Wednesday 27 November 2013

Arsenal 2-0 Marseille [Imperial Hotel, Melbourne]

G'day mate! Melbourne is my stop for this week as I work my way around the land of Oz.

The city of Melbourne is a sprawling, happening metropolis in the state of Victoria. It is considered the sporting centre of Australia. Firstly, you have the Melbourne Cricket Ground (known locally as 'The MCG') which is arguably the most well known of the country's test venues for The Ashes. Then there are 2 football teams, Melbourne Heart and Melbourne Victory, both equally abysmal. There's a rugby league team and a rugby union team. The Rod Laver Tennis Centre, where the Australian Open is held in January, also sits in Melbourne.

'Down Under' in Melbourne. Get it? I'm too funny ;)
And then you have AFL, or the Australian Football League. This is known to most of you as 'Aussie Rules' and, to describe it in as succinct a manner as possible, it's essentially a cross between rugby, Gaelic football and cage fighting. With the game taking place on a cricket field(?), Aussie Rules Football is an utterly brutal sport where players beat the living daylights out of each other in the hope of drop kicking a ball between some sticks. It's the most followed sport in Australia, and just here in Melbourne alone, there are nine teams all kicking the crap out of each other for fun and money. The season doesn't start until March next year so I won't get to witness any of this neanderthal-bashing up close, and that's unfortunate because it's the only sport here that I'm interested in learning more about.

Just a regular Aussie Rules football game. "Play on" says the ref.
Being 11 hours ahead of the UK, Sean Jenkinson (no relation to Carl) and I had the immense pleasure of waking up at 05:30am in order to get into town to catch the 6:45am kickoff at The Imperial in downtown Melbourne. The Imperial isn't the official pub for the Arsenal Australia members, but it's the only one that's open early enough to accommodate a live Champions League viewing (for the weekend we will be at AA Melbourne's regular home, the Celtic Club). There were about six of us watching the Arsenal match against Marseille, and we were all thrilled with the result. It was especially nice to see Jack Wilshere get on the scoresheet with his first ever brace for Arsenal (and also the fastest Champions League goal scored by an Englishman).

Not bad for 6am.
That result means we have one foot in the next round of the Champions League, but as everybody is well aware, the work isn't finished with yet. It's the first time in quite a few seasons that we enter the final group game of the Champions League with the qualifying teams still undecided. It means we have to go to Napoli with the intent of winning, and that will test our mettle next month when fixture congestion starts to come into play once more. Let's hope the Ultras behave themselves.


Tuesday 26 November 2013

Arsenal 2-0 Southampton [Albury, New South Wales, Australia]

I've made it to the land Down Under!

My first match in Australia went the same way as my first match in any other country I've been to so far on this tour – a win.

What's Australia like, you ask? Well, it's hard to put a finger on it. It's effin' huge for a start. It feels more like the UK and less like the US. For starters, the cars drive on the correct side of the road, and the people here speak English far more authentically when compared to Americans.

Some theatre in Australia
It still feels a million miles away from home though. For a start, we're a month away from Christmas yet it's 26 Degrees C outside, which just feels wrong. Yes, the supermarkets and shopping centres here in Albury look like they've been plucked out of early-nineties Gateshead, but they sell Kangaroo burgers and Croc Sausages. It's weird here because it's almost entirely like being in England in the Summer, yet in almost every way it's not. 

No comment necessary
My first game in Australia was in fact in a small town called Albury in New South Wales. I watched the Arsenal Southampton game at fellow Gooner Phillip Saunders' house, as it was 2am in the morning and none of the pubs here would open for long enough. Still, it was nice to watch a game without getting completely smashed, which meant it was nice to be able to wake up the following morning (or afternoon in my case) and not feel like I was punched in the head by a wrecking ball.

So, my next stop will be Melbourne where I'll be watching the Marseille and Cardiff games.


Monday 25 November 2013

Meet the Gooner Family [Phillip Saunders, Albury, Australia]

Apologies for the late update on this one. It would seem that the lack of sleep and abundance of Australian beer has seen me forget to press the 'publish' button on this 'meet the Gooner family feature'. Sorry Phil. Better late than never though, right?!

Meet Phillip Saunders, my first host for the Australian leg of my round-the-world Arsenalfest. Phillip lives in the city of Albury in New South Wales, which, if you looked on a map, would think it's in the middle of nowhere. And that's because it's in the middle of nowhere. But, it is approximately half way between Sydney (where my flight from Fiji landed) and Melbourne, the next destination on my list. Phil had heard of my cause and offered a couch to crash on and, of course, a Gooner to watch a game with.
Phil and his two children. All Gooners

Q. Why Arsenal?
Partly because of the shirt. I like the iconic red shirt, white sleeves. I didn't follow them because they were doing well. They're a strong, traditional yet progressive club.

Q. Started Supporting Arsenal?
It was mid-eighties. I remember Samantha Fox was a fan, and that was one of the reasons for me getting into Arsenal.

Q. Favourite Player?
Niall Quinn. He was so different, he was an unco-ordinated lanky goofball looking thing, but he never gave up and he was an iconic player.

Q. Favourite current Player?
I like Sagna, I'm also a full-back when I play. He's reliable, he doesn't try and be fancy, he's just 'what you see is what you get'.

Q. Favourite Arsenal moment?
First time I saw them win the Littlewoods Cup, think it was 86/87. That was my first experience seeing Arsenal win a trophy.

Q. Where do you watch Arsenal in Albury?
I would normally watch it at home, sometimes I'll head down to the Celtic Club when I'm in Melbourne.

Q. Emirates or Highbury?
I never went to Highbury. Even if I did go there, I'll still go with Emirates based on what the place has managed to do for us as a football club.

Q. League Prediction?
I think we'll finish top three. I don't think we'll win it, I think the other contenders are strong and I think our true test is yet to come.

Q. Who will be Arsenal's player to watch this season?

Aaron Ramsey for me. He's had a great season so far and I think he's going to score more decisive goals. I also think Eisfeld is one to watch, as we get more fixture congestion he will get the chance to play more games.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Meet the Gooner Family [Nathan Eggers, San Diego]

Meet Nathan Eggers, another member of the Gooner Family who put me up in San Diego for a night.

Nathan was one of a few Gooners that made their way up to Orange County to participate in the fundraising festivities during the United match.

Gooner On The Road & 'Eggers'

Q. Why Arsenal? The whole club just exudes class. From management to the players to the supporters, it is a group that joins together and fights for what they believe in. I feel the sense that the club picked me instead of the other way around. Also its the Gooner Family as well, I have met so many wonderful and interesting people because of this alliance that we have.

Q. Started Supporting Arsenal? 2006/07, it started with playing FIFA as I think it does with quite a few Americans. It was how I found out about the players at first and it just blossomed into the love affair I now have for this club.

Q. Favourite Player? Think I would have to go with Thierry Henry. He was just a shear joy to watch. He made everything look so fluid and easy.

Q. Favourite current Player? Gonna have to go with Aaron Ramsey on this one. To go through the injury he did, and the stretch of poor form in addition to getting heckled from a growing collection of supporters I really admire his attitude and determination to get to where he is playing at the moment. That is someone I want wearing the Arsenal badge.

Q. Favourite Arsenal moment? It has to be the Arshavin winner against Barcelona. That counter attack was something beautiful. I will always remember the commentator screaming Arshavinnnnnnnn!!!!!

Q. Where do you watch Arsenal in San Diego? Bluefoot Bar & Lounge with the San Diego Gooners and our growing assembly of supporters.

Q. Emirates or Highbury? Its hard to be a judge when you have never been to either place, but I am very excited to watch my first Arsenal match in person this December.

Q. League Prediction? I truly believe that we can win the title this season. We have gotten off to a good start and now that we are getting some of our wingers back I'm very confident we will be challenging for the title. This squad is the most unified squad I have seen playing for Arsenal since I started watching them, each player is ready to battle for the others.

Q. Who will be Arsenal's player to watch this season? The defense has grown alot this season and especially Kieran Gibbs. He is starting to become a very solid left back and now that he has a run of games without seeing the trainers table his form is really started to come about. He hasn't gotten much credit for his performances but I think thats the way he likes it.

Meet the Gooner Family [Nick Lellenberg, San Diego]

Meet Nick Lellenberg, host for a few nights in San Diego. Nick came up to Santa Ana for the fundraiser and invited me to head down to his place for a few nights to experience a slightly less pandemoniac California - I wasn't disappointed.

Nick helps to keep Arsenal America ticking over with news updates and features, but when he's working for actual money, he's an admissions tutor at one of the private schools in La Jolla (an affluent 'retirement community' north of SD).

Gooner On The Road and Napoleon Dynamite - typical San Diego Sunset.

Nick Lellenberg

Q. Why Arsenal?
When I was small I went to France every Summer with my family and I grew up watching France in 1998 and 2000, the French Contingent of Arsenal were in their prime. It was mesmerising watching Arsenal play.

Q. Started Supporting Arsenal?
The first game I watched was the 4-1 win over Norwich in 2005. The only reason I was watching was because my grandmother grew up in Norwich and I recognised the name of the team. Of course, Henry scored a hat-trick and it was Arsenal that I paid more attention to.

Q. Favourite all time Player?
Has to be Thierry Henry. Everybody loves the goalscorer. I watched him when he was playing for France, young and still learning.

Q. Favourite current Player?
Sagna. Unheralded. He broke his leg twice in a year but he's been with us for eight years and he is a workhorse, he never moans or gets caught up in the press for reasons right or wrong and he's got amazing headgear.

Q. Favourite Arsenal moment?
Being in the away end at White Hart Lane when we won 3-1 in 2007 was great, but my most memorable was another away trip, this time to Milan at the San Siro (same season) where we won 2-0 despite the odds being against us – no English team had beaten AC Milan on their home turf until that evening.

Q.Where do you watch Arsenal in San Diego?
The Blue Foot Bar & Lounge in North Park. We have around 30 people to every game, we've been going for around 18 months and we're growing all the time.

Q. Emirates or Highbury?
I never got to Highbury (I was one season too late) so I guess it's got to be the Emirates.

Q. League Prediction?
Top 2. I'm not comfortable saying which position (1 or 2) but I genuinely think we are at least runners up.

Q. Who will be Arsenal's player to watch this season?

Mertesacker has been tearing it up. He's not very fast but he reads the game so well that he doesn't need to be. He has the potential to be a captain.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Meet the Gooner Family INK special [Jordan & Channelle, 'Fresno']

Meet Jordan & Channelle, two members of the Gooner family who hosted me for one evening in Fresno. 'Where's Fresno?' you ask. Well, I can tell you: I don't really know, in fact, apparently nobody does. It's in California, and there are farms surrounding it. There are some buildings and some people, there are cars, some trees, roads, street lighting. There is a CVS Pharmacy. Where you can buy cigarettes and booze. Ah America.

Two completely talentless Gooners. And Me
However, there's also a tattoo parlour called 'Faithful & True', and a pub called 'Peeves'. This is where the fun stuff happens, and it happened to me. You see, the reason for the stopover in Fresno was to have a few pints (no change there) with Jordan and subject myself to some mild pain; I was there to get a tattoo.

Not just any tattoo, I was there to get my first ink, I was there to get a tattoo of the CANNON! Jordan runs the newly-formed Fresno Gooners supporters club, whilst his wife Channelle is a tattoo artist who has been stabbing people for a living for quite literally a week. Despite her obvious inexperience and questionable demeanour, I agreed to get a FREE tattoo from Channelle at Faithful & True.

The Cannon and everywhere I've been and going to (hopefully)

The result? Pictures like the one above don't do it justice, you need to see me in the flesh (yum!) but suffice to say Channelle did an amazing job and everybody, EVERYBODY that's seen the ink up close loves it. They love the design (thanks to Jordan for that, a man with many talents) and they love the fact that it looks like it's been done by a tattoo artist with more experience than Channelle. OK, full disclosure, Channelle has been tattooing people (or at least pig skin) for quite a while but has only been official for a week or two.

So, if you're thinking about getting an Arsenal tattoo and you live near Fresno (and you can find the place!) you must get in contact with these lovely people. Channelle's vision is to be the person who Gooners go to in order to get ink done, whether it's a simple Art Deco design or a blank canvas. They are a great creative team and of course they're yet another wonderful example of the Gooner Family.

Jordan Wiebe

Q. Why Arsenal?
The history, the class, the values, the way we develop young talent & play with a well-documented creative flair & panache (and I don't mean the ornamental tuft of feathers type, although Arteta may fit both definitions). I'm a fairly idealistic, imaginative person & the club seems to share some of the same values with the way they've been ahead of their time in so many different eras. For me, Arsenal was, and continues to be, a natural choice.

Q. Started Supporting Arsenal?
Thierry Henry was on the cover of FIFA 2004, I didn't have a club to support, he was incredible & so I started following AFC nominally. Then in 2008, I moved to London to work with a charity for a year & became enmeshed in the culture of football and, specifically, Arsenal; watching matches at the pub became my default activity outside of work. Then, through a friend, I was able to go to a Premier League match against Wigan at the Emirates. Adebayor scored in the first half for a 1-0 victory and, when he did, the ensuing 2 minutes of celebration was all I needed to be hooked.

Q. Favourite Player?
For me, it's always been Henry. There's not much to say about him that hasn't already been said by folks. He was absolutely world-class for us and has continued to be the quintessential Gunner after he left with all of his involvement at the club in the past few years.

Q. Favourite current Player?
Jack. His connection and lengthy relationship with the club is well-documented, graduating through the academy and reserve ranks, and it's pretty apparent that he's going to fight as hard as anyone for the team every single match. He's obviously supremely talented, as evidenced by several notable performances (Barca in 2011 Champions League, Swansea in the FA Cup last year), and a great example of the positives Arsene's faith brings out in players. While it goes against my better judgement, I *want* to believe that Jack will be an AFC man the rest of his career; it may be naive but I think he could be one of those one-club footballers that shares a deep, unique bond with their club. He's got the potential to be an Arsenal legend.

Q. Favourite Arsenal moment?
2-1 over Barcelona in 2011 Champions League. I still get goosebumps whenever I watch highlights back. And, to think: we did it with Djourou starting at the back.

Q.Where do you watch Arsenal in Fresno?
I started our local branch of Arsenal supporters, the Fresno Gooners, and we're lucky enough to have a great pub that serves as our host for matches called Peeve's Public House. We're a very new club, as we only started at the beginning of this season, and have had turnouts of 50+ at some matches. Peeve's has provided a great place to connect with Gooners that I hadn't previously been linked up with in our area.

Q. Emirates or Highbury?
I can only say Emirates because I've never been to Highbury and wasn't really a supporter when we were playing there. My wife, who's also a proper Gooner, & I got to take a tour of the Emirates this past summer when we were over on holiday and it was easily the highlight of our trip. I really appreciated that the club has done a great job of integrating our history into the stadium.

Q. League Prediction?
I'd like to think that we've got a great shot at claiming the Premier League title this year with the way we've started; it's really dependent on whether Wenger buys cover for Giroud and how fit we are throughout the season. I'll say we get into a title race with City & Chelsea and end up 2nd.

Q. Who will be Arsenal's player to watch this season?
Giroud. I think once Ramsey comes back down to earth a bit, we'll learn just how integral Giroud is to our squad. Oli's improvement & adjustment to the Premier League and our style has been very evident so far and. His work-rate and link-up play has been phenomenal from the start; I think we'll see him add a bit more to his goal tally by the end of this season.


Thursday 14 November 2013

Man United 1-0 Arsenal [The Olde Ship, Santa Ana]

The Gooner On The Road unbeaten run in the Premier League has finally come to an end. I tried my best to send good vibes to the team, through multiple pints of Harp and Guinness (no orange juice this time guys) but it just wasn't to be. The team looked tired from two massive games prior, and in the end, we didn't have what it takes to win three massive games on the trot. I don't write about key moments or decisions, because there are plenty other people on the interweb who do that just fine (there are also others that do a terrible job). But, if I was writing about it, I'd be commenting almost entirely on the refereeing, or lack of, that is atypical of an Old Trafford beating.

Hollywood Hills. Gabs [and Nilu, not picture] flew all the way from Austin for the fundraiser. This guy loves Tequila.
In the end, it was a disappointing result but one that we could essentially afford to lose because we're still top of the table going into the international break and, as many have said already, if you were to look at us playing Liverpool, then going to Dortmund and Manchester and say you would take two thirds of the points up for grabs, you'd be a happy man. It's still a sickening feeling when you lose to United but we can take comfort in those six points.

Venice Beach. Massive sunglass failure

Of course, the blow was softer for me than others because I was watching the fixture with the OC Gooners in Santa Ana, approximately 30 miles South of Los Angeles (45 minutes hours in typical LA traffic). We didn't get a result at Old Trafford but we got a result at The Olde Ship, as the boys there raised $2,150 for the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation, the charity I'm supporting whilst On The Road. They blew Arsenal Supporters Club Madison out of the water completely, which is really saying something. Everybody deserves a pat on the back here for being so supportive to the cause. So noble, so classy - it's things like this that make us, the Gooner Family, proud to be who we are.

The OC Gooners. NYC Arsenal Supporters' biggest rivals, atmosphere-wise. 
To make things better, the Austin Gooners and the Portland (PDX) Gooners raised roughly $1200 between them on the same day, taking advantage of big crowds who came to watch that Dutch guy score and celebrate in a sporting, ungrateful manner. This means we raised over $3000 (out of a $15000 target) across three supporters clubs in the US. Not a bad day, not bad at all.

And that brings me on to my final thought today. I've passed the $7000 mark for all donations so far this season. I'm ecstatic about that, BUT I know I wouldn't have been able to do it without the support from the local clubs mentioned above. The thing is, I don't want to only rely on these big hitters coming in, I would be in a much better position if I could count on volume, just $5, $10, $15 donations from a much bigger audience. And that requires exposure. So, if you're reading this and you feel like you're an influential figure that can help spread the word, please DO IT! You can find me on Twitter, you can find me on Facebook, Youtube and more. And of course, last but not least, you can find my FUNDRAISING page HERE. Please don't be the one that says "other people will donate, I don't have to", it all makes a difference.


Saturday 9 November 2013

Borussia Dortmund 0-1 Arsenal [Maggie McGarry's, San Francisco]

Yes, you heard right. That's ONE-NIL to the Arsenal. It's been a few days since that historic victory at  the Westfalonstadion, but I'm still ecstatic about it, especially the way in which we turned the game around with a slightly ugly but altogether dominating second-half performance. And, once again, it was the Welsh Wizard that made the difference. He scores when he wants, you know...

Just one of a million great perspectives of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge (taken from the rooftop of my hosts apartment building)
Anyhow, I was in the city of San Francisco for this fixture, the penultimate game in the North American leg of my itinerary. I've been to many amazing cities in the U.S over the past ten weeks, but San Francisco has to be, along with New York (which I've been to many times before) the most iconic. For once I was in tourist-mode, trying to do as many thing as possible in the two days I was there. I got to walk around Alcatraz, I had Dim Sum in Chinatown, I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and I got to ride the infamous cable car (one of only two US National Historic Landmarks that moves, the other being the New Orleans streetcar which I've also used). It was full of 'when in Rome' moments but I enjoyed every minute in SFO and will definitely be heading back.

Bay Area Gooners. These guys sing better than most. It must be a coastal thing.
We were watching the Arsenal game at Maggie McGarry's pub. As you can see below, the members of the Bay Area Gooners supporters club exploded into life as we saw Aaron Ramsey silenced the crown at the WestfalenStadion. It was a moment to remember, like many others this season.

I'm almost at the end of my trip in North America, the last stop will be Los Angeles, or to be precise Santa Ana in Orange County, which technically isn't actually Los Angeles, but for most of the people reading this who are oblivious to Californian geography (and for arguments' sake), it's LA! We play the filth from Old Trafford. I can't wait.


Meet the Gooner Family [Blake & Paul, San Francisco]

Meet Blake and Paul, two Gooners living in San Francisco, and my hosts in California!

Blake Kraft and Paul Sanchez
Q. Why Arsenal?
Blake: Victory Through Harmony. This is more than a football club. The way they do business, the management, the brand, the style of play, their youth development, the type of players they sign, Arsene Wenger… it’s all class.

Paul: Obviously I love the style of football we play, but choosing a club that had values I agreed with was a major factor in my decision. I wanted to support a club with rich history, but also one that didn't "sell its soul" in the name of success. I also fell in love with Arsene Wenger when I read his biography; he's done so much for the sport and Arsenal.

Q. Started Supporting Arsenal?
Blake: I started supporting Arsenal during the 2003-2004 season. I loved watching Henry during the World Cups so it was a natural choice even though my childhood team wore Barcelona uniforms. I stopped playing in the middle of high school and then began watching every game and religiously supporting.

Paul: After the 2006 World Cup, I was enthralled by football, I think partly because I enjoy learning about sports and how they transcend culture in peoples' everyday lives. My best friend Blake (who I still live with) was already a Gooner and he did the rest for me. I started watching during the 2006/2007 season and have been all in ever since.

Q. Favourite Player?
Blake: The legend. Thierry Henry.

Paul: Cesc Fabregas. When I started watching Arsenal, his position was the most interesting to me, and I thought he played it beautifully. I am not bitter that he went back to Barca, and I really think he'll be back at Arsenal in some capacity when he is in his 30's. He knows what it means to breathe Arsenal.

Q. Favourite current Player?
Blake: Wilshere. We raised him. He is 100% Arsenal and I love his grit. He’s like a jack russell terrier out there.

Paul: Aaron Ramsey. It has been so much fun watching his development since we signed him & Jack as teenagers. He has an incredible engine, and always wants the ball. I'm happy to say that I didn't give up on him when he went through his rough patch coming back from injury, and to see his confidence skyrocket is just an absolute joy. I think it's a testament to Wenger and his decision-making.

Q. Favourite Arsenal moment?
Blake: Arshavins’s Champions League goal and win against Barcelona or Henry’s header in the 94th minute against United.

Paul: That's a very tough question, but I'm going to say the victory last season at the Allianz against Bayern. I know we didn't make it through the knockout, but I believe that victory was the catalyst for our amazing run of form, and put us in the position we are in now. The boys proved they could win ugly against the toughest opposition in hostile territory, which was always questioned before that match.

Q. Where do you watch Arsenal in San Francisco?
Blake: I watch Arsenal at Maggie McGarry’s with the Bay Area Gooners.

Paul: I try to make it to Maggie McGarry's every weekend, because it's the closest thing I can get to the experiences I had while living in London. I love watching the matches with other supporters who can relate with how much the club means on a personal level to them.

Q. Emirates or Highbury?
Blake: I’ve never been to Highbury, so I guess The Emirates. I wish I could’ve seen a match at Highbury.

Paul: I have to say Emirates simply because that's where I saw my first match, the North London Derby. It is also symbolic of the club transitioning into a new generation of football, and it shows our ambition.

Q. League Prediction?
Blake: I think we’ll nick it. We’re first in the league at the moment but it’s a long season. If we keep on this run and get a couple players fit I don’t see why not!

Paul: I don't see why we can't win the league this season! I love that we keep proving the pundits wrong, and this squad is more resilient than ever--the chemistry is unprecedented.

Q. Who will be Arsenal's player to watch this season?
Blake: Ozil! He’s the world-class player we’ve been missing. His impact on the pitch and with the fans has been invaluable. You can’t dispute the results since he’s been brought in. 

Paul: I have to say the Mertesacker - Koscielny partnership (even though that's two players). It has to be one of the most underrated CB pairings in the world, and I love how they work for each other. We've had some impressive clean sheets against quality sides this year, which I think in large part is due to that partnership improving so drastically...and Flamini.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Meet the Gooner Family [Kevin Mooney, Portland]

Meet Kevin Mooney, host for the Gooner On The Road in Portland, Oregon. Kevin and his wife Ryan were a great guide for all things Portlandia. Not only does Kevin actually work for Arsenal, but Ryan works for a beer distributor and knows beer more than most other Portlanders, which was both impressive and useful.

Kevin and GOTR
Q. Why Arsenal?
It's the most free flowing football, with heart, that you can find. Yes there's the tiki-taka of Barcelona, but there isn't the same English spirit that Arsenal has. There is that perfect mix of beautiful attack-minded football, artistry and English grit.

Q. Started Supporting Arsenal?
This goes back to the 1994 World Cup, I remember the goal that Dennis Bergkamp scored against Brazil. Of course, this was America in the early nineties and so football disappeared over here for a few years after. Eventually I ended up watching late-night football highlights and realised that "that guy that was playing so great now plays for Arsenal". Part Three for me, and the deal-sealer, was reading Fever Pitch [like 90% of other Arsenal fans in the USA] - I actually had the privilege of meeting Nick Hornby and we talked for a few minutes. The combination of all these things paved way for me falling in love with Arsenal.  

Q. Favourite Player?
Bergkamp. I wish I could have seen more of him in his prime, but every time I saw him he was a magician. I guess I would compare him with my other Sports idol, Steve Yzerman, who played for the Detroit Red Wings. Hockey was my number one guilty pleasure before Arsenal and the Premier League took over.

Q. Favourite current Player?
That's a tough one. Right now, between Ramsey and Giroud, I'd have to go with Giroud because I have a connection with the number 12. They have both had some bad stick from the fans but have answered their critics and proven they can be the best in the league.

Q. Favourite Arsenal moment?
Barcelona Champions League at Emirates. At Beulahland in Portland we all went ape.

Q.Where do you watch Arsenal in Portland?
We go down to Beulahland in North East Portland, the owner Jimmi is a Gooner; he reserves the main room with a projection TV for all Arsenal games. There are times when I can't actually make the game, because I'm busy doing text commentary and social media for [yes, I work for Arsenal USA].

Q. Emirates or Highbury?
Emirates because I've never been to Highbury. I think the Emirates is the most spectacular sporting arena I've ever seen in my life. 

Q. League Prediction?
We're going to finish top of the league, I am the eternal optimist. The pessimist in me says finishing second. If we don't finish top, I can't say who will, that's how different this season is, and that's how confident I feel about us and our team spirit.

Q. Who will be Arsenal's player to watch this season?

Özil. What we have seen is only the glimpse of what we can expect. He isn't even firing on all cylinders yet, but once he does and he integrates with the other creative players in the team, he is going to be unstoppable, both as a goalscorer and a man who can feed other people into the net.

So, that's it for the Pacific Northwest. Next stop, the state of CALIFORNIA! I will be in the iconic city of San Francisco for the Dortmund away match.


Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool [Beulahland, Portland, Oregon]

I arrived in the city of Portland, Oregon on Halloween. It's one of those places where you would look at the people on the street and ask yourself if they're dressed up for this particular festivity, or if it's simply their normal attire. Because this is Portlandia, a wonderfully weird mecca of people who do what they want to do (unless they want to sunbathe of course). If I could describe this city in one word, it would be the 'anti-corporation'. Like any city in the US there are McDonalds, KFCs and Starbucks within a stones throw, but in Portland you will find, per capita, more independent pubs, bars, restaurants, salons and grocery stores than in any other major US city, and, in addition to the abundance of hipsters and hippies, it's this that gives the place its character.

Portland. Grass, Water, Mud, Grey Skies

Portland is also famous for its food carts. There are hundreds of the across the city and the quality and choice on offer is mind-blowing, and much like Austin many of the people who start these food carts go on to establish restaurants or cafes. It's something that you don't really see much of in the UK, but, like many things I've found over here in the US I'm sure it could catch on.

Street food in Portland. The world's best?
The Arsenal fans in Portland are known collectively as the PDX Gooners, and they watch matches at Beulahland. It just so happens that the proprietor, Jimmy, is an avid Arsenal (and Portland Timbers) fan, so as you can imagine, the place is kitted out with the appropriate memorabilia and is open for every game. The food and beer selection is, as is usually the case with a Portland establishment, very good.

Good bunch of guys. Still can't sing, but it's in the works.

The game in question was a blinder: Arsenal v Liverpool at the Emirates. What a comprehensive performance it was too. The fact that the shortest man in the Premier League managed to assist himself with his head was the icing on the cake for me, but of course we have to credit the man that can't stop scoring, Aaron Ramsey, for his wonder goal. As you can see from the reactions below from the Portland Gooners, both goals were important and they set us up nicely for Dortmund away.

Which brings me on to the next stop, the penultimate city on the American leg of the Gooner On The Road mission: I will be in San Francisco with the infamous Bay Area Gooners to watch us take on the Bundesliga's finest. If you are from the Bay Area I expect to see you there!


Friday 1 November 2013

Meet the Gooner Family [David, Seattle]

Meet David Sheffield, my host for the Seattle leg of my tour around the world. I stayed with David, his wife Molly and their three young children in Fremont, which is a neighbourhood just North of Downtown Seattle. They live in a townhouse with spectacular views across Lake Washington. Once again, the generosity demonstrated by these members of the Gooner Family was through the roof. David did a good job of giving me the lay of the land and showed me around some of the sights during this whistle-stop tour of the Pacific Northwest.

GOTR With David, his youngest son and his very tall friend who lives in a home-made shack in the mountains (no joke).
David Sheffield

Q. Why Arsenal?
Arsène Wenger. Fever Pitch. Thierry Henry. Cesc Fàbergas. Arsenal’s beautiful, open style of play. London. Arseblog.

Q. Started Supporting Arsenal?
During 2006 my wife and I traveled to Mexico during the World Cup. We were taken by how passionate the Mexican fans were for their national team. I followed that World Cup through the end and told my wife that I wanted to pick a team and follow for a season and see if it would take. Of course, I picked the top league: the English Premiership. Bill Simmons from ESPN did a similar search for a team, at the same time, but we came up with much, much different results. I came across Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, read it in less than a week and became enraptured on Arsenal. Plus, Arsenal are a London team and I just love that city. During that first season, I noticed that Arsène Wenger’s approach to the game was much different than the rest of the EPL, and I found Arsenal’s style more appealing. After a couple of months, I was hooked and have been a Gooner ever since.

Q. Favourite Player?
Thierry Henry is my favorite Arsenal player. He created and finished plays like no other player since I’ve followed the club. I began following Arsenal after the World Cup of 2006, where I was properly introduced to Titi. He was very fluid with the ball and seemed to score and pass and create with ease. The game for Thierry Henry seemed to come easy to him and he was a pleasure to watch with the ball at his foot.

Q. Favourite current Player?
Mesut Özil. I read in Arseblog back in 2009-10 that Wenger was tracking him and he was an emerging player with Germany during the 2010 World Cup. I began to watch him with anticipation of a move to the Emirates—that happened 3 years later. I think he has world class ball handling skills and is on a creative level with few peers.

Q. Favourite Arsenal moment?
February 2012. The (first) 5-2 win over Spurs. We were in the middle of a difficult stretch and the game didn’t start out very favorable for the Arsenal, but the team responded and blasted our rivals on to gain a full 3 points and fueled the team to maintaining our Champions League standing for the following season.

Q.Where do you watch Arsenal in Seattle?
In the comfort of my living room or at the George & Dragon Pub in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. The pub is awesome and there is always a festive atmosphere, but since we have 3 small children, it is easier to manage at home. We were in London a few years ago, but I wasn’t able to get tickets to a match; so, I had to settle for visiting the Arsenal museum at the Emirates.

Q. Emirates or Highbury?
Emirates. I began supporting Arsenal during the inaugural season at Emirates. Having read some of the history of Highbury, I wish I could go back in time and watch a match to truly be able to compare. But, on this basis, I can only really say the Emirates.

Q. League Prediction?
I’m going to agree with Simon (14:1) at the George & Dragon. This is Arsenal’s year to win the EPL Title.

Q. Who will be Arsenal's player to watch this season?
Aaron Ramsey is having a career year. It’s great to see after he broke his leg and struggled a bit to regain his form. He’s more than regaining form. He is truly progressing.

Thanks again to David! Next stop, 'Portlandia'.


Class and Heritage 0-2 Corrupt Russian Oil Money [George & Dragon, Seattle]

My time in the 'Rainy City' has come to an end. 

One of the first things you notice about Seattle is that it's on a pretty steep hill along the coast of the Puget Sound body of water. There doesn't appear to be a lot of fat people in this place, and with those hills in mind you can understand why. Normally, when you see cities on TV shows and movies, you don't really get any sense of perspective, you don't think about the vertical dimensions that make up the landform where a city stands. So when you see it in person for the first time and realise you need to get from 'down here' to 'up there', it makes getting places that little bit more challenging.

Photo taken from my paddle-board. Honest.

Seattle's a great place to come for arts and culture, and the sports scene here is very respectable too; the city is represented by the Seahawks NFL team, the Mariners MLB team and of course the Sounders MLS football team, currently captained by Tottenham reject Clint Dempsey.

I managed to score a free box ticket to the impressive CenturyLink field to watch the Sounders beat Stan Kroenke's Colorado Rapids and progress to the next round of the MLS Playoffs. The game itself, when compared to watching the mighty Arsenal, was less entertaining than watching algae grow, but thankfully the atmosphere made up for it. This is the 5th MLS stadium I have been to see this year and like all the other teams – with the exception of the NY Red Bulls – there is something innovative that could be taken back to Premier League football. The crowd interaction is great, you can see that the people responsible for this are creating an experience that incentivises the fans to get behind their team as the 'twelfth man', including national anthems, fireworks and songs to inspire chants. It's all very American, but it seems to do the trick.

Impressive stadium. Football is questionable (as in, 'are they actually playing football?')
The thing is, when you don't have that level of atmosphere at your home stadium and the majority of your fans are sleeping at their seats, you never feel like you get that twelfth man advantage, and that's exactly what it's like for Arsenal. Chelsea knocked us out of the prestigious Capital One Cup, the third team to beat us at home this season (it's only November), and I think one contributing factor here is the complete lack of chanting and crowd interaction. We are unbeaten on the road and, not wanting to take anything away from the outstanding team performances we've had on this run, our away fans get behind the players in a way that our home fans don't. As a team on the bleeding edge of technology and setting standards across the globe, I think Arsenal Football Club is well-placed to introduce new ways of improving supporter participation at The Emirates and making the stadium a fortress that opposing teams fear to come to.

The George & Dragon pub, owned by John (middle) who is a Gooner.
The George & Dragon Pub is the spot to go to watch Arsenal in Seattle. The game on Tuesday was about 60% Gooners and 40% clueless Chelsea fans. This made it the least enjoyable atmosphere to date of all the pubs I've visited, but I'm sure that has something to do with the scoreline. We were outclassed, outpaced and out-everything-elsed and you could see the difference a billionaire sugar-daddy can make to the depth of a football squad.

My next stop on the itinerary is Portland in Oregon, known to have the best beer in all of the US. Oh dear.

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