As some of you might have heard, I recently went on a trip through Europe to see three football games: Arsenal vs. Reading at the Emirates, London; PSG vs. Barcelona Champion's League quarterfinal in Paris; Barcelona vs. Mallorca league match in Barcelona. Our trip progression went London > Paris > Munich > Barcelona, 12 days. Going to share some photos and nuggets from all the games. Disclaimer: there will be lots of excitement and photos, so if you're not into either of those things or soccer in general, you might want to stop reading now!
Game 1: Arsenal vs. Reading, 3/30/13, THE REASON FOR THE TRIP OMG ARSENAL, Premier League
Some overall description and nuggets and then photos. First, the stadium and surrounding area is amazing. There are three statues: Herbert Chapman, Tony Adams, and Thierry Henry on the concourse, and the exterior wall of the stadium is covered with photos and stats of Arsenal players and coach and fan testimonials. I probably spent an hour reading everything and walking around. A short walk from the park you can find the converted remains of Highbury, their first stadium, which has been turned into condos and living quarters. We went to a supporter's club that isn't much bigger than a kitchen, but had a tiny bar and walls covered in photos of past and present Arsenal players. We then found a bar that was only allowing Arsenal season ticket members in. How freaking sweet is that? It was packed.
Inside the stadium, the seats are large (we were two rows from the top and could still see everything just fine) and you can straight up make bets at GunnersGaming booths right up until kickoff (I put five pounds each on Arteta and Ramsey anytime goalscorers, Giroud first goalscorer, and 3-1 final score). You can't take beer into the seating area, so pretty much everyone stays away from their seats until just before kickoff drinking beer, eating food, and watching the TVs which have EPL news and highlights and game action going on, plus Arsenal pre-match analysis. The game was pretty fun from an Arsenal fan perspective, I think possession ended up being 70-30 to Arsenal, 3 points never seemed in danger even when Reading got their one goal to make it 2-1. Santi is a hell of a player. Also, 3/30 was the twelve year anniversary of David 'Rocky' Rocastle, so before the game they had a tribute and FOR THE FIRST TEN MINUTES the entire stadium sang his song: "Oh Rocky Rocky, Rocky Rocky Rocky Rocky Rocastle." I have never experienced anything quite as emotional or powerful as that. Getting back on the tube and back to the part of London where we were staying was quite the ordeal, I think we stood in queue for about an hour or so. All very orderly, though. And now, photos!
Arsenal TUBE STATION:
Me and Titi:
Some guns, you know the whole Gunner thing:
Big Arsenal letters:
That amazing supporter's club I referenced, you can see all the photographs on the walls, the bar is in the back right corner:
Preserved East Stand facade from Highbury:
Inside the stadium:
Pre-match, of course Wilshere and Walcott were injured for the game!
One Arsene Wenger:
The Emirates, what a stadium. The man in the photos with me is Tom:
Game 2: Paris St-Germain (PSG) vs. Barcelona, 4/2/13 Champions League QUARTERFINAL!
The PSG stadium is on the western edges of Paris, and a concrete type structure, much older and smaller than the Emirates. It's right in the middle of homes and neighborhoods much like Wrigley is, we had dinner and bieres at a cafe not more than 5 minutes from the stadium, which was lovely. Key thing about this game was that it was Champion's League, not a league game, so the atmosphere was maybe 100x louder and more energetic. We entered the stadium about 45 minutes before kickoff, and the majority of fans were in their seats and singing and yelling already. Just electric. Our seats were toward the top and just about in line with one of the goals, great view of the action. Beckham started! He seemed to hold his own. Messi scored one of the most amazing goals I've ever seen in person in the first half to go up 1-0. Dani Alves hit an outside right foot chipped pass over the defense, that curled from left to right like a sliced golf shot, which Messi let bounce into his stride and volleyed into the side netting with his left foot. It was amazing. IBRA equalized in the second half (he was offsides and Barca were defending the corner with 9 men due to the ref not letting two injured guys back on) which caused the PSG faithful to go INSANE and light off flares. Everytime Ibra did anything well or scored the entire stadium did a "IBRA IBRA IBRA" chant. Cesc won a penalty which Xavi converted, which prompted lots of whistles and jeers. Everytime Barca passed the ball backwards or sideways the PSG fans were jeering and whistling; I think whistling is the European form of booing in some insntances. AND THEN: in the final seconds, a long ball went into Barca's box and MATUIDI SLAMMED IT HOME AND THE FINAL WHISTLE BLEW AND THE PLACE ERUPTED. Sheer madness and exhiliration and ectasy and all those things. Photos!
The Champion's League anthem played and it was GLORIOUS:
Xavi lines up his penalty:
Ibra, Beckham, and Lucas talk it over, Ibra took it, of course:
Parc des Princes:
Game 3: Barcelona vs. Mallorca, 4/6/13, La Liga
This was easily the most one-sided affair of the whole match, Barca put 4 goals in the first half! It ended up being 5-0, Cesc Fabregas had a hat trick (yes I'm still bitter, but damn did he look good. Also hi Alex Song!). The Camp Nou is MASSIVE: three tiers, easily the biggest stadium of the three on our trip. Barcelona and Spanish culture is a bit different than what I'm used to and I loved it. Their day starts and ends later, kickoff for this match was at 10:30PM! We had many cervesas before. Easily the closest of our seats, we were about ten rows from the pitch and while we had almost no depth perception of the play, we could see and hear EVERYTHING. Like Iniesta yelling "SI SI SI SI" to Song demanding him to pass the ball, Pinto being extremely vocal in directing his defense where to go, and every whack of the ball and challenge. It was great. Also Abidal made his return to action, being subbed on in the second half and that was quite a neat moment. The fans all chant "Abi, Abi, Abi, Abi" when he came on and during his play. A realy feel good story, happy he was able to overcome his ailment and get back to playing. There was a dad with his two young sons sitting right in front of us, they must have been not more than 8 and 10, and were freaking cute as hell. The dad and boys knew everyone in the section and they were all having conversations throughout the match, in Catalan, which is a really funky dialect. I love baseball but growing up going to 18-20 Barcelona games a year would probably have been pretty cool too. Photos:
More than a club:
Our seats were really close!
I highly recommend that if you're a soccer fan and have the means, go to a game in England or Spain or one of the top leagues. It was an experience I'll never forget and completely cemented my Arsenal fan-ness. Already looking at dates to go back next season. If you made it to the end, thanks for reading! I got a little verbose.