Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Off the road (for now)...

What an incredible end to an incredible season. I still can't quite believe that Arsenal won a trophy a couple of weekends ago. It almost feels like the FA Cup was the first trophy we've ever won, that's how overdue it is.

What made it particularly special for me was the success I had with the fundraising. With all your donations, I managed to exceed my target of $15,000 for the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation before the end-of-season deadline. Once again, my thanks goes to everybody that helped me reach that very important goal.

With the season now over, and therefore my challenge, I've had the chance to reflect on a memorable roller coaster journey, and I'm quite proud of how I managed to make something feared impossible, possible. I travelled for 8 months, from the start of the football season to the end, never missing a match and always with a roof over my head, despite only having a few grand in my pocket. Actually, it wasn't me that made it possible at all, it was the Arsenal family; without all those warm-hearted people putting me up for a few days each (sometimes a few weeks!), the trip wouldn't have been viable.

People are saying that I've done an amazing thing but the true heroes are Andy, Trevor, Olivar, Jesper, Graeme, Jeff W, Kurtis, Brett, Colin, Miles, Barry, Davy, Jeremy, Par, David S, Kevin, Paul, Blake, Jordan, Channelle, Seth, Nick, Luke, George, Elia, Kanika, Diya, Scott, Phillip, Sean, Matt, Geof, Mick, Jonny, Andrew, Ali, Ahmed, Neil, Shane, Ashley, Adam, Yukie, Kevin, Jeff T, James, Veno, Arsya, Anand, Thierry, Seany, Dung Pham, Running Man and Jay! I think I've remembered everybody, but due to my complete lack of organisation and terrible memory, somebody might be missing, so I apologise in advance!

Anyway, the above people are the ones that helped out by giving up a couch, an inflatable bed or a guest room. I was a complete stranger to them but they welcomed me into their homes and set the benchmark as members of the Arsenal family. Bravo.

Right now, my focus lies on bringing out a book on my adventure. There's a lot of work to be done, but expect it to be released towards the tail end of the year barring any disasters. If it goes well, who knows, another adventure could be on the cards.

Finally, I'm holding a Twitter Q&A session, my first of hopefully many, Tomorrow at 9-10pm UK time. Remember to use the hashtag #AskGOTR. You can ask anything, providing it doesn't get me into any trouble!!! If you're not already following me on Twitter, you can do so here.


Friday, 16 May 2014

Penultimate post: 6 points, FA Cup Final preview + Tea with Piers

Well, I'm back in the UK after a monumental trip around the world. It's been successful beyond my wildest expectations, and I have the #GoonerFamily to thank for the majority of it.

I actually returned to England on the 1st May, which isn't exactly the end of the season. I had it in my mind that, considering I watched the first Premier League fixture of the season, at the Emirates
Elia and Anand from Oz and Malaysia respectively
against Aston Villa, I'd do all that I could to watch the last home match there too. So that's what I did. With Arsenal already guaranteed a top-four finish, the match against West Brom was tension-free. It was also rather tedious to watch if I must admit, apart from Giroud's headed goal. But it was nice to be back at the stadium, particularly as there were a few Arsenal supporters attending who I'd met and stayed with along the journey.

Of course, West Brom wasn't the last game of the season. And I had set out to watch every match, live, regardless of location. As is tradition in the UK, every single game on the final weekend of the Premier League is played at 3pm. And as the final game, versus Norwich, had nothing resting on it, there was no TV coverage. It meant I had to get hold of a ticket. Thankfully I've built up quite a following on Twitter and, with nothing decisive to come out of the game, there were tickets popping up everywhere. A nice chap called Shaun sorted me out with one and I was relieved to know I'd be going to watch my last game of the regular season.

Scotland, Hong Kong, Malaysia. In a Belgian restaurant.
In London
Norwich was, in all fairness, a much better outing for me than The Emirates a week before. For a start, our travelling fans are a great vocal bunch and, with Wembley looming, there was more than enough incentive for our support to get rowdy. Tie that together with a convincing Gunners display and a stunning volleyed goal from Aaron Ramsey, and the day was a hoot. It was definitely a satisfying way to finish off the journey.

But, the journey still isn't over. Wembley is this weekend. Our biggest chance yet to get that horrible, ageing monkey off our back. I never imagined that we'd get this far so didn't anticipate there being a hunt for a ticket. To be honest, I was just glad that we managed to get to the final. There were loads of options available for me to watch the game at pubs. And I had something more important to focus on, I still had to find $1400 in time for the fundraising deadline (the 17th May, last day of our season).

Of course, most will know about this:


Yep. I won one of three ticket from Piers Morgan for the FA Cup Final. I was gobsmacked by the amount of people who had suggested, on Twitter, that I should be one of the lucky winners. I've never won anything in my life either. It was truly humbling.

So when Piers messaged me to say that I'd won, I asked him if it would be OK to auction the ticket off for my fundraiser, as it would have likely made up a big chunk of what remained. But he probably would have gotten into trouble (haha, Piers Morgan getting into trouble?) for giving away a ticket that would be sold. So, instead:


I can't quite sum up how it felt to know that A) so many people had put me forward to win a ticket B) I'd won a ticket to Wem-ber-lee! C) Piers Morgan loved what I had done D) I reached my milestone goal of $15k for the charity and E) I would be meeting Piers at his bloody house to pick up the ticket! Craziness.

So, I met Piers at his house yesterday at [top secret location]. He really is a good guy, despite what others will say. Some people get a bad rap, but Piers Morgan really is alright, and remember, despite what people say, he is a true Gooner, with his own opinion, much like everybody else. Also makes a good cup of tea!

Beyond my wildest dreams, this is how the adventure is coming to an end. Now if we could just lift that cup, please.


Friday, 2 May 2014

Arsenal 3-0 Newcastle [Prime Sky Lounge, Hong Kong]

The win against Newcastle (happy belated St Totteringhams!) was my final game as a Gooner On The Road. It was a convincing display, much like Hull previously, and was a great way to say goodbye to the Arsenal Family.

As I write this, I'm sitting at Hong Kong Airport reflecting on what has undoubtedly been the most memorable eight months of my life. I don't really know where to begin either, so many emotions. I think there's some anxiety in there somewhere, some sadness that the journey is coming to an end, but also some excitement about going home and seeing friends and family.

The one feeling that I'm sure of though, is pride. I've always been proud to support my club, but over the past eight months I've become proud to call myself a member of the Arsenal Family. You don't just become a member of the the Family overnight. It doesn't happen when you start supporting the club, at least not in my book. There's no application list and no pre-requisites to meet. It's not a circle of trust, or a cult either. To me, the Arsenal Family is all about camaraderie, trust and hospitality. It is this family that has defined the journey as a Gooner On The Road. Without these fellow fans by my side, the adventure wouldn't have been feasible, I wouldn't have been able to experience the many destinations the way I have done, and of course I wouldn't have raised anywhere near as much for the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation. So, from the bottom of my heart I say thank you to the many, many members of the Arsenal Family that have helped shape such an unforgettable journey. 

Later on (and by the time most of you will read this) I'll be back in the UK. This doesn't mean that the challenge is over. Due to Arsenal progressing to the FA Cup Final, the deadline for my fundraising has been extended to the 17th May. That gives me just over two weeks to find $2,500 or less than £1,500. My friends have said I've done an amazing job so far to raise the amount I have, and there's truth to that, but it would still feel like a kick in the teeth if I came all this way only to fail to reach the final target by a thousand dollars (imagine us losing in the FA Cup Final against Hull. Similar feeling perhaps). I know I sound like a broken record here but I still need your help. Please, support The Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation, and my objective to raise $15k for the charity, by donating here

So it's definitely not the end from me. Expect to see more blog updates with reactions from the West Brom game, where I'll be watching in person (I watched the first home game at the Emirates so it's fitting to do the last there too). I'll also be keeping you regularly updated on the progress of the fundraiser, and of course there will be an announcement, at some point, about my book!

As for the FA Cup Final itself, I'm not sure where I'll be yet, but it looks highly unlikely that I'll be going to Wembley, so I'll probably settle for a pub close by. We'll see what happens.

Until Sunday!


Friday, 25 April 2014

Hull City 0-3 Arsenal [Roadhouse, Macau] + CHARITY UPDATE

Macau, a special administrative region (SAR) of China, was the fifteenth and final country where I've watched an Arsenal match this season (bearing in mind I've returned to Hong Kong to watch the Newcastle match on the 28th). I watched the match in Macau with a few local fans at a pub called 'Roadhouse'. The Gunners completely dominated Hull, a welcome change to the usual tail-between-legs, 'will-they-won't-they' Arsenal performance of late. It was also a good warm up for the FA Cup Final, though we all know that football has an almost bottomless bucket of surprises. Nothing can be taken for granted in English football....ever.
Macau. And some Gooners. And a cannon. 

This time next week I will be somewhat emotionally returning to the UK, after having watched every single Arsenal match of the season, live, with another Arsenal fan.

So that's 52 matches. 8 months. 4 continents. 14 countries. 36 different cities. Oh, and more than 50 of the most genuine, passionate and hospitable Arsenal fans around the world as hosts. When I take a moment to look back at those numbers, it's kind of tough to fathom. You see, people come up with ridiculous ideas all the time, things that sound awesome on paper, or in a dream or on a chalkboard, but in reality that vision is rarely executed. Usually it's because there isn't enough time or money, or people's eyes are bigger than their stomach, or there's been a big error in the planning, or time-machines haven't been invented yet (I'm sure that last one has been the stumbling block for many people's big aspirations).

I'm guilty of having big ideas and failing to follow through on them and I bet you can think of an example for yourself in the past, too. When I came up with the idea of travelling the world for eight months, watching every Arsenal game of the season, LIVE, with only £5,000 in my pocket, every sensible cell in my brain was telling me it wasn't going to work. Yet here I am, approaching the final sprint. One-on-one with the goalkeeper, whatever you like to call it. There's still a week left to go and although anything can happen, I've exceeded my own expectations, and it's such a humbling feeling to have. And to think that I have the #GoonerFamily to thank for most of it!

But, there is one other goal that I'm playing catchup with. And it's the most important of all.

For all those that are wondering, I made the decision to return to London for the final home game, as I started the journey this way (against, ahem, Aston Villa). It just felt like the right thing to do, book-ending the journey at the Emirates, Arsenal's home, with every game in-between watched overseas. It also means that I'm going to be on home soil for the FA Cup final, which should tie in nicely with my fundraising efforts.

Which is where all you readers come in. As I've just mentioned above, there's one goal that I'm chasing, one that means more to me than anything else. I'm doing this trip for a cause. As hopefully most of you know by now, my mother passed away in February last year from breast cancer. Being part of a small, close family, losing mum was the beginning of the end of the world for me. I was at the lowest point in my life and, perhaps slightly selfishly, I couldn't think of a way to climb out of the dark hole that my existence had turned into. Traveling was an opportunity to heal, a therapeutic journey if you like. It was during the planning for this journey that I came up with the Gooner On The Road idea.

So, this trip isn't just an exercise to see if it's possible to do something that many people say would be impossible, it's a journey that's tied to a very important cause, one close to my heart. My goal is to raise $15,000 for the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation. But you can probably tell from my Facebook post below (from earlier today) that I'm pushing water uphill at the moment:

So, if you have a moment, and a spare few quid, please, please donate what you can. I still need to raise $4k between now and the end of the FA Cup Final, and whilst I have a few ideas that could see me getting close to that $15k figure, like Arsenal I'm not taking anything for granted. To support the cause, please click HERE to donate. Remember you can pay with a credit card or using Paypal. And I'm sorry, but if you're not in the US there's no opportunity to claim back tax I'm afraid.


Monday, 14 April 2014

Happy Ending in Saigon [Arsenal 1-1* WBA, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam]

For a moment there I was starting to think that Vietnam had become a curse of disappointing results, seeing the humiliating defeat at Goodison Park followed a draw at home to Manchester City. I was back in Ho Chi Minh City for this one.

It really looked like it wasn't going to be our day. Creatively, Arsenal were poor, cautious in their approach to every move, which resulted in an attacking performance matching the fluidity of an elephant's carcass. There were few chances for either side, but the point-blank Sanogo header into Carson's feet early in the first half should have been the goal that made things comfortable.

The comfort-ometer went in the other direction though. Mertesacker made a rare mistimed lunge on Callum McManaman in the box, and although there was a delay in the penalty taking due to Monreal's injury (double-ugh), it didn't put off Jordi Gomez from converting to put his team in front. With 63 minutes on the clock, Arsenal were one-nil down in the Semi-Final, and an all too familiar feeling was making its way to the pit of my stomach.

But, Arsenal managed to find a way back into the game as Wigan sat back to try and defend their lead. With Giroud coming on for Podolksi, there were more chances to hold the ball up in the attacking third, creating space and opening up the pitch for more opportunities. You have to give the guy credit, he may not be the most instinctual finisher, but he holds up the ball very well and he's one of the best players in the country at doing this. With Giroud on the pitch at Wembley, we were finding time for other attackers to get into space and open up the opposition's defence.

Eventually, on the 82nd minute, Mertesacker made up for his error by heading a scuffed shot from Oxlade-Chamberlain beyond Scott Carson. It was club-captain stuff. We're not talking about diving diva Arteta here, or out-of-favour (but still starting) Vermaelen, this was sheer determination and enterprise - if it hasn't convinced the Big Fucking German's peers, critics and manager that he should be wearing the armband next season, then nothing will.

Consequently the game went into extra time and penalties were looming. An Arsenal team winning two penalty shootouts in a single season was a task not worth thinking about - I personally drank seven pints of Saigon Red between the 91st minute and the 120th. The Ox hit the crossbar during this time but, other than that, there was only going to be one way to decide the match.

Fortunately for Arsenal, Fabianski, 'The Other Pole in Goal', showed his worth and denied Wigan's first penalty from Cauldwell. Arteta took the first for Arsenal, and scored one of the best penalties I've seen this season, hitting the side netting beyond the despair of Scott Jackson, who was too busy trying to orchestrate a bollywood music video with his shimmying around. Fabianski then played hero for the second time in as many minutes, guessing which way Collison would shoot. This was it, our chance. Up stepped Källström, a wise last-minute, last-ditch sub by Wenger, and he calmly tucked it away. All we had to do was keep our cool, and for the first time in a long time, we did. Cazorla scored the fourth after Giroud had netted his, and Wigan were out. Wembley here we are come!

We are now in the best position to win silverware in years. Now we just have to focus on a top-four finish. So that'll be another five cup finals then!


Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Everton 3-0 Arsenal [Hanoi]

Note - due to the crappy internet in Vietnam I'm struggling to upload photos. You can check out my Flickr Page soon (link to the right) which should contain some snaps once I find a better connection. GOTR

Good Morning Vietnam! Hello rest of world. OK, first things first, before talking about this stunning country, I need to clear something up.

I've found it very difficult to write about anything Arsenal-related over the past few weeks. Put simply the team has depressed me to the point where I've given up hope and (temporarily) lost most of my passion for the club. Arsenal FC is, right now, an embarrassment to its fans and its stakeholders. If it were possible to discontinue interest in the club, I would attempt to do it. But, it's a love affair that can't be broken, so we must soldier on with this constant pain until the people that are 
paid to make decisions, actually make decisions. Until that happens, I'm afraid to say Arsenal is a sinking ship and, as usual, it's the fans that bear the brunt of it.

Yesterday I watched Chelsea systematically break apart a resilient PSG team. Now this is really hard for me to say, but you'd be a numskull if you couldn't tell by the emotions of the players and the fans, let alone that trollop Mourinho, that there is some real fighting team spirit in that club. It is something that Arsenal completely lack, and it simply has to be down to management. I think it is utterly disgraceful, unprofessional even, for a manager to constantly blame his players for shortcomings. I have always stood up for Arsene Wenger, but even I have to start realistically thinking about the consequences of him staying at the helm, especially when he comes out with nonsense like that.

There are a few scenarios over the next few weeks that will surely confirm how the board views the club and the 'importance' of silverware. If we win the FA Cup and fail to qualify for the Champions League, realistically the board will relieve Wenger of his duties because it is those eighteen consecutive years in Europe's top competition that have lined the shareholders' pockets with millions. On the other hand, if we fail to win the FA Cup but secure fourth place, Wenger will likely stay, because the club is raking in the wonga, which we all know is the most important thing to the club, unfortunately. Finally, if we fail on both accounts [the FA Cup and UCL spot], there surely can only be one outcome. And I think we all know what that will be.

I really want Wenger to continue his reign at Arsenal but I simply wouldn't be a true Gooner if I wanted it at the expense of silverware. The perfect scenario for me would be for him to win the FA Cup and bow out with dignity. He deserves a lot of respect for what he's managed to do with the club over the past eighteen years (including successive UCL qualifications with restricted resources) and I think more fans need to show that respect, but at the same time I will view this like any other CEO of a business would – if you fail to deliver results as a manager of a team (any team, be it sales, marketing, finance, project management) then you will be clearing your desk to make way for somebody who wants to succeed.

Another thing we need to consider is that this is only the first season where we have splashed some big cash on players, and the arrival of Özil, at least for the first few months of the season, had really injected some vigour into our football. It has been made crystal clear that there is a large transfer kitty available, so perhaps we need to make judgement after the next summer transfer window has come and gone – if we haven't made any efforts to strengthen our squad and spread our risk [squad depth] then we are in a sad, sad situation indeed.

Anyway, rant over. I've been in Vietnam for almost two weeks now, and I have to say it's probably the most exhilarating country I've visited on the trip. I've learned to appreciate the beauty of the place but also the history – this country has been through a hell of a lot and yet it still finds a way to smile as a nation. The scenery is stunningly beautiful, the people are very friendly and the food is fantastic and even reasonably healthy (I haven't seen a single fat Vietnamese person).

The Vietnamese Arsenal fans have been very welcoming and I've had the pleasure of staying with some great Gooners here, none more so than Vu Xuan Tien or, for those that know him by his alter ego, the Running Man! Tien, as he likes to be called, prepared a typical Vietnamese meal for me to enjoy with him, his girlfriend and his uncle before I headed off to Ha Long Bay to take in the sights of Vietnam's most breathtaking views. I've also had some other very memorable times in Vietnam, but to find out more about my experiences you'll have to buy and read my book, which I'll be making an official announcement about soon!

I head back to Hong Kong on the 14th, where I will be spending some time winding down before flying back home to the UK on 1st May, just in time to catch West Brom, the last home game of the season.

Before that, there is an important cup match to watch of course. So until then...


Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal [Sri Yakim Cafe, Kota Kinabalu, Borneo]

OK. Chelsea at the weekend was an embarrassment, and perhaps proof that we simply aren't good (or rich) enough to compete for the title. That being said, our season still isn't over and we have a lot to fight for, not just the FA Cup but making sure we stay as high up in the top-four as possible, with the aim of avoiding another Champions League qualifier in August. We have Swansea at home this evening. If we don't pick up three points, it'll be a key message that drastic action needs to be taken in time for the start of next season.

If it were me, I'd drop Arteta. I always try to play the optimist but I know that he's just not up to the job of playing a holding role. It's not even his natural position. Arsenal desperately need a proper holding midfielder, especially with the way our fullbacks play (high up the pitch). And, I think I've finally conceded that we need a true talisman striker. Giroud has practically proven that he's not up to the job and I wouldn't be surprised if he left at the end of the season. It has been made quite clear that there is a good transfer kitty available for the next window. The top two priorities, in my eyes, are a genuine, enforcing defensive midfielder and a clinical striker. I won't bother with any names as that's completely pointless.

There are of course other areas which need addressed. The Sagna situation is still unclear, but it looks like he may depart for France at the end of the year to take advantage of the bosman stuff. I suppose you can't really argue too much with him if that's the case. It means we will need to look for another right-back, and whilst I love Carl Jenkinson and his heart for the club, he simply isn't ready for the task in hand. Another important subject is the backup for Mertescielny - is Vermaelen up to the job?

Tea plantation, Mount Kinabalu.
The Chelsea match for me, and many others, was a depression-fest. Fortunately I was in Kola Kinabalu in Borneo to watch the match so my surroundings helped cheer me up. In just one day alone for example I managed to take a walk on the beach, drive up a mountain (somewhat), sample local tea and get literally eaten by fish in a freshwater river. It's a truly wonderful experience.

Due to lack of time and funds I didn't get to sample some of the other thrills of Borneo, like a river cruise or jungle walk, but despite this I still highly recommend visiting. I will definitely be coming back here when I can take advantage of the place more.

I'm back in Kuala Lumpur now (for the third time) to watch the Swansea match, then, on Friday, I'll be flying up to Vietnam, a country home to tens of thousands of Arsenal fans. It's going to get really interesting!