Saturday 31 August 2013

Meet the Gooner Family [Olivar, Copenhagen]

Sorry for the late post, this article was supposed to be online yesterday after I arrived in Gothenburg, but as I was still suffering from man-flu I didn't have the energy or time to put anything together. And today isn't any better unfortunately. Hopefully I can shake it off.

My best selfie outside Gefion Fountain in Copenhagen. I blame the man-flu.

Anyway, I waved goodbye to the land of Bacon, Pastries and Nicklas Bendtner. Denmark, or more precisely Copenhagen, was yet another example of how Europe, a continent with so many countries in such close proximity, can be so diverse culturally and aesthetically. How did it compare to Berlin and Prague? Well, as stated in my previous post, it is expensive. £35 for two open sandwiches, locally known as Smørrebrød (if you can pronounce it I take my hat off to you), and a bottle of water. OK, so I did go to the most renowned place in Copenhagen, Eda Davidsen's, and it was very good, but still, THIRTY FIVE POUNDS! That's basically twice my daily budget. If the restaurant had a menu where we could actually see the prices, it might have been a different story. Be warned.

Smørrebrød. If you can pronounce this and you're a native English speaker, I salute you.

After coming from Prague and Berlin, the city did leave me feeling a tad underwhelmed. Copenhagen is almost completely flat, like Amsterdam, and it doesn't really have the same atmosphere as those two cities visited previously. I suppose if you were to come to Copenhagen on a long weekend with a wallet full of cash, you could definitely experience some of the best food, drink and hospitality in Europe. But as a backpacker, you'd be better off giving the city a skip, or at least keeping the visit to one or two days maximum.

What I did like about Copenhagen was the people. The majority that I met were friendly and warm. Particularly Olivar Roden, the member of the Gooner Family that was putting me up for a few days in his flat. As is customary now with the Gooner On The Road blog, I will be doing a Q&A on the people that are 'hosting' me on my travels. The Copenhagen instalment is below:

Morten Harket and I at Southern Cross

Olivar Roden

Q. Why Arsenal?
It's actually a funny story. My Mum and Dad's friend was Dutch, and I was 4 or 5 years old when I met him for the first time. He gave me an inflatable windmill hat in Dutch colours, so I started following Holland. After Bergkamp's goal against Argentina I started watching him play for Arsenal and that was it, I was hooked.

Q. Started Supporting Arsenal?
1998 (after the World Cup had finished).

Olivar's best mate isn't exactly on the same football page

Q. Favourite Player?
As per above, Bergkamp. I liked how he was so unselfish, yes he was a clinical finisher but he was a real team player.

Q. Favourite current Player?
Wilshere, he's the future captain. Personality, slick hair, poster boy, great with the press, very mature. Commitment, passion. If it wasn't Wilshere it would have to be Walcott because of his pace, but mostly because he creates a good team spirit and he can have a great first-touch which can change a game in a moment.

Q. Favourite Arsenal moment?
Winning the league at White Hart Lane in 2004. Also, my novelty best moment: Last season playing West Brom when Mertesacker made a last-ditch tackle with his back

Q.Where do you watch Arsenal in Copenhagen?
I watch at the Southern Cross pub most of the time, it's a great atmosphere and a good turnout. This Sunday we will probably have between 75 and 100 people watching the North London Derby.

Q. Emirates or Highbury?
Highbury. Smaller pitch, suited our style of play. Closer to the action too.

Q. League Prediction?
A bit hard to say before the transfer deadline, heart says 1st 20 points ahead, but realistically I think we're going to finish 3rd, ahead of Man Utd.

Q. Who will be Arsenal's player to watch this season? 
I would say Aaron Ramsey based on his importance in the first few games this season, and the latter half of last season. He has a crazy engine and has improved dramatically.

So tomorrow it's the North London Derby in Gothenburg, and I am quite literally being treated like a king. I have been told that I am not allowed to pay for anything whilst I'm here, and that the pub I'm going to tomorrow, The Cheers Pub, will refuse to accept my money. The supporters club in Gothenburg is going to be doing a fundraiser for me, and the pub is going to match the donations, so essentially if they raise £50, the pub will also put in £50. It's things like this that makes me realise what kind of mission I'm on and the support that I'm receiving along the way - I'm finally starting to believe in the challenge and that anything is possible.

Until next time.


Wednesday 28 August 2013

Arsenal 2-0 Fenerbahce [Southern Cross Pub, Copenhagen, Denmark]

Well firstly, I'd like to start by saying that Copenhagen is bloody expensive. Not the kind of place where you want to spend much time as a backpacker watching the pennies, but nevertheless a very scenic city with some fantastic sights and great food. The Anarchist Community of Christiania is definitely worth a visit.

Yes, that's a Sweden flag over there, but this is Denmark. Which is not Sweden
The official pub for the Denmark Arsenal Supporters Club is an Irish pub called Southern Cross, which is on two levels. The whole upstairs level is reserved for Arsenal games, which have priority over any other event, no matter what's on. There's also a decent amount of club memorabilia including a fantastic tongue-in-cheek Tony Adams chalkboard graphic.

Nicely done.
The game itself was a bit poor to be honest, but when you consider that Ramsey scored twice and with that we are through to our sixteenth consecutive Champions League season, everything else remains irrelevant. I was hoping though, that we would take a bit more momentum into the important North London Derby fixture on Sunday by scoring 4 or 5, but a win is a win, and the confidence levels must be on their way up.

The Copenhagen Gooner Family, looking typically Danish
What would help further boost those confidence levels for Sunday would be a few marquee signings. Whilst our upcoming opposition have added proven talent to their ranks, we have added nothing more than Yaya Sanogo, a French Second League player on a free transfer. With Podolski limping off and Ramsey running himself ragged, plus Wilshere looking doubtful, I think there are little options left but to buy. Why are we waiting for Real Madrid players to become available (subject to the Bale transfer) when we can find equally capable, or even better players elsewhere? We still need a versatile defensive midfielder and a centre back. It's risky business.

Now, a quick note about the fundraising. The Gothenburg Supporters Club (supposedly the rowdiest in Sweden) are doing a fundraiser for me whilst I'm there at the weekend, which is great. It would be nice though, if I could see some more donations coming in. I understand that Razoo is a bit different to what people are used to, but it is a trusted name in the fundraising space and they are very big in the United States. However, if I get some good feedback, either on my Twitter feed, my Facebook Page or at then I will look at switching to Paypal. 

Until tomorrow then.


Monday 26 August 2013

Meet the Gooner Family [Trevor, Berlin]

Part of the wall.

Can't come to Berlin and not try Curry Wurst
Berlin is done. I had a great time, we won against Fulham and I saw Hertha play, and I spent some time with some great Gooners. My host, Trevor, was very welcoming and basically gave me everything I could have needed for my 3 days in Berlin. That includes a bed, food, shower, internet connection and his wife even loaned me a transport pass so I could use the city's excellent public transit system. Oh, and he also supplied me with as much beer as I wanted, which funnily enough wasn't that much as I was still feeling the effects of Prague from Wednesday evening.

As part of the Gooner On The Road blog, I'm going to be doing features called 'Meet The Gooner Family', where I find out about their love for the cannon and how they follow the club despite living in a different country/timezone. You can view my previous feature on Andy Hunt here.

Trevor Wilson

Q. Why Arsenal?
A mate of mine was a big Arsenal supporter. And it was the better alternative to Chelmsford City (my first team). I feel I'm obliged to tell you that if Chelmsford were to play Arsenal I'd root for Chelmsford, but I don't see much chance of that happening in my lifetime. I'm also a very keen Hertha BSC fan (Berlin's main football team who last season got promoted to the Bundesliga 1, and as we write this they are on a 3-game unbeaten run).

Q. Started Supporting Arsenal?
Late 1980's – it was a good time to start following. I was in Berlin obviously, so I didn't get to go to Anfield.

Q. Favourite Player?
Tony Adams. He was a hooligan back then and a bit of a bad boy. The opposition feared him and we used that to our advantage.

Q. Favourite current Player?
Santi Cazorla. He's always in control, he has flair, he's relatively consistent and of course he has those two feet and that cheeky grin. What's not to love about Santi?

Q. Favourite Arsenal moment?
Sol Campbell's goal in Paris against Barcelona – the evening didn't turn out the way we hoped it would, but it was the greatest feeling I have ever had whilst wearing an Arsenal shirt. It was also the last time we had a decent chance of winning some proper silverware (Emirates Cup and Carling/Capital One Cup excluded).
Cheery chappy Trevor

Q.Where do you watch Arsenal in Berlin?
I usually watch it at home because if I watch it down the pub I will suffer the consequences the following morning. I am also one of the founding members of the German Arsenal supporters club.

Q. Emirates or Highbury?

Q. League Prediction?
Arsenal are going to win the Premier League. That's what I think and I always will. I'm not interested where Spurs, or any other team finishes, the only important there is that we're above all of them in the end.

So that's that. More from me tomorrow, including the reaction to the 2nd leg of the Champions League qualifier against Fenerbahce, which will be at the Southern Cross pub in Copenhagen!


Sunday 25 August 2013

Fulham 1 - 3 Arsenal [Irish Harp, Berlin]

Berlin Gooners outside the Irish Harp
Well London might have been completely blanketed in the wet stuff on Saturday but Berlin was bright and sunny, or at least it was outside The Irish Harp in Charlottenburg. I had the good fortune of watching the game with the Berlin Gooners, part of the official Arsenal Germany Supporters Club. 

The turnout wasn't as large as Prague but we still had a good time. Obviously there was the added bonus of Lukas Podolski netting a brace of goals, which was promptly followed by the Berlin Gooners chanting "Lu Lu Lu! Lukas Podolski". We take 3 points back home, and hopefully we can also take some serious momentum from the 2nd Fenerbahce qualifier into the North London Derby next Sunday. Will Bale be a Real Madrid player by then? Will Arsenal have spent any money in the transfer window? Who knows...

I'm pleased to say that I wasn't dragged out for the long hours like I was in Prague after the win against Fenerbahce, so I'm feeling less lethargic. But that doesn't mean to say Berlin is a safe haven for people wanting to keep their liver intact, as the beer selection is fantastic here, and as with anywhere else in Germany, the good stuff is part of the culture.

Great atmosphere at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin

After watching Arsenal I headed out to the OlympiaStadion with a few Gooners to watch Hertha Berlin vs Hamburg. The atmosphere was unbelievable, and there was also the bonus of Hertha scoring the winning goal (if there was a roof it would have been blown off). When you consider that Hertha came up from the 2nd division of German football last season, it wasn't a bad result at all. The home fans were obviously very happy.

So for me, the next stop is Copenhagen to watch the 2nd leg of the Champions League qualifier against Fenerbahce but before I do that, there will be a feature on my host here in Berlin.


Friday 23 August 2013

Meet the Gooner Family [Andy and Sarah, PRAGUE]

My first hosts
I couldn't have asked for a better start to my trip than by staying with British Gunner Andy Hunt and his Irish girlfriend (also an Arsenal fanatic) Sarah Hayes in Prague. I know it was only the first city on the itinerary and I was there for four days, but they definitely made me feel like I'm going to miss them. The combination of great hosts and a beautiful location made it a time to remember, even if there are several hours of one particular evening where I can't remember a thing!

Andy and Sarah were actually at work during the days I was there, but they trusted me in their own home and even gave me some keys so I could come and go whilst they weren't around. Now that's what I call Gooner Family!

If there was one thing to remember, it was when Andy took me to a Central Prague pool hall / entertainment complex. There, he ruthlessly destroyed any faith I had in myself as a semi-decent pool player (I won the first game comprehensively but he won the countless others afterwards). As a gracious loser I shook his hand on every arse-beating I got. We would also have a few late evening FIFA sessions on Andy's ageing Playstation 2 - this essentially followed the same course as the pool and by the end of the Prague stint I was so fed up with shaking his hand that I'm kind of glad to see the back of him, for now at least. Sorry Andy!

So, on the last evening, after another thrashing on FIFA we ordered some takeaway Thai food online and did the obligatory Gooner On The Road 'gift exchange'. Then I sat down with Andy and Sarah to do the first 'meet the hosts' feature for the blog.

Andy and Sarah at an Arsenal friendly in Cologne

Q. Why Arsenal?
Andy Hunt: I was 5 years old, and my brother was an Arsenal fan, so really there was no option, and I'm glad there wasn't one!
Sarah Hayes: My story's a bit different. Most of my family supported Spurs, so it seemed like the best thing to do would be to mix it up and go for the Gunners. It was a good choice.

Q. When did you first start supporting Arsenal?
AH: As above, since 5 years old.
SH: 2002/2003, just in time for the Invincibles. 

Q. Who is your favourite player to wear an Arsenal jersey?
AH: Dennis Bergkamp. He was there when it was starting to get really, really good for us, and he just epitomised our attacking play at the time.
SH: Thierry Henry. No further explanation required [God]

Q. What was your most memorable Arsenal moment?
AH: My first game - Arsenal v Norwich, 1988. I was on a school trip to Highbury, and we won 2-0. Second most memorable moment would be Keown going postal on Van Nistelrooy.
The official 'Gooner On The Road' gift exchange.
SH: I met Wenger outside a Prague pub that I was working in at the time. The team was in town playing Slavia Prague 2007 (it was a goalless draw). The evening before the match I saw a man with grey hair walking past the pub, I instantly recognised that it was Arsene Wenger, so I started chasing down the street waving a bar receipt for his autograph. I actually invited him in for a pint, but he politely declined – it was before the game so I think he had other priorities!

Q. Where do you watch Arsenal in Prague?
AH & SH: Rock n Beer, used to watch in a place called Star Bar but most of the Prague-based supporters go to RnB.

Q. Emirates or Highbury?
AH: Highbury. The atmosphere, the history, the architecture.
SH: Highbury, our true home.

Q. What's your league prediction?
AH: Top 4 finish for Arsenal, and obviously above Sp*rs! I think Manchester City will win the league.
SH: I think we'll finish 3rd. Manchester City will win the league, United 2nd, Chelsea 3rd. Spurs will hopefully finish 10th.

Fenerbahce vs Arsenal [Rock 'n' Beer, Prague, Czech Republic]

Day four in Prague was memorable to say the least. 'Hangover from Hell' is one of several phrases I could use to describe the way I felt the morning (or afternoon!) after the match, because the Prague Gooners definitely know how to drink, and apparently I don't.

Arsenal dominated in Istanbul, which gave us 3 goals to take back to The Emirates next week, a great advantage which should (barring a huge disaster) see us through to our sixteenth consecutive Champions League campaign. I celebrated with my fellow fans in typical Prague style by drinking the city dry. And I paid the price for doing so.

My hosts Andy and Sarah took me to the hangout of choice for local Arsenal fans. The pub was called 'Rock 'n' Beer'. We had a small gathering (maybe 20 of us) and the pub showed the game in their basement. You can see what the atmosphere was like from the video below, which sees us celebrating Gibbs' goal in the second half. Sorry about the poor quality,

After the game I took the opportunity to get a quick photo of the local fans in front of the bar. What made it particularly interesting was when we started to chant "Ooh to ooh to be, ooh to be a gooner" the Prague Police, standing just up the street, told us we'd be arrested if we did it again - a bit harsh but there you go!

Prague Gooners
After that, the evening went downhill - you will be able to see some indicators of that in my Flickr album, which you can now see by clicking the button on the right. You can also subscribe to my YouTube channel, again just click the button on the right.

Anyway, it's pretty late in the evening here in Prague, so I'm finishing up with my packing and hitting the sack. I'm off to Berlin, where I will be trying to keep myself away from the strong stuff.


Monday 19 August 2013

Damage Limitation and Airport Lounges

I'm actually struggling for words to sum up how I think this season will go. After the dismal effort on Saturday, the fresh injury news (especially The Ox's knee) has put us in an unenviable situation, and I just don't know what to say to make people feel better about it. Ever the optimist when it comes to Arsenal, I feel this season is going to be nothing more than a damage-limitation exercise - we have the thinnest playable squad in the Premier League right now, maybe even Europe, and even if we do bring players in, it's all about hitting the ground running, something that Aston Villa managed to achieve with little sweat I might add.

Kroenke: A man with many moustache combs
I'm always going to sit on the fence when it comes to Wenger. Yes, he was our saving grace in yesteryear, winning trophies and helping us go a whole season unbeaten, but he also hasn't achieved anything significant in the past 7 years other than consistentily profitable transfer windows. And we all know that, nothing new there. Some fans are calling for his head on a plate, whilst others back him and say it's the board to blame. "If Usmanov/Dein come and Moustache/Gazidis leave we'll spend more than the top three combined" - but it's not the way we do it and I hope Arsenal doesn't become another Sugar Daddy playpen. I'm proud of the way the club is run, because I know that if I'm still alive <touches nearest wooden object>, in 50 years time we'll be a club that can compete with the top 3 in the World let alone the League, and I will be relishing every game.

Of course nobody wants to wait that long for something good to happen, but it's all about sustainability, especially in this economic climate. I'm not saying that I 100% think Wenger should stay, because I'm not an expert and I don't really know if that's the best thing for Arsenal Football Club. What I do know is that something needs to happen quickly, and we might have to take a few risks to get out of this situation we're in. Without risks there certainly are no rewards.

Onto something more upbeat now, you might have noticed from various social media feeds that I'm on my way to Prague (as I write this). I'm in an airline lounge in Dusseldorf, waiting for my connecting flight to the Czech Capital. I had the good fortune, especially as a backpacker, of inheriting a pass that allows me into hundreds of airport lounges worldwide. What it means for me is comfy seating, Wi-Fi access, free beer, and a nice hot shower if I need one (no comments please, it's too early in the trip!).

Airport Lounges - a backpacker's dream
Most importantly though, I realised that I can stock up on all the complimentary snacks that these lounges offer, for 'the road'. I've tried to avoid flying as much as I can in the GOTR itinerary up to Australia, but in some parts of the U.S, it was completely unavoidable. What it means however, is that I'm going to have the opportunity to visit several airport lounges across North America, where I can essentially force as many peanuts and apples into my daypack as possible for some of my long-distance, one-dollar-fare bus trips I have to make to connect cities.

Now if you'll excuse me I need to ask some overly-efficient lounge staff for more pre-packed cheese & crackers, as they've run out.

Next stop, Prague!


Sunday 18 August 2013

Arsenal 1 - 3 Aston Villa [Emirates Stadium, London]

The 22nd Premier League Season officially began yesterday. For some, it was Liverpool's early kickoff victory over Stoke that started the campaign, but for myself and most of the people reading this, 3pm (BST!) was the time to focus on, as Arsenal faced yet another Emirates opener to Aston Villa.

Arsenal's new 3rd choice Left-Back (me!)
I had the privilege of attending this match in person at The Emirates Stadium, and why not? What better place to commence the GOTR adventure than the home of Arsenal itself? Another reason for visiting in person of course, was to pick up my new shirt! I was just expecting a quick handover in the Armoury (the official club merchandise store) or something to that effect. Instead, I got the chance to do what not a lot of people ever do; I walked down the tunnel, onto the pitch and got a photo or two with my shirt, 'new signing' style. It was a huge, huge moment for me, and I was grinning from ear-to-ear.

The grin didn't last for long. After that once-in-a-lifetime, schoolboy dream moment, I completely forgot that we had a game to play, and that I was there to watch and not participate. Yes, I know some of you thought I was going to be on the bench as a replacement to the outgoing Andre Santos, but I'm afraid that was all just a bit of a joke. I'm sorry to get your hopes up.

This was a game that I, like many others, would care to forget - but unfortunately because of the moment immediately preceding those 90 minutes, I doubt I ever will.
"I've been shot in the face!"

Yes, we went up after 6 minutes courtesy of Super-G, but the rest of the game was a nightmare - we didn't finish our dinner, we got bossed around the park (as per usual), decisions went against us, players went off injured, and when we needed a route out, we didn't have any options because our squad is paper thin

What I could also see (which is sometimes easier when you're at the game in person as opposed to watching it on TV) is that we looked knackered after 45 minutes. Whilst a good portion of our players had stupid internationals to play the week before the Premier League kickoff, (the organiser of which should be shot in public) it doesn't look like Aston Villa had nearly as many. Not being one to look for excuses here, I reckon that was one of many contributors to our loss, and the main difference (aside from an extra 2 men, ref included) between the two teams.

The other contributor was the aforementioned thin squad. We need to buy, and we need to buy quick. Personally, I have no problem with panic-buying (something else that I would usually disagree with). We need to go out and lock down some experienced Premier League talent for our defensive positions, players that can work in multiple roles. Obviously, we could see that Sagna can't play left-back (if Wenger chose me to sit on their bench like I asked, I would have nailed it), and neither Ramsey, Rosicky or Wilshere can be the enforcer sitting in front of the back four. We need somebody who can mop up a mess and play all over the park. Song, Gilberto and even Viera could play DMF or CB and still make a name for themselves with the odd goal and assist.

So, to summarise yesterday, I would say it was a day for me to remember and others to forget.

Prague - city of a thousand mediocre football teams
On the GOTR front, I'm off to Prague on Monday to start the European stint. I will be staying with Gooner Andy Hunt and his girlfriend Sarah - both of whom I've never met in my life, but it's all part of the #GoonerFamily spirit and I should get used to it. I am promised by many that I will love this city, and I'm sure I will. I'll be watching the first leg of the UCL Playoff against Fenerbahce. Hopefully we'll get a result in Turkey - if not my itinerary for North America is screwed as I've already booked most of my intercity transport on a Thursday (the same week day that Channel 5 gets its biggest viewership, if you know what I mean).

Finally, and most importantly for me and many others, please remember to donate to my fundraiser here.

Until next time.

Monday 12 August 2013

Panic Attack No.1

A little less than a week to go before the season kicks off, and I've never been so apprehensive for the start of an Arsenal campaign in my life. But I suppose I've never had a challenge like Gooner On The Road to stare down the barrel at either.

The past week has been non-stop for me. I met Morgan Rubes, chair of Arsenal Canada, in Toronto whilst I attended a family wedding. Morgan and I had a pint or two and chatted about topics like the non-happenings in our transfer window and our hottest new talents coming through the ranks for 2013/2014. He also reassured me that he'd help spread the word for my cause to the Canadian Arsenal fan-base, as well as on Premier Punditry, which he contributes to on a regular basis. And if you're a fan of football podcasts, PP is definitely worth a listen - essentially it's a supporter-driven football podcast in North America and it's a very unique way of collating banter from various clubs' supporters around the globe. It's also classy and very well put together (OK, full disclosure, I used to contribute to PP in their early days and will gladly shout about them when a chance arrises).

To top last week off, I was featured on the Front Page of, which really is a testament to the whole GOTR concept, especially when we consider the idea was conceived only a few months back from literally nothing - the term 'Everything Happens For A Reason' has never resonated as strongly as it has now. I'm hoping there will be more opportunities to gain some exposure of this magnitude, especially for fundraising purposes. 

Which brings me on to the most important subject of all. To date, I've raised $225 for TNBC, which is about £145. When you think that my goal is £10,000, I've still got a long way to go, but then with 9 months worth of backpacking and blogging, I'm sure I can surpass that mark with ease. So if you're reading this, and you have a credit or debit card, please donate.
These will do me for 9
months, right?

The fundraising (or lack of) is just one of the reasons for the anxiety - another reason might have something to do with the fact that, aside from my battered flip-flops, I don't even have a pair of trekking shoes for backpacking - despite leaving for Prague one week today. There are also transport holes in my North American itinerary that I'm still debating whether to book, and my Australasia and Asia legs look like a dog's breakfast.

Apart from that, I'm good to go! The positive news is, with all the worrying about lack of backpacking kit, places to stay and methods of transport, I've completely forgotten that we still haven't signed anybody yet!