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An American Gunner at the Emirates

I love London.

I am an admitted anglophile and any chance I can to London is a chance I am going to take. And if it provides me with the added opportunity to see my beloved Arsenal – EVEN BETTER.

I love London.

I am an admitted anglophile and any chance I can to London is a chance I am going to take. And if it provides me with the added opportunity to see my beloved Arsenal – EVEN BETTER.

That was the case last week. If you are a regular follower of this blog you no doubt noticed the lack of anything of substance over the last week and a half. It is because I spent most of the week in London working for my clients. The worst thing about that is that any sight seeing I wanted to do, was limited to what I shall affectionately call “London at Night.” I am not much of a tourist per se, as I don’t like to go on tours and what not but I do like to visit places that to me ooze with history (you’ll see where I am going with this soon.)

So you can imagine my surprise when on Friday I got cut loose by my clients at 11:30AM. They were done with me and had nothing further for me to work on. I was actually going to see London by light.  And I wouldn’t be let down, during my walk of Kensington Gardens and around the perimeter of Kensington palace, by sheer dumb luck I happened to stumble upon a certain heir to the English throne and his young wife get aboard a helicopter. In all my 44 years in the US I have never once saw a US President. In just a scant few days in London I stumble across the Duke and Duchess of York.

That day would also start my build up to my Arsenal day on Saturday. After my walkabout I headed over to South Kensington to meet one of social media’s public enemies (if you are an Arsenal supporter), the one and only Tim Payton (@timpayton.) Contrary to belief, Tim doesn’t have horns and based on the phone calls he received while we chatted he is rather connected.  I actually got to hear about Arsenal’s new youth academy head before anyone else as Tim was called about it whilst we sat and drank coffee (I had tea – it is England after all.)

Tim is a great guy and the fact we spent 2+ hours sitting chatting about all sorts of things related to but not limited to Arsenal made it even better. In the states – if it’s not on twitter or at the pub where we watch the matches, interaction with other Arsenal supporters is non-existant. It’s growing and I may run into one here and there but not enough to have the kind of conversation Tim and I had. I loved it and Tim was gracious enough to humour me and my limited background.

After Tim I went and met up with another of Arsenal social media’s favorites to hate – Phil Wall (@AngryofN5) When I met Tim I had a notion of what he looked like as he has an image of himself on twitter. Phil does not and my personal images where shatter when I saw a man taller and thinner than eye sipping down his beer.

Like Tim, Phil does not have horns nor is he overly negative or evil as many want to believe. Tim and Phil have their opinions and they have their passion. We’d all do well to remember that. Again Phil was a great person to chat with, we  had a few beers and I felt welcome and accepted which isn’t something we Americans aren’t used to especially here in Philadelphia where we once threw snowballs at Santa Clause at an Eagles game. Yeah, we’re like that.

I’ve gotten to know Tim and Phil via social media for the last few years and they’ve always been supportive of my blog and always willing to engage. So it was great to finally sit down and chat with both of them. Faces to names is a great thing.

So next came Saturday, match day. The excitement of the day was dulled – just a little. I went through the nightmare of not knowing where my passport had gotten to. The night before after meeting with Phil I went out pub hopping with my friend Christina and her husband James. Christina is an American who has lived in London for the last 10+ years and we went to school together. So imagine my horror as I woke up and noticed I couldn’t find my passport.

Yes, I had quite a few the night before and am quite sure the final slug of Sambucca made me lose track of everything. The good thing about it was that as freaked out as I was, I was pretty sure that I knew where it was as I only took my coat off at one place – the Golden Bee. Sure enough Christina checked for me and there it was. So back to my story.

Fairly confident that the passport would be found I headed off to the Emirates. I took the tube to Holloway road. And as I got off went up Hornsey road. As Hornsey road bends you get the first site of the Emirates. It stands out – immensely. As you get closer to the stadium it fills your view and is impressive amongst the setting.

As I walked around one thing struck me – you suddenly realize why there is so much talk about ticket prices. When you walk around the area that Highbury and the Emirates are located in, you are immediately struck at the very working class nature of the area. If you’ve never been you don’t know what you’re missing. But if you have you probably know the feeling I am talking of.

You are immediately awestruck by the duality of it – the fact that this amazingly beautiful venue sits amongst the people who likely can’t go as often as they’d like to. It’s a sad reality and one that was brought home for me more as I walked the streets.

I got to the area early. I had to go have the full on experience. I had to visit the Tollington. In all my previous visits they were well before any of the social interactions that happen online were prevalent. If I need tickets it wasn’t an email I sent, it was usually a phone call to someone I knew over there with some help and the promise to pay them as I came over. I went to the match and left. I didn’t know anyone I just enjoyed the matches.

This time I was hell bent on making sure I got it all soaked up. I headed over to the Tolly. I did the walk around without knowing a damn person. I knew people wanted to meet up and even though I am easy going, willing to chat kind of guy, just walking up to someone I don’t know is always hard.

That’s why I was glad I could immediately find Darragh Verschoyle. Darragh is someone I have depended on a lot in the infancy of YAMA. He is a digital guy with programming chops who helped me early on with a lot of the back end stuff I had no clue about. Darragh is also a very tall Irishman. Having seen pictures of Darragh on Facebook it was very easy to identify him. After I asked the requisite “Are you Darragh Verschoyle”

I was brought into the group that included many of twitter’s regulars including Darragh’s dad, Ray.  The funny thing about it in this social media age is that no one introduced themselves by their first name it was twitter handle and name. “hey this is YouAreMyArsenal.” It was kind of surreal but its how we all know each other.

That day I got not only to meet Ray (@GrumpyOldGooner) but I had a great time with @Arseholic, @R_Gooner (Richard) and @SuburbanGoonerChris (Chris) as well as others whom I hope they forgive but through the whirl wind nature of the day and the copious beers I have forgotten. I haven’t forgotten that also got to meet a podcast favorite in Jules Wheeler (@TheRealGunner). Jules was fantastic even making sure I got back to the Tolly after the match and subsequently introducing me to Gooners from – Chicago.

I also have to give a special thanks to Jane (@GunnerJane) who I got to spend time with and who was kind enough to walk over with me to the Emirates pre-match. Jane and her family split time between their London home and Florida. So Jane and her lot have a standing invitation to come meet my family when they are next up north in the US.

There is a passing mention of Akhil Vyas– the networking master Arsenal supporter who is everywhere and has probably taken Tim Payton’s place as the Arsenal Supporter media darling. We only had a chance to meet passingly but Akhil (@10Akhil) volunteered to introduce me around but I managed on my own.

My real hero of the day though is Faisal Khan. Better known as FK or @fkhanage on twitter. FK is responsible for getting me my ticket. Now when FK told me he had tickets in the North Bank Lower, I had idea what kind of tickets.

FK showed me in and gave me my ticket and led me to my seat which surprise surprise was 3 freaking rows off the pitch. I WAS IN ARSENAL HEAVEN. FK I can’t thank enough for the experience. I wanted the full on experience and I was  in the loudest most vocal part of the stadium. There wasn’t anything to like.

The funny thing I would find out is that whilst I was going mad with glee at Santi Cazorla’s acrobatics and goal scoring sensation, I was captured a few times on my NBC Sports back in the states and was texted images of me snapping a shot of Santi and team celebrating his first goal.

I did all the other obligatory things like visit the Armoury and do my part to contribute to Arsenal’s transfer kitty. I also managed to get a picture taken with the GunnerSaurus who oddly enough was suggestively tugging at my scarf.  Dude!

I will never get to go to Arsenal regularly unless I find a way to convince the YAMA family to uproot themselves and move to London. I will go when I can go and I am kind of hoping that work wise I manage more travel to London then I had been afforded the possibility of being able to. I will deal with it.

I am left though with one enduring memory, these people whom I had only met via social media all welcomed me in. They treated me as a friend and someone they had known for a while. They made me feel welcome and we laughed, we argued and made of Tottenham. The only thread that attached us was our love for a team called Arsenal.

That thought stays with me now as I look at people arguing over whether Wenger should go or stay or other sundry discussion points we’d like to avoid. We all support this wonderful club and if people whom I had never before could welcome me in with open arms I have an optimistic hope that we’re not all lost causes.

FK someone who didn’t know from a tree in the park opened up his time and was a gracious host. He said the look on my face as walked down the aisle was well worth the experience. Why you ask? The last match I was at was at Highbury. I had never been to the Emirates. I am sure it was similar to the look my kids had when it was Christmas and they see their gifts under the tree for the first time.

FK and everyone – thank you from the bottom of my heart. You all made me very welcome and I will never forget the day, no matter when I come back.

Oh, and it didn’t hurt that I got to be under the big ass 49 flag, hear Wojciech Szczesny scream a rather funny obscenity at a Fulham player, see Poldi’s rifle shots, Santi score (twice) and Arsenal get 3 points.

We’re back now and jet lag is gone. Normal service is resumed.

Stay Goonerish everyone!!

 

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