After what seems to have been a very short summer break football was back at the Emirates and I set off to get my early pre-season fix this weekend. This year I rang the changes a little, decided to go BOTH days and to experience it from different vantage points.
As you may know I am lucky enough to have a season ticket so I get to go to the Arsenal a lot but for many of those attending this weekend, this was their first (and sometimes only) visit to the home of football.
This is quite obvious to those of us that go regularly and, for me, brings out conflicting emotions. It is quite annoying, for example, when people get up and wander around during games, or when they don’t know which way to queue to get to the tube and just stand in the road gawping. In fact its pretty much like my reaction to tourists elsewhere in London: I’m always polite and helpful when asked but generally wish they’d move a little quicker!
But the other (and more dominant) emotion is that of pride and shared pleasure. It is lovely to see people looking up at the stands with wonder, and being so excited when the team run out. I’m not a fan of Mexican waves but the joy on people’s faces as they see it fly round the stadium is infectious. So I’m all for the Emirates Cup – its not the same as a cold February night against Stoke, but its definitely a ‘good thing’ and if you haven’t been, you should give it a go next year.
Anyway, on the Saturday I took my young lady and we went in Club Level (I thought she’d enjoy that more than the ‘cheap’ seats – and I was right, she loved it). Seats here usually cost in the region of £100+ so are generally out of my price bracket. But for the EC they were going for £39 which is less than my ST seat costs for most league games.
For Club level you enter by one of the glass doors, not via the turnstiles, so immediately it is a quite different experience. An escalator whizzes you up to Club level where there are a series of bars and eateries. It’s carpeted and the toilets are not crowded, there aren’t long queues for food and drink and the stewards open the doors to the seating blocks for you, doffing their caps and showing you to your seat with a cheerful ‘there you are sir, madam, please do enjoy the game’..
The view is magnificent; we were in row five (I guess there are about 10-12 rows in Club) and overlooked the North Bank corner on the East Stand. Even though you are high up the pitch feels close, the players audible (notably Ollie when he was fed up with a lineman’s decision). It was a beautiful sunny day in North London** and at points in the second half of the Arsenal game I was struggling to see the action. Özil’s goal was a blur and even the screen replay didn’t help much. Fortunately weather like that is rare during the season proper!
At half time in the Wolfsburg/Villareal game we ducked out to sample the food offering. There is a posh dining room (in the Woolwich suite) and places to get pizza, dogs and burgers in others. We opted for the Legends Bar (very surprised there was no lithograph of Tony or Walter amongst those of Adams, Henry, Wright etc – sort this out please Mr Gazidis).
Having cunningly beaten the queues (which were never massive) we were sat down eating burgers and skin-on fries within minutes. Great burgers, served in what I heard one punter describe as ‘dog bowls’ – metal camping like containers – rather than plates. Well it’s trendy innit? Fries were good too, crispy and not at all soggy. But you might baulk at the price: £12.50 for burger & fries, £9 for the burger on its own (we had 2 burgers with one fries – but you get loads). Drinks are about standard for this sort of venue – £4.80 for a beer, £3 for coke etc. Last year Tony said his Merlot cost him £7 but they had it for under £5 on Saturday.
Club level is not cheap but it is fun and if you want to treat someone to a special day out (and they like football!) I’d recommend it. After the game we hung around for 10 or 15 minutes wandering the corridors and looking at the photos and wall prints, and popping in and out of the different bars and lounges. It’s very chic and stylish and shows what a classy club Arsenal is.
On Sunday I had quite a different experience. I took the twins (who will be 18 in couple of weeks…) and bought seats in the North Bank. In fact I picked MY seat and the two adjacent ones so they would get to see where I sit (or rather usually stand) most weeks.
We went with Tony (I met them at Finchley and we walked down from Archway as usual). We stopped at our regular watering hole (The Swimmer at the Grafton Arms) for burgers and Weiss beer (cheaper food and drink and, it has to be said, better than Club level) before rolling up at the ground just after Villareal/Lyon had kicked off. The twins paid a very brief visit to the Armoury while Tony and I waited in the rain (it was VERY wet on Sunday).
Once in I could look up to where I’d sat the day before and the view is quite different. But so is the atmosphere. Even though this was a friendly the North Bank is noisier. There were still lots of newcomers (seats here were £25) but they were happy to cheer. The game was also tighter and more competitive than the 6-0 drubbing of Olympic Mayonnaise. Cech got a great reception and Theo scored his goal at our end.
I enjoyed being there with the twins (normally they sit in the family enclosure at the Clock End) and despite the rain there was a good positive vibe in the ground. We didn’t stay for the presentation of the trophy (it’s at least an hour and half to get back to Northampton – and it took longer because of traffic today) so getting out was surprisingly quick.
So my verdict? I’d always plump for the rough and ready North Bank experience over the comfort of Club Level but once in a while (and next EC for sure) I’ll be heading back to the posh seats. One day, who knows, I might get to experience a box (one can dream!). Tony has a magnificent new seat over the 18 yard line (he rang me from there on Sunday!) and hopefully both of us will have a great view of the Untold Banner when it goes up (hopefully for West ‘am).
Here’s a suggestion – how about an Untold day out at the Emirates Cup next year? If Untolders fancied it we could meet up and have a beer or three?
* OK, I made that last bit up – only Tony gets that service at the Emirates (with M. Wenger popping by to check his new seat is satisfactory)
** or God’s Own Country as we call it down here
We’re on Twitter @UntoldArsenal
Tony rambles on about football and dancing on Facebook (TonyAttwoodofLondon)
and the series on pre-seasons past has reached 1992: A record breaking season but where did the entertainment go?