By Dan Pickering
When the news that Arsenal was making a trip across the pond, I couldn’t believe it. Once it was ASO (Arsenal site official), I knew that I had to get tickets, no matter the cost. The Arsenal’s first visit to the states in 25 years, and to New York City of all places. To see the squad play live has always been a dream of mine. And, by always, I mean since 2006 when I was introduced to the beautiful club. Also, I was introduced to my brothers Ping sand wedge that year, but that’s another club story.
The closest I had come previously to seeing Arsenal live is when I got really close to my TV and did color commentary with myself in a British accent on match days. It makes for an exciting couple of hours, but it’s bad for the eyes and my mental health. So, needless to say, when Friday morning came around, I couldn’t have been more excited.
The plane and I landed in New York at 12:39:23 pm Friday afternoon at LaGuardia Airport. That time might be an estimation. My phone doesn't have seconds, and I still don't know how to read a watch. I had a connecting flight in Atlanta first, but I would really like to erase that place from my memory. So, New York City! What a place.
New York City. The city of apples. America’s doorway. The home of the Philly cheese steak. The stomach to the colon that is New Jersey, and all that.
So Friday, I met Steven and my sister at the airport and we ventured out on these ingenious underground train machines called “subways.” That sandwich place has got to be making loads on royalties. The ride was around 45 minutes, and the final destination was Grand Central Station. I’m mentioning the destination for two reasons:
1. We got off the subway and left without looking around. We didn’t look around Grand Central Station. Not the brightest tourists, are we?
2. There was a big Arsenal fan gathering going on when we arrived at Grand Central. Ramsey, Arteta, Santi, Rosicky, Gunnersaurus and Henry were there. So was an enormous canon. Yeah, I said an enormous canon. I can’t believe we missed it.
Anyhow, we left without looking around and headed to the hotel on foot. The hotel was great. It had free lemon water at the front desk and everything. FREE LEMON WATER. Yeah, I know. But, I’m not writing a hotel review, so, I’ll get on with it. We laid our bags down in the room and went to din-dins. We all had glorious burgers at BareBurger. It was heaven in my mouth. If you’re ever in NYC, you should defo check the place out.
Afterwards, we all headed to 14th street to check out the three bars that were supposed to be the muster points for Arsenal fans during the weekend. Unfortunately, the bars were packed. Cool to see. Not so cool for getting a beer. So, we had a beer at a bar nearby, and headed over to a soccer bar on 13th. It was a dream of a bar, with several signed kits and photos, and had a signed Arsenal kit on the wall. Steven and I drooled over it, contemplated stealing it and running, but opted out for a picture of it and a Fireball shot instead. Unfortunately they had a DJ, so we left for the hotel to get some much needed rest before match day. On the way back we ran across Robbie from ArsenalFanTV and took a pic with him. Top bloke. Not as cool as Scott’s video, but I’m not as cool as Scott, so it was fitting.
End day one. Intermission 1. Feel free to grab a nice cold soda pop or Shirley Temple.
So, Saturday we tried some sightseeing in the morning before the match, but no one cares. Although, because we were tourists, we almost missed the train to New Jersey, and thus, kickoff. But we didn’t miss kickoff, and that’s all that matters. The train ride there was packed, and it must have been the largest migration of non-New Jersey inhabitants to New Jersey in this great country's history. The anticipation was palpable. It was either the anticipation or B.O. Regardless, something was palpable, and I was getting excited. We arrived at the match just as the rain was letting up; Mr. Sun shining faintly and creepily through the receding clouds as if to say, “Let’s boogie.”
The match. The match started with a bang. A very small bang. A very small, almost imperceptible bang. I said an almost imperceptible bang. I meant it started off with no bang. I lied earlier about the bang. It started slowly, and continued to be slow. Not much in it, really, save the Norwich-esque chance by Jackie in the first half and the offside goal by Diaby in the second. I'm sure most of you watched it. If you didn't, here it is in a nutshell: kickoff; slow; Red Bull goal; sub in the B team; spark from Akpom; slow; final whistle. In the end it failed to live up to the hype, much like half of the Star Trek movies, the Phantom Menace, and my high school prom. The one saving grace is that Titi assisted Ian Wright's son for the only goal of the match. And, to be honest, that's a pretty decent way to get scored on. Titi got the man of the match because, shut up.
After the match Steven and I waited on the stairs above the buses to see if we could catch the eye of the players and maybe hold up a boom box and play “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel. We were this close to meeting the players. Since you can't see my hands I'll describe how far apart they are: the maximum distance. Unfortunately, the Red Bulls staff kicked us out before the players came out. But, the busses were running and in 10 minutes or so they would've walked out and I would have dropped my Sooner Gooner scarf and they would've all loved Oklahoma. But, thanks to the Red Bull stadium staff, none of the players know what an Oklahoma is. Unless they frequent trendy bars, you know the ones with drinks named after each state but the drinks don't have anything to do with the state because trendy bars are lazy and stupid and hate history.
So, after we were kicked out of the stadium, we headed for the train station. The busses passed a few minutes later, and I was hoping for the American version of the running man: a fat kid on a Segway. But, alas, it was not to be. Anyhow, we three: Steven, my sister and I, joined the mass exodus from New Jersey, taking the PATH train back to the hotel. Five minutes into the train ride came my absolute favorite part of the trip. Members of the Arsenal NYC group started chants and kept them up for the entirety of the ride. Twenty minutes of various chants, some I knew; some I didn’t. But, regardless of whether or not all of passengers knew the chants, we were there, together, sharing in the spirit of Arsenal. And, I think that’s what makes support of this club so special to me. Regardless of political and religious views, financial and professional backgrounds, we are all Arsenal supporters. Arsenal is often described as the squad, Arsene, Stan, Ivan, etcetera, but they are just the canon. That which is made most visible to the rest of the world. But the fans, the supporters, we are the ammunition, the fire behind the weapon. Together, these two entities, the canon and the ammunition, make up the Arsenal. You may say, “But, Dan, what about the gun powder and that plunger thing?” Honestly, I didn't think that far ahead into the analogy.
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