deep camaraderie.

While none of the lads in Charsenal were born in Islington, we’ve essentially come together for the same reason. Our Block 5 is Local 616. It’s Travis and Stan and Kleckley and Caldwell and Dwayne and the Breaux Bros. and Chip and the rest of the lot.

We banter, talk shit, share inside jokes and passion for Arsenal and, ultimately, have fun. We’re a group. It’s a thing, and it all started when Travis and I bumped into each other one bleary-eyed morning for a 7:45 kickoff.

Personally, I began getting into European football in the late 1990s. I played growing up and in high school, but the 1998 World Cup took my fan interest to another level.

The seminal moment of my Arsenal support was Dennis Bergkamp’s goal for Holland against Argentina. I wanted to know more about that guy.

Of course, I then discovered Arsenal, but not just The Greatest Team the World Has Ever Seen, but also the intrigue of the Premiership. It wasn’t just the top, top quality football, it was the drama, the flying pizza, the undefeated seasons, the irascible characters. It was – and is – awesome.

And football itself – Stokes of the world aside – is very often this beautiful, flowing, breathing entity that culminates in crushing lows or unmatchable highs. (Or draws.)

As an Arsenal supporter, I experienced all that alone for a number of years. I had friends who were also into football, but it was always Manchester United or Chelsea or some flavor du jour (that’s the flavor of the day), and it was never at my level of passion.

In the early days, catching games on TV was rare, and I religiously followed Soccernet for my news. Most of my senior year computer class was spent monitoring progress on Wenger’s second double. If there was an upside, it seemed like we were winning something every time I logged on.

Now the EPL is more accessible on TV in America than it is in Britain, which I find shocking. We have every match, every week. And I understand why it’s more restricted in the UK, but hearing the fans there talk about having to wait to watch highlights on Match of the Day doesn’t seem right.

Anyway, I respect the hell out Chris and the season ticket holders who told me they had been raised in Islington and were Arsenal fans since birth. I hope, too, as more U.S. supporters make trips like the one I just completed, that they’ll understand we share their passion.

I mean, I flew to London by myself – on my birthday – to watch Arsenal. And it was one of the best experiences of my life.

Oh to be a Gooner.

Now, check out the pictures - charsenal.com/photos!

Charsenal Year In Review 2013

SJS

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2013 was a very eventful year for Charsenal. Match day attendance numbers and our online presence continued to grow - we hit over 200 Facebook Likes and more than 400 Twitter Followers! We welcomed many visitors from supporters groups across the country and some Gooners tracked us down from as far away as the UK and Germany. A small group of us even made the trek to London in March for Arsenal’s 4-1 win over Reading. It was an amazing experience and also an opportunity to represent Charleston and its devoted U.S. Gooners.

A Charsenal identity really began to emerge this year. Camaraderie among Gooners strengthened and we became known as a supporters club where visitors are greeted with a warm welcome and cold pint. There is certainly a group core, but each match brings new faces that we applaud upon arrival. When Charsenal was formed in 2011 we sought to unite Charleston Gooners to enjoy matches together rather than scattered around town or in our homes and to ultimately grow Arsenal support in the US. Looking back over this past year, it’s safe to say that we are well on our way.

The 12/13 season finished with silverware for our branch, if not for our club: one of our members rounded out the campaign at the top of Madra Rua's Fantasy Premier League group. Thanks to the pub's generosity, a brand new 12/14 home top was awarded to our champion, who wasted no time in going out on top by hanging up his fantasy boots.

Our branch was presented with another trophy-winning opportunity at the end of June and beginning of July courtesy of an All-Time Arsenal XI Draft hosted by Arsenal America. Branch leadership from Austin, Boston, Baltimore, Charlotte, Jackson, Jacksonville, Kentucky, Nashville, New Haven, Orange County, and San Diego took turns drafting in their starting XIs, bench, and managers from a pool comprised of every Arsenal player or gaffer in history. Charsenal opted to field a 4-4-2 managed by Arsene Wenger and featuring Jens Lehmann between the sticks; Wilf Copping, Per Mertesacker, Steve Bould, and Alf Baker across the back line; Brian Marwood, Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta, and Theo Walcott in the middle; with Kanu and (in a clever twist) Kelly Smith spearheading our attack. Our super subs were John Jensen, Pascal Cygan, and Steve Morrow. Visitors to Arsenal America's website voted with the handbrake on, though, as our entry was roundly trounced by those of Boston and Orange County. Despite this, the draft was a massive amount of fun and allowed members of supporters branches across the country to interact with and get to know one another. Top quality exercise from Arsenal America that ought to be revisited for the next off season.

A short but agonizing wait after the draft brought us to the preseason and the beginning of a stellar partnership with Local 616, a new bar in downtown Charleston. Dwayne Mitchell (he pours what he wants!), its proprieter and a fellow Gooner, opened his doors in time for us to take in the Emirates Cup match against Napoli. The potential of having our own, permanent home after years of bar-hopping was immediately tantalizing and the atmosphere that Dwayne sought to create at Local 616 was irresistable. The members who attended that match viewing came away feeling even more excited for the start of our next league campaign.

And then Aston Villa came to town and humbled us on opening day. As thoroughly rended as our garments were at the time, the less written about that debacle at this point the better. The more important focus now is how the club responded to such a sucker punch. Having played 29 matches in all competitions so far this season, Arsenal has amassed an overall record of 20-6-3, including 12 clean sheets. What a turnaround! Highlights of the season thus far include blanking Fenerbahce home-and-away, embarassing our lilywhite neighbors on the day they sold their best player, which facilitated our signing of Mesut Özil (more in a minute), completely dominating Napoli, Jack scoring *that* goal against Norwich, packing the pub against a contained Liverpool (by far our best attended match this campaign), and beating Borussia Dortmund at their home fortress. Though we crashed out of the league cup against Chelsea we are still challenging for silverware on three fronts. I think in the past years of frustration that's ultimately what all of us wanted - to challenge.

Toward that goal of challenging, our club pulled off what was inarguably the transfer coup of the window by signing Mesut Özil. One of the best number 10s in the world, Özil instantly improved both the skill and spirits of the team while spawning a cottage industry of umlaut-laden accoutrement. Bringing Mesut (and Flamini, for that matter) into the squad was a clear statement of intent that is further backed up by our league position as 2013 winds down: first.

Speaking of firsts, our supporters branch experienced many firsts during this half of the season. CHSSoccer.net, a local site for all things football, interviewed our branch leadership for a great write-up posted in May, giving us some of our first local exposure. We went international in August when we were featured on Arsenal.com, including pictures and a full bio write-up, which yielded immeasurable smiles and high fives around Charsenal HQ. Both Arsenal Review USA and the Triangle Gooners were kind enough to treat some of our members to their first podcast experiences. We unleashed our first Charsenal t-shirts on the world in October and quickly sold out of our initial stock. At Thanksgiving time we welcomed our first Gunner to Local 616 as Danny Karbassiyoon joined in the fun of watching a match, which was a genuine treat.

2013 will undoubtedly go down as a turning point for this group, as it also will for our beloved Arsenal. This year has been so many things for us. Humbling. Frustrating. Creative. Progressive. Expansive. Entertaining. Captivating. The plain fact is that this year for our supporters club would not have been nearly as good without the dilligent and loving support from our members and those of other supporters clubs around the nation; the patience and good nature of our families; the football culture that is being nurtured in Charleston; the home that is Local 616 and the hospitality of Dwayne Mitchell; and the tireless work of our branch leadership. We are extremely grateful for your support and could not have come this far without your help. Many friendships have been gained through our passion and love for The Arsenal. They help everyone to celebrate the good times and provide support during rough ones. We at Charsenal are damn proud of this. We cannot wait to see what 2014 brings. Up the Arsenal!

~ Travis & Stan

Local Til I Die

SJS

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While our branch works on its year/half-season in review entry (look for it here in the next couple of weeks), I wanted to take some time and post about our match day experience.

Surely there are some of you who are trepidatious about making the trip out to Local 616 on the day of a match because you’re not sure you’d fit in or dig the scene. You may have friends who support the teams that Arsenal are playing against and are concerned about bringing them to an “Arsenal bar”. Others of you may need a little bit of a nudge to escape the gravitational pull of your couch and remote control when 10am rolls around. Perhaps you don’t feel “hardcore” enough to come for every match and only attend intermittently. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to address each of those points and try to convince you to make watching a match with Charsenal a priority.

While a lot of us like to create a boisterous, rowdy atmosphere on match days, the one word above all others I would use to describe our group would be: friendly. The leadership of our branch mills around to introduce ourselves and make introductions between Gooners. We enjoy applauding anyone who walks through the door wearing our beloved red and white to help them feel welcome. Lasting friendships get formed through the 2 hours every week we have together during a match. Fans who have been supporting for decades intermingle with folks who barely know their Giroud from their Djourou. Simple songs get sung in the hopes that the entire bar will join in. There’s an electricity in the air when the pub is packed and we like to foster that feeling as often as possible.

Here’s the thing: we’re not friendly to you only because you have a cannon on your chest. Make no mistake, part of the reason why Local 616 is our bar of choice is because the proprietor is a Gooner. More than being our Arsenal bar, though, Local 616 encourages fans of every stripe to visit. We routinely welcome opposing supporters. Our best-attended match of the season to this point was the one against Liverpool and about a quarter of the attendees were Scousers. Things remained civil and cordial, we had some laughs, and nobody that I am aware of came away from that day frustrated with the experience (though the scoreline may’ve been a different story for them!). Ultimately a bar full of committed, good-natured supporters (regardless of the color of your shirt) contributes to an incredible match viewing experience. We’ll strive to not harass you for wearing the opposing colors if you repay the kindness and we all just might have an enjoyable time for it. Unless you support Tottenham.

So here’s another scenario: it’s 7:15am (or even 9:30am) on a match day morning. 30 minutes to kick off and your alarm is ringing. You had quite a night and you feel like Han Solo frozen in your carbonite bed. Even if you can bring yourself to roll out, thanks to NBC’s acquisition of the EPL rights you can tumble right onto your comfortable couch and flip on the game. Why should you forsake this convenience to hit the showers, pull on your replica shirt, and come out to Local 616? If you think about the match as a movie, what you’re missing by not coming out to a match is sort of like the behind-the-scenes extras. I feel my knowledge about the club (and the sport) has increased dramatically since becoming a match day regular, which has only fed my passion for the team. Spirited debates about team selection and tactics happen frequently. Wisecracks are mandatory. We all start using a common vocabulary and foster little in-jokes. Honestly, you’ll never cheer more loudly or have a bigger rush (outside of being there live) when that game-winning goal goes in than you will when you’re with a group of your peers. That sort of experience won’t happen from your couch.

Showing up for match days becomes part of your routine if you let it, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s a temptation to only come for the “big" games, which tend to be the matches that will attract a larger than normal turn out anyway. When it comes right down to it, though, *every* match is a big match. With only 38 games in a league season, each of those points is vital. 3 points off Crystal Palace are worth the same as 3 points off Liverpool. Each cup tie or Champions League match could be pivotal. One of the most enjoyable matches I watched this season was our dismantling of Norwich, featuring *those* goals from Jack and Rambo. Did you miss seeing it on the projector at Local 616 because you didn’t think it would be worth showing up for a relatively assured victory at the Emirates against the Canaries?

I’m sure this isn’t unique to Charleston, but there’s a sentiment in our city that we should be loyal to our local establishments. We as Gooners here are fortunate to have a place to call our own in Local 616, with an owner/operator who is focused on growing with our supporters branch to be a football destination for the downtown area. The best way we have to repay his loyalty is with our own loyalty and steady patronage. The better our attendance and the more regularly we can fill up the pub, the easier it will be to have drink specials, giveaways, and special events. Things like that will only lead to more people coming out. Can you imagine 50 or 100 people roaring at goal after goal, every match?

This post is not trying to make you feel guilty for not showing up match-in, match-out, though. I’m a new father and try as I might, my family and fixture schedule don’t always conveniently align. Maybe it’s a trip too far for you to drive downtown. Life gets in the way sometimes and that is perfectly okay. When everything falls in to place, however, I make watching a match with my fellow Charleston Gooners a priority because I’ve learned through repeated experience that it is by far the best way for me to enjoy the beautiful game aside from a trip to London.

I hope that if you haven’t watched a match with us previously or have only been able to tag in occasionally that you’ll take some time in the festive season of 2013 and resolve in 2014 to join us. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.