(Editor’s Note: This post was written in 2014, but it still gives a good sense of attending a game at Arsenal.)
For the longest time, I thought going to a soccer game in England was this mysterious thing that you had to be somehow “connected” to be a part of. And I certainly thought that going to a game at Arsenal or some other major club was darn near impossible.
There are also some tricks to getting tickets, like getting a membership at your favorite club. And in my case, I have a good friend named Dermot who has an Arsenal membership. Lucky me. He scored us a couple of tickets in the upper corner for 51 pounds each; right now that’s about $86. So it isn’t cheap, but it’s possible. And if your dream is to attend a game at Arsenal, I bet you can find $86 to make it happen.
Anyway, Dermot decided to let me and his 14-year-old son, David, go to the game. It was a brilliant day with the lad.
So, off we go to a game at Arsenal!
Getting there is easy enough; you take the tube to a stop called Arsenal and walk over to the stadium. Stadiums in the middle of neighborhoods are among the things I think Americans will love about English soccer.
Along the way, we had plenty of chances to buy food and gear and programs and fanzines – often from people who have set up shop in their yards!
Dermot told me a charming story about the “sweet man,” one of many people who set up shop in their yards. In the old days, Dermot would sometimes leave tickets for friends with the Sweet Man. Here’s his booth today, I think with somebody new.
Soon you come to the grand stadium itself. It’s one of the biggest in the country at about 60,000 seats, and quite a modern place. Many of the fans miss the old place, Highbury, but to my eyes this place is sweet. And right in the middle of town!
Inside, I joined a few folks watching the end of the Sunderland-Southampton game on the “telly” …
while admiring the various shirts on display, like this tribute to defender Per Mertesaker, aka BFG or Big Fucking German. They even sing “We got a big fucking German” during the games!
We took our seats (which are all padded, by the way!) …
enjoyed a little pre-game programming on the big screen …
and watched Fulham midfielder Steve Sidwell do something interesting: He stood about 20 yards out from the goal and repeatedly hit it with the ball. He probably hit it seven times in a row, with both feet. Pretty cool, we thought.
And right before 3 p.m., out came the teams!
Sorry about the focus on that one. Still learning the iPhone. The banner held up by the Arsenal fans in the end says “49” on it, to mark their going undefeated once for 49 straight games. That’s am English top-flight record and includes a 38-game unbeaten season by a team known as “The Invincibles.” That’s some of them on the outside of the stadium.
The game was a bit slow for a while, which was fine for Fulham but frustrating for Arsenal. At one point, Arsenal fans started doing the “Ole!” when Fulham completed passes. It wasn’t a compliment. They also whistled like crazy when the Fulham keeper took his time on goal kicks. Everyone knows this is part of the game (slow it down if you’re in trouble) and everyone taunts everyone for doing it. One funny moment for me and David was when Sidwell got off Fulham’s best shot of the game — and put it just over the crossbar!
It was also briefly dangerous when I let slip an “us” referring to Fulham. See, I adopted Fulham a while back as a team to support, but I could not let this information out in the Arsenal section. At best, I would be escorted over to the Fulham section, leaving young David on his own, or sitting in the away section with the Fulham people.
Finally, Arsenal scored the inevitable goal, leading to an outbreak of “1-Nil to the Arsenal!” Then came another and the points in the bag for the Gunners, 2-Nil. Both goals were scored by a Spaniard named Santi Cazorla, leading the fans to serenade him after the second:
They also sing “Arsenal” to the tune of Stars and Stripes Forever, but I decided not to point out to them that were singing an American tune. Their classic chant, for me, is “And it’s Arsenal!”
The last little bit of entertainment came when Fulham subbed out a player named Kacaniklic, and the PA guy totally butchered it. He actually stopped somewhere around “Kaca,” then the crowd all at once yelled “Who?” and he just said, “Sorry” and didn’t try to finish it. It was beautiful. Poor Fulham.
Out in the streets after the game, it was mildly festive. This was an expected win over a weak opponent who one of our seat neighbors dismissed as “so bloody nice!” Fulham is from a pretty wealthy neighborhood and are known to be quite genteel. And they have never won at Arsenal. Both clubs go back to the late 19th Century, thought they haven’t been playing each other every year all that time. Still, never won at Arsenal?
This Arsenal fan, though, was feeling pretty festive.
Don’t know if you can tell, but it’s a pop song with Arsenal lyrics made up. “I’m Ar-se-nal to get something … We’re Ar-se-nal for Koscielny.” (Koscielny is an Arsenal defender.)
All in all, a fine day at the Emirates with young David. He taught me songs, told me stories, pointed out various strategies in the game, and bought us a dozen Krispy Kremes at Victoria Station on the way home. That was a big hit back at Liz and Dermot’s place!
I hope to actually see Fulham win one day, or at least score. For now, though, Game #1 of my English Soccer Tour was a smashing success.