Wenger’s tennis skills, Podolski’s salute and Flamini’s glare; A day at Arsenal’s London Colney training ground

An Invitation to an eye-opening…

By @JokmanAFC

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I compiled my latest blog yesterday regarding Jack Wilshere and transfer rumour-mongers.  I sat back and reflected on a half-decent job and set about disseminating my word-seed to as many twatters as I could.

People who follow me will tell you it is a common sight for my latest piece to crop up at least 30+ times on their timeline. Some would see this as an annoyance, but I prefer to see it as determination and perseverance.  I do send my gubbins to the same people repeatedly.  Most of these write blogs themselves or are avid readers of such nonsense so I know at least I won’t get abuse when I send them a link.  @goonerdave66 is one of these people. I sent him the latest link, he did his civic duty and RT’ed my codology and I then propagated further.

About 10mins later, I received a DM from Dave, extending an invite to the Arsenal Press Conference for the FA Cup Final. Amidst me simultaneously wetting myself and laying chocolate cable in my pants I called him to make sure this wasn’t an elaborate prank much like when my teacher in Primary School made me go the Headmaster and ask for a Long Wait (Get it?).  Dave was sincere and genuine, understanding of my fanboy-ishness (He wanted to do it himself so could sympathise with my excitable nature) and forwarded me the details. I then set about preparing.

Would my Arsenal socks and boxers be an overstatement of allegiance? Should I take an item for players to sign? Is that being a tad presumptuous? Would it look unprofessional in front of the seasoned vets of the journalism cadre to brush past security and hug Lukas Podolski like a fat kid hugging the lunch lady for giving him extra? I settled on my ensemble, decided against a vote of confidence penned with my own blood using my forehead as a canvas and went to bed, wanting sleep to take me in its warm embrace so tomorrow could arrive hastily.

On my journey to Colney, my mind raced into panic quicker than Samir Nasri offending Didier Deschamps. What if the journalists resent our presence there? What if the other bloggers realise I’m punching above my weight? I then firmly told my mewling, moaning mind to zip it, listened to the soothing sounds of Old Skool hip-hop and made my merry way, intent on just enjoying the day.

After driving past the entrance twice, I made my way to the security hut situated at the entrance to the car park. I must admit it was a small but sad thrill as I told the elderly sentinel that I was here for the presser. Wow, I feel like a bigger boy mum! I pulled my red Corsa into the nominated area, worried that my reserved choice of vehicle would pale in comparison when shadowed with an array of Lexus, Porsche, Ferraris and Astons. I needn’t have worried as I was so early that the car park was as deserted as a Findus Lasagna Fan Club Meet. I stretched my hobbit-like legs and made my way to reception. I signed in (as I was signing I thought that my name will now be forever in the annals of Arsenal history, I then chastised myself for my complete lack of composure and snapped back to reality) and climbed the stairs, taking time to look at each photo that adorned the walls. You could say the photos had a theme as most of them centred on successful times, players of the past and more recent memory holding aloft a shiny object jubilantly or stretching out banners that declared our dominance. I daydreamed that it would be good for Saturday to be the next photo up on the wall but let’s not put the bockers on it shall we? I was informed where the gents was and then pointed to where the press room was. I tentatively opened the door.

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I felt like a lamb doing door-todoor enquiries at Abattoirs’. There were three round-like tables, with desks alongside the furthest wall. In front of me, pointing to where Le Boss would sit under the intense glare of well positioned lights was a phalanx of TV cameras all aiming their lenses toward the desk. THE desk. The desk with mics set up to catch every breath that escaped from Arsene’s mouth. I had to approach it. I first said hello to a TV crew who were even earlier than I was and introduced myself as a massive fan looking to glean as much info as possible. I think they appreciated the genuine approach! I used the coffee making facilities and took up a perch, just taking in the surroundings that as a fan I was so lucky to be seeing.

Slowly but surely, the TV crews, newspapers and radio people started filling up the room. A rather insightful incident occurred as the TV crew who had turned up ridiculously early and set up shop had their noses put out of joint by the late arrival of the Sky guys. They sashayed in and started to move the early TV crew’s gear, declaring that “Sky have a deal so we can use the centre of the platform”, thus getting them the best shot.

The lady who was the brains of the Early TV crew held her ground, and after about five minutes of not budging from her and indignance at having their superiority questioned from the Sky guys, the Sky fella laughably stormed down to reception to question the policy, much akin to a wronged child at school rushing off in tears to see the Headmistress. Two minutes later he walked in and immediately started apologising to the Early TV crew, with this the lady gave me a knowing wink. This woman had cojones. Anywho, whilst this was being wrapped up, more and more people from the same trade started to enter the fray. Old sweats saw colleagues and exchanged pleasantries and war stories whilst I sat in awe.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of what the newspapers write is fabricated nonsense designed to make punters read by sensationalising what is actually run of the mill comments. What I was in awe of is the way they took this all in their stride. In a few minutes we will be seeing Arsene WENGER. In the flesh. In the same room! I got a grip once more and at this point a lady from BT Sport asked me to perform a sound check from Arsene’s perch.  ME. I tried in vain not to skip giddily to the desk. I sat down and stifled the Joker-like gurn that was enveloping my features. I was given the hand motion by the TV crews to start talking (isn’t it weird how we all know what that is even if we’ve never seen it before?) . I summoned my best Arsene Wenger impression and gained a tired titter or two from the collective. Mission accomplished.

I made my way back to the table and three other bloggers had been invited. We exchanged details and stories until we were given the heads up by a member of Arsenal’s Press Team that the boss was on his way. Fashionably late. It’s his prerogative. On this note, all the press stopped what they were doing, and swarmed to the front. For a short guy I’m used to missing out on views but these people were pros. Gotta get the shot after all. This was my view…..

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I still could see him, which was good enough for me. I took notes whilst he answered a barrage of queries and questions, mostly, I thought, designed to irk or irritate enough to coax the genuinely placid and composed Gaul into saying something revelatory. It didn’t work. Questions regarding Tim Sherwood? Batted that away. Questions surrounding Bac’s dedication and future? 30-love to Arsene. Talking about FFP? What about your opponents? TV5’s contract? All successfully swatted like Roger Federer in his prime, game, set and indeed match. The only time his armour looked like it might have a weakness was when asked about our line-up for the Final. He straight up refused to comment.

When pressed on each and every player position he stated that he could answer each and every query with the same answer if they would like, to which the dumbstruck hacks fell silent and rapidly changed topic. It also pleased me that he acknowledged what a tough run to the Final we have had. What a gauntlet of opponents. Aside from Coventry it’s true. It seems the press would like you to think that, along with Hull, we’ve been overwhelming favourites in every tie and it’s been a walkover, so we should win it. Small memories and a penchant for dramatisation it would seem. The trophy drought was mentioned more than Paul Burrell name drops the Royals. It was all designed to lure the Boss out of his calm exterior and to lose his composure. Epic fail. He left the room leaving the journos perplexed and knowing nothing more than they did before. Tactics.

There was a lull in proceedings as we had to wait for training to begin to get a small insight.  I thought this was an ample opportunity to sneak a cigarette in.  I went to the designated smoking area where the rest of us lepers slope off to & attempted to articulate on Twitter what I had just witnessed.  As I sucked in the hazardous tendrils of smoke, Arsene Wenger came through the door directly in front of me, about a foot away.  He nodded nonchalantly but knowingly in my direction and cantered off to take charge of his troops.

Arsene just acknowledged me. I took control of my bladder rapidly and went back upstairs, steeling myself against the desire to run upstairs and like a crazed teenybopper, tell my colleagues what just happened.

We waited about 20mins and then made our way back downstairs, through the car park and waited until the burly member of the security team got clearance to let us clamber towards the training pitch. I cunningly entered into conversation with the lady with the cojones and offered to hold her boom whilst she videoed the training.  She graciously accepted and I also benefitted as I was closer to the action!

The spot we took was close to where the players would enter the training pitch. Rest assured, pitch aficionados, that the turf was lush, just as The Emirates. We waited and attempted to zoom in to Wenger in the distance kicking an orange football. She was more successful than I as I was armed with an iPhone. Then, the influx of my heroes started.

Podolski saluted me, but the only pic I got of it was awful as I was shaking with excitement, here it is.

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I have others. Jack looked directly at me but I got the shakes and spoiled the shot. I got direct eye contact from Mathieu Flamini, his raw manliness would have normally scared me witless but I managed to get a half decent picture…

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I could include a lot more photos but this blog is long enough as it is. Needless to say I quelled my inner fanboy and had an amazing time. I got a cracking shot of Rambo too!

Once the training window we were allowed to view had expired, we were ushered back to the press room. A lovely fellow called Tom from Arsenal’s Press Team then took us on a short tour of the indoor pitch. You know the one, the one that was used when Jack was dressed as a Christmas Elf. Yep, that one. It’s lighting alone looked very advanced and the turf wasn’t the 7-a-side GOAL pitches we are used to. The faux turf alone looked like it’d set you back more than Bruce Forsyth’s toupee collection. It was also comforting to know that even professional superstar footballers have the same quandaries as us when it comes to indoor football…

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Once we had finished marvelling at the latest in indoor football tech we meandered our way back to the press room. We had a bit of a wait on our hands for the next part, the player interviews. This will have to wait to be told as there is an embargo for revealing the details but suffice to say I’ll do my best to reveal to you tomorrow.

All in all, to sum up, this was a hugely memorable experience. It’s somewhere a fan doesn’t often get to see and I feel honoured to be able to have done so. A massive thank you to @goonerdave66 and @GunnersTown. Without your kind offer and encouragement I couldn’t and wouldn’t have managed to be able to have these fantastic images etched into my memory. I hope you all like what I have written and thank you to the people who sent me kind words and inspiration. I really do appreciate it.

Thanks all, Now let’s look to Saturday!  #UTA

Danny Betts


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