10,000 miles apart but forever in our hearts.
In terms of being an Arsenal fan in Australia, I am still a newbie with only 8 years under my belt.
To get a true view of what The Arsenal coming to Australia means to the fans here, I thought I would get the thoughts of the most passionate and committed Aussie Gooner I know.
I hand you over to Elia Eliopoulou (@AussieGoona)
I am a lifelong Arsenal supporter, from Australia, and proud owner of one of the rarest collections of Arsenal memorabilia in the world including the very first kit with iconic white sleeves worn by legendary captain Alex James in 1933 featured in the Arsenal FC museum. I am also the founder and a proud member of Arsenal Sydney supporters club – Australia’s largest and most active local Arsenal fans group that meets up for match nights at “The Armoury” at Wests Ashfield.
- Find out more about Arsenal Sydney supporters club join facebook.com/groups/ArsenalSydney
In less than 5 days, The Arsenal arrive in Australia.
It has been 40 years since the last tour here back in 1977, when I was still in nappies. I remember reading somewhere years ago about the shenanigans that went on between some of the players on that tour, in fact all tours. Such was the standard given there were no competitive matches to play and plenty of time away from home to let loose after a long hard season!
Australia back then was looked upon as the land too far, of poisonous snakes and burning hot summers, so to be a fly on the wall when they walked out of the airport to see weather of the London kind, cold, windy and bloody wet! Nothing what they had expected in the back of their minds from the travel brochures.
Australia – the expectation
The match attending fans most likely would have been curious football lovers as the National Soccer League had just launched with Bobby Charlton who kicked off the season opener for Blacktown City, as well as many ex pat English who made down under their new life. It certainly wasn’t made up of any of the internet dwellers of today, nor the social superfans with thousands of twitter followers that is for sure. In fact, Premier League was not televised on a regular basis here until the early 2000s!
Fast forward 30 years and it was almost like clockwork that Wenger would take the team every summer on pre-season no further than Austria, giving them a warm and easy climate to prove some of the youngsters and give the first XI a less arduous travel plan. Then something happened. Asia became the new destination. Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam. Then it was the United States with New York, which I attended with my brother as a little celebration, weeks after seeing the boys lift the cup live at Wembley.
Then boom Australia was announced!
The world of football had changed. Pre-season tournaments all over the world in faraway places were now the norm for big clubs. So whilst some will say it is just a second rate team who play, a big money grab ($3M the reported appearance fee for this tour, with various bonuses attached to ticket sales and merchandise) I would like to see it with a little more thought and positivity. The trend for other big clubs doing it for a few years before us had surely made the board see the need to reconsider the Wenger approach, with plenty of new money for jam (make that quite a few jars) on hand.
The game had changed as well. TV rights kaboomed. Sponsors became keen for a bigger return. Player wages rose. In addition, it became a global game. Fans that buy the kits, the merchandise, online from Arsenal.com, SheWore.com, were now gaining their chance to see their reason for supporting this club play live in their backyard. Unheard of as an Aussie Gooner.
Get your replica wall clock here
Many back in London, the 5th & 6th generation Gooner would appreciate that the ordinary overseas Gooner would rarely have the financial means nor ticket access to go to Emirates and watch a match. Some would even question their level of passion. However, this pre-season tour is an important piece of the football puzzle that is being solved, one that in today’s world needs to happen.
Another benefit that may not be appreciated quickly is that it gives UK fans the reciprocal benefit to visit a country they normally would not, one that they may have family or long lost friends.
Australia has become one of the most hospitable nations on earth with its natural beauty and high standard of living. So definitely, a bucket list opportunity to be had on the other end.
Where does it all lead to in the future?
I think a balanced approach maintains integrity with our footballing goals that Wenger and the conditioning team are focused on to ensure we have the legs for a long season. To ensure that we are ready to jump out of the gates on the opening round (our Achilles heel), whilst at the same time to respect and grow its fans around the world in carefully selected areas that provide the local fans a deserving chance to witness their team play live for the first time.
Novelty, annual, fly in fly out, second-string team will not work.
Having lived in London for a few years and having travelled all over the country and Europe to watch us play, I am very happy for the hundreds of thousands of Arsenal fans here who will have their dream come true on home soil, swapping the TV for a real life match. In addition, it is a chance for me to share my love for The Arsenal as a daddy with two young kids who wear the kits and sing the songs every week with me when the season is on.
Therefore, these pre-season tours are not everyone’s cup of tea, but they are for the rest of us to celebrate The Arsenal, the ones who stay up 3am every weekend for 10 months of the year to follow our club.
Just ask the record making 800 Gooners from the passionate Arsenal Sydney supporters club that rammed the Wests Ashfield club here to watch the 2015 FA Cup Final, leaving at sunrise for bed or more celebrating.
We are a sporting nation, one beyond The Ashes, The British & Irish Lions, Rugby League, and one Johnny Kosmina who played his 3 1/2 games after being found in that 1977 tour.
It is now also about The Arsenal for this pre-season anyway.
Moreover, for that, it is something to be celebrated.
Up The Arsenal!
Thanks to Elia for joining me ad you can read Part 1 if you missed it yesterday here – Steve