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.