Thursday, February 27, 2014

2014 New York Mets: Will it be Another Wait Until Next Year Season

It's been a while since I wrote about the Mets. To be honest, the reason is there's nothing to say. They signed Curtis Granderson, a 41 year old overweight Bartolo Colon and outfielder Chris Young. That's it! That doesn't scream out UPGRADE to me. Young, who owns a .235 career average through eight Major League seasons is pretty much the Collin Cowgill of 2014.

Other than that, Lucas Duda is still here, Ike Davis is still here and yes, even Ruben Tejada is still here. I hope all three of these guys prove me wrong, but let's be honest, they've been AWFUL. At the same time:
  • Our only real power source last season, Marlon Byrd, is gone.
  • We finally get an ace, Matt Harvey, and of course he's out for the entire season.
Sandy Alderson's "rebuilding" plan seems to be taking a lot longer than Mets fans were led to believe. Then I saw this headline in the February 27th issue of the Daily News:

Sandy Alderson tells Mets executives, personnel that tean can win 90 games - Owner Fred Wilpon chimed in at one point during a staff meeting with his own pointed assessment, 'We better win 90,' he said, according to a source

In John Harper's article, Alderson said, "All I’ll say is we have higher expectations than we’ve had in the past."

Considering the team hasn't been competitive since 2008 and they won a grand total of 74 games the past two seasons, it seems that Alderson has become delusional. Look at the Mets' roster. The Mets had trouble scoring runs last season. This lineup is not going to instill fear in any opponent. Nothing has changed!

Of course I'm a lifer and will always be a Mets fan, so I hope that Alderson's prediction is on target. However, like the past 5 seasons, I have no expectations for the 2014 Mets.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Arsenal World

Last season Arsenal World was shown on the YES Network here in New York City. While I dislike the Yankees, it was great to be able to watch the program and keep up with the club that I support. Now that the Yankees have teamed up with the equally disliked Manchester City, Arsenal World is no longer shown here in New York. However, the show's tag line has stayed with me. I loved the beginning and ending when the players would say, "this is my world, this is Arsenal world".
On a recent trip to London to take in some Arsenal matches, I decided to also explore the entire area and the neighborhoods around Emirates Stadium and the team's former home Highbury. What I discovered was that it really is an Arsenal World, at least in that part of North London. Let me explain.
When I worked in the record business my one day trip to Syracuse, New York turned in to a week of house arrest as I ended up stranded due to one of the worst blizzards to hit upstate New York in decades. As the snow began its onslaught I was introduced to the most amazing supermarket chain I have ever come across....Wegman's. Wegman's is like a world of its own. There are countless aisles of everything you can think of. I used to joke that Wegman's sold everything but condos. After visiting the real "Arsenal World" I realize that I have discovered a place that sells everything INCLUDING condos.

We'll get to the condos later, but I am getting ahead of myself. I had been to Emirates Stadium previously but I intended to take my time taking in every aspect of the amazing venue on this visit. As luck would have it, a friend of mine from Brooklyn married an Englishman and lives within a stone's throw of Emirates Stadium right by the Holloway Tube Station. As you exit her building, you can actually see the top of the's that close.

There's the Emirates right there!
The outside of the Emirates is pretty amazing to take in. The front entrance features the two cast iron cannons positioned in front of the Armoury Sqaure and the Arenal store. The Square is made up of personally engraved fans' bricks and benches.

The store is amazing and has everything an Arsenal fan could think of including Arsenal Monopoly, plush Gunnersaurus dolls, scarfs, t-shirts, kids clothes and of course Arsenal jerseys past and present.

Highlights of a trip around the stadium include the bronze statue of Thierry Henry perched beside the "Spirit of Highbury" mural. The mural shows every Arsenal player to have ever played at Highbury.

As you continue around the stadium you come to the Herbert Chapman statue at the Clock End Entrance. Behind the statue is the Danny Fiszman Bridge which is lined with banners displaying past Arsenal greats. The entrance to the bridge is smack in the middle of the neighborhood and features the seven giant concrete letters that spell out ARSENAL.

Further on is the bronze statue of Tony Adams with his arms raised in celebration. The statue is not far from the entrance to the Arsenal Museum and the Ken Friar Bridge which also connects the stadium to the surrounding neighborhood.
Eight giant panels surround the stadium, each depicting four Arsenal legends with interlocking arms as if in a huddle. Under each depicted player is a photo and information from their playing days.
After checking out Emirates Stadium I went off to check out the local pubs and the nearby area. In addition to the pubs, I got a kick out of seeing the following businesses using Arsenal or Arsenal references in their name:
  • Arsenal Food and Wine
  • Arsenal Fish Bar
  • Arsenal Supermarket Off Licence   
  • Gunner's Fish Bar
  • Arsenal Wine

As for the pubs, the locals tend to meet up at one of the following:

Next it was time to check out Arsenal's former home, Highbury. As I approached the Arsenal Tube Station from Drayton Park I made a right on Gillespie Road and then another right on Avenell Road.

It was here that my earlier reference to condos comes in to play. As already outlined, Arsenal is represented by liquor stores, pubs, supermarkets, fish and chip shops and wine stores....and YES condos! The amazing front of Highbury is still intact but it has been incorporated in to part of the new Highbury Stadium Square.

The residential complex was built around the four sides of the old stadium. It includes 650 various size apartments built around a communal garden that was Highbury's former pitch. It is truly amazing how they were able to retain the 93 year old history of Highbury while making it part of a modern luxury residential facility. If the other team that I support, the Mets, had tried to do that with Shea Stadium they probably would have developed a new slum. Arsenal and the local community were able to do this with class.

To complete my own personal Arsenal journey I went on the self guided stadium tour. This excellent experience included visits to the Director's Box (and the area where all the rich and fabulous dine while the real fans sit in the stands), the player's entrance, the home and away changing rooms, the Arsenal physio room (a.k.a the Abou Diaby memorial lounge), the tunnel entrance to the pitch and of course the pitch itself. 

The Abou Diaby Physio Room

It was teeming rain and the Emirates pitch was covered with lamps that help keep the grass healthy and looking great. I had never seen these before and thought one might be a nice purchase for this current New York winter that has been short on sun.
Rounding out the visit was the small, but very interesting, Arsenal Museum. The club's history is on display and the museum features memorabilia, interactive displays and plenty of videos. One particular piece that really caught my interest was a photo that showed Arsenal players heading off to World War II. It stated that all but two of Arsenal's 44 players at the start of the war served in the armed forces. Think about that and realize how lucky and pampered these players of today truly are and what TRUE heroes the players of that era REALLY were.
Of course no visit to everything Arsenal is complete without the opportunity to see a home match. Due to the amazing Gooners I have come to know on Twitter, namely @Sammarchione, I was able to take in the February 2nd home match versus Marouane Chamakh and Crystal Palace. 

Pre and post match activities included a visit to Piebury Corner and an "Ian Wright" pie as well as pints at The Tollington Pub with fellow Gooners.


The Ox scored both Arsenal goals and the match ended 2-0 to the home team. I will say that the Crystal Palace fans impressed me as their 3000 fans sadly made more noise than the entire stadium filled with Gooners. I personally think that Arsenal supporters need to make their voices heard more at home and make the Emirates a fortress, but that's just my opinion. Gooners did get their voices together near the end of the match to drown out the Palace fans with a never ending chorus of "Your going down". (although they may not be going down based on current play).

Part of being a true sports fan is seeing your team on the road or at least checking out the stadiums of the competition. In the past I had seen Arsenal play away at Charlton's The Valley and Leeds' Elland Road. (For some odd reason I also had the chance to see QPR host Huddersfield in an FA Cup match played in a hail storm at Loftus Road many years ago). This trip I was fortunate enough to be able to see Arsenal visit Southampton courtesy of the aforemention @Sammarchione

In a driving rain storm, my guest and I arrived by train from London's Paddington Station to Southampton. We walked to St. Mary's Stadium and had not troubles entering through the away fans entrance. A pre-match pie and pint and it was then match time.

For whatever reason, Arsenal were totally off their game for this match and Southampton were definitely looking like the more likely side to do damage. After heading in to the half down 1-0, Arsenal came back strong at the start of the second half and scored two quick goals courtesy of Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla. The away Gooners sang and tried to get the team going. For a moment it seems as if normalcy had been restored, but two minutes later Southampton were even and the match ended 2-2
As every Gooner knows, Tottenham are number one on the list of despised clubs. As a New York based Arsenal supporter I have never had the chance to visit White Hart Lane. I had always been curious though to find out why it's referred to as Shite Hart Lane or "the Shithole". So I went to find out.
First of all, it's in the middle of nowhere. With no clue as to where it exactly was I took the tube to Tottenham Hale. Upon exiting the station, it felt as if I'd arrived at a strip mall in Long Island. All I saw were American chain stores such as Staples, KFC and Burger King and even a Long Island like shopping mall.
I eventually figured out that I needed to jump on a bus to find the stadium and when I did finally arrive I understood why it was called "Shite Hart Lane". The neighborhood was pretty grim and I was met by a sign announcing that the "Spurs Shop" was only opened on match days. I guess that's because no one would come near the place unless there was a match. After walking around the stadium and seeing a mural of the "future home of Tottenham", I was out of there. Now I know.

I also decided to check out West Ham's home stadium so I boarded the Tube and headed for Upton Park. The East London neighborhood seemed pretty cool as I walked towards the stadium in the pouring rain (gee what a shock pouring rain in England seems to be a common theme in this journey).
I learned that Upton Park is actually known as The Boleyn Ground and that the club shop closes at 5PM promptly. I arrived late and found the place closed up and quiet. It was only when I began to walk away that I noticed an official looking man lurking at the front of the stadium. It turns out it was a reporter from Sky Sports standing in the rain and reporting on the 6PM Deadline Day signings of West Ham. I have watched these Deadline Day reports in the past and there are always idiotic fans screaming and yelling in the background of these reporters. Here at West Ham there was no one, except me. I saw the lone cameraman and bid them a goodbye as I got away from all that West Ham Deadline Day excitement.

Deadline Day excitement at West Ham????
The one thing that did impress me was not at the stadium, but down the road. It was a sculpture that I now know is called The Champions and is dedicated to England's 1966 World Cup winning team. It features Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters and Ray Wilson celebrating the victory.

I completed my Arsenal journey by watching some potential future Arsenal footballers.

I have now attended 8 Arsenal matches in person. In the first four matches I attending Arsenal were 4-0-0 with 18 goals for and just 2 against. This included 2 of Thierry Henry's 8 Arsenal hat tricks.

My last four matches have not been as successful with an Arsenal record of 2-1-1 with 5 goals for and 4 goals against.

Total record for matches attended: 6-1-1, 23 goals for and 6 goals against for a goal differential of +17.

It was great spending some time once again in Arsenal World.