A visit to Arsenal, a taste of the new English food and a lesson in Underground topography: all in today's postcard from London.
At the Arsenal
Yesterday afternoon, FOX Soccer was granted unprecedented access to Emirates Stadium, and we took full advantage. You'll see the results of this in July when we air the Emirates Cup, but let me offer up a few highlights.
The half-billion dollar and counting stadium has a time capsule sunk in it, just inside the players' entrance. Inside are a set of Patrick Vieira's boots, a lock of Charlie George's hair and one of Tony Adams' armbands. Speaking of George, the museum - overseen by the encyclopaedic Ian Cook - has a large statue of him in repose on the field, commemorating one of the team's most famous wins over Liverpool in the 1971 FA Cup.
We were allowed in the players' dressing room. In America, this is taken for granted. I'm now so used to chatting with men in towels that sometimes I feel like I'm in the spa business. In England, however, the locker room is a no-go area, a sacred space for players to get away from the game and the hordes of media that follow it. I could not resist sitting at Cesc Fabregas' locker. He's probably not going to be using it much longer, anyway.
Arsenal hasn't won a single piece of silver in six seasons, but they've got quite a lot of it in their directors' box. I was a bit more taken with all the pennants Arsenal's captains have collected over the years, exchanging with teams ranging from the well-known (Juventus) to the now obscure (Racing Club France, the oldest team in that country and today an amateur side). Red Bull New York will add to that haul when they become the first American team to play Arsenal in July at the new grounds.
From punchline to knockout
When Ferguson Henderson opened St. John restaurant in 1994, "English cooking" was a punchline - a synonym for "horrible." Despite being so close to places like France, Spain and Italy, there was a deep suspicion surrounding what most of us would consider edible cuisine, possibly a legacy of the long years of rationing that followed World War II (Scotland was hardly immune to this, mind you. I had my fair share of boiled-grey vegetables and smoked fish, too). Growing up, wine was almost unknown, curry was (and remains) the de-facto national dish, and anything with fresh greens was almost impossible to find.
Since St John - and chef Henderson's commitment to what he called "nose-to-tail eating" - there has been a true renaissance. The days when the chip shop was the height of dining out are gone, Britain's gastro-pub wave has come and crested, and now it's pretty hard not to find a decent meal. Last night, in the formerly-seedy Paddington area, I walked into a rather nondescript corner pub and managed to have fresh-caught haddock on top of fresh greens with pea ravioli. This was unimaginable even 10 years ago. I ate at the Chapel, and it's off the Edgware Road stop. Look it up if you're here.
The Underground works
I had a drink with my friend Derek Rae last night - you'll know him from his work days at MLS' New England Revolution and with ESPN - at Earl's Court. Walking back to the Tube, Mr. Rae noted that the one thing that took some getting used to about London was that everyone was always late. It didn't take me long to find out why. Two trains suddenly went dark, closing down three separate lines. (the Tube System has 13 separate lines, counting the Overground). Our driver informed us that this was due to a "new S-type train breaking down, again."
Tomorrow: Jonathan Wilson's new football magazine, Test Matches, my attempt to lunch with Bora (yes, that Bora), and the road to Wembley.
Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclay's Premier League.