Last night Arsenal fans didn’t just paint 14th street red, we exploded onto the scene with the exuberance of a teenager with his first paintball gun. Splotches of red, gold, blue, and yellow, bursting out of every pub, skipping along the streets of Manhattan, drinking joyfully, and singing every song from the Arsenal hymnal. It was all almost too much but at the same time not enough.
I nearly missed my flight Friday morning and only the insistence of my sister, who was giving me a ride to the airport at 5:30 in the morning (bless her), calling me multiple times to wake me up made sure I caught the plane on time. Despite hurrying to get to the plane, I slept fitfully on the flight. The sleep of someone doped to the gills on Valium and yet anxious both about the flight and the event ahead.
A dizzying cab ride, with the iconic skyline featuring prominently against the backdrop of what must be the world’s biggest cemetery, landed me at the house of my gracious hosts Brian and his fiance Regina. I had almost no time to drop my bags and change shirts before we were off to help set up for the silent auction at the Winslow on 14th Street. It was early, I thought. But in reality it wasn’t early enough. Officially, the celebrations were to start at 7 but by 5pm the streets were already full of Arsenal fans.
The show at the Winslow was a silent auction of 40 pieces of work with proceeds going to Street Soccer USA. The walls were plastered with beautiful prints in various styles from the anime style of 11Cannons to the wonderfully succinct multi-tonal work of Art of Sport. The full list of artists who donated pieces is available on their Facebook page.
As that event built steam I wandered off down the street to O’Hanlans where Arseblog was signing copies of his book Together. I had hoped to get a chance to meet the boss in person for the first time but as soon as I looked into O’Hanlans I saw an impenetrable wall of people with the same idea. Now wasn’t the right time so I turned away and went back up toward the Winslow which is actually right next to the famous Arsenal pub The Blind Pig. I thought about checking out the Blind Pig but again the same story. It was a madhouse, there was a huge line of fans waiting to do some kind of Arsenal sponsored official event. Maybe a photo booth?
I settled at the Winslow which, compared to The Blind Pig and O’Hanlans, was only slightly insanely overrun with Arsenal fans. In and around the Winslow I met a number of other Arsenal fans and asked each what they had done since they got into town. Time and again I got the same story: they had gone to an event and the crowds were unbelievable.
Many of the fans I talked to had tried to get to the event at Grand Central Station (I think the FA Cup was there along with some of the Arsenal players) only to be turned away as the demand outstripped the capacity. I’m not getting down on the club here or the organizers of any of these events, rather, I’m celebrating the fact Arsenal is so well supported here in the States that the events had crowds over capacity. Hundreds of thousands of people have come from all over the world and converged on Manhattan for the Arsenal. As the song goes, we truly do all follow the Arsenal, over land and sea.
As the auction wound up I got a text from Chris Toronyi telling me to get down to O’Hanlans, the crowds had thinned out enough that I could finally meet Andrew from Arseblog. We pushed our way through the drunks gathered at the door and all the way to the back. Being the gracious guy that he is, as soon as Andrew saw me he came out from behind his table and shook my hand. That’s right folks, I have touched the hand that fingers Arseblog. Wait, I mean, I have fingered the hand of blogs… you know what I mean.
We had a few words but there was always someone there wanting a moment with him. So we decided to catch up later when things weren’t so crazy. I said my goodbyes and headed back to the Winslow. At this point, the auction was closed and the pub was a flurry of activity. Getting pieces to the winners and cashing them out.
As the happy winners filtered out of the Winslow, the hardcore fans stayed behind and started singing. All of the old tunes were belted out about players like Vieira and Ray Parlor. This is a rarity for me. Even at Arsenal games in London I never hear the Ray Parlor song. And then the coup de grace, my absolute favorite Arsenal song, We All Live In A Perry Groves World. I switched the camera on and recorded the crowd singing.
As our night wore down Brian and Regina took me to a Ukrainian diner where I finished the night off with some Pinot, a bowl of the best borscht I have ever savored, and some lovely conversation. It was the perfect way to cap off an Arsenal event: with friends, decompressing and laughing about the day.
Going in to this I knew that there would be more supporters than the Red Bulls Arena could support. I thought of it as a sort of Arsenal-Woodstock; with people coming out from all over the place just to be here for the event. There were Chicago Gooners, The Squid Boy Like flew in from England, people sporting their Austin Gooners tees and so many other people from all over the world gathered just for a chance to maybe get an autograph off a player or for a brief conversation with any of the thousands of other Arsenal fans here. Just to be here.
Thinking back on the day, the one thing that struck me is that the thirst for Arsenal in the States is nearly unquenchable. I’m thinking that maybe one game in the USA isn’t enough. That Arsenal should do this tour bigger next time, paint more than just one street red, let’s paint the whole continet red! Come to Seattle, go to the midwest, go to Canada, and maybe even Mexico, then finish off in NYC. It was so beautiful to see the outpouring of support but instead of slaking my thirst, I want more.
That Arsenal painted 14th street red is no doubt. Arsenal, I think, could paint America red if it wanted.