There is something quite special about pre-season and there always has been. The days of being be stood on the touchline in Austria with the stars of that era an arms length away, are gone. Now we sit in the 5th tier of (arguably) the best stadium on the planet, halfway around the world. Those days in Austria were special and it’s a sad reality that they will never return. But football has changed, the appetite for football has changed, the money involved has changed and so pre-season has changed with it.
As I’m sat here reflecting on my 10-ish days in the States, with delays aplenty, stressful connections and a VERY long train journey I can’t help but notice the blues setting in. I’ve been fortunate enough to see Arsenal in the USA multiple times now and every city I’ve visited has brought with it memories that will last a lifetime. For all the stress of travel, that first beer with friends, old and new, is something that simply can’t be beaten. All brought together by our frenzied love of the Arsenal and a love of life.
That doesn’t of course mean that there isn’t a culture clash. I’ve been fortune enough to spend a lot time visiting and working in the States so for myself it was almost second nature, for some of our older fans from blightly it was all a bit strange. Stood in “The Bullpen” in a sweltering Washington, hearing a chorus of American voices sing Arsenal songs was a bit surreal. But that is how they do it over there and who are we to judge? The only way to properly enjoy experiences like these are to throw yourselves into them fully. As you know, the American’s don’t do things by halves.
After a thoroughly enjoyable day enjoying the hostelries of Washington with new found friends we made our way to the game and talking of not doing things by halves, the flyover at the end of Star Spangled Banner was quite something. The game was…interesting. We all know that from a professional point of view these are glorified exhibition matches that are used to build fitness but are entertaining none the less. The MLS All Stars however probably weren’t overly entertained as Arsenal stuck five past them.
The following day we enjoyed the company of some truly fantastic people from Texas, who (despite one hairy moment on an e-scooter!) showed us around the wonderful capital of the United States. Impressive, beautiful and sobering are all words that are appropriate. As we said our goodbyes, that definitely won’t be final, thoughts turned to the game in New Jersey and our upcoming stay in New York.
New York City, is unlike any other place on earth. It’s sheer scale and bustle is something that everyone has to witness once, even if it is the only time they go. Arriving late, we had to battle through said bustle to reach the party laid on by the NYC Gooners, which was quite frankly bonkers. I was thankful to be in the VIP section because the General Admission area was just gridlocked. Once we got through however, the drinks and food were excellent. As was the company of Ray Parlour, Lauren and a few other famous Arsenal faces.
Matchday took us across the river to New Jersey and the immense MetLife stadium. Manchester United were the opponents and the game, in all honesty was rather dull…but these games aren’t for us regular match goers. They’re for the good people of the United States, who diligently wake up every weekend at silly hours, meet their fellow supporters at the crack of dawn and cheer on the Arsenal from thousands of miles away. For their sake I was disappointed that we couldn’t muster a goal against the red half of Manchester.
As my fellow travellers boarded their flight to LA for the final match of this US Tour, there was a tinge of regret that I wasn’t joining them. But what a trip. Only on these tours do you truly understand how global Arsenal are and how lucky we all are that we get to see them as frequently as we do. Because believe me for some of the people I met on this trip and the previous one, seeing Arsenal in the flesh means the world to them.
Thought turn to the Emirates cup tomorrow evening but first I would like to extend my thanks to all of those Stateside who showed us some of the best hospitality you’re likely to find. From Dallas, DC and Dakota (North and South). From Virignia, Vermont and Vancouver. From Kansas, Kentucky, Kissimmee and everywhere in between. Thank you all.