By Gooner on the Road
Having stayed with more than 40 Arsenal fans since the start of the season, across more than 30 cities, I've found that supporting the club from afar has its challenges. Here are eight things I've learned so far:
THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
1. The things that initial strangers will do for you when you're in need, simply because you support the same football club, is astonishing. Arsenal fans from around the world have offered me somewhere to stay, taken me out for dinner, shown me around their home town, bought me beers, left me keys to their apartment. Some have even loaned me their car, all because of a mutual love for the cannon.
DEDICATION'S WHAT YOU NEED
2. People say that the most die-hard Arsenal fans are the ones that go to every home match and travel to every away one. What about the ones that live thousands of miles away and don't get that chance? The ones that still watch the game live, even in local time (sometimes a 3am rather than 3pm kick off)? I would say there are tens of thousands of Gooners around the world that do this on a regular basis. Are these people still dedicated?
SING UP FOR THE ARSENAL
3. The singing culture in the official Arsenal pubs varies from country to county. For example, in Sweden, at the Cheers pub, when they sing 'Oh Santi Cazorla' they do so in a much slower, deeper tone, and of course the Swedish accent is quite evident! In Hong Kong, they are very much subdued, probably due to their culture but also because when I got together with them for a match, they were watching in a betting shop! In Molly Roffey's in Singapore, the local Arsenal fans sing, scream and cry as loudly as they can. And of course, in the Blind Pig in New York City, they set the benchmark for the loudest, rowdiest Gooners, where almost every Arsenal chant imaginable is covered. The NYC Arsenal Supporters even have a few songs of their own.
IN LOVE WITH THE CLUB
4. You would expect the majority of the people I've met and stayed with on my travels to be expats. I would say, up until the Asia leg at least, it's been 50:50. In Europe I stayed with two expats and then a Dane and a Swede. All huge Arsenal fans, for their own reasons. In north America, with the exception of Irishman Davy Colgan in Kansas City, everybody had organically fallen in love with the cannon. Again, they all have their own stories, most of which you can read about here. In Australia and New Zealand there were more expats but that's the probability factor. In Hong Kong, where I watched the disappointing Liverpool match, there were no expats whatsoever, while in Singapore there were fans present from all over the world.
5. Many international Arsenal fans can't make it to matches as much as they'd like to, so they'll usually find some other way to dedicate time (and money) to their passion. Many supporters that I've met over the past five months have literally dozens of Arsenal home and away kits, which they've collected over the years. Some will have every single match programme that has been printed sent overseas.
6. The fans that do travel to the games understandably have to fork out on a lot more money and give up a lot more vacation time to do so. Some fans from Australia will even take a long, long weekend in order to catch a game.
7. Arsenal is a truly global football club. I can honestly say that I have spotted more Arsenal shirts than any other Premier League strip while on my travels. I've also learned that Arsenal.com is the world's No 1 visited sports team website, and I'm not at all surprised. I'm not sure if I'd be able to do what I've done to date, with my limited funds and my goal to watch every game, live, with another supporter, if I was a fan of another club.
LOYAL SUPPORTERS (CLUBS)
8. Running a supporters club overseas is hard work. Most of the time you have to deal with time-zone issues. The biggest challenge is usually convincing the landlord of the pub you usually watch your games in to open at an ungodly hour (it might be 3:45am for a 7:45pm kick off in Singapore). Most people that run supporters clubs also have day jobs. Once again, another example of how committed these fans really are.