My first time. At Arsenal.

Yesterday I experienced my first Premier League match: Arsenal against West Ham United. A gift for a friend of mine, this had been planned for some time, but even the meticulous planning did not stop me from being quite apprehensive about the whole experience, as British footie fans aren’t particularly known for their friendliness. I shouldn’t have worried, as the whole shindig went down without any hitch. With some current mobility probs, my mate and I didn’t want to do the whole trip via the tube with numerous changes and trips through tunnels, so we drove to Walthamstow Central and took the Victoria line to Finsbury park and walked the last kilometer. This turned out to be an inspired choice, but more about this later. On our arrival at the club level of the Emirates stadium we were not only impressed with the spontaneous helpfulness of the staff, but also with the general relaxed atmosphere within the whole level. No queues for beer, no queues for the loo. It was a bit like being in a football supporters wet dream.

picture by Wonker on Flickr

Now I am not your average football supporter. First of all, I actually don’t like football that much. There’s just not that much computers involved, the supporters are quiten often rather disagreeable and violent chaps, and going to an actual stadium often involves being possibly beaten up. If at all, I am likely to watch the European and World Cup finals every two years and then have my fill. I do follow the harrowing travails of that most idiotic of all German clubs for foolish patriotic and sentimental reasons beyond my comprehension and am sure that this caused me to acquire male pattern baldness by the age of 25, but this is the only club I have any interest in. That and Leyton Orient, Dumbarton FC and Otago United. But I wouldn’t go so far and actually go and see a game there. I’d rather skim the results in the Guardian’s sport section and be done with it.

Anyway, that present had to be converted into reality and so I acquired said club level tickets and found myself in the Emirates stadium. And what a handsome place it is. Much nicer than the rather functional German stadiums of my university years, this was rather delectable to look at and sit in and didn’t feel claustrophobic. The punters were delightfully multicultural and of all colours and creed, united in their wish to see their team to win. Without much swearing, to my surprise.

After the game was finished it took us ten minutes past good natured police men and women to get to Finsbury Park station were we got the first train without having to queue, with other words: perfect.

Conclusion: I’ll take some of the things I’ve said about English footie back, although I suspect that most of the good time I had was due to the perfect storm of Arsenal’s pleasant fans, perfect stadium and easy access.

Nice one, nevertheless.

Let the footyfest begin. But who to cheer for?

Picture courtesy of Phreak2.0 on Flickr

It’s a gorgeous day up here in Scotland, and the European Soccer Championship has begun. While I am writing this, Group B has begun to play, with Austria and Croatia hard at it. The big problem for the Brits and the Irish is of course to choose which nation to cheer for (btw, Croatia leads 1:0 via a penalty). While it would be obvious to cheer for your closest neighbours (The Netherlands, France or Germany) it looks like the UK has chosen Poland as its favourite footynation (no wonder, with half a milion polish migrants prepping up the economy). Apart from the general move towards the poles, each pub wil probably chose its own nation, depending on the ethnic mix of its neigbourhood, though I find it unlikely that a pub in Sutherland will suddenly sport a plethora of German flags and serve Weissbier.

Nevertheless, since the Worldcup in 2006 the tone in the red tops here in the UK towards Germany has become much more conciliatory. Must have something to do with millions of tipsy Brits having a smashing time in German town centers during the tournament. Which of course proves what Charlemagne, one of The Economist’s columnists once said:

Brussels is full of monuments to the “builders of Europe”. There is the Schuman district, the Monnet circle, the Spinelli building. It may now be time for a Stelios Square or a Boulevard O’Leary. For in recent years, Stelios Haji-Ioannou and Michael O’Leary, the two pioneers of Europe’s low-cost airlines, have done more to integrate Europe than any numbers of diplomats and ministers.

With dozens of European players featuring every weekend in the lineup of Premiership teams, it can’t be hard to find your favourite team.  Maybe even distribute one team to every homenation? The Scots could prop up the auld alliance and cheer for the French, the English could swallow their pride and support a nation that doesn’t have a problems with penalty shootouts (e.g. Germany), Northern Ireland could pick a nation that has had an eqaully galling civil war, for instance Croatia, and the Irish could take up a hopeless cause, like Switzerland.

There. All sorted out. Now go get your drinkies, phone your friends and settle down in front of the TV, watch some footy and cheer for the Germans.