This article by Walter Broeckx is reprinted from http://www.arsenalbenelux.be/ – the Arsenal site for fans in Belgium and Luxemburg. It has been translated by the author.
In the year 1979 I went to Highbury for the first time in my life and saw them lose to Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-1. It was still the old North Stand, witch I found so impressive that sunny February day. So it was a good and a bad day. I fell in love with The Arsenal and I learnt what its like to lose a game.
In those days traveling to London wasn’t as simple as it is now. Flying was to costly and to travel by train – boat – train took ages.
Then came the Chunnel and the Eurostar and it was possible to travel to London and go back in one day. But…still, getting tickets in the small ground at Higbury was almost impossible.
When Arsenal built the Emirates we all got that little bit of hope that things might change but it all soon vanished when I realised that all the games were sold out and a general sale wasn’t going to happen for years.
But because I also made my children Arsenal fans they were always asking me: “when can we go?” – and asking it just about every time we sat round the table to eat.
Thanks to the internet I started to look at other options and I found a site witch said it sold tickets for Arsenal home games. I knew it was a bit dodgy but it looked as our only opportunity to get tickets. So I ordered tickets for 140 pounds a ticket. I gave them my Visa card numbers and got a mail that the tickets belonged to us for the game Arsenal – Bolton Wanderers in April 2007. I felt it was a huge gamble, and if you know we needed 5 tickets – I’ve been a busy young man in my days – it was a lot of money to spend and not 100 % being sure to have the tickets.
I ordered a Shuttle train and we would make the trip with my car, a Chrysler Voyager, because it was the cheapest way to get there.
So we went out of bed at 4 am and off we went with my car from the surroundings of Antwerp on our way to Calais and following my GPS to the Emirates. My oldest son was driving to Calais when suddenly my cruise control hesitated, when passing Ghent,….. for a few seconds but it regained its speed and it didn’t seem anything special at that time.
We drove on to Calais and when we stopped there, we were plenty ahead of schedule and everything looked bright in the early sunshine…..except that strange noise that seemed to hang around my car. The guy from the custom let a dog sniff our car but he dog didn’t find anything suspicious so on the train we went.
But after we left the train I knew there was something really wrong. The car made a strange noise and just before Maidstone I smelt burning rubber and I saw some smoke entering my car. My children were all asleep and I left the highway in Maidstone, drove unto the parking of a hotel..opened my bonnet and the smoke came out as if it was on fire.
There we were halfway London and this didn’t look good.
I checked my car papers and looked if there was a Chrysler garage somewhere in the UK… and believe it or not there was one…in Maidstone. According to my GPS it was only 2 miles down the road and off we went saying a little prayer that it would be open.
It was open but when the friendly people looked at my car they could only say I couldn’t drive to London in that condition. My climate control had gone and I risked blocking my engine if I drove further. They didn’t have the spare parts in their garage and it would take them until Monday to get them in Maidstone and then a day to repair.
Plan B came in action: rent a car. The people from the Chrysler garage said it would be no problem to leave my care there and I just had to go across the river and go to the Avis shop and rent a car to follow my trip.
So on we went in search of Avis and we asked a person where we could find Avis but he didn’t know so we went in a street and started looking all over Maidstone and couldn’t find the Avis shop. We found another rent a car short near the train station but we could only deliver the car back during opening hours and they were closed until Monday.
Plan C came in my mind: take a train to London and travel by tube to the Emirates. And when we walked back to the car still looking for that Avis shop we ran in to someone who knew where it was. He even would bring us to there but he could only take one passenger and we where 5 so we had to walk by foot.
When we came at the Avis shop we realised that if we would have taken one street further the first time we would have been there in 5 minutes. Now we had walked around for an hour, but I must say it looked like a nice town!
But they got a car, a Mazda 5 which we could rent for a day and we could return it in the evening and leave the keys in a box.
For those who live in the British Isles, driving on the left is like eating and drinking but for us from the continent driving on the left is not that easy and now I had to step in a car with the steering wheel on the right side as well.
Shifting gear with my left hand didn’t made it any easier and then to think I had to face the traffic of London.
But it was this or nothing so off we went and the benefit was huge when after a smooth drive and carefully staying on the left side of the road we saw the Emirates for the first time of our live. It is the most beautiful stadium in the world and I’ve seen some stadiums on my travels.
Then I had to call my contact person to see where we would meet at the ground and believe it or not… my cell phone didn’t work in the UK. OK it was an old one – I only use it as a phone and for some text messages sometimes but this was a big blow. How could we find each other. I’ve tried a million times until my oldest son said: why don’t you try my phone and… it worked. We met the friendly person who took his tickets from a place where I wasn’t going to take them from…yuk…but they were in an envelope so the cards itself didn’t have the smell of his private parts.
We enjoyed a superb game which The Arsenal won 2-1 and it was great to see, feel and live The Arsenal.
Back home my GPS sent my trough the traffic in London on the way to Maidstone and we changed cars and drove back to my home. The technician had told us to drive slowly and so we did and I apologise to all of you whom cursed and swore that c*nt on the highway who seemed to be afraid of driving at normal speed. I was just following orders.
When we got on the shuttle back, the nice gentleman asked if there was a problem with our car, but he let us on the train and we drove home. At 80 km/h it was like driving like a turtle and even the trucks flew us by.
And some 50 km from home, just when I was starting to relax a bit and thought we would make it suddenly something broke in the engine…. But it kept on working. We were lucky that my airco pump broke down without hurting other parts in my engine.
But my belt had gone and the battery stopped loading and there we where on the highway at 3 am – the middle of the night.
I drove along changing from no lights when the lights on the highway were one to small lights on places where there were no lights.
When we came home my lights hardly gave any light at all but we had made it home safe.
This is what fans have to endure sometimes when travelling to the Emirates to see our beloved team. But if I had to do it again and knowing what I had to do… I would do it again tomorrow if possible.
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