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Would you travel 34 miles for a home game?

By Tony Attwood

Sometimes you have to wonder about the level of knowledge football journalists actually have about the people who pay to go into football matches (as opposed to journalists who get paid to be there, for some reason that I have never quite fathomed).

Jack de Menezes in the Independent recently wrote the headline I have copied above.  The answer is obviously yes, not just for me but for tens of thousands of fans who support a club but for family, work or some other reason have moved away from the area.  Or perhaps never lived close by at all.
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The fact is that journalists, through their lack of knowledge of what it means to be a real supporter, often use phrases that suggest that supporters of Arsenal live in north London.  Some do, of course.  But equally if you were to get a train from the East Midlands  on the day of a match, or indeed a train out of St Pancreas after a match, you would find it full of Arsenal supporters.  I am sure the same is true for many other lines.
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Yes, many fans live near their clubs, but in the 21st century many more don’t.  Walter, who shares the editorial duties on this site with me, lives 200 miles from the ground – although the journey he is forced to take (owing to the English Channel being in the way) is further.
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As for myself, I travel 22 miles to Northampton Town’s Sixfields Stadium on Arsenal match days, not out of perversity but to meet up with Drew and we then drive the 61 miles to Finchley Central Underground Station where we dutifully pay our parking fee.  From there we take the train the five miles to Archway station, and from there we walk the last two miles 350 yards to the Emirates (via the pub).
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And then do much the same on the way back.
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So you can see why I wonder at that headline.  As it happens my house is 40 miles from the Coventry ground, and I would love Coventry to be in the top division, since it is just about the second closest league ground to where I live. But you can’t have everything.
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Perhaps it is because since 1978 I have lived a fair distance from Arsenal that I take travelling naturally, but I know for sure that I am not the only one.   Oh poor, sad, out of touch journalists.  (Although I think the Independent is on a particularly rapid downward spiral, as it has the most outrageous piece of non-maths in it today in relation to Arsenal – but I’ll come back to that another time).
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So what of Coventry playing at Northampton?  And where does Arsenal fit into all this?
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Well, first thing to be said is that Northampton’s ground is one of only two in the UK that has a stand named after an Arsenal player.  The away support end is the Dave Bowen stand.  (The other club is Exeter City – the Cliff Bastin Stand.  Incidentally Exeter have a supporters club in London – the London Exiles – wake up Independent!)

Quite why Coventry City is playing at Northampton Town’s ground when the owners of their own ground the Richo Arena are offering the club their ground free for the next year I don’t know.  Perhaps there is something dodgy in the small print.

Coventry, it is said, is about to be taken over by a venture-capital fund which does not give one confidence.

The Arena is owned in part by the City council and the Alan Edward Higgs charity, set up by a family of wealthy long-standing supporters.  Everyone is fighting everyone else.  (Actually it is fortunate at Arsenal that the only people we have to fight is the AAA.   And the Independent).

What seems to me (a complete outsider in Coventry matters, and one who simply went there in the old days to see them play Arsenal) the main thing is that the current venture capitalists put the club into administration and the administrator is about to sell the club to another venture capitalist firm owned by the first venture capitalist firm.  Ah well, that’s capitalism for you.

Anyway, back to Northampton.  It’s an ok stadium, with car parking, on the edge of the town, and very easy to get to from the M1 junction 15a, in case you want to know.  Holds about 7,500.
It reminds me, since I co-authored the definitive book on the subject, of what happened to Arsenal in 1893.  The club was playing as Royal Arsenal at the Invicta Ground in Plumstead.  A group within the club who objected to the way the club was being run, teamed up with the owner of the Invicta to put up the rent to an impossible level.  The aim was to bring the club to its knees so this minority group could take it over.But the men who had built Royal Arsenal and kept it going, put their money on the table by first renting, then buying the Manor Ground just across the way, leaving the rebels with an empty ground.  The rebels then formed Royal Ordnance Factories FC – which played in the Southern League.  Royal Arsenal became Woolwich Arsenal FC and moved into Division 2 of the Football League.  ROFC fizzled out.  WAFC is still with us, playing as Arsenal FC.That of course is a very quick summary of Arsenal’s start as a League club, but the whole history of Woolwich Arsenal FC is written in “Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football”.  It’s actually a rather jolly read.When Arsenal moved to the ground that became known as Highbury the journey of any Plumstead supporter to the new ground was 12 miles – considerably less than Coventry fans are being asked to make (although the way some critics of the move speak you’d think it was 12,000 miles).Ground moving has indeed been going on for a long time.  Three years before Arsenal moved, Millwall moved from north London, six miles south to what became known as the Den.  No one seemed to mind much.Both moves were further than Coventry are being asked to move, but really, these days we have public transport.  And cars.  And coaches.

The books…

The sites from the same team…

27 comments to Would you travel 34 miles for a home game?

  • avatar colario

    How sad that Coventry should be in this situation. What happy memories of their one appearance in the cup final they have given us.
    I watched the game in a bar in Crete everyone there cheering the ‘blues’ but as they couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak Greek I don’t think they knew why they were cheering the sky blues but the wine flowed and we were all happy.

  • avatar Jonny Arsenal

    I can trace my family back through four generations of arsenal fans. Very very few in North London could do the same. The original North London families are long gone to pave the way for mass immigration

  • avatar Rufusstan

    I think my attitude to the situation of travel comes down to who moved and why. If the fan moves away; you just deal with it.

    My journey is nowhere near as far as Tony’s — maybe 25 miles each way, and I just see it as the price I pay for moving out of London. Equally, as Tony describes I am by no means the only one doing this. There is a strange sense of solidarity, particularly after a midweek game, when you get onto a train out of London at 11pm or later, and many of the passengers are fellow fans.

    Clubs relocating is a completely different thing, it comes down to the why. If you ignore building a new stadium nearby (e.g. emirates move), moving a club for money is always wrong. Wimbledon is the classic example of both what not to do and how it goes wrong.

    The Coventry situation is horrible. I got ‘Four Yorkshiremaned’ by a Coventry fan a while back (was talking about the tough times we’ve had recently) and had to do a bit of research. The current situation seems to be a mix of historic dislike and brinkmanship from both sides.

    In the end it seems to come down to: on one side a club with a stadium they don’t own, cannot fill, and with a lease they cannot afford (£1.2mil a year rent). On the other the owners may not be able to reduce the rent long term/legally, but probably cannot afford to lose their tenant. Then again, there is probably much more to it.

    Their Northampton move again comes down to the why. One idea is that it is designed to be a short-term process while they build a new stadium that they both can fill AND own in Coventry. If that is the case, then its a good idea (if not, see Wimbledon above).

  • avatar Brickfields Gunners

    My admiration and appreciation to the loyal Arsenal supporters who spend much time and money and truly get behind the team.
    From one who lives afar – thanks again and you really do yourselves( and us ) proud .
    For some reason this article brought me memories of a close late friend who had this sign over his ‘bar’ in collage – This bar is dedicated to gentlemen who drink , and still remain gentlemen .

  • avatar @N5_1BU

    I spent 12 years in Newcastle and Northumberland and not only did I go to all but 1 home games whilst I was up there (the 1 is a long story) but I’d also see the same faces on trains week in week out, not just Arsenal fans but also fans of other London clubs making the regular trip.

    Fans do what fans do – it’s not down to distance or anything like that; it’s down to ability to get there and afford it.

  • avatar Notoverthehill

    Tony, a very good review, as some live across the Irish Sea!

    As for “The Independent”, I would blame Tim Payton.

    Fact, some 3,500 questionaires were sent out, (if true!).

    Fact, only 643 were returned, in 2012 only 636 were returned.

    Fact, Question 2, are you satisfied with Stan Kroenke as owner. 44 were dissatisfied and 19 were very dissatisfied, adds up to only 10% of the 643 members polled.

    It is high time the executive committee of the Arsenal Supporters Trust, were banished or excommunicated!

    AISA are senior to the AST, and AISA were advocating for Fanshare long before the AST were formed!

    Correct me, if I am wrong about the AISA, Tony.

  • avatar Rufusstan

    Notoverthehill — It appears that the Questionnaires mentioned in the Independent were a set done by the Black-scarf gentlemen.

    They did in fact get the near 3,500 replies, but considering who they are and their agenda, there may be a small degree of sampling bias :)

  • avatar nicky

    Tony,
    Your heading reminded me of my great grandfather who, some years ago, at the ripe old age of 94, was confronted by officials anxious to install a ‘phone mast near his home.
    “Will it make me sterile?” he asked.

  • avatar iniez

    Going 3,342 miles in august to watch us mash the spuds. Can’t. F***ing. Wait! Been waiting a loong time to sing my lungs out at this game. If I still have my voice after the match then I’ve failed

    Theeere once was a team from white hart ♪

  • avatar Florian

    Some are thinking about flying across the whole US and Atlantic to watch an Arsenal game. From this perspective, the paper’s rant seems all the more ridiculous.

    @iniez, I really hope I can catch a ticket at exactly that match. If I do, I’ll make it there. Can’t wait for a crazy week-end.

  • avatar K Mayers

    Good piece. It just goes to prove that many journalists are like politicians – so far removed from real life they wouldn’t know what it was ’til it jumped up one day and smacked them in the face.
    As far as how far people travel, I understand fans going any distance they can afford in order to watch their side.
    I’ve only ever managed to watch the Arsenal twice unfortunately, not due to the distance involved so much but due to financial & health reasons. When I did travel I was only too willing to catch 2 trains from S.E.Wales into Paddington before jumping on the tube to the stadium. ;-)

  • avatar iniez

    Best of luck Florian, I hope you find yourself a ticket!

  • avatar Florian

    Thank you iniez!

  • avatar Brickfields Gunners

    @ Nicky – Your great granddad reminds me of this sprightly spring-chicken in this clip (from 1:47) from of one of my favourite comedy movies .

    @ Inez -6th July @ 6:31pm.- get this ‘talent ‘to eerr..hum(?) your Spud song/limerick .Starts from 3:53.

    There are also many references to the AAA ,if you can find them !Just saying !Enjoy !

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlRdhQPGK3U

  • avatar Brickfields Gunners

    As for limericks ,here goes -

    There once was a team from White Heart Lane ,
    whose fans, of class were woefully wanting found .
    And like ostriches’ heads and spuds; their brains ,
    (if not up their arses) embedded in the sandy ground !

  • avatar CK

    My self & my girlfriend just like my family have done for many years go over a number of times each year to see The Arsenal. travelling from Ireland this involves numerous buses, flights, trains, hotel etc and often will take up a whole w.end or 2 working days if its a mid week game not to mention the time off work & we are lucky compared to a lot of Gooners who travel from the likes of America etc…. Is it worth it??? Of course lol Come on You Gooners!!!!!!!!!!! :)

  • avatar blacksheep63

    Oh dear Johny Arsenal… ‘to pave the wave for mass immigration’.

    I’m not sure if that was an ill-informed comment or an example of UKIP type casual racism. Whatever. My family lived in north London since the 1860s, moving from Cambridgeshire in search of work. I moved out in the late 1980s, in search of work. London has grown – indeed expanded to reach quiet backwaters like Holloway and Islington – since the early 1800s (I have a print of Archway when it was all just fields and a few houses).

    That growth was fueled by domestic and overseas immigration. From the Irish in the 1840s, Russian Jews in the 1860 and 1880s, Caribbeans in the 1950s and others since. London is a World city, a beautiful blend of ethnicities, languages, creeds and culture: its what makes it the greatest city on the planet. And have a look at the Arsenal team – a team that has always embraced immigrants from its early employment of Scots, to its Irish team of the 70s/80s, forward to the Wenger era with such immigrants as Vieira, Henry, Kanu, and Diaby.

    I’m not being PC, I’m a historian and we should all know and understand our history before we demonstrate our ignorance with throwaway comments.

  • Not trying to out-do any of the other dedicated travelling Gooners here, but we have our members travel to almost every home match from all parts of Australia – 13000 miles. The most we have had at one game is 35 versus Bolton a few years back, all travelling over especially for the match (some under the “cover” of a family holiday to appease the non-football loving wives).

  • avatar Shard

    I’m not too keen on Fellaini, even though he’s a good player. But I think we need a DM (for lack of a better description). I also think we are looking to buy a DM of sorts, but that Fellaini isn’t our primary target. Essentially, I think we’re looking for someone who can do what Arteta did last season. Perhaps not quite as brilliantly as that, but can play that role well enough, and have a little more of a physical (or purely defensive) edge to his game.

    Fellaini is ok at that and would be a good signing. Apparently we bid for Bender, who would do that sort of thing better. Gonalons or Capoue as well. Personally, I favour Capoue simply because he can also fill in at CB if required.

    Having another midfielder will give us a bit more flexibility and help us deal with injuries better, while ensuring we don’t run our little magician Cazorla into the ground again. Arteta’s legs probably won’t hold up as much either. So I think we need a Defensive-ish midfielder.

    I also think we need more creativity. Whether just having a more physical screen can liberate our existing players to move forward and provide that, or we buy someone for the AM slot, or a winger, allowing Cazorla or Ox to move inside, or even promote some youngsters, I do not know.

  • avatar Shard

    Oops.Wrong article.

  • avatar iniez

    Haha Brickfields. I was thinking of one I saw a long time ago. Can’t remember where but I’ve never heard it sang at a match:

    There once was a team from white hart, who couldn’t kick a ball
    And every time they tried to, they seemed to win fuck all
    But then they came to the emirates, and that was bloody daft
    Coz all the arsenal boys could do was laugh and laugh and laugh!

  • avatar Brickfields Gunners

    @ Iniez – LOL ! More of the same ,…please ?

  • avatar iniez

    Haha ok I’d hate to disappoint as I can’t think of another off the top of my head, so here’s my go at it

    There once was a player from totnum, who’s ears were quite spread
    And many suspicions were, that from monkeys he was bred
    So he pinned his ears back
    Coz he got so much flak
    But they were just trying to get away from his head

  • avatar WalterBroeckx

    I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more just to be the man who walks one thousand miles to see a game of the Arsenal…
    tatarata tatarata… :)

    Okay I admit I will take the train or bus to do those miles..

  • avatar Rupert Cook

    @Walter, you get a telling off for reminding me of that damn Proclaimers song.

    @Blacksheep63, well said.

    I travel 40 miles to watch Oxford and their not even my main team. Some of you will say going to Arsenal would be cheaper but when we do go and see Oxford it’s also to visit the mother and father in law so we get a free dinner, bed for the night and then a free sunday lunch. I’m not sure Arsenal could match that.

  • avatar WalterBroeckx

    LOL Rupert. It’s a song that sticks in my head whenever I hear it and I just heard it this weekend and then read the article and trying to get rid of it. ;)