Sunday, July 27, 2014

Gooners Prove that New York City is Red - Arsenal in the US for First Time in 25 Years

The anticipation for Arsenal's pre-season visit to the New York area had been building for months since the announcement came in late March..

During the time in between, Arsenal NYC and various other nearby supporter clubs put together a weekend that can only be described as "Arsenalpalooza".

It began on Thursday evening as Arsenal held a party for its supporter clubs at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey. While not the venue or location that I would have personally chosen (getting to New Jersey from NYC is a pain in the butt...and hey, it's New Jersey), it was an opportunity to meet Gooners from all over North America (and beyond) and see the Arsenal boys on American soil.

As I arrived in Hoboken, I immediately spotted 2 Gooners and we collectively made our way to a free shuttle bus that would take us to the event. I was really impressed to meet Gooners from Orlando, Winnipeg, Seattle, Fort Lauderdale, Alabama and of course New York and New Jersey. Little did I know that this was just the beginning of meeting Gooners from all over.

Upon arrival at the arena it was amazing to see lines of Gooners everywhere. YES, tons and tons of Gooners in New Jersey!!?? That's a sentence that I could never have imagined being able to utter.

The event itself was very cool. First, I was lucky enough to be sitting in a section where the FA Cup was prominently on display just outside in the hall. It was pretty amazing to be able to stand just feet from the trophy which had been won just 2 months earlier at Wembley.

After the Arsenal ladies' FA Cup was paraded, the main event began. Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Carl Jenkinson, Kieran Gibbs, Tomas Rosicky and Gedion Zelalem were joined onstage by the legend that is Thierry Henry. The players answered questions from fans and participated in basketball and football competitions with lucky supporters. They then took the FA Cup for a walk around the arena for every section of the crowd to see and photograph.

On Friday, the FA Cup took itself around New York City to visit some of the sites. I actually bumped in to it in Times Square.

Arsenal and the Red Bulls held a joint press conference while some of the players got to take in some of the sights in New York City:

Meanwhile, Arsenal and Puma held an all day 3x3 youth football tournament inside of Grand Central Station. The largest cannon you will probably ever see, was set up next to a small indoor pitch and fans had the opportunity to pre-order the new Arsenal Puma kit at a discounted price.

The FA Cup was brought by around noon and fans were able to have their photos taken with the illustrious trophy. Later in the day, Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky, Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey and Thierry Henry came to participate.

Friday night was an Arsenal fan party unlike any other. Arsenal fans invaded East 14th Street between First and Third Avenues for an event called #14thStIsRed. Arsenal pubs The Blind Pig and O'Hanlon's were filled to the brim with Gooners from early afternoon to the wee hours of Saturday morning. Meanwhile The Winslow was filled with Arsenal inspired art that was for sale in a silent auction benefiting Street Soccer.

Over at O'Hanlon's the one and only Arseblog (Andrew Mangan) was selling and signing copies of his new book "Together: The Story of Arsenal's Unbeaten Season". It was amazing to see the line and the number of fans that follow Arseblog. He and Mrs. Blog were greeted as if he they were famous celebrities, which I guess they are in terms of Arsenal.

It was an amazing evening of bonding with Arsenal fans from all over the world. The streets were overrun with Gooners wearing every type of Arsenal jersey and t-shirt from recent and past seasons along with a variety of scarves and banners. Chants of Ooh to be a Gooner, we hate Tottenham and more could be heard all night long up and down 14th Street. It was funny to watch the confused expressions of random people just walking by who were wondering what the hell was going on.

What was really cool was instantly bonding with people you never saw or spoke with before simply because of the common Arsenal bond. Gooners passed each other on the street with an understanding nod of approval, slaps on the back, handshakes and the overall vibe that we were all one and from the same family.

In the end, if my memory serves me, I met Gooners that night from all over the tri-state area, Cleveland, London, Boston, Florida, Memphis, Toronto, Rhode Island, Arizona, Boston, Chicago, Houston, DC, Philly, Virginia, New Orleans, Ireland, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Minnesota. It was crazy.

The main event was on Saturday as Arsenal met Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls in a friendly at Red Bull Arena. The train heading out was packed with Gooners and the stadium itself was full of Arsenal fans. The chants and cheering for Arsenal were loud and went on throughout the entire match.

Thierry Henry was serenaded throughout the afternoon and a huge banner was lifted up in his honor which referred to him as a Gunner, a Red Bull and a legend. You could see Henry's sheer joy and happiness on display throughout the match as he shared laughs with his old club and Arsene Wenger.

The match itself was a bit of a disappointment as the level of play was not up to regular season par by any standard. Arsenal played the entire match without a true striker and a number of the younger players were given a run out. 

The only goal of course involved Thierry Henry. The legend sent in a corner kick which was eventually slotted in by Bradley Wright-Phillips. The fact that Arsenal's all time leading goal scorer had an assist on a goal scored by the son of another Arsenal legend, Ian Wright, was brilliant irony.

Regardless of the play on the pitch, the event itself was truly amazing. To see Arsenal playing in the New York area in front of thousands of Gooners was truly special. It was definitely one of those once in a lifetime experiences. It truly felt like North London had been transported to the swamps of New Jersey.

Befitting the occasion, Thierry Henry was named Man of the Match. Henry clapped the fans in every section and left the pitch to a thunderous ovation. The Arsenal players followed suit and it was obvious how appreciative they were of the overwhelming support they had witnessed in the New York area from Gooners near and far.

Here are some of the reactions from the players and fans to an amazing Arsenal weekend in New York:

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