Bennydevito here, reporting back from my virgin trip to the Emirates! I wanted to get this out earlier in the week but that pesky old thing called life kept getting in the way so kudos to Pedro for getting something out on a daily basis, I think a lot of us really do take Le-Grove for granted at times, I know I do.
I consider myself lucky to have been to Highbury once, in September 2001, a drab 1-1 affair with fat Sam’s Bolton. Arsene Wenger in his cream suit, big Tone walking about marshalling the defence, the famous clock glistening in the sun, ahhh this is excellent … I thought at half time, as I wandered down to pitch side for a cigarette (before the smoking ban ) I could quite get into this….
Then I got married.
So anyway, fast forward 14 years and one divorce and three kids later I find myself nearly one year shy of 40 and still to go to the Emirates. This needed to be rectified so I thought the Emirates cup would present a good opportunity for me to get tickets and make a weekend of it. Pop my Emirates cherry!
I left it very last minute, the Friday before. I started looking for an available hotel first as I didn’t want to put a request out on Twitter for tickets and have nowhere to stay. I didn’t worry about it the other way around as I figured I might be able to get tickets outside the ground, and if not, sod it – I’ll make some friends in one of the local Arsenal pubs and have a few ciders. It didn’t take long to find somewhere so I rang them up and booked a room for £89. Not bad I thought. Little did I know it would cost more. I then put a tweet out which Pedro kindly retweeted and within minutes I was getting direct messages offering tickets. Brilliant! This was actually happening! I then got onto the Megabus website and booked a return for £30. Bargain. It was on!
Saturday came and I was up at 5am after getting my bags ready the night before. I got my bus from my flat to Bristol centre, and walked across the harbour side/waterfront, past a couple of Shaun the sheep, to the Colston Hall to get the 7.30am Mega bus. I exchanged a few messages via Twitter with some old Grovers who couldn’t make it; shout outs to Doublegooner, Franchise, Muthafungla, Arse & Nose and DuzziSantos, was nice chatting, and got into London Victoria at 11am after a delay at Hammersmith. I was sat next to a big well overweight Welsh bloke who was snoring like a walrus. His breathing became so erratic and heavy that I wondered whether he was having a heart attack or a wet dream! I was hoping it was a heart attack. I then had to walk a short distance to get a tube to Finsbury Park to meet guy number 1 for Saturday’s ticket. The station was a nightmare – queues like I’ve never seen, and I thought Temple Meads was bad. It was nothing. Luckily I got some help from a nice attendant who pretty much did it for me, she was great, so with tube ticket in hand, off I went.
I got on the North line and an awkward moment occurred. Not living in London meant I wasn’t used to how rapid the tubes accelerate so when it pulled away it took me by surprise and I fell backwards into a woman’s lap! Oh my god it was so embarrassing. Funny though, we both had good Lols over it! On my way I had to change at King’s Cross, and whilst doing so, to my childish delight, I saw a sign that said Cockfosters. This amused me no end as I pondered to myself whether Cockfosters was in fact a weird I’m a celebrity style penis blended lager, or a sanctuary for the fostering of unwanted chickens. Such questions, such mysteries!
I rang my guy and he shortly arrived. I paid £40 for a £30 ticket. That’s ok I thought, I’d have paid £50 so I was just happy to have that ticket in my hand and to know I was definitely going. I was buzzing, that tingling sense of anticipation was starting to take hold, it was exciting. I wandered about and managed to find the stop for the W7 bus to Muswell hill and got on. I reached into my pocket and pulled out some change for the fare. What happened next was embarrassing. The bus driver quite rudely and quite loudly pointed out that London buses don’t take cash. Oh. Everybody on the bus was looking at me like I’d just brought a grammar phone to the apple store asking if they can fix it. I felt like a right tit. Not a breast or a bird, but an idiot.
So off I went in pursuit of an Oyster card. This was beginning to feel like a bit of a mission. I got one for a fiver from a local newsagent which covered me on the buses for the day so that was good, I’ll use he to get to the Emirates and back. Sweet. I got to my hotel about 1.45 and checked in. They’d already taken my card details the day before so I was a little weary when they took it again and put it through a payment device but thought it’d be alright. I had a quick shower and got changed into my Campbell 23 home dreamcast shirt (sorry Pedro, I know you don’t agree with full grown men wearing replica shirts) and got going. It was at this point that I realised I’d been done by the hotel. I checked my balance on the way to the bus and saw that they’d charged me £180 instead of £90. I rang them as I was already missing the opening match between Villa Real and Wolfsburg and they tried to make out that it was standard practice and that he’d explained to me on the phone on Friday that this would happen. Like f*ck he did and no way is that standard practice. I told him I was pissed now as I’d come here on a tight budget and what with direct debits going out on Monday he’d completely compromised my whole weekend. I couldn’t by a new shirt, get my kids some merchandise or get proper on it Saturday night. I was not a happy chappy. I have since got the money refunded by my bank and they informed me that it was a mistake on the hotel’s part and that they could and should have refunded me on the spot. A very strong letter of complaint is winging its way to them shortly, what with other dissatisfying features like paper thin walls and slamming doors every 10 seconds, and if they don’t grovel to me a very bad review will be posted on Trip Advisor!
I got back off the bus and followed the now swelling flocks of gooners walking towards the Arsenal. It felt great to be walking down Gillespie road with 100s of Arsenal fans cheering and chanting. There were stalls selling scarves, hats and flags, there were food wagons selling burgers and chips and there was the smell of frying onions in the air and the sound of a sizzling hog roast on another. It was gloriously sunny and people were shouting; what do you think of Tottenham? Shit! What do you think of shit? Tottenham! Was fantastic. I felt like a proper supporter.
I carried on walking past Highbury house and the Arsenal shop and towards the giant concrete Arsenal that sits opposite the Drayton Park pub. Looking towards the Emirates for the first time was amazing. The Ken Friar Bridge with banners hanging down of ex Arsenal legends was really something leading on to the Dennis Bergkamp statue. I just felt such a sense of wow. The Emirates looked so grand from outside, like a colosseum with its awesome wraparound mural of great players past. It was really something.
I had a quick cider in the Drayton Park and had a lovely giant hotdog with bacon and cheese outside for £6.00. It took me about 20 minutes to eat it, it was massive! I then made my way to the Eastside lower and took my seat. I remember walking up the stairs and you get that first glimpse of the light from the pitch that dazzles you momentarily then walking through and seeing the sheer vastness of the pitch and the awesomely amazing tiers packed with people. It was a dream come true.
I won’t go over the game itself too much. I think Ox was motm, Ozil & Ramsey were good and there were some excellent Mexican waves going round – I think one went round about 4 to 5 times, it was a great atmosphere. A 6 nil win was a great first time for me to lose my Emirates virginity. I walked back to Finsbury Park and picked up a pin badge from a stall along the way and got a bus back to my hotel. I got chatting to a bloke on the bus who was in his 60s and had missed the game because he was working. He was really happy when I told him it was 6 nil!
Saturday night was pretty low key. I had a fair few ciders then went and got an Indian takeaway. I know it’s boring but I got a Korma as I just really fancied one. It was disappointing though, not quite Kormary enough, not enough coconut, not creamy enough, and the Bombay potatoes were nowhere near spicy enough. Rubbish. Was 17 quid as well. Ah well, Bristol better for curries.
So I had to get up early Sunday as breakfast was done by 9.30am and check out was 11am. I felt rough. I can’t drink like I used to, anything over 5 pints and I’m hanging like I’ve been on the vodka all night. I needed coffee. This was a hotel, it’s bound to have good coffee at breakfast, some filter coffee or freshly peculated coffee was just what I needed.
They had a big jar of Nescafé instant. And a tank of hot water.
Not even Alta Rica.
You’ve got to be kidding me!
Shaking and suitably unimpressed with breakfast I had to get my things together and check out. Why is it when it comes to checking out you seem to have more stuff than you came with and it manages to get spread out all over the hotel room? That was sweaty fun packing my bags. To make matters worse it was belting it down outside. I arrived at the Emirates about 1.30pm to meet guy number 2. He had told me he had a £55 ticket which I could have for £50. It was another £30 ticket. Getting done left right and centre- nice! I was willing to pay £50 though so no biggy, although overall the weekend was getting pricey.
I went into the Drayton Park and got chatting to some Polish Arsenal fans, who amazingly, had also come from Bristol and lived not far away from me! What are the chances? He also told me that I didn’t have a Bristolian accent. I said that’s because I was born and grew up in Bath and moved to Bristol in my mid-twenties. After they had left I got chatting to a proper Arsenal old boy season ticket holder from Highbury and whose associates were ex Highbury firm, one of which served a 3 year ban. Some of the stories he told me would put a guy Ritchie film to shame! We exchanged numbers and are going to keep in touch. I’m planning on going again soon with my 8 year old boy and hopefully this chap might be able to help out. He’s coming down to do the Shaun the sheep trail with his family so I’m going to meet up with mine.
My ticket for Sunday was in the clock end in the corner at the top next to the East stand. The view was amazing, just stunning. I was awe-struck. The game itself was a scrappy affair, the crowd never really got going like Saturday but it was raining and cold so that’s to be expected. Adelaide did an amazing bit of skill that made the crowd roar- it was immense. It was surreal seeing Cech in our goal and I didn’t realise how tall he is – makes Ospina look like a midget!
I left the ground with soaking wet feet and feeling tired. I picked up a souvenir t-shirt from an Arsenal stall outside Arsenal station for £3, bargain, and walked to Finsbury park. The Arsenal station was fenced off and being trickle fed by the Police so it made sense to walk 10 minutes. I had a look at the old Highbury East stand and thought how grand and regal it looked. So glad it has been listed and will be part of our heritage for years to come.
I got on the tube to head for Victoria but I made a potentially grave error. Instead of getting on the south line, I got on the north line. I’m wearing my Sol Campbell 23 shirt. I realise my error thankfully before I get off at Tottenham Hale. So I’m standing on the seven sisters underground shitting it a bit because I’m not sure if I’m near Tottenham or not and I see this massive 6ft 5 Asian guy with a big beard and he was wearing an all-white long sleeved top. He looks at me once then looks again, only this time it looks like he’s giving me the evils! I’m beginning to panic a bit now praying for the bloody tube to hurry up! The next minute he’s pulled his phone out of his pocket and is texting. I’m thinking oh shit! He’s ringing his mates! I’m going to get my head kicked in and thrown under the tube! It was very unpleasant for a few minutes until the tube turned up I can tell you!
I made it to Victoria in one piece and went and caught my Mega bus. I managed to get on an earlier one than booked and was back in Bristol at 10pm. Having just got used to modern methods of transportation in London, it was back to scrabbling for change in my pocket for the bus. I had exactly the £3.50 needed to get home. Result!
Overall my weekend was amazing, just brilliant. I felt privileged to be there, shoulder to shoulder to with proper Arsenal fans. I want to do it again. Maybe next time some of you Grovers may join me.