Arsenal players performing the ballet.

I have no words, especially for Wojciech Szczesny (yes, I have to look up the proper spelling of his name).

I wanted to write about Liverpool-Aston Villa, but that ended up becoming another frustrating one to watch. Thankfully, Liverpool managed to salvage a point, thanks to a Luis Suarez goal, wherein Daniel Agger and Steven Gerrard figured.

Yes, Daniel Agger is back. I missed him.

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Of Love Affairs and Lifelong Football Supporters

The last two books I’ve read had something to do with football as the religion of two men, supporting two different clubs and undergoing through two different journeys: Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch: A Fan’s Life” and Brian Reade’s “44 Years with the Same Bird: A Liverpudlian Love Affair”.

Both books provide much depth and insight in the thoughts and lives of men who began as young supporters of their respective clubs—how such support formed a boy’s identity, how it has shaped and deepened relationships, how each man related to football in view of hooliganism and disasters such as Heysel and Hillborough, and how every victory and defeat were remembered in painstaking detail, serving as a signpost for key events in each man’s life.

Nick Hornby detailed the triumphs and tribulations of being an Arsenal fan through a series of essays that marked the club’s matches. Brian Reade gave an intimate look on what it meant to be a lifelong Liverpool supporter (including forging a relationship with his son) in a series of chapters that marked key developments in the club’s history. Interestingly, both men gave accounts on opposite ends of the spectrum over a few commonalities, such as the 1971 FA Cup Final contested by Arsenal and Liverpool (Arsenal won 2-1).

I do consider myself a fan of Nick Hornby, after reading “High Fidelity”, wherein he details a passion for music, as reflected by the protagonist. That said, “Fever Pitch” has the same pained, passionate tone, this time for Arsenal. I suppose there’s something inherently tortured in Hornby’s writing, and one can feel the intensity of his tribulations as an Arsenal supporter.

On the other hand, I do feel greater empathy for Brian Reade, largely because of two things: 1) he isn’t tortured/pained/masochistic; and 2) it is Liverpool, after all. What I love about Reade’s book is there is such joy in supporting Liverpool, despite defeats and tragedies such as Heysel and Hillsborough. He shares a lesser known angle about Heysel, and there is much rawness when he wrote about Hillsborough, which easily felt as though the tragic events on April 15, 1989 could have been relived through the eyes of someone that was actually there.

Yet, I go back to the joy of supporting Liverpool. If there was anything missing in “Red Men”, which details the history of the club, it was the heart of what it meant to be a supporter of Liverpool—to live through the glorious nights in Rome and Istanbul, to stand at the Kop End, to sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and truly understand what the words mean.

One of the things that I find interesting, which is a common thread in both books, is the degree of emotional investments that a boyhood supporter puts into his football club. It is quite a journey that is inextricably bound to the club’s history and performance. It could serve as a warning, but there’s greater merit in reading these books from cover to cover to understand what a supporter means.

 

Cross-posted on Polilla de Libros.

This entertained me, like really.

I’ve been out of the loop the past few days, owing to a trip to my mom’s hometown for the long weekend. The good thing though is that even small towns in Negros Occidental have got cable already, so I was able to have my weekend dose of football, just not of the Liverpool or Real Madrid kind.

In any case, Chelsea-Arsenal proved to be an entertainer—and yes, even I didn’t bet on an Arsenal win, especially with their defense being totally crap and a half. I don’t really see Per Mertesacker significantly boosting the back four, and Santos and Djourou were just being eaten alive. Good grief, even John Terry seemed to have put the nail in the coffin by scoring a goal that allowed Chelsea to take the lead at the half. That said, Arsene Wenger must have given his team some magic beans, because Arsenal totally turned it around at the second half—and even John Terry had to eat grass in one of the Robin van Persie goals (a hat-trick for the Arsenal captain, no less). And even Santos finally did something right by scoring a goal of his own. The final score at the Stamford Bridge was 3-5, and yes, that was as entertaining as the Manchester Derby the week earlier.

In other Liverpool news, Steven and Alex Gerrard welcome their third girl! (Now, time to get the Gerrards a Chinese calendar—because I want to see a Stevie Junior in this lifetime.) And yeah, Stevie’s injured. AGAIN. ARGH.

The football matches that you should have seen live over the weekend.

I did mention in an earlier post that the Manchester United – Arsenal match would be a bloodbath. I was right. The words “carnage” and “massacre” also come to mind. Much has been said about the result (8-2, and it was every Gooner’s nightmare), and it fuels the “Spend, Wenger, spend!” cries. Apart from that, Arsenal would have to better organize themselves, put a system in place, and instill a winning mentality in their younger players. (Frimpong, I can’t wait for you to be back in action! Haha!) However, the question remains, as someone on my Twitter timeline posted, has this team already hit rock bottom or are they still on free fall?

That said, the two matches that I didn’t see live, but had to download instead were absolutely joyful to watch. Liverpool entertained at Anfield versus Bolton Wanderers, with goals from Jordan Henderson, Martin Skrtel, and Charlie Adam. I cannot wait to see the partnership between Steven Gerrard (when he gets back from injury) and Charlie Adam. These are Henderson’s and Adam’s first goals as Liverpool men—quality signings, indeed. This match also saw some solid performances from Luis Suarez, Stewart Downing, and Dirk Kuyt.

Now onto the other entertaining match (or to aptly put it, being on the right side of the bloodbath), Real Madrid demolished Real Zaragoza 6-0 at La Romareda. We got a hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as goals from Marcelo, Xabi Alonso, and Kaká. Mad props also have to be given to the performances of Mesut Özil, Karim Benzema (finally showing signs of being a workhorse!), Fabio Coentrao, and Jose Callejon.

Look up Xabi’s goal, and you’ll know it’s reminiscent of his goals for Liverpool, the ones that are at least 30 yards out. Pure class, great technique from the Ginger Beard. Look at this photo of Marcelo celebrating the third goal of the match:

At first I thought, “Why is Marcelo hugging Steven Gerrard?” Oh, it’s Xabi. Cue in the “Xabi back to Liverpool” chants. Here’s another photo of Xabi’s goal celebration:

He rarely smiles that way, so it’s quite a treat. And if that’s not enough, here’s a screencap I took from t video I was watching. Sorry, Mesut, not the most flattering of your O_O eyes.

Now, please excuse me while my ovaries are exploding.

First win of the season!

First win of the season, first away win against Arsenal in 11 years.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a soft spot for Arsenal. However, this match pretty much added to the club’s woes, after selling star players, earning red cards, and sustaining injuries. Laurent Koscielny, one of Arsenal’s more consistent defenders, experienced back problems 15 minutes into the match, and had to be replaced by Ignasi Miquel (who probably has a built more suited as a surfer/A&F model, as opposed to a CB).

My new favorite player, Emmanuel “Ping Pong” Frimpong (whose mohawk reminds me of Denver the Last Dinosaur) is quite the firecracker—we knew that red card was forthcoming.

As for Samir Nasri, there’s been a lot of talk that his transfer to Manchester City is in the works, and this match could probably be his swan song as a Gunner. He did have a brilliant run that eluded Liverpool’s defenders (thank god the shot was wide). And yes, you know I’ve got a soft spot for Nasri, so I’m not complaining about the extended camera time on him.


Lastly, let me offer some comfort for Aaron Ramsey for that own goal—that was one heck of an own goal, coming from a Miquel clearance that deflected off him. (A pouting Ramsey is a sexy Ramsey as well.)


Now, onto the positives:

Liverpool’s defense was much better for this match. Jose Enrique and Martin Kelly gave solid performances (Kelly had a particularly busy day as well). Finally, we also got a clean sheet (Pepe Reina is quality).

This time around, we got to see more of Stewart Downing, and as Leo pointed out, the Enrique-Downing partnership has a lot of potential.

Andy Carroll and Dirk Kuyt created problems for Arsenal, but it was the super-sub duo of Luis Suarez and Raul Meireles made the difference. Suarez has got two goals in two games this season under his name, and he figured in both goals for Liverpool tonight. I just can’t get enough Suarez!

All photos taken from Daylife.

In King Kenny We Trust, indeed.

Liverpool’s currently at the top of the league after this match. The bigger cause for concern: A decimated Arsenal is set to face Manchester United. Prepare for the bloodbath.

 

The Absolutely Awesome, Fantastic, I-May-Just-Run-Out-of-Words Football Adventure in Kuala Lumpur (Part 1)

There are a few things I believe in when it comes to traveling:

  • Return visits to places must always tell a different story.
  • Research, research, research. Time cannot be wasted on the wrong kind of getting lost.
  • Capture everything possible.

Last Tuesday, 12 July 2011, I embarked on what was probably one of the best trips I’ve ever had—a trip to Kuala Lumpur to see Arsenal and Liverpool take on the Malaysian national team. To try and sum it all up seems to be a tad difficult for now, so let me just try to recapture everything that was.

12 July 2011

The Cebu Pacific flight from Manila to KL, not at an ungodly hour of 10 a.m., was surprisingly smooth. Never mind the fact that the person seated in front of me was snoring loudly. Then again, that’s why I got an iPod and a Kindle.

After figuring out my way around LCCT and settling in my hotel, including an overpriced Subway lunch, I made my way to Bukit Jalil Stadium. Somehow, I figured out I needed to take two trains from my hotel and that it would take me nearly an hour to get there.

(Here’s the thing: I love taking trains. I think it’s an interesting way to immerse oneself in a cosmopolitan city. I was in KL several years back and wasn’t able to experience that part of their public transport system. Now that I had all the time in my hands, I could explore the city in a more efficient manner at a lesser cost.)

By the time I got to Hang Tuah station, I noticed that there was a group of people in their Arsenal shirts. I told myself that I must be going the right direction then. Just follow the (dominantly) red, white, and yellow shirts.

Let me tell you something about Bukit Jalil Stadium. When I stepped out of the train, there was a bevy of flags and tents leading to the entrance, where stalls sold shirts, the local street fare, several interesting drinks, and a smorgasbord of souvenir items of Arsenal and the Malaysian team. Of course, the downside of being alone is not being able to squeal with delight at this sight.

It was past 5 p.m., so I headed straight to the ticket counters to claim my Arsenal and Liverpool tickets, which had training passes to boot. After submitting my passport and other papers, I headed straight inside the stadium to get a good seat, as the Malaysian team was already nearing the end of their training. (I did have a bit of a scare, though, when I realized my departure card, which was tucked in my passport, was missing. I rushed back to the ticket counter, and thank god the girl who gave me my tickets set it aside. Whew, that was a close call.)

After settling at a seat with a much better view, I was silently psyching myself up that I would see Arsenal in a few minutes. Lo and behold, my friend Migs walks down the stairs. Apparently, he’d been looking for some other person when he saw me—of all places, at a packed portion of the stadium. Well, at least it’s better to know someone in the crowd.

Arsene Wenger and his assistants were the first to come out, followed by the goalkeepers, and one by one, the team started entering the pitch. Allow me to have a fangirl moment and say that I wanted to scream and squeal and jump like a lunatic when Samir Nasri came into view. If my favorite Gunner can’t make it (Cesc Fabregas, I’m looking at you—don’t you dare move to Barcelona yet), then my second favorite will do. The team did their laps around the pitch, some ball work, a practice match (where my favorite young French-Algerian impressed with his speed), and shooting practice (where the woodwork beat Robin van Persie big time).

Ah, the first live encounter with an EPL team—it’s seems all too surreal. Post-training, I joined some Gooners from the Philippines (Migs, Gab, Janina, and Jerome) for some grub at Lot 10.

This trip sure is off to a great start.

13 July 2011

The first day of a trip can always set the tone for the rest of the days. The adventure continued when I met Mich and Icang at Suria KLCC, where we had a good, spicy lunch at Signatures (yes, cheapskates love mall food courts). Since the match between Malaysia and Arsenal would start at 8:45 p.m., we could afford to look around—the highlights of which were posing with store displays at Adidas (with Steven Gerrard) and Nike (with Cesc Fabregas).

Since the two girls had to go back and check in their hotel at 2 p.m., we parted ways to get ready for the match. We met up at 4 p.m., with me donning a Cesc Fabregas shirt (yes, Cesc, like I said, don’t leave Arsenal just yet) and Monica rushing to get a ticket to her first-ever football game.

Gunnersaurus Rex joined the trip to Asia and greeted the crowd shortly before kick-off.  Thomas Vermaelen wore the captain’s armband, starting together with Szczesny (god, I can never get the spelling of his name right), Miyaichi, Ramsey, Chamakh, Gibbs, Koscielny, Jenkinson, Wilshere, Song, and Walcott.

Early into the game, Aaron Ramsey (god bless his leg and the St. Michael tattoo on it) scored a penalty for Arsenal, after Jack Wilshere was tripped in the penalty area. Azza also assisted in Theo Walcott’s goal to bring the score 2-0 at the half. The energy of the crowd somewhat dropped in the second half, but that all changed when Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri, Bacary Sagna, and Andrey Arshavin were brought in. Nasri showed flashes of brilliance (shut up, I’m not biased—Samir, don’t effin’ go to ManUtd, OK?), while Carlos Vela scored Arsenal’s third goal and Tomas Rosicky the fourth.

We also waited for Arsenal’s bus to come out of the stadium, and the short of it is that I saw Arsene Wenger and Bacary Sagna wave at us.

As the match ended pretty late, we made a mad dash to the train to catch the last trip. That was quite an experience being packed in a sea of… sweat. Capped the night with an A&W root beer float. I deserve it.