Friday, May 6, 2011
It was my wish fulfillment day. You know how sometimes, you’re browsing the net, come across something, and think, “I have to do this someday/I have to go there someday”? For me, that someday was May 6 of this year. If you know me, even in a superficial level, then you know about my all-encompassing fanaticism for both football and Harry Potter. Football can be further broken down into 1) Arsenal and 2) Real Madrid.
This was how I spent that day:
We booked the Emirates Stadium tour the day before, and we only planned on doing the regular tour. Due to a series of unfortunate events — well, one unfortunate event in particular — we had to take the Legends Tour which was the only remaining open tour of the day. We mapped the route that we would take from our hotel to the Emirates Stadium all the way in North London, which would of course, have us getting off at the Arsenal Station. But the Piccadilly Line was shut down because the Arsenal station had to close. Being some of the brightest minds of our generation (not really), we decided to take an alternative route that would take us to Finsbury Park. Good idea? Not really. It was a long walk, and a couple of tube transfers. (Not of the female clothing variety. That would be disturbing, as I was with Jerome and Dale.) Well, it wasn’t like we had much of a choice; we were
too poor from a third world country too practical to take a cab.
Looking back, we might have had more luck with Highbury Station (17 min vs 20 min of walking, according to Google Maps).
Due to the delay, we did not make it in time for our booking, but the nice lady at the counter knew about the Arsenal Station problem and allowed us to upgrade to the Legends Tour as previously mentioned, so we’d also have time to catch our breaths and wait for Pat. She wasn’t with us because she left early to go to the Imperial War Museum, as requested by her father dearest. Unfortunately, she didn’t have her phone on roaming and we had no way of knowing where she was. This would result into more paranoia later on.
We were at the Emirates! Home of the Arsenal Football Club! Jerome and I could barely contain our joy, especially when the panic of a missed tour had died down. The essence of all the home games we watched on TV was here! We practically ran inside as soon as we got our (much more expensive) tour passes. I was hoping that we got Charlie George, but the schedule was for Eddie Kelly. This was fine with me; they could have had Gunnersaurus guide us through the stadium, and I’d still be barfing rainbows. Actually, maybe even more so. Haha.
We started at the director’s box, where the upper-upper of AFC and the away team dine and watch the game, or dine while watching the game. The view is spectacular, of course. But if you give me the choice, I’d sit pitchside, and I’d sure as hell not look bored like some of those pitchside spectators when the camera spans on them. Not-so-fun fact: Cesc Fabregas just tweeted as I am writing this. [As of press time, Fabregas is not longer with AFC, but is instead spending his
injury-stricken best years in FCB]. Fun fact: Traditionally, the director’s box is filled with flowers in the away team colors during gameday. Which makes me think of when we’re playing Newcastle. Black and white flowers? Really?
It was our first view of the field. And what a field it was, with stripes of emerald green alternating with a lighter shade of green, all of it perfectly manicured and maintained to the top standard… The AFC cannon on the bleachers on the opposite side made me want to weep with joy. It was not hard to imagine it during a gameday, filled with fans singing and chanting, the boys playing the beautiful football I know they can do… Wow, I can’t believe I’m getting teary-eyed just reminiscing.
We were given time to take some pictures before we head to… I’m not exactly sure what it’s called, maybe a portrait hall? Or maybe it’s really just a hallway leading to other significant parts of the stadium. Anyway, it has a giant Arsenal logo and a lot of pictures of players. The years when Arsenal won a trophy was painted above a doorway. It also housed the time capsule that contained a lot of cool stuff like Thierry Henry’s socks (not really sure about this, might have been his shorts). Kelly joked that the pizza lobbed at SAF during Pizzagate was in there as well. If I had any hand in that time capsule, I’d have included that. And Wenger’s Water Bottle(TM).
After that, we went to the home team dressing room. It has hydrotherapy pools, which could easily fit six Arshavins or 2 Mertesackers or Walcott plus Arteta plus Vermaelen plus me (wait, happy place happy place happy place). There is also an annexed massage room which has Fabianski’s jersey hanging on it. Appropriate at that time because he was injured and probably spent a lot of time there. The dressing room itself was curved, with the apex of the curve the god-given (well, AW-given) seat of the captain. At that time, it was Cescy so it has his #4 jersey displayed. Almost everyone in the tour group immediately made a beeline for the Fabregas jersey or the RVP one, but we were more systematic. We went clockwise, intending to get a pic with each.
More on the dressing room, it has a table in the middle for the water bottles, bananas and jaffa cakes. I am not making this up, there really are jaffa cakes on game days, according to the guide. Also according to a dressing room pic that either Jerome or tumblr showed me that was taken on a matchday. The away dressing room is not as nice, but we weren’t allowed to view it. No jetstreamed heated pools and jaffa cakes for them. No pies for Frank too. But it’s still regarded as one of the nicest away rooms in the Prem. This info is from an Arsenal magazine interview with Arteta, who is now an AFC player, so I’m not sure of the validity of the statement.
(I’d stop my discussion of the dressing room, because I reckon the next bit is going to be speculation about the players in the showers and imaginary scenarios c/o of my vivid imagination. And Arsene doesn’t want us commenting on speculation.)
Next was the players tunnel, where sound clips are played so that you can imagine the noise and the songs during game days. Goosebumps at this point, TBH. It was a pinch-me-because-this-must-be-a-dream moment for me. Here, while the tour guide was explaining about the non-slip floors and some other trivia, the assistant tour guide was telling one of the older Arsenal fans in the group that Fabregas loved Arsenal, and he didn’t go around being bratty and announcing his desire to go to Barcelownuh and that he was a good lad and probably one of the best players the team has seen and certainly the best presently (at that time). It was a discussion that started at the time capsule room. It had me go another kind of teary-eyed. #cescgate #movingon
We walked out of the tunnels, unfortunately not hand in hand with adorable kids like the players do during a game. We emerge smack into the pitchside on the home side. We weren’t allowed to step on the pitch though because we might roll around the grass in happiness and subsequently get tapped up by Barca. Oh yes I went there.
The home team bench had heated floors(!) so that the players sitting on the bench wouldn’t freeze during winter. We sat on the bench as we listened to some stories and a bit of history and I kept thinking, “They sat here, OMG.” I was like a kid in a massive sugar high at this point, shot with a concentrated dose of caffeine. Hyper and happy does not even begin to cover it.
After some pitchside (and pitch) stories, we moved on to the conference rooms where Jerome and I grabbed the seats on the table. Dale sat on the press seats, which is fine with me, since he got to take pics of us. After a few pics with Eddie Kelly, we headed out, through a media center which was better than MY office. Those journalists are well-taken care of and they give us crap every fucking time. Anyway, there are also mini-interview rooms for post-game comments and stuff, some with tv station logos as a background.
That was the end of the guided tour, but there was still the museum to explore. We might have spent a little too much time in there, but I like history and I love football and I adore this club, so I drank in every bit that I could. It was so much better than reading about it on Wikipedia or the Arsenal site… It was really a treat for a relatively new gooner like me.
After the musuem, we headed on over to the Armoury where I spent a lot of money I didn’t really have. Not that I regret any of it. In fact, I wish I bought more. Yes, more than two jerseys with print, a mug, a duvet, a copy of the magazine, plus the freebies I got from the tour.
This could easily have been the highlight of my life as a football fan, if I didn’t go to Malaysia two months later to watch the team live. It’s still a toss up between the two, actually. The happiness level was in “When I die, scatter my ashes here.” area. My cheeks hurt from the smile I couldn’t wipe off my face, and Jerome’s arm probably hurt from all the grabbing in excitement and squeezing in joy. I felt like I was in a Disney movie, and I actually burst into song (okay, it was the Arsenal FC chant, but still). Apart form the ~feelingsbomb, Emirates Stadium is topnotch, with state-of-the-art everything. I wish I could have seen Highbury too, though. That would have been something.
After the Emirates tour, thankfully the Piccadilly line’s service was restored and we stopped at King’s Cross St. Pancreas station. King’s Cross is a very busy station, and it was made more popular by the Harry Potter franchise. I wanted to see Platform 9 3/4 (not the actual platform, but a wall with half a trolley stuck on it). Unfortunately, because of some improvements on the station, the nice brick wall was being renovated and there was just a lame tarp with the label “Platform 9 3/4”. Oh well, underwhelming, especially since I saw pics of the current 9 3/4. We still hammed it up for the camera though. Also, King’s Cross station is nice, architecture-wise.
Side note: It’s actually very hard to find Harry Potter merchandise in London! I was under the assumption that they were in every department store, but all I found were some really expensive toys in some toy stores. Hmph. Guess I have better luck online or that New York WB store.
Other Harry Potter-related sights was the Australia House in the Strand, which was used as Gringotts in the movies. I must have passed it once or twice and didn’t give it a thought. Too bad.
Going back to that day, Jerome and I went straight to Ajay’s house after King’s Cross to help with last-minute wedding preparations. We sewed the Indian suits Pat and I were going to use for the wedding, and Jerome had to participate in a bracelet ceremony as part of his ‘brother of the bride’ duties. It was a bit awkward because both Jerome and Angel had no idea what to do.
Dale didn’t go with us to the Aroras, because he had to Tottenham really bad. It was also so we can check if Pat has made her way back to the hotel, since we had no communication with her since she left the Travelodge that morning. We were getting worried, especially when Dale texted she wasn’t there. Turned out she made good use of her time and the British Museum’s extended opening hours that day. She was not happy when I described our outfits for the wedding though, and we immediately planned an “Expose our legs” coup.