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12 Jersey (Kindly bought by my traveller brother, from the Arsenal store in UK), Passport with Entry Visa, Boarding

Passes Del to KL & KL Jakarta and the Matchday Ticket

THE ARSENAL PILGRIMAGE


I have seen more than I can remember. And I remember more than I have seen From as far back as the Champions League final that we lost, I remember thinking, if in life theres one thing I do, and only the one thing that I do right, it would be to see Arsenal live. For years, I have struggled, made plans, coerced friends into joining me in a trip to the UK, but to no avail. The closest I came to fulfilling this promise to myself was last year, when Arsenals trip to the Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur seemed just within reach. That too unfortunately, fell through. Next year, I promised, next year, come what may. Landing in Indonesia via KL, the irony wasnt lost on me, of having travelled an extra thousand odd miles to fulfil my pledge. I felt a strange sense of calm, almost detachment, when the officer stamped my passport with the entry visa and with benevolence bordering on the surreal, said the magic words Enjoy your stay in Indonesia. For all I knew, I was being ushered in to Utopia itself. Making friends was easy; and one of the first things I noticed as a solo traveller was how interested everyone around me was, to share in my story. Not wanting to leave anything to chance, I went to the ticketing counter at Pacific Place straight from the airport. The genial cab driver gave me a fill-up on the soccer frenzy that had gripped Jakarta with Arsenal leading the roster, being followed by Liverpool & Chelsea within a few weeks. We developed such a rapport in the short ride that I entrusted him with my baggage while I ran up to procure the precious ticket. The elevator attendant was bemused when the only two passengers in the elevator, a guy my age and I, started talking as if we were long lost friends. What had transpired was that in giving directions to her, both he and I had inadvertently spoken out the same store on the 5 th floor. From there, to establishing Arsenal fandom and the short hop to sharing the excitement of our maiden Arsenal live match was but a formality. He and I while in queue for the tickets, discussed opinions and views on everything from highlights of previous seasons to the transfer window. I was pleasantly surprised at the depth of

knowledge and the passion for the club. The queue ambled on, as everything from Girouds form to Walcotts contribution in the upcoming season was dissected by us and we attracted quite a few comments in the discussion from supporters around us some from Indonesia, and some from as far as Singapore and Australia ! Match-day brought with it, the threat of rain hinted at by grey skies above.

Decked out in the kit, I paced around for a while and when I couldnt stand the waiting anymore, went downstairs. Again in the elevator, I ran across Jonny, who like me was in the Arsenal kit. This time though, he recognized me before I could place him as a Gooner. Owing in part to my Home kit, and his vintage 79 FA Cup Final kit, which has a striking resemblance to the away kit in the upcoming 13 14 season, that I understood his dad had seen live. Tales of Highbury and London dominated the conversation and I soaked it all in, while a short ride later, we were there.

Thousands of Arsenal fans a sea of RED & WHITE !

Patient queues punctuated by horns, drums and spontaneous breakouts of Arsenal! Arsenal!! re ndered the air. The stadium a behemoth to rival the cricketing stadiums back in India, seemed to swallow up the meandering river of support and as I stepped in, with almost an hour to go to kick-off, the seemingly unreal sight of thousands of Gooners united in their voice made my knees tremble. I was here!

A quick word on the responses generated by the players Monsieur Giroud was easily the favourite with the ladies (and quite a few had turned up) while Prince Podolski and Theo drew equally rapturous applause. Warm chants of Jack, Jack were reserved for Wilshere, while Ryo who had a late fitness test invited supportive applause whichever section of the ground he neared. But the loudest applause was reserved for Monsieur Wenger himself and the decibel levels in the stadium increased dramatically with his entrance. The match in itself has been covered extensively. While the home team was lauded in its efforts and drew encouragement whenever it ventured forth, it was the Gunners that everyone had come to watch; and by Jove, they didnt disappoint! Crisp finishes from Walcott, Giroud and the youngsters ensured we finished the game with a healthy scoreline of 7-0. What a first match to see live!

The fun did not end there. While I thought that Jonny and I ought to have a picture clicked to remember the day and Australian fan and an Indian fan met halfway in Jakarta as Gooners, we were quickly besieged by our Indonesian friends who insisted that fans from other nations ought to have commemorative pictures clicked with them as well. The result being, that for twenty odd minutes after the Terima Kasih banner had been unfurled, we were still at it in the stands, getting photographs clicked and clicking some in turn. The warm, hospitable countenances, happiness at welcoming us to their country and above all, the spirit of Arsenal still live loud and clear, in my heart nearly a month after my pilgrimage. I spent two weeks travelling in Indonesia, all by myself and the spirit of the welcome that I received in Jakarta stayed with me through the duration. The energy of the people and the easy smile that welcomed wherever I visited, have led to another promise to myself that I will come back to this wonderful country soon. Of course, the original entry in my to-do list has been modified thus. Watch Arsenal live someday at the Emirates Stadium in a competitive game someday!!!

Fans who adopted Jonny and I, as long lost friends