3.15am One of three alarms I’d set the night before (just to make sure) wakes me up in my room in East London. I’d gotten into bed at 9 the previous night, but a combination of nerves, excitement, and inexplicable lower back pain meant I hadn’t actually managed to fall asleep until 1.30am. At one stage I even resorted to watching ‘Arsenal:The Official History’ on my laptop to try to wind down, but to no avail. Anyway, with less than 2 hours of sleep in the bag, I drag myself out of bed, shower, throw on my new home kit, a scarf, and a raincoat, chuck a massive bowl of cereal down my throat, grab my rucksack (passport, top, the Arsenal magazine for some reading material), and make sure my phone is fully charged for the day of japes ahead. Whee has sent me a text at half 3 to let me know he’s waiting outside for his friend to pick him up and drive him to Gatwick, similarly sleep-deprived and chain smoking to stay awake, but buzzing. I leave the house at 3.50 with ‘The Wonder of You’ on the iPod, excited as hell.
4.10 Bombing down Mile End Road on the upper floor of the 205 bus with ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ at full volume on my headphones to make sure the adrenalin kept me conscious. Whee flying up the motorway at highly illegal speeds.
4.35 The bus gets to King’s Cross in record time, and I make my way to St Pancras, which is dead apart from the international travelers. The 4.52 First Capital Connect to Gatwick is one of the most depressing looking trains I have ever seen, and I curse the fact I’ll have to stay awake on it, or I could end up in Brighton rather than Spain.
5.30 Whee reaches Gatwick to find it heaving with Gooners. The day is looking to be a hilarious one. I’m creeping through Croydon, which, even before the sun has risen, still is obviously a complete shithole, and the train is creeking like an old, dry vagina.
5.50 I make it to Gatwick Station, handily right inside the terminal, and I meet up with Whee after he’s had his 5th or 6th or 7th cigarette of the day. Caffeine and nicotine are clearly going to be needed today to balance out the vast quantities of lager. Getting our match tickets and boarding passes, and getting through security, is as simple and stress-free as I’ve ever found it.
6.10 20 minutes before the plane even starts to board, so we grab a large mocha each and discuss the possible team selection. We both reckon Eboue will start, though I think he’ll come in for Theo on the right wing, whereas Whee thinks he’ll come in for Denilson. Either way, if he scores, I’ll make a handy 25 quid.
6.30 The day officially starts now, which we celebrate with two pints in the Wetherspoons (Mine a Heineken, Whee’s a Fosters). The price of £3.60 each makes me cringe, but Whee remarks that this is less than Bournemouth prices. Well, f**k that! It’s the earliest I’ve ever started drinking, and it tastes oh so good.
7.45 We’re on our waaaay, we’re on our waaay. Our tiny bastard of a plane packed with gooners takes off a little late and starts its two hour flight to Valencia. I’ll spend that whole time trying to get some shuteye and failing, while Whee manages a cheeky 20 minute nap, mouth agape. The breakfast on the plane is welcome, even if the egg tastes like it’s been manufactured to vaguely resemble egg, which, indeed, it has.
11.00, Spanish time Squeeky bum time as the plane lurches its way onto the Valencia tarmac. I am knackered beyond all reason, but can’t wait for that first delicious sip of San Miguel. We’ve managed to befriend the bloke sitting next to Whee on the plane, though for some reason he’s carrying all of his stuff (including match ticket and boarding pass) in a Sainsbury’s bag. As Whee would say later, there is something of the hilarious chav about him, if also ‘somewhat irritating lout.’ Transferring from plane to coach is easy, and we’re right at the back of the last of 5 coaches, so we tie my Arsenal flag up in the back window. A news anchor from a local Spanish TV station comes onto the bus with his cameraman in tow, holds his mic up to us and asks us to give him an Arsenal song. The most half-hearted rendition of ‘We Hate Tottenham’ follows, after which he asks for a Cesc song, so cue a half-arsed ‘We’ve got Cesc Fabregas’. One of the quotes of the day comes from the gooner who gets asked by the Spanish news anchor, ‘Isn’t there one about Cesc that goes “Que sera sera”?’ He replies, ‘No, that’s Wembley, bruv!’
12.00 Valencia has some properly hideous architecture. We’re dropped off next to a park in the ‘New Town’ and are told the ‘Old Town’ is about 15-20 minutes away over a nearby bridge, but no one can quite take their eyes off the strange, alien-looking, post-modern monstrosities nearby. They look utterly random and out of place. I’ve been to Barcelona a few times and love it, but this, just down the same coast, isn’t nearly in the same league, though the blanket of grey cloud overhead probably doesn’t help its looks. At least it’s warm, 15 degrees or so. Whee and I have a cigarette each, and it wakes me up a treat. Let’s get pissed!
12.15 We break off from the main group and duck into a tiny cafe, desperate for a slash. Whee gets the first round in, and it’s 4 euros for three 30-centilitre glasses of San Miguel! Have that, London. If only the exchange rate wasn’t 1 to 1, we’d be truly laughing. The first sip is everything I’d expected it to be and more: cold, crisp, refreshing, and delicious. I instantly decide that there is simply nothing better than a nice chilled glass of genuine Spanish San Miguel. We get 2 more rounds in, chat with a friendly bloke who kept going on about Usmanov’s yacht, and generally discuss previous away trips we’ve had.
1.45 We’re f***ing famished, so we find another cafe/bar down the road, and with the limited Spanish I still remembered from school, I ordered two menus of the day (I knew that beans, ham, and chicken would be involved, but that was as far as my Spanish went). 3 more rounds of San Miguels had us comfortably tipsy, and though we were still separated from the main crowd, this was increasingly becoming less of a concern. Getting up for my 4th slash of the afternoon, I realise I am starting to get quietly pissed. The food involves a bizarre but tasty beans and sausage combo, some ham with potato salad, squid in some strange soup (which was good with bread but pretty horrible on its own), and delicious chicken. The Arsenal chat continues, and I think we discuss various shambolic drunken nights out we’ve had, including one of my own involving frightening homosexual undertones that I won’t go into. Outside, the sun has actually started to shine.
3.00 f***ing Spain! The heavens quite literally open on us as we decide to seek out other Arsenal fans. Epic lightning tears the sky, and thunder booms down the old, echoing Spanish streets. We take shelter in some clothes shop, and I run out to see if there’s a nearby boozer. I get f***ing drenched in the process, and to no avail. We head back the way we came and duck into the first place we find, which looks slightly too upmarket for a group of 3 foreign football fans out on the piss. No matter. We change it up with 3 glasses of Sangria, which Whee, in his lager loutish manner, doesn’t finish, but I think it’s delicious. It also has the effect of making me considerably more drunk almost immediately, but we grab 2 rounds of Amstels just to be sure!
4.15 After Whee shares an umbrella with a random Spanish woman, who I believe he later refers to as a ‘slutbag’, we stumble back towards our original little cafe, singing ‘We’re the boys in red and white and we’re f***ing dynamite’ and ‘Adebayooooor, Adebayoooooor give him the ball…’ through the streets, to the bemusement of onlookers. One man holds his phone up to us so his mate can hear the Arsenal fans taking over Valencia, and we give it a good old ‘We’re on our waaaay! We’re on our waaay!’ Bizarrely, we haven’t seen any other gooners in ages. Back at our first cafe, it’s back on the San Miguels. Whee looks genuinely pissed, but Jamie, the bloke with us, is showing little to no effect. Whee is handing some of his drink over to him, which Jamie oblingly boshes down in one. Surely this will catch up with him at some point? We’re drunk enough that this tiny cafe is rocked by our singing, much to the annoyance (I think?) of some Don Luigi looking **** smoking a cigar. He is hilarious though, and so is the barman, who happily keeps bringing us beers even though we’re probably driving his customers away.
5.30 Time to head back to the coaches, and we’re singing all the way back. Unfortunately for Jamie, but hilariously for Whee and me, who have sobered up a little, he is suddenly completely and utterly wrecked by the time we get to the coaches, and he can barely stand. Twice he falls over, much to the hilarity of the gathered crowd of gooners, particularly when one of those times he was having a piss as well. Nothing quite like being covered in mud and your own urine, and how he didn’t get taken away by the watching hordes of Spanish police I’ll never know.
6.15 We hit the road. ‘We’re the baaack end we’re the baaack end we’re the back end of the bus.’ Front end are poor.
6.30 ‘Front end, give us a song, front end front end give us a song.’ Silence. ‘Are you Tottenham in disguise?’ Silence. ‘Driver! Give us a tune!’ Driver driver give us a tune!’ But then someone pipes up with ‘Tottenham watching Eastenders!’ and we have a massive jape. Three of the guys in the back have bought cheap megaphones from some shop in Valencia, and they all play this f***ing irritating tune, but it’s such comedy value that by the end of the bus ride it’s almost a cult tune, and every time it comes on we cheer massively. General drunken hilarity. Jamie spends the entire journey deservedly receiving shit from all around him for his embarrassing levels of drunkenness. The speed with which he went from reasonably sober to f***ing wrecked would almost be embarrassing if it wasn’t such a disgrace!
7.00 Cigarette/toilet break. Whee chain-smokes like a beast, but I’ve had more than my fair share. The megaphones are being used to full effect.
7.15 Back on the coaches. Epic ‘One man went to bed’ japes. One guy is letting rip the absolute worst farts I have ever smelt though, which was definitely not comedy. It smelt like something dead was rotting inside of him. Front end did finally give us the odd tune. ‘We forgot that you were here’ and ‘We’ve got a new recruit…we’ve got a new recruit’ meet this however. We pull out just about every Arsenal song there is as the bus tears down the motorway, and then starts winding its way through the streets of the arse end of nowhere.
8.00 Coaches pull up, and we’re off, except for Jamie, who thinks that we have his ticket, and then gets in a massive sweat when we tell him he has it; luckily for him, the penis was sitting on his Sainsbury’s bag. Sake. Anyway, we step off, and the megaphones are ringing out; we can’t wait to get to the ground, which still hasn’t appeared, buried as it is in the middle of this small Spanish village. The weather has cleared up though, and the sun is just beginning to set. The police escort us all the way there, and ‘We’re on our waaaay!’ starts ringing out as the ground comes into view. It doesn’t look like much yet, but the walk to the away section is like nothing I’ve experienced. With our police escort, we genuinely feel like some sort of savage parade, with Villareal supporters lining the street to our left, the ground to our right. As Whee would later say, there’s a proper arrogance with the way we’re marching down their streets, singing ‘We’re on our waaaay’ right in their faces, scarves and arms held aloft, Whee thrusting the badge on his shirt at the rather amused onlookers (they seemed like a lovely bunch, really!).
8.25 After the standard security faff, we’re in the ground! But we soon find we have to walk up about 8 million flights of stairs to get to the away stand. Luckily, there’s a bar three quarters of the way up, and we get two final beers in while Whee flirts with the barwoman, who I’m not sure speaks English.
8.35 In our seats, beers deliciously in hand. Our row is hilarious. Right in front of us, there’s a good 4 foot drop down to the concrete between us and the lower section of the stand, which you just simply would not get away with in England. Both of us are somewhat worried that, if we score, it’s going to be hard to leap up and down like a spastic and somehow avoid breaking our ankles. Problem number 2 is the view. The near goal is just about barely visible, but only if you stand up on tiptoes, and even then you can’t get a full view. Never in a million years are these seats worth over 65 quid, let alone the over 70 that they were originally before Arsenal got inundated with complaints. These problems are made up for by view, however. I have never been so high up, except maybe in the Ajax Arena, but because the rest of the stadium is much lower, we have an absolutely spectacular view of the surrounding countryside and the glorious Spanish sunset. The bloke
has a good picture. Also, did I mention the beers? Beers are ace! And the atmosphere is a little nervy now, though that could just be me. Massive pre-match sweat! Almunia gives us a nice old clap as he gets into goal.
8.40 The teams come out, and the atmosphere absolutely explodes. The sea of yellow in the stands below us is intimidating to say the least, even if it is a good-hearted, yellow-flag waving, jovial way rather than a Ninian Park ‘We’re going to kick your heads in after the match’ kind of way. The travelling support is in full voice though, and when a certain Robert Pires gets read out over the tannoi, the ‘Super Bob’ chants are coming from so many directions, I actually get a bit lost in the wall of noise.
8.45 We’re off! The atmosphere is electric, and though there’s not much singing coming from the home fans, they are making no small amount of noise. It helps that their team gets off to a decent start, putting us under pressure from the off. A big cheer goes up when the screen to our left announces Porto have scored. ‘Who the f**k our Man Uniiiiited!’ rings out. The night is going well.
8.55 Well, for f**k’s sake. Villareal’s slick passing has been making us look pitifully average, and they get their reward when Senna unleashes a ludicrous shot from 30 yards. I never thought it was going in, as it looked like Almunia had it covered, but of course my view was rather restricted! I don’t see the net ripple, but the explosion of the home crowd tells us all we need to know. The worst possible start, and I sit down with my head in my hands, trying to regroup myself and adjust my expectations. I’d wanted a sound win, but I realise already that I’ve woefully underestimated Villareal, and that 1-1 at this stage would be decent to say the least. It looks as though the team has been similarly over-confident, like they absolutely did not expect the kind of slick passing moves Villareal are putting together. I’m not sure how it looks on TV, but from our high vantage point, some of Villareal’s football is genuinely Arsenalesque, in the best sense of the word, and our midfield just doesn’t seem to be able to handle it in the slightest. Anyway, 30 seconds after the goal, we’re giving it the good ol ‘We love you Arsenal, we do’, and urging the team on.
9.30 That felt like one of the worst 45 minutes I’ve seen from Arsenal all season, and I was at the match we lost 2-0 to Villa! I have no idea how we are only a goal behind, as Villareal have had our midfield chasing shadows. Senna in particular has been resplendent. In attack, we look anaemic, and the first couple misplaced passes took all our urgency away. Even basic first touches we’re f***ing up big time, and the frustration in the away section is palpable. We’ve traveled all day and spent over £250, and it feels like Arsenal haven’t properly turned up. Whee and I have a good ol discussion, and we’re both in agreement that Nasri in particular looks off the pace. He feels Cesc has been a total passenger all game, though I reserve my spite for Denilson, who I think has been invisible the entire half, out of position for Senna’s goal, and generally uninvolved and painfully average. Half time feels soul-numbingly long. Eboue warming up with Bendtner down on the pitch makes us wonder if a third substitution is on the cards.
9.45 The teams file out for the second half, Villareal first and Arsenal second, hopefully after a good kick up the arse talk from Mr Wenger. Let’s f***ing do this!
10.00 The clock hits 60 minutes, and this is really a match now. Arsenal have upped the tempo, Walcott looks dangerous down the right, Ade is harrying and making good runs, and Song is having an absolute stormer. Villareal can’t string 3 passes together, and from what I can see, Song is responsible for a lot of this, chasing and pressuring at every opportunity and forcing them into errors. Denilson is distributing excellently, though he still seems too static for me, and I don’t like Cesc in his forward role, even though he’s forming the crux of every forward move. I silently tell myself, as I often do, that we need to score before the clock reads 70, though I’m ready to adjust that to, “OK, before 80 then” when the time comes. We should do better when Walcott is put through in the area, but the pass is beyond him and the best he can do is roll a tame shot towards the keeper. A goal must surely be coming. The bloke behind us is getting a little too excited, shouting ‘Spanish ****!’ at every opportunity. Jape.
10.05 f**k. Me. What. A. Goal. Cesc launches a delicious ball into the area, and it looks from our angle like Ade miscontrols the shit out of it. “f***ing prick” both me and Whee think at once, “he’s mucked that chance right up.” When he shapes up to try a bicycle kick, Whee thinks, “f***ing prick, don’t even bother,” and I think, “Ah why not, have a crack then you miscontrolling bastard.” The goal out of view, all we can tell is he’s hit it on target. And then everyone goes absolutely f***ing spastic. Whee and I scream in each others’ faces before leaping about like retards and embracing the strangers to the left and right. I jump up to throw my arms round the ‘Spanish ****’ man behind us, and Whee disappears 4 rows back amidst the sea of cavorting humanity. The last time I remember celebrating a goal like this was Ade’s goal after Walcott’s run at Anfield last year. Sublime, and I think Whee and I break a few blood vessels over the next 15 minutes. I have never heard ‘ADEBAYOOOOOR ADEBAYOOOOOR GIVE HIM THE BALL, AND HE WILL SCORE’ sung with such power. We have truly found our voice, and as ‘WE’RE ON OUR WAAAY’ rings out, we feel like we own the Madrigal. The trip has officially been worth it.
10.20ish Huge cheer as Super Bobby Pires comes on, but it’s squeeky bum time as we tire after the surges of the past half hour and Villareal come back into the game, after being thoroughly outplayed for some time. Hearts in mouths for one or two shots, for sure. I’m annoyed at how happy we seem to be with a 1-1 and not sending more people up for our final couple corners, but I suppose better safe than sorry!
10.30ish Full time. Well that was emotional! Pires gives us a clap as we sing his name and draws a final big cheer. ‘Adebayooor’ and ‘We’re on our waaay’ are the songs of the hour. I am knackered in every sense of the term. We both wonder if Jamie is still alive. Being kept behind for 15 minutes is a pain in the arse, and the walk back to the coaches feels twice as long as the walk to the ground did. A fair few gooners are celebrating in bars around the ground, and the general feeling is of a good result, especially since Man Utd drew 2-2 at home!
11.00 Jamie’s alive, and soberish as well, but still quite annoying. I pass out all the way to the airport.
00.45 Starving hungry, even after a sandwich and a packet of crisps, and ludicrously dehydrated, I fall asleep on the plane.
2.30 English time Back at Gatwick, Whee parts ways to go have a massive shit before his Dad drives him back to Bournemouth, and Jamie and his Sainsbury’s bag wander onto the 3.00 train to Victoria station. I wait around for the 3.30 to London Bridge, and grab a Guardian to read the match report. Re-living Ade’s goal in my head already. It’s going to be one of those I pull out of the memory banks more than once.
4.20 I find myself walking across London Bridge in the rain, and it’s pretty surreal to see London after the day I’ve had, especially at 4 am.
4.50 I walk all the way up to Liverpool St Station and catch the 205 back to Mile End.
5.30 Sat in the reading chair in my room, I completely pass out. I’ve had about 6 hours sleep tops in the course of 48 hours, and I am shattered.
All in all, an epic 26 hours out, though next time I’m getting more sleep beforehand, bringing some food along, and drinking a couple more beers! Bring on the second leg (and Porto in the semis)!