Arsenal New Zealand represents the continent of Australasia in our week of FA Cup blogs from around the world. Greig Cranfield explains the problem with 4am kick-offs, watching Grandstand and the identity of the happiest man in the country last year.
Some of my earliest memories of the FA Cup final are probably like most English boys really - eating breakfast while your dad or grandad reads aloud what the Sunday Times are reporting on the line-up, watching the build-up on Grandstand, seeing the (old) Wembley Stadium fill up and then letting the magic take place.
When you move overseas though, especially to geographically one of the furthest places on the planet you can get from Wembley, cup final day takes on a new routine.
Because of New Zealand’s licensing laws, only one bar in Auckland will be open for this year's 4am kick-off - Sammy’s Bar in the Sky City Casino.
"Aaron Ramsey’s goal set the place off and celebrations ran long into Sunday morning"
Meeting up for anything other than the FA Cup is difficult because of the time difference but in the two-and-a-half years I’ve lived here there have been some great turn-outs. Last year's cup final being the busiest and probably one of the best memories I now have of any of these games!
To get around last year's licensing law, The Fox Sports Bar in Auckland applied for a special event license that meant they had to sell tickets and close for one hour before the game. Some 100 tickets sold, 99 Arsenal fans and one lone Hull supporter, who for the entire first half was the happiest man in New Zealand.
There was such a special atmosphere in the bar. Being 4am it sorted the real Gooners from the occasional watchers with most supporters being ex-pats, former season ticket holders and a collection of Kiwis and other nationals that shared a deep love of Arsenal, all singing songs we sang at Highbury and the Emirates about Wrighty, Bergkamp, Vieira and Rocky while the drama played out on the screens.
It was amazing.
Aaron Ramsey’s goal set the place off and celebrations ran long into Sunday morning with new friends from all over New Zealand. Maybe the distance and the rarity of being surrounded by fellow Gooners (and actually winning a trophy for once!) made it feel extra special but it really made the final memorable. Off the back of the final we held a Puma kit launch which gathered a big crowd (thanks again Puma for the freebies) and this year's final is expected to draw a big crowd again with a much larger capacity venue.
Hopefully the celebrations last just as long too.
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