It's here - it's finally here! After such a long wait once again there is the weekend clash of titans, the relentless progression down a field, the glory in the lit up scoreboard. Football season is well underway and with it comes all the rabidity of fans fixated on screens over bowls of chicken wings.
Of course when I say football I mean real football - replete with skin-tight jerseys (mmm!), dramatic flops, and the usual sort of sub-optimal crap. And of course, as real football fans we went to a game while we were in London!
Or wait. No, I'm the worst
girlfriend fiancee ever and we went to England when there were no British Premier League games. Good thing we went to a Serie A game while we were in Italy last year!
Except we managed to go to Italy when there were no Serie A games. Dang. 0 for 2 on European trips coinciding with world class soccer matches. (I might owe a very disappointed McCrae one more trip to Europe soon just for a soccer match). So of course the next best thing was to tour a stadium in London.
I personally wanted to go to Chelsea's stadium Stamford Bridge after arbitrarily picking that team to follow in college when I finally got reliable access to international soccer. (Or maybe I just wanted to watch Michael Ballack 🙌😜)
McCrae however wanted to see Emirates Stadium where Arsenal plays. And since he was deeply disappointed that we couldn't see a game (and because he actually is emotionally invested in the team he follows) we headed off one morning to tour Emirates Stadium.
The tingling started on the subway as we hurtled through underground space and time past the usual tourist stops and into the real-life London of shops and flats and gardens and little kids pushed in buggies. As the train screeched into the station I thought I heard the long-gone echoes of fans singing on their way up the tunnels and into the sunlight.
Emirates Stadium is big. The third largest stadium in England it seats over 60,000, and as you approach the goliath you're greeted with the team colors of bright red and white and the cannon crest along a walkway to the stadium entrance. We had the London Pass and it included admission to a self-guided tour so we picked up the handsets and headphones and were on our way.
McCrae even posed for me in the interview box! You know he was in a good mood if he agreed to let me take pictures.
I was also impressed by the museum's focus on the team history and the women's team. Apparently the Arsenal women's team is the most successful club in English women's football. While USA may still dominate the women's soccer scene, it's refreshing to find other clubs that emphasize its women's and youth teams.
But the biggest surprise came in the actual stadium. The pitch was the perfect, vibrant green - ready for action in a few weeks! - and despite some construction and regular maintenance there were guides happy to answer any questions and to just talk about their love of the team.
I was getting a good view of the stadium, taking in all the red seats and the perfect pitch and the surprisingly blue London sky and the banners hung around the stadium from support clubs - Arsenal Singapore, Arsenal Japan, Arsenal Abu Dhabi, Arsenal America, and all the various Gunners clubs - when suddenly, what was this? Yes, just off-center to the field was a bright blue banner: "The Triangle Gooners: Raleigh, Durham, & Chapel Hill's Branch of Arsenal America."
In a stadium full of banners representing entire nations we had a banner from my hometown.
That's it. I was sold. Between Özil, supporting the women's team, and an RDU banner centered on the field I walked into the souvenir shop, said "take my money!" and walked out with jerseys for McCrae and me, a decorative plate for our new home, and a fresh interest in the team. No more red vs. blue battles in our home now, we're a house united behind the Gunners.
Do you have an origin story for your beloved sports team? I'd love to hear how you pick your favorite teams - and hopefully it's a better story than "1. Cities I'd be willing to live in, 2. Colors I look good in, 3. Players I like" (which was my original rationale for picking BPL teams to follow). Let me know in the comments your favorite team and how and why you started following them!