With our men’s first-team squad currently on tour in the United States, we’ve caught up with member of Arsenal NYC, Placide Magambo, to discuss the importance of our trip to our stateside supporters.
Read on to discover Placide’s Arsenal story.
Like so many of our supporters around the world, I fell in love with Arsenal when I was growing up.
I lived in Rwanda and, at the time, we didn’t have any TV. My father would love to listen to matches and sport news on the radio - both the Premier League and Ligue 1. Our weekends would often be spent listening to the BBC and Radio France Internationale and relying on what our father would relay to us. Sometimes he'd bring us back European newspapers or football magazines which would help us to build on the knowledge of players we'd learned about when listening to the radio.
I can still remember in 1996 when my father told me Arsenal had hired a coach called Arsène Wenger. I thought it sounded great - someone called Arsène managing Arsenal.
We’d have to walk for a long way to watch any matches on TV - it was a trek we often made during the World Cup in 1998. My father would try to give us the overview of what was going on and how it connected back to the Premier League, so I learnt all about Arsenal’s France players who went on to win the tournament in their home country.
My father knew everything about football - he actually predicted during that World Cup that Thierry Henry would one day play for Arsenal, given he’d previously worked with Arsène at Monaco.
So we’d watch the World Cup but, in general, whenever we were able to watch games, they’d have taken place a couple of weeks previously. People would record the matches on a VHS and we’d end up being able to take them in a while after they’d taken place. The excitement when my father came home with a video was off the chart!
Growing up, English wasn’t my mother tongue. My father was fluent in English and French, so he’d explain what was going on. I took in the rivalry between Arsenal and Manchester United through what he’d tell me. I still remember when we beat them at Old Trafford in 1998 - that one was really special. I have really clear memories of our match there in the unbeaten season too, when we drew 0-0 and Van Nistelrooy missed the penalty. I watched that match in town and it was absolutely packed.
When I left Rwanda to come to the United States, one of my absolute main priorities was where I could go to watch Arsenal matches. But I had this idea that nobody in America would know about football - how wrong I was!
As soon as I arrived in New York, I asked people where I could watch Arsenal games. My colleagues in the office didn’t know what I was referring to but, after a quick Google, they recommended going to Legends, a soccer bar by Fifth Avenue.
At the time, my geography of the city wasn’t what it is now - so I ended up taking loads of transport around. It took me almost an hour to get there when in reality, it was only a five-minute walk away.
I walked through the doors of Legends and met Ed Brolin. He asked me if I was there to watch soccer - my response was that I wanted to watch football. At that time, I didn’t actually know that the word soccer also means football. I explained that I was a fan of Arsenal but I didn’t expect him to be too.
I headed back to the bar the next week and met David Hirshey - a columnist in New York who was at ESPN. He was at the bar watching the game and explained that he was an Arsenal fan too.
I was really surprised to see how many football fans were in the bar. David invited me to play football in Central Park and he introduced me again to Ed and other Arsenal supporters in the city. I was amazed by the knowledge they all had. It was a really lovely introduction from people who have become like my family. When I moved from Rwanda in 2012, I came alone. But the people I met both that day and since have become like family to me.
In fact, when I went to study at Georgetown University in D.C., Ed drove me all the way there. I remember thinking at that time that I’d move back to New York as soon as I was finished with my course - because of the family aspect I feel with Arsenal NYC.
I’ve never felt lonely in America because of my Arsenal family. I’ve been invited to birthdays and weddings - and when I was alone at Christmas, I was invited to celebrate the day with the family of a local Arsenal supporter.
So how does it feel to have Arsenal coming back to the States? Let me tell you, it means everything. It’s like Christmas for us - it’s going to be a huge party.
The excitement is off the charts - to have the club here, bringing the reality of north London on a matchday to the east coast is a special feeling. Being able to experience all facets of the match - the build-up, the anticipation and of course watching the match in person rather than on TV - means everything.
There’s so much preparation that goes into the visit on our side. We have a WhatsApp group with around 300 people and we speak every day about the trip. I’m in touch with supporters from Canada and I’ll be hosting seven Gooners - from Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa - in my apartment, so they have somewhere to stay to watch the game.
My friends in Africa are telling me how lucky I am to have Arsenal playing so close by. For us in and around New York, this means everything
I’ve never seen an Arsenal community like the one we have here. All the Arsenal bars are packed whenever there’s a game. In some bars, you can only get in if you have an Arsenal jersey. So I know the match against Manchester United is going to be really special. North London is red - and so is New York!