England Part II: Arsenal v. Southampton

By on September 15, 2012
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September 15, 2012

View all 89 photos HERE at Flickr.

As excited as I was about seeing London and visiting Thorpe Park and Alton Towers, there was one aspect of this trip that stood out; the main purpose of the trip really. This was a pilgrimage of sorts. Strangely and unexpectedly, over the last five years, I have latched on to a sports team that plays nearly 3,500 miles from my home. Most people who know me know that on Saturday or Sunday mornings from August through May (and midweek afternoons when required) I can more often that not be found in front of my television watching the Arsenal. Now, I was finally going to be watching them from inside the stadium.

Being an Arsenal fan in America is difficult. No, not because of the frequent 7:45 AM kickoffs (though those are not always welcomed), but because of the frequent guilt. One of the most appealing things about being a sports fan to me is the bond created with the local community; the identity of a place that is created in part because of the team. I have an inherently personal tie to my other teams; they were the hometown team or in the case of NC State where I attended school. There are obvious reasons for why I would support those teams. With Arsenal, there is no such thing. Until this trip, I had only set foot in the United Kingdom once and never London or even England. I am not from a working class background in Islington; my childhood was not filled with memories of standing on the North Bank. In fact, I have never even seen Arsenal lift a trophy. I never saw Dennis Bergkamp play. I never saw Arsenal play at Highbury. In many ways I am an infiltrator, a part of what has ruined Arsenal for many older fans.

Though my reasons for ending up an Arsenal fan may have been quite arbitrary, I at least cannot be called a glory seeker. The beginning of my Arsenal fascination coincided with the sale of Thierry Henry to Barcelona (I’ve since been thrilled to watch him play for the New York Red Bulls the last couple years). Since then, it has been a lot of frustration and some dark days. Make no mistake, though, regardless of how I became a fan, I am on board to stay. As I walked down Gillespie Road a few hours before kickoff, I observed that this was already very different than any pro sports experience I had in America.

The history of the club is immediate. Though it is sad that Highbury is gone, it is great to see at least part of it preserved. The way the East Stand is sandwiched in between homes on a quiet residential street is unlike anything that will ever be seen from a modern stadium.

Highbury, which was built in 1913, has been turned into a condo development. I am not quite sure how I feel about it, but at the very least it is good that the entire thing was not just bulldozed over as seems to most often be the case.

On match day this quaint neighborhood will be descended upon by 60,000 Arsenal supporters.

I wonder what this guy would think if he were sitting beside an American at the match?

Pre-game lunch had to be at Piebury Corner, which never fails to bring the funny.

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