I received a telephone call back in December from a member of the Arsenal NYC Supporters. I was shocked, but thrilled, to learn that my name had been chosen at random from all NYC Arsenal members to receive roundtrip airfare to London and a ticket to see Arsenal play Southampton at Emirates Stadium on February 24th.
I noticed that Arsenal had three other games in London during the time that I would be there. I knew that this was an opportunity that I could not pass up and I proceeded to figure out how to obtain tickets to these additional matches. Two were at the Emirates, but the third was the North London derby versus the very Spursy Tottenham. That match would be at Wembley Stadium, and would prove a bit difficult to obtain tickets for.
Purchasing tickets for a Premier League match is hard work. However, where there’s a will, there’s a way. I was able to secure tickets for the Bate Borisov match on February 21st as well as Bournemouth on February 27th. In addition, I secured tickets for West Ham’s home match versus Fulham at the London Stadium on February 22nd. (I have not switched allegiance, but friends that I stayed with in London are West Ham fans so I thought it would be a nice gesture to get tickets so that they could be a part of my football odyssey).
Up first was the second leg of Arsenal’s Europa League round of 32 meeting with Bate Borisov. What I figured would be a day to see the kids get a chance to play in Europe turned out to be a lot more important as Arsenal somehow found a way to lose the first leg in Belarus.
For this reason there was a bit of apprehension in the air prior to kick off. However, a pleasant surprise was finally seeing Mesut Ozil’s name in the starting lineup. Also included up front were Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alex Iwobi and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Alexandre Lacazette had received a red card in the first leg and was therefore suspended for this match.
The tension inside the stadium subsided quickly when Arsenal took the lead within four minutes. An Aubameyang cross was kindly turned in to the Bate goal by Bate defender Zakhar Volkov. Arsenal had a 1-0 lead and the tie was now 1-1 on aggregate.
Arsenal dominated play and even though none of the Arsenal offensive players were able to score, the defenders contributed with goals. Shkodran Mustafi headed home just before half time and Greek defender Sokratis put the match to bed with a header of his own in the 60th minute. Arsenal won the match 3-0 and the tie 3-1 on aggregate.
Game two was the next night as West Ham hosted Fulham at the London Stadium in Stratford. The stadium was built for the 2012 London summer Olympics and is the new home of West Ham United.
I know this is an Arsenal blog, but the West Ham experience was a part of my five matches in 12 days pilgrimage. Therefore, here’s a brief run down on this one.
I was most looking forward to seeing the famous West Ham bubbles. West Ham adopted the 1918 song I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles as the club anthem in the 1920’s. In keeping with the theme, the club releases bubbles in to the stadium before the match and every time the home team scores. It was fascinating to see big guys with beer bellies belting out the lyrics with gusto as the bubbles flowed.
Even thought it was a rare Friday night match, the crowd appeared family oriented. Despite this fact, the guys behind us in the 73rd row (the LAST row in the stadium) didn’t think twice about sneaking in beers, yelling at the ref as if he could hear them and using cute English swear words for all to hear including the kids sitting all around them.
West Ham seemed to be asleep at the beginning of the match. Fulham went ahead in the third minute and the tension inside the stadium grew. Luckily that didn’t last long as West Ham were ahead 2-1 by half time. First, Chicharito equalized in the 29th minute. (Apparently his arm helped the ball go over the line and it was therefore a controversial goal.) The second goal came on an Issa Diop header in the 40th minute.
West Ham dominated the second half and the bubbles flowed once again when Michail Antonio scored the Hammers’ third goal in added time. The final score 3-1 to the home team.
The crowd left happy and we were shuttled out of the stadium with the crowd and ended up in the middle of a mob of fans shouting come on you Irons, come on you Irons, come on you Irons over and over as we slowly made our way to the tube.
I had two more matches remaining and possibly a third if I was able to secure tickets for the North London derby. Did I make it to Wembley? Stay tuned for part two.