Those of you who have done the away European trip will know what I mean when I say it’s basically as good as it gets. Having lost 3-1 in the home tie, this leg had a different feel to it than Barcelona and Milan. The Arsenal fans were on holiday, they were in Munich to let their hair down in the knowledge that this could be the last Champions League away day in a long while, it would have to be a particularly memorable one.
With the game on the Wednesday we travelled Tuesday to Thursday. Pretty much the only occasion that I’m happy to get up ridiculously early for is this one. The easybus arrived at Stanstead at 8.30am. As we approached Wetherspoons we were greeted by the comforting sight of fans doused in red and white looking exhausted but with pints of cheap lager staring back at them nonetheless. Sadly, unlike in Barcelona, Munich airport border control doesn’t require a reason for travel. In barcelona the response is always ‘business’ and it’s always greeted with a wry smile.
Whilst trying and failing to conquer the Ubarn underground system on the way to the Hotel Wetterstein it became apparent that this is a charming place. Much nicer than Milan and on a par with Barcelona, Munich is a football city through and through. The people are only too happy to chat, although when inevitably the conversation turns to football they exhibit more than a touch of arrogance. Koscielny would put pain to that within 24 hours. If you’ve done one of these trips you’ll know that all you really need is a central square and nothing more. Munich provides this, however fans were forced to shelter in the famous beer halls as a snowstorm moved in. As well as the famous wheat-beer, the food deserves a special mention. Sausages, pretzels and pastries are the order of the day.
Tuesday afternoon was spent in ‘the world’s most famous pub’, Hofbräuhaus. This is football fan heaven. A sprawling mass of well lubricated tourists, most of whom look as though they’ve scarcely been happier. A traditional Bavarian band play the occasional ditty in the middle. Each number provokes a response from the disinterested Gooners, ‘wha’dya think of Tottenham?’ ‘Weee wooon the leeeeeeeeague’. It’s a bizarre mismatch of styles but everyone apart from the security guards seems to be enjoying it, especially the Asian tourists most of whom look like the lager has sent them into a new dimension.
News filtered through of Barca’s trouncing of Milan at the Nou Camp. Not too long ago it was us on the receiving end of Messi’s magic and not too many Arsenal fans were at all optimistic this time around either. A few more steins of beer and before we knew it we ended up in local establishment called La Dulce Vita. Inside it was basically exactly as you’d imagine. Most of the evening’s entertainment unpredictably came via a Jonjo Shelvey lookalike trying to persuade a stripper to come home with him. Suffice to say, if you look like Jonjo Shelvey no-one wants to shag you, even if you pay them.
Match day begun in bed next to my mate who was clutching an unidentified stein (picture below).
One thing that set this trip apart from others was the amicable, sociable nature of the Gooners. The fact the tie was all but over meant everyone was slightly less aggressive than normal. We spent the afternoon chatting to some fans from Brighton, Ireland and even some random tourists from Texas. Having explained why we were crazy enough to follow our terrible football team to Germany for a match that we’d already lost, they asked us why we still want our manager to be our manager if we’re so shit? Mmmm. I tried to explain that a large proportion of our fan-base act unreasonably and disrespectfully towards him so my opinion is centred around avoiding this ‘Wenger-out’ mob and trying to balance the books. They didn’t really understand so I told them I felt like a homosexual 14 yr old who is mad confused about his sexuality and doesn’t really know what the hell to think or do anymore. I think they understood that.
By about 6pm the bar was in full voice. A small collection of Bayern fans were doing a good job against the vast majority of Gooners. Occasionally a chant about the war or Jews would bubble and threaten to take off but the majority would show their displeasure which was nice to see. The funniest moment involved one Arsenal fan who got far too big for his boots and stood on the bar attempting to conduct the whole room. At first everyone ignored him but eventually hundreds of people turned on him with a raucous verse of ‘it should have been you, shot in Angola, it should have been you’. Needless to say he removed himself immediately.
As always the journey to the ground was fantastic. A nice mixture of Bayern and Arsenal fans made up our cramped carriage on the Ubarn. Chants included ‘mouth full of pretzel, you’ve got a mouth full of pretzel’, ‘sing ven you’re vinning, you only sing ven you vinning’, ‘my garden shed is bigger than this, it’s got a door and two windows, my garden shed is bigger than this’, and even a cheeky ‘only come to see Eboue’. What more would you want eh?
The Allianz Arena is easily the coolest stadium I’ve ever been to, both inside and out (apart from Highbury). It was glowing red for the occasion and whilst we were in the clouds it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the Nou Camp. A great trip was capped with a decent display and some restored pride. Now we can all sit back, relax, and watch the wheels come falling off. See you in Bucharest next year.
The vast majority of Arsenal fans, even those who have season tickets, won’t get the opportunity to go to a North London Derby at Sh*te Hart Lane. The closing of the now famous ‘gap’ between the two sides means this particular matchday was an even bigger deal than most visits to one of the most disgusting parts of the world it’s possible to step foot in. Make no mistake, this is more than just a game of football, this is an experience unlike any other away day or even a Cup final (yes I can remember what they’re like).
The beginning of the day felt much like a Cup final actually. With kick off at 4pm we met at 1 o’clock at the 12 Pins pub in Finsbury Park. The sun was shining on the hoards of lubricated Gooners, unified in their terrified excitement. One thing us Arsenal fans are starting to really appreciate is the build up to a big game. Safe in the knowledge we’ll probably not be celebrating afterwards, the build up has now become a celebration out of necessity. The pub was rammed and full of song. We had one round of ‘there were 10 Tottenham points in the gap’ before taking up our position outside in the sunshine.
Familiar faces began converging on the street corner. Some choosing to share their predictions and concerns with the game only hours away. Others already jumping up and down hurling beers in the air. With each police van that drives past comes a rendition of ‘are you Tottenham in disguise?’. Another round of drinks and suddenly hundreds of laughing Gooners are positioning themselves on the floor as ‘sit down if you hate Tottenham’ brings smiles from puzzled residents. It’s a carnival atmosphere based largely around the hatred of that lot only a few miles down the Seven Sisters Road.
With about an hour to kick off the whole area suddenly empties within about 5 minutes. This is our cue to have a quick piss and get on the Victoria line for the short journey to Seven Sisters. This is unlike any other tube journey however. It lasts only a few minutes but it’s absolute hell if you’re an innocent bi-stander. About 200 pissed Arsenal fans in each carriage are going completely mental. The chants reverberate around the walls, the ceiling and doors are being banged so forcefully everyone gets covered in the black grime that falls from behind the panels and adverts. Most are unaware of the fact their face is covered in soot, there are far more important things to worry about.
As you emerge from the train you’re greeted by a wall of policemen. At this point all is still in good spirit but not for too much longer. You’re now behind enemy lines. As soon as you’re outside the station it’s you and them. The closer you get to White Hart Lane the more adrenaline is pumping. We’re in a group of about 500 Arsenal fans surrounded by a thin line of policemen and some terrifying looking alsatians. Further out are the local residents of Tottenham who get a barrage of abuse and a chorus of ‘Tottenham’s a sh*thole, you burnt your own town’ and ‘youuu live in a sh*thole’.
Further down the road come the pubs full of Spurs fans. This is an opportunity for another rendition of ‘sit down if you hate Tottenham’. The sight of hundreds of Arsenal fans sitting on the doorstep of the most hardened Spurs pubs is quite something. The police get tense as abuse is hurled both ways. Horses step in to keep things moving.
As you reach the ground the police have no choice to but to subside to let you queue to enter. This is where it really kicks off. As you get closer to the ground increasing numbers of incensed Spurs fans follow you in the knowledge that the opportunity for conflict will present itself eventually. As we turn the last corner of the walk objects are hurled our way. Coins come raining down and the odd bottle smashes nearby. Some choose to retaliate whilst others duck and get inside as quickly as possible.
Obviously the atmosphere inside is electric. Unfortunately, after such an eventful and dramatic build up, being 2 goals down at half time brings the worst out of many. People pissing in the sinks at half time, someone smashing the toilet to pieces and people tearing their setas apart as they leave the ground at the end. I must also mention the racist nature of the fandom. Clearly there are going to be the usual songs aimed at Spurs fans but this was much much worse than the norm. The three blokes standing behind us chanting ‘Adolf Hitler is our friend’ and calling Adebayor a ‘f***ing ni**er’ was disgusting and left a sour taste. I’m pleased to say it’s not something I’m used to hearing at the Arsenal.
The ‘Wenger-out’ brigade occasionally tried to make their presence felt but they were quashed quickly by the majority who sensibly suggested supporting the team during the biggest game of the season. This wasn’t our day but there’ll be plenty more to come. North London is red and the tide is most certainly not turning. Forever in our shadow.