The charm offensive

Article By K. Anand

Nothing can describe the emotions that come with watching your heroes up close.

Hence, for all Arsenal supporters or fans (whatever the level of passion one has), this week has been an unforgettable experience.

From the moment the Arsenal team took off on a Malaysia Airlines chartered flight out of Stansted, London, they already had a taste of the support for the Gunners from this country as one of the pilots is a long-time supporter.

He was naturally overjoyed to be selected for this “special mission” of bringing one of the biggest teams in the world, and his favourite one at that, to our shores.

The trip by Arsenal to Malaysia is a long-awaited dream come true for tens of thousands of Malaysian Gooners (as Arsenal supporters are referred to).

Their last visit to Malaysia was in May 1999, just one week after the English Premier League (EPL) season ended that year.

I still recall like it was yesterday! After a lifetime of waiting, the thrill to watch my favourite English football club in person for the first time was surreal.

Stalking out the Sunway Lagoon Hotel, chasing the players for autographs, standing outside the hotel bar and watching them have a drink – not surprisingly, Tony Adams was the only one having just coffee. Security was obviously not as tight as it was on this recent trip.

On that visit, Arsenal were the league runners-up (losing out by just one point on the last day of the season) but more importantly, they were also the previous season’s champions.
Having won that title, the club had garnered a greater fan base then in Malaysia.

This bigger following was also due to the beautiful attacking football that the Gunners showcased – via live telecast on Astro almost every week – under the then new manager Arsene Wenger.

Since that last visit, the past 12 years has seen a massive growth in the support for the club thanks to legendary players who helped the Gunners to land two more Premiership titles and three FA Cups along with a third Premiership-Cup double as well.

The other notable achievements were the record-breaking 49-match unbeaten run (part of which was achieved with the Invincible season), a Champions League final, two Carling Cup finals and being consistently among the top four teams in the EPL every season.

Back to the flight from London, the interesting thing was that the players continued with their strict diet on board. This meant no satay, no nasi lemak and other popular Malaysian delicacies throughout the journey.
This, as I was told by some of the British press in town for the Arsenal tour, was under strict orders from Arsene Wenger.

One of them related an incident a few years back when Wenger was asked “if Arsenal won the Champions League, would you then allow the players to have celebratory drinks on the flight back to London?” The answer was a flat no.

Speaking of the British press, the press conference on Monday fielded the usual questions about transfer rumours, but the highlight was the first official announcement by Wenger (or anyone at the club) that Ivory Coast striker Gervinho was the latest signing.

This was a breaking transfer news which was “made in Malaysia”. Within minutes, the news was tweeted and online in various British news websites.Gervinho couldn’t make it on the tour because he was in light training back in London, having just signed the week before.

About the rumoured exits, namely of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, I later found out that Wenger had shared with a couple of the British media in a private session that Arsenal cannot afford to let go of Fab and Nasri because these two players leaving would mean that Arsenal are not a big club anymore.

That would understandably affect the club financially (with regards to sponsors, presumably), just as much as it would having to fork out more money to pay the players (if indeed money was their motivation for leaving).

Hence, it is widely expected that at least one of them will be staying. No prizes for guessing which one. And who knows, it may also mean some more notable signings by the start of the new season or at least by the transfer deadline on Aug 31.

Also, at the press conference, I was able to ask Wenger a question that had long been bugging me.
It was about his behaviour on the pitch when Arsenal were losing a match .– the kicking of water bottles, the pacing up and down, glum expressions, hands-in-the-face, etc – and did he think that it could affect the players negatively.

He jokingly answered “you should ask the players that”, then continued saying that he is only human and expressed his great passion for winning in such ways sometimes. He agreed that it was not good for him nor the players, but sometimes he did let emotions get the better of him.

That’s what we supporters are too, only human. The passion runs deep for many of us and the emotional “ties” to the Gunners were at its peak the past week.

The Asia Tour 2011 tour in KL has left an indelible mark on all Arsenal supporters besides making a great impression on many football fans too, quite possibly converting a few neutrals to be future lifelong Gooners.

1 comment

mattzyzy said...

good read after few days of soaking up goonerish ambience here in KL (was there ,proud and luvin it), Malaysia. last time in 99 , 2 frenchmen scored , now in 2011, 4 different internationals scored , gunners surely evolved for the better.
Keep the passion goonerhood nation flourish here in malaysia. good compliment to malaysian gooners from fellow gooners UK @

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