Friday, 21 October 2011

Away Days: Ramsey's smash and grab had the Gooners taunting the French

New on Away Days is Kristonel Elwe's first hand account of Arsenal's successful trip to France to take on Marseille. Kristonel was there to take in all Aaron Ramsey's late smash and grab and recounts his experience of the trip of Wednesday's Champions League game.

When the Champions League draw took place in Nyon back in August I was all ready to book the tickets needed for an away game in Europe. Flights, accommodation, trains and/or coaches are all needed to be booked as soon as possible to make sure you get to the destination for an affordable price.

Back in August we were drawn into a group with Borussia Dortmund, Olympique Marseille and Olympiacos. All interesting targets for Gooners going abroad to follow the Arsenal. I made sure to book a trip to Dortmund right away as I’ve always wanted to visit the Westfalenstadion, but unfortunately my trip got cancelled just a week before the game because of a funeral. Instead of Westfalenstadion and Dortmund I instantly booked a trip to Marseille and Stade Vélodrome with my fellow Swedish friends who were also going to that game.

As a Swede living in London I know I’m very lucky. The past one and a half a year I’ve been to pretty much every home game and also attended numerous away games. Unfortunately I never got the chance to get abroad last season because of job duties, so boy was I excited for this trip!

The alarm clock went off 5am on Tuesday and I had only gotten three hours of sleep, but I didn’t really care. I took the bus down to London St Pancras where I awaited the Eurostar to take me to Paris. Everything went very smoothly and three hours later I walked out of the Paris-Nord station. As I had three hours to spend before the departure of my train to Marseille I decided to take a long walk in the capital of France. I walked down to Champs-Élysées and then continued east along the beautiful river of Seine.

The weather wasn’t the best, but it was still nice and I found Paris a lovely place. After a quick but pricey meal at Le Reynou I continued walking towards Gare de Lyon. When I finally reached the place I made sure to get my pre-paid train tickets from a ticket machine and also got a copy of L’Equipe. My French isn’t the best, but I figured I could at least try to understand!

The interesting part was that when I booked my train tickets, you only had to pay five extra Euros for a 1st class ticket. I figured out it was probably worth it and yes - it truly was. Everything went very smoothly and I never ran into any problems at all.

After I arrived at Charles-de-Gaulle (the name of the train station in Marseille) I met up with my Swedish mates who had taken the flight from Stockholm down to Marseille. We started walking downtown to find our hotel and the first impression we got of the city was somewhat strange. It was like you’d taken one of the biggest cities in Europe and tried to shrink it as much as possible. Think of London but with only half of the space for all the roads, stores and buildings.

We arrived at our hotel, dropped off our baggage and then went out for a good dinner. The service was outstanding and the food delicious. All the habitants we met were welcoming and friendly. Soon afterwards we started walking down to the Irish pubs at the Old Port of Marseille. One was called O’Malleys and the other was called The Shamrock. We went for The Shamrock as it was where we heard all the singing from other Gooners who had made the journey to France.

The atmosphere was very good and we practically sang every chant there is about Arsenal during the four-five hours we stayed there. At one point we were accompanied by two Olympique Marseille supporters who started singing their chants, but they had nothing to put up with as we did it louder and better.

The following day was matchday! After a good breakfast and lunch we once again decided to get down to The Shamrock. Walking through the city with our Arsenal gear on was not recommended, but we did it anyway. Some of our friends had to pick up their tickets at the player hotel and when they came back they said they had met Ivan Gazidis and showed the rest of us a picture as proof. After a beautiful afternoon in the sun with a lot of pints, talking and singing it was time for us to get to the stadium.

We walked to the tube station and got on our train. The singing continued and we made a lot of noise! My friend almost got pick pocketed, but instead of getting angry we just started singing “you’ve only come to pick our pockets”. After a quick change at another station we finally reached our final destination – Stade Vélodrome.

Before entering the stadium we were thrown into some sort of a hangar called “Hall 7”. The police had prepared like they were going to war and the security was something out of the extraordinary. I had no idea we were that dangerous! Jokes aside the most popular chant in “Hall 7” was “we wanna go home, Marseille’s a shithole, we wanna go home”.

After waiting, waiting and some more waiting we finally got into the stands. The few OM supporters who were early as well started teasing us right away, but we answered them back with some good singing. The stadium slowly got crowded and quarter to nine it was finally time to kick off the game.

The following ninety minutes have been written about on every blog out there, so I don’t want to spend time reflecting on the game itself. With only two minutes left of added time many of us were tired and bored. A draw was a good result, but travelling all the way to Marseille to see a dull game with no goals wouldn’t have been that fun.

Then it happened, completely out of the blue. Djourou sent a ball into the box where Gervinho failed to handle it. Thanks to his failure the ball went out on the left flank where Ramsey had loads of time and space for himself. The only thing I can remember is seeing someone shooting the ball into the net. The next thing I know we’re all falling down on each other in cheer joy.

We all went mental. We’d done a classic smash ‘n grab and we were enjoying every single second of it. People were throwing fists in the air, jumping, hugging, screaming of joy and even kissing each other. The one clear thing I can remember is me jumping several rows down, taking my shirt off (even though it was cold and had started raining) and starting jumping around like a maniac.

The euphoria from the goal seemed to last forever. To the tune of “just can’t get enough” we were singing about Aaron Ramsey all night long. And the usual chants about Tottenham were also given much dedication. Because of usual regulations we were held in the stadium for quite a while, but no one cared. We jumped around for at least twenty minutes in the stands before they allowed us out on the streets. Thanks to Ramsey we got to enjoy a fantastic evening. Most of us went back to the pubs in Marseille and continued to celebrate while others went back to their hotels.

The day after a group of us took the train to Nice where we enjoyed a wonderful afternoon. It was a very beautiful city and we even met some Gooners along the beach walk! We also took a swim in the Mediterranean Sea. The one thing we kept thinking all day long was that following the Arsenal is marvelous when you end up in places like Nice where you’d never go during a weekday in October if it wasn’t for the Arsenal.

Later that evening we took the flight home. A good three days in France and a great three points at Stade Velodrome! Up The Arsenal! is looking for a fan heading to Chelsea on October 29 and also someone heading to Norwich on November 19 to write about their away day experience. If you'd like to get involved, contact us via Twitter or Email.

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