By Walter Broeckx
A pilgrimage to Wembley or from history to historic…
Usually when I write about my trips to London I get asked the questions about the trip from Belgium and the food. You ask, I deliver, Nicky.
Getting out of bed at 4.30 (3.30 London time) followed by a quick shower and then putting our luggage in the car for the drive to London. A smooth trip to Calais where we could get an earlier boat that would make us win one hour. Great start of the day.
The trip from Dover to Wembley also went rather well. A big fire close to the North Circular Road didn’t really stop us. The traffic lights halted us a bit but not really a lot of time lost. We had some sandwiches for on the road but by the time I got to the hotel the first pre-cup final butterflies had stopped any feelings of hunger. A chocolate croissant and a coke was all I needed to go to the final.
I know lots of readers have asked about my wife Carine and her health. After some 13 years of suffering and going backwards we have started a new treatment a few months ago….. and we are already seeing the first promising signs. We still await a battle of some 3-4 years before we really know where we will be standing but things are looking better than ever.
Carine went with us to the stadium on her crutches but she went to the shops around Wembley. But those who know Wembley know that it is all going up and down and that is very heavy stuff for Carine. But one year ago she would could have only made such a distance being pushed in her wheelchair. Now she walked the 500-750 meters on her own and made it back in to the hotel. Exhausted after that trip but the fact she could make that trip on her own feet is something that is amazing for those who have known her in the past years.
After the match we invited Andrew to have a meal in the Empire restaurant of the hotel. Not the best of options but we thought it would have been the easiest way instead of going on a search for a place to eat. The easiest way : yes. Time wise: no. It took us more than half an hour to place our order in a not completely filled up restaurant. Now maybe the fact that at the other end of the wall some 100 Gooners celebrating the win and a handful Chelsea supporters trying to drink their loss away might have affected the speed of the serving but still….
Carine took the vegetarian burger. I took the grilled half chicken and Andrew opted for the chicken tikka massala. The bread that accompanied it was completely black roasted on one side. The not roasted side was nicely put on to the side facing our eyes. That part was send back and they managed to get it only half black roasted on a second attempt. But the rest of the dish was good Andrew told me. So we will take him at his word.
My food and Carine’s vegetarian burger was excellent. No complaints from our side apart from having to wait what seemed and probably was more than one hour. But after our win not much that could break the fine atmosphere I think.
On Sunday we went to Greenwich. A walk around the Greenwich market and then on board of the Cutty Sark. Almost for 90% wheelchair accessible for those who have to use one. As Carine has improved she also could do the last part of the boat on her crutches. Very interesting and to see how they managed to rebuild the ship after a big fire some 10 years ago… impressive. After that we walked around a bit but the hill to the Observatory was judged too steep.
Why not go from the living history I had witnessed on Saturday to the old, very old history of Arsenal. Woolwich was only a few miles down the road from Greenwich. And Carine agreed to first drive to Woolwich before we would go back to Dover.
I told her about the old history that I have learned thanks to Tony. We drove along where the old Royal Arsenal factory once was but couldn’t stop there as time was running out. Now I had to find the place where the first football fields had been… and as we drove along the road I came on a very, very big roundabout… I remembered from reading the excellent history articles that this was the place where it all started. Looking to my left when nearing Plumstead High Street I looked in the direction of the old Manor Ground and when entering the High Street I knew the Invicta ground had to be very near.
I almost could feel the old atmosphere entering the street. Today at home I could locate it on google maps with some help of the history articles and wikipedia.
So last weekend I was there where it all started some 130 years ago and was in the stadium where we became the most successful team in FA cup history! A real pilgrimage where the old and the new Arsenal came together in our trip. We promised ourselves to go on a next trip to take the time to stop in Woolwich and visit where it all began. Now we were running out of time as we had to make it in time for our boat back to the continent.
We finished the weekend with a beef pie and a vegetarian pie on the ferry to Calais. Nothing special and not to be compared with the pies I have eaten in London over the years. But it was enough to get us through the day.
It was a weekend were old came together with new and that added to the whole experience of being in Wembley to witness our record breaking cup final. I must say it was an amazing trip. A pilgrimage is usually done on your own. I did it with Carine as that is what people do when you are married for almost 33 years. We do our pilgrimages together. In good and in bad days. Just as I do when I support The Arsenal. In good and in bad days. And my god how stupid it looks to talk about this era in terms of bad days….
A PS from Tony – for your next pilgrimage Walter, you could visit the site of Arsenal’s first ever FA Cup match. It’s one I did a couple of years ago and there are details and pictures here. Just so you still have things to aim for.