I am an Arsenal fan and therefore was thrilled when I received a notification from the NYC Arsenal supporters that my name had been chosen at random to win a trip to London to see an Arsenal match including roundtrip airfare and a ticket to see Arsenal play Southampton at Emirates Stadium.
As I planned the trip I noticed that Arsenal had three other games in London during the time that I would be there. Two were at home and one was the North London derby versus Arsenal’s hated rivals 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 two other Arsenal matches at the club’s home stadium as well as tickets for West Ham’s home match versus Fulham. Friends of mine in London are West Ham fans so I thought it would be a nice idea to get tickets for everyone to see this game.
The first match was on Thursday, February 21st and it was the second leg of Arsenal’s Europa League round of 32 meeting with the “mighty” Bate Borisov. Somehow Arsenal managed to lose the first leg in Belarus so there was a bit of tension among the fans heading in to the game.
That didn’t last long as Arsenal took the lead within four minutes as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's 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 despite the fact that 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.
The funniest thing about the match was that the family sitting next to me were from Glen Cove, Long Island. Also, my friend Marianne, who went to the match with me, lives in London but is originally from Brooklyn. As I always say, wherever you go in the world you will meet New Yorkers.
Another great thing is that Marianne lives directly across the street from the stadium and we could walk home in about five minutes. So while everyone was pouring out heading for the tube or a car park, we were able to simply walk out and cross the street for home (or head to a cheap and cheerful Vietnamese restaurant near the stadium and then head home; as we did.)
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.
As we walked up a never ending set of stairs, we found our seats in row 72. It was the second to last row in the stadium. Despite this the mood was jovial and I was looking forward to the bubbles…yes, the bubbles. A lot of the teams in England have theme songs. Some make sense (Leeds Marching on Together or Manchester City Blue Moon) while others are a bit odd. 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.
The song is a bit nerdy but that didn’t stop the fans and lots of big guys with beer bellies from 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. (Of course we couldn’t tell that from the 72nd row but we read about it the next day in the papers). 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 (the nickname for West Ham) 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 at Wembley Stadium.
Stay tuned for all the excitement next time in Part 2 of Five matches in 12 days, three stadiums and not one drop of rain.