“I’m going to cut down on games,” I told my wife as the curtain fell on Arsenal’s season back in May. “I won’t go to games up north that are on the TV and I’ll miss those pointless bloody pre-season friendlies, too,” I added, having counted up 63 appearances watching the rip-roaring Reds in the 2008-09 campaign.  “I’ve heard that before,” was her withering reply.
So I must admit to a wry smile on Friday morning when I got off the phone to the Barnet box office having bought a couple of tickets for me and my Dad for the game at Underhill on Saturday — our first friendly of the season. Of course, we play Barnet every season as a sort of return for the reserves using Underhill and I have lost count of the times I have made the trek up the A3 and round the M25 from my Sussex home. My favourite was the 10-1 wina few years back…when Barnet had the never to score first! The games seem to meld into one but it’s not about the match is it? It’s a kind of pre-season training for fans. After all, just like players who haven’t pulled on the kit for the summer, supporters can get rusty. So, friendlies give us the chance to get back in the old routine.
Getting to the game is the first issue and more often than not I choose rail travel to facilitate a few sherbets. So my matchday mantra is “railcard, ticket, money, glasses”. Once I answer affirmative to these I am ready to roll. There is also the small matter of my Arsenal mates. I need to make contact with them after a summer on no communication whatsoever. Odd, isn’t it? You spend nine months seeing each other twice a week, sharing joy, misery, beer and chinwaggery — and then nothing. But the minute you set eyes on them it’s as if there has been no time lapse at all. And it’s the same in the season itself, bumping into characters everywhere from Croatia (Zagreb, Champions League) to Crawley (Town, FA Youth Cup) and picking up where we left off last time from the standard booze-addled post-match debate. While the action may or may not be worth the entrance fee, clocking up new grounds is one of the benefits of pre-season kickabouts.
Sincil Bank on Monday appeals but is a 10-hour round trip from my place so still undecided but will be a new ground if I decide to see Arsenal reserves play Lincoln City. Of the other, I have done the Austria tour and that was that so won’t be venturing out there. Would like to go to Hannover and that may still happen. Emirates Cup obviously. Valencia away? Been to the Mestalla twice so will swerve that one. But may well tackle in the stiffs’ game at Maidenhead on the 28th…well, it’ll be another new ground for me.