He won! A short tale of our last pre-pandemic trip, when our son won a trip of a lifetime, a visit to Arsenal’s Training Grounds in London.

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London– Paddy’s Arsenal Competition Win and trip! – Written in February 2020, just before the Covid 19 pandemic.

Author’s note: This was written just pre- pandemic in February 2020. I had written this post with the intention of posting it, but it didn’t seem like the right time when the pandemic happened. Now, a year later, this trip hasn’t lost any of its fantastic memories, we are forever grateful that it happened! 

Ah the February mid-term: blink and you’ll miss it, just two short days off from the daily routine of school but most importantly, two days off from making school lunches. It usually takes place in the middle of typical stormy February weather, hail, wind, and rain. This year was shaping up to be no different, until that magic moment, two weeks ago, when an email arrived in my inbox with the magic words “Paddy you are a winner” in the subject line. It was from the Junior Gunners (Arsenal’s youth membership club, of which our 10 year old son Paddy is a member) and it contained the exciting news that Paddy was a winner of a trip to Arsenal’s London Colney training grounds on the 20th February, during mid-term!

Thereafter followed two days of frantic organising! How could we make this work, who could take time off work, where would we stay, who would mind our other children, where would we fly from?!

There were so many things to organise and think about but both my husband and I knew, deep down, from the minute the email arrived, that we were going to do everything we could to make sure Paddy could go on this trip, because really, this was once in a lifetime stuff. And the inner child in both of us, knew that this would be heaven on earth for a 10-year-old child. We could both picture ourselves at his age getting news like this and knew that to win a competition like this would be a dream come true.

To my husband’s disappointment, no parents were accompanying their children on this trip! The lucky junior gunners were to be dropped off at the Emirates Stadium at the designated time and collected nearly 5 hours later. The children would head off on a bus for a full tour of the training grounds and some fun games. There was no guarantee of meeting players and we knew that they were playing in Greece that night so would not be around. But we also knew that this would not be a disappointment to Paddy. Just to be going on this trip would be so exciting to him. So, two days after the email had been received, we had organised everything, flights were booked for myself and Paddy (I had already booked the day off work for mid-term, so we decided that I would go) and we told him the exciting news! He was beside himself with excitement. And we were so glad that we had done all we could to make this happen.

So off we headed. I am relatively familiar with London from many trips over the years to see Arsenal. I had never set foot in London until I met my husband, an avid Arsenal fan. The majority of his family are also Arsenal supporters, including his very hospitable sister in London, who goes to all the Arsenal matches, and puts up the rest of the family when we travel over for matches! I first set foot in Arsenal’s old grounds, Highbury in 2003, and the rest as they say is history. I became a firm fan and have been to many matches over the years, both in Highbury and now the Emirates. I wasn’t an Arsenal fan until I met my husband. I always had an interest in soccer, more so the Irish team but also the premier league. I even had a brief flirtation as a bit of a Manchester United fan as a teenager but we never talk of that now. It’s been conveniently erased out of my history, and truth be told, was more about fancying Ryan Giggs and Eric Cantona (until the kung fu kick, well maybe even after the kung fu kick!) and covering my school copies in posters of them. But I did have a genuine interest in soccer and randomly, have an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the clubs who were in the Premier League in England in the early nineties, including their grounds, after a chicken pox quarantine period that saw myself and my siblings spend a week individually in my brother’s small bedroom. Why my brother’s room, I don’t know, I think it was the smallest room in the house. Why were we quarantined? To stop the spread of the chicken pox it seems, which totally did not work, we all got it one by one. I was the first one so maybe the quarantine was more severe! But on a positive note, I spent days looking at a map of England with the premier league teams and grounds marked on it, straight out of Match magazine. It did wonders for not only my geographical knowledge of England, previously non-existent, but also for my knowledge of premier league grounds. Great for table quizzes! Ask me where Coventry City play!

Anyway, back to Arsenal. It was fair to say that I was ripe for a good soccer team to support and when I met my husband, Arsenal were in top form. They were almost the “Invincibles” at that stage, a feat which they achieved when they won the Premier league in 2003/2004 and went undefeated for the whole season. They had amazing players like Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp, Sol Campbell, Freddie Ljungberg, the list goes on. We ended up calling the tables at our wedding after Arsenal players, making sure to seat the biggest Liverpool fans at the Michael Thomas table! And we called our first pet together, our cat, Thierry. Poor Thierry became known as “puss” though after the infamous Thierry Henry handball incident when playing for France against Ireland. He was Thierry no more after that.

And Arsenal just felt like a “good” team. I know all the premier league clubs are big businesses and money making machines, but Arsenal seemed to have a lot of history, and while of course, there was a lot of money involved, they didn’t seem to have the astronomical money backers of Chelsea and Manchester City, whereby clubs were seemingly transformed over night from average mid table clubs to table toppers with brand new players on huge salaries. I know I’m simplifying but you get the gist.

All of our four kids support Arsenal. The youngest has rebelled a little and maybe prefers Barcelona and the majestic Messi. We can cope with that as its not another premier league club and Arsenal would be his definite number two. Arsenal won’t be meeting Barcelona in any champions league encounters at the moment, so he can rest easy on that, he won’t have to pick a favourite any time soon!  Our eldest has drifted over the years to his true love, rugby, but would still support Arsenal, if he lowered his standards to watch soccer. Our daughter also enjoys playing and watching soccer and has developed a keen interest in the Arsenal Ladies and bemoans the fact that they are not on the television more. But it is Paddy, whose favourite sport is soccer and whose favourite team without question is Arsenal, it was him who won this trip, and I couldn’t have been happier for him, as here was a child who would really get value from this.

As a mother of four, it can be hard to organise one on one time with each child, so to have two days away with Paddy was lovely. We arrived at the Emirates Stadium very early and browsed the Armoury shop which has every Arsenal item you could ever imagine. Paddy had exotic English money burning a hole in his pocket so he ended up buying himself an Arsenal watch and keyring, already owning as he does, an Arsenal tracksuit and jersey. When the money ran out, we went to the lovely “Little Wonder” café across from the Armoury, I had a coffee and proceeded to set up his watch. He had a bacon buttie to set him up for the day.

We headed back across the road at the appointed time and there were two big buses being loaded up with sandwiches and lunch bags for the kids and lots of excited parents and kids hanging around, ready for the off. The rain was doing little to dampen anyone’s spirits! And then it was time. Two separate buses for two groups, teenagers on one bus and the younger kids on the other, with lots of lovely Arsenal staff members. I wasn’t worried about Paddy heading off without me, as at 10, he is a very sociable child and loves adventures. And the Arsenal staff of course had my phone number and details. I did give him an old phone of mine with no SIM, so that he could take photos, as they were permitted to bring phones.

And it was a good move to have given him the phone, as the photos that he took were just priceless and he was delighted with himself. He had a day that dreams are really made of. They arrived at the Colney training grounds and saw some of the cars belonging to the players (no photos allowed here!). Then on into the locker rooms (he got photos with Aubameyang’s boots, Ozil’s boots and Leno’s gloves), the swimming pool and the gym.

Followed by fun games and drills on an indoor pitch. I had headed into Piccadilly when I got a call from my excited husband. “Torreira’s at the training grounds!” he said. Turned out, he had seen a video on the Junior gunners twitter page, where Lucas Torreira, (who hadn’t gone to Greece for the match due to illness I think) walked into the indoor pitch area and tapped one of the junior gunners on the shoulder. The look on the boy’s face was priceless! There was no sign of Paddy in the video and we were both hoping that he got to meet Torreira aswell.

I arrived back to the Emirates, itching to hear Paddy’s stories. He was the first off the bus, and opened his jacket to show me his top signed by who else, Lucas Torreira! And it got better. He had gotten a selfie with him too on my old phone (thank god I charged it up the night before!). The stories of the day came tumbling out of him. He didn’t stop talking for about an hour. While it was amazing for him to meet a first team player, he also enjoyed all the other aspects of the trip so much. He even made a friend. I guessed he would, but I was proud of him, at his ability to go off with a group of kids, knowing no one in a different country and to be comfortable enough to chat and make friends. I don’t know would I have had that confidence at his age, and I hope it stays with him through his teenage years.

I am so thankful to Arsenal and the Junior Gunners team that Paddy got this opportunity. It is a lovely thing for a club to do, and even though it was never in doubt, they really do have a fan for life in Paddy. Every month we get Junior Gunner emails offering Paddy the opportunity to enter competitions to be a mascot, win signed jerseys and win competitions like this trip to the training grounds. I have since found out that Arsenal are one of the few Premier League teams that don’t charge children to be mascots. Some teams charge up to £700 for a child to be a mascot! See I was right, Arsenal are a good club!

This is in no way a sponsored post! I have nowhere near enough followers to be at that level! This is literally just an account of an unexpected trip we took, which was fabulous. It was just a lovely time and I felt the urge to write about it and that is it really. With so much bad news in the world at times, I just wanted to celebrate and write about something good that happened us. For the sake of completeness and to practice for all the travel blogs that I would love to write, we travelled with Ryanair and everything ran smoothly, even going through security in Stansted airport at 7am on the return day (the stuff of my nightmares) passed by without incident.

What did I get up to for my few child free hours in London I hear you wonder? Well, it may have involved the largest book shop in Europe, Waterstones Piccadilly and a few hours of browsing bliss and drinking coffee. It did not involve clothes shopping; it was raining and cold and I was in warm comfy clothes that wouldn’t have been out of place on an Artic expedition, so I wasn’t in the zone for clothes shopping. I did have a lovely few hours though.

Now I have to go and google trips to London again, for a certain young lady that wants to go see the Arsenal Ladies!

Author’s note: This was written just pre- pandemic in February 2020. We have not flown anywhere since and have not been to Arsenal Ladies match. It remains firmly on the post-Covid list. We are determined to watch the one and only Katie McCabe and the Arsenal ladies in action soon!

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