When considering what me and my lovely girlfriend should do for holiday this year, our initial thought was to vacation to Spain and to spend a nice 10 days in Barcelona. After a brief search on the most popular travel sites, we realized quite quickly that $2,000.00 in return tickets alone was not as appetizing as the allure of the warm Catalonian sunshine. We happen to live in Long Island, which is right outside of New York City, so we ultimately had an easy flight path to Europe.
Our next thought was to visit the south of France, a beautiful vacation to the Côte d'Azur better known as the French Riviera. After another seemingly endless search trying to discover reasonable flights, we discovered this journey was also too expensive for only 10 days.
A look at the start and end dates of our holiday lead me to a very interesting discovery. We just so happen to be planning to head to Europe during the opening game of the season at the Emirates vs Burnley!
After what seemed to be endless searching which coincided with some careful budgeting on our side, I had a stroke of brilliance. What if I could somehow do a train tour around Europe that started in London? Could I sell that to my better half?
The answer was yes… what follows is my experience.
I will attempt to depict my pilgrimage to the Emirates. I will attempt to encapsulate my thoughts and feelings in a coherent manner. I will attempt to make some suggestions for folks who might also be making their first trip in the near future.
The challenge with all of that is, if you love the club the same way that I do, this task is seemingly impossible. For a foreign fan, watching the team week in and week out, living and dying by the pixels on a tv screen or laptop monitor – seeing the Emirates for the first time is a surreal experience. Come on the journey with me ya gunners.
The first question is..
How do I get tickets?
Once I convinced my girlfriend to gallivant to London with me to visit the Emirates, I had a big task at hand, how do I purchase tickets.
This is not such a straightforward experience to the layman. After some careful investigation, I learned that purchasing tickets from popular ticketing websites may be illegal in the UK. This was a complete shock to me as third-party ticket reselling in the US is the most common mechanism for purchasing match day tickets – for any sport. This had me a bit rattled, so I decided that the best approach was to go directly to https://www.arsenal.com/ to purchase tickets.
What I did not know was that in order to purchase tickets from The Arsenal you must go on their Ticket Exchange which is a marketplace for reselling directly through the club. In order to gain access to the ticket exchange, you must purchase a membership plan which will grant you access to the ticket exchange – the better the membership plan, the earlier in advance you can purchase tickets. Much to my chagrin, since this was fairly last minute (3 weeks before the match), I decided to purchase the red membership. This was essentially a £29 cost for purely the chance of purchasing a ticket. (You can find out more about red membership details here https://www.arsenal.com/membership/red)
Bad luck for me though…
All of the tickets were sold out on the ticket exchange and my dream was almost shattered. I decided that this was not enough to get me down and that after all of this hard work and planning, we would take the risk and purchase tickets via StubHub. After two weeks of waiting, I received the email with our e-tickets!
The next question we had to ask ourselves was…
Where do we stay?
Luckily for me, working for global companies for the better part of my career left me with friends that lived in and around London. The recommendation that was given by a good friend and colleague was to stay in Shoreditch. Shoreditch is a hipster part of London that is located in the borough of Hackney. We stayed around a very reasonably priced area in Shoreditch which was roughly a 12-minute uber ride to the Emirates stadium. Our hotel was very accommodating with nice restaurants, clubs and bars nearby… not to mention some great street art:
The Emirates Experience
Once gameday arrived I donned my bruised banana Arsenal away kit and made my way towards the stadium. The game was set to start at noon, which left me at a decision point of what time to arrive. We arrived two and a half hours early so that we had plenty of time to take in the surrounding ambience that was North London. Traveling to the stadium in our minicab, we traversed Holloway Road that brought us past Highbury and into Islington (names of the local towns in the area – probably familiar to most). As we made our way through the streets, we were brought into a neighborhood where our Uber driver instructed us to exit. After walking up a block or two we were able to see it… finally.
The first thing you see as you walk up to the stadium is the Armoury.
The Arsenal Armoury
Once you enter the Arsenal team shop, you walk into a room that has all the kits anyone could ever dream of. In the main entrance area, there is all of the Men’s kits, these varied from warm ups to the standard Home, Away and Alternate jerseys.
Even roughly two hours before kickoff the Armoury was packed! There was a substantial amount of families. While wandering around and casually shopping I was able to meet Gooners from all around the globe. We met many Gooners that varied from countries such as Australia, Japan, Nigeria – we even met fellow Americans from Colorado and Boston. I must warn any first time Gooners that there is a metric ton of awesome Arsenal memorabilia and clothing – please be prepared to spend money if you walk in there. I personally got a custom printed Bergkamp #10 on the home kit, which was around a 20-25-minute wait (view from the line below).
This whole experience gets you really jazzed for the game. As I walked out of the Armoury I felt this feeling of anticipation welling up inside of me, I was a few short steps away from entering the stadium grounds where the new look Gunners would face Burnley.
As we walked up the stairs, we were greeted by music…
Entering the grounds
Once we climbed the staircase that led to the main promenade, we were greeted by a quartet of brass players playing on a stage. They were playing a lively tune that flittered through the warm summer day, saluting the fanbase on their way through security. While we walked and wandered towards our preferred entrance, a nice woman came up to us and handed us a card for a free pint of beer inside the stadium. This turned out to be Arsenal’s new brewery sponsorship, Camden Town Brewery.
Before walking into the grounds, I stopped for a moment to take the whole beauty of the stadium in, there is a giant mural of some legends that look over the stadium from the upper perches of the walls (History Through Harmony):
After the initial butterflies of being there had subsided to a degree, we walked to our “gate” and walked through security. The experience of passing through security for me was very light compared to what I am used to in the US sports venues. A quick look through our bags was all it took for us to be passed through to the turnstiles. We were quickly into the inner sanctum of the Emirates.
Inside the Emirates, we saw a ton of concession stands and food halls. It is important to note that we had entered on field level and this account is from that purview. Needless to say, at this point, the anticipation of getting my free beer and walking onto the field level seating was growing. We quickly grabbed our free Camden Town Brewery lagers and headed for our seats.
One thing to note that was also a bit of a shock to me, was that, alcohol was not allowed on the field facing portion of the stadium. This may seem naïve to folks who grew up in Europe and attended many football matches abroad, but this is a completely different policy compared to American sports. This is an important memory to point out because it required me to drink my beers quickly inside the stadium prior to heading to my seats. This probably added to the liquid courageous feeling that I felt when I actually saw the field.
Walking out and seeing the Emirates field for the first time is very difficult to explain. Arsenal Football Club has become a sort of obsession for me over the course of the past 5 years or so – watching and admiring the ups but mostly the downs over the course of the past decade. This summer on the other hand left the club in a positive light for the first time in a while. The business that was done left a sense of optimism in the air and it resonated throughout the pitch.
It may sound odd to the say that being there in person was euphoric but that is really the best way to explain it. Once the match began, being so close to Aubameyang, Ceballos, Guendouzi, Leno, Sokratis, etc… at times I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
The result of the match and the overall tone of the game also assisted in enjoying the experience thoroughly. This includes but is not limited to the stadium energy and the banter all around me. We had heard in the past that the Emirates is quiet and lacking in charisma but that was not the case on this day. The four-tiered bowl that comprised of roughly 55,000 screaming fans was both beautiful and electric. Our perspective was from the North Bank, closer to the field level by the corner flag. I mean just look at some of the photos:
An American Gooner in North London
Being a tourist in London for the first time let alone traveling to the Emirates can be intimidating. Especially since it is difficult to answer some of the questions mentioned earlier in this blog post. Hopefully some of this helped someone, somewhere looking to visit for the first time and to emulate this experience. Hell this might even be interesting for locals and season ticket holders – to understand what visiting the stadium means to someone living 1,000’s of miles away.
Being somewhere you’d never thought you’d get to be is special. Being there with the person you love is life changing. Getting to share that experience with countless others in this beautiful community we call fandom – priceless.
North London is red my friends, I just had to see it with my own eyes.