By Joel McNamara
The proposition of traveling to a Boxing Day match always presents an American Arsenal supporter with a unique dilemma: sacrificing part of the Christmas holiday for a game that may or may not live up to the hype.
From a monetary perspective, traveling to London to see an Arsenal game the day after Christmas is a no-brainer. Airlines typically don’t target the odd Christmastime footy fan with expensive rates, so the late December trips are generally going to be the most affordable.
The question is, does the Boxing Day fixture provide an experience that’s unique enough to warrant leaving behind friends and family on Christmas Day?
It all depends what your definition of “unique” is. Touching down in London on Christmas day, to begin with, will probably leave you feeling a little like Cillian Murphy in “28 Days Later:” not a soul stirs on the streets, with the exception of the occasional cabbie, who is your only mode of transportation on the day.
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By the following morning, the tube stops certainly aren’t buzzing according to normal business day standards, but you’ll no doubt notice that most of the passersby are going to a football match since the rest of the population still hasn’t much of a reason to leave home. Passing through a centrally located station therefore can provide an interesting experience for an American attending his first Arsenal game, as you’ll engage in a fair amount of stare downs with opposing fans who are all en route to see their respective London clubs.
The stadium atmosphere, as on any other day, will depend on the magnitude of the fixture. Against Fulham on Boxing Day 2004, you got the feeling that a Boxing Day game was interfering with most of the crowd’s holiday sleep schedule. That all changed, of course, once Thierry Henry dipped a shoulder, cut inside his marker and rolled the ball in past Van der Sar at the far post. Instant hangover cure.
For a Yank catching an Arsenal game for the first time, Boxing Day puts the footballing experience on a platter for you: you’re surrounded by practically no one but football supporters on a day in which nothing happens but football games. Not only is it firsthand exposure to the very thing you only saw previously via television, but now you’re immersed in a glut of it in the land of football.
Whether this particular Boxing Day sentiment is shared by the millions of English natives who are no doubt wrestling between whether to attend one game or take in many through the TV is a question only they can answer. It may be that it’s no different for many of them to sleepily watch Arsenal beat Fulham from their easy chair than it is for me to complacently take in a Lions’ loss after stuffing down a Thanksgiving dinner.
But for those who throw on their kit and venture out into the streets of London on Boxing Day, they are contributing to a footballing culture that, for a visiting Yank anyway, is at its most palpable.
Joel McNamara and his friend Kyle Van Buren grew up together in Michigan and have been supporting Arsenal for 15 years. You can find their weekly podcast on iTunes and at www.arsenalreviewusa.com. Text them your thoughts and score predictions at 77-55-REVIEW.Copyright 2016 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source