This past weekend, Arsenal fans came in from all over North America and England to make New York City the center of Gunner fandom.
The much anticipated friendly against club legend Thierry Henry and his New York Red Bulls marked Arsenal’s first appearance in the United States since 1989. As such, this really was a weekend 25 years in the making.
Arsenal America and other local Arsenal supporters groups organized a large number of events throughout the weekend, from a Yankees game outing to fan socials to a 5 v. 5 soccer tournament, there were different types of events for different types of people to ensure that everyone could participate. According to Arsenal America board member Rick Breese, the lead up to this weekend was “hectic, with many hours and many nights just putting everything together.” It was worth it though. For fellow board member Mike Kavanagh, “just to have Arsenal come over to the States is a dream come true. After waiting for so many years, it’s a validation and recognition by the club that there are people in US that are passionate about Arsenal.”
Thursday evening was a special fan event for members of Arsenal America and other local Arsenal supporters groups at the Izod Center, which included an appearance by a couple of former Arsenal Ladies team members, first team players Carl Jenkinson, Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky, and Gideon Zelalem, and the legend himself, Thierry Henry. According to Rick, about 2500 fans attended, making it the largest fan event Arsenal have put on outside of the United Kingdom. The fans were loud and energetic, and even broke into chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” when Zelalem was introduced.
To be honest, I was a little underwhelmed by the event. It was not as interactive as I had hoped and it felt like fans had been brought in to provide an audience backdrop for a talk show. While a few lucky fans were randomly selected for a chance to meet the players, take pictures, shoot hoops or play keepy-uppy, the rest of us were confined to our seats to watch and cheer from afar. Even for the Player Q&A, questions were preselected from social media submissions and I don’t recall them taking questions from fans in attendance. As this was a members-only event, I was hoping it would be a chance for more interaction between the players and fans and to give more fans an opportunity to at least meet and greet some of the players. Whether that would have been logistically feasible is another story, and I’m sure there were reasons it was run this way. It was still a good event, but I can’t help feeling it could been so much more. Overall, though, it still seemed that everyone had a great time and was thrilled with the opportunity to see some of their heroes in a more intimate setting.
On Friday, PUMA held an event at Grand Central Station that brought in thousands of fans throughout the day. A youth 3 v. 3 tournament was taking place all day, and the FA Cup was made available for the public to take pictures with it. Arsenal dino-mascot Gunnersaurus also made an appearance and was a hit. Later on, Arsenal players Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, and Tomas Rosicky came by to play a game with the lucky winners of the tournament. I had actually left for a bit and then got back to Grand Central just as the players were leaving. Except that they couldn’t leave for a while as dozens of screaming fans had come out to surround the car carrying them, hoping for a glimpse or their heroes and snapping away pictures. You’d have thought it was a rock star, or Derek Jeter, in the car. Nope, the excitement was for some soccer players.