Becoming a travelling supporter: beginner's guide to joining the away section
Have you ever wanted to stand in the away section at Old Trafford surrounded by thousands of fanatic Arsenal supporters singing every song in the book? Or travel across Europe to drink beer in a remote Austrian village before trying to sing for 90 minutes straight? You've come to the right place. This article will help fans of all ages to get started on becoming a 12th man.
The first thing to realise is that being a travelling supporter means shouldering a responsibility. It sounds dramatic, but it's true: supporters support, through thick and thin. The travelling fans are the ones carrying the team through a game, and the ones who are celebrated by the players afterwards. But with responsibility comes reward, and you will most probably make friends for a lifetime.
As with much in life, the two biggest obstacles are time and money (more about cost later). Time because an away game could claim anything between a few hours to a few days, depending on location. And money because...well, it's not cheap travelling around the country (or Europe, for that matter). But let's assume time and money is a later problem; where do you even begin?
Where and how do I start?
First of all you need tickets; for travel, sleep (where necessary) and the game itself. There are several options here, ranging from ready-made travel packages from Arsenal or travel agents like Thomas Cook, to just putting together a travel itinerary yourself. Neither is more correct than the other, but going through Arsenal is generally a safer and more convenient bet - albeit a bit more complex.
When it comes to the official channels, Arsenal's own 'Travel Club' have tickets for games and coaches for supporters, and there is also something called the 'Away Ticket Membership Scheme' - open only to Platinum, Gold or current Travel Club members. And if you don't think that's complex enough, admission to both the Away Ticket Membership Scheme and the Travel Club is limited to a waiting list probably spanning thousands of years into the future.
It's highly recommended you become a Red member (£36 per season), as a starting point to gain admission to either of the aforementioned memberships in the future, and be eligible for buying tickets.
You're allowed to purchase coach tickets from the Travel Club without being a member of the travel schemes for an increased cost (£5-£10 extra per ticket), but without at least a Red membership you lose out on the possible access to tickets.
Some games are harder to get tickets for, so to get started you should look into low profile matches in London (League/FA Cup fixtures against teams like QPR, West Ham, etc). Those games involve little travel and "cheap" tickets. Arsenal have away tickets allocated, and normally release them for sale about a month before the game.
Ticket availability depends on your membership level with Arsenal, which is a whole science on its own, but it generally works as a tiered ticket system where the platinum and gold members get to buy tickets first, then the silver members, and then finally the red members (if there are any tickets left). So high profile games normally sell out long before they hit red members, but low profile games occasionally become available, or even end up on general sale (no membership required).
Ok enough words Lady Scientist, how much does it cost?
The simple answer is that any given away fixture outside London will cost you at least £80-£100 (everything included), depending on game, ticket availability, etc. It's important to remember that being a frequent travelling supporter is more of a lifestyle than a hobby, and the cost involved could potentially reach £1,000+ per month if you're active enough.
Alright I have the cash, what is my first step?
Look through the fixtures list to spot a fairly low-profile away game in London to start with. At the time of publication the closest such fixtures are Fulham on April 20th and QPR on May 4th in the Premier League, but the League/FA Cup fixtures haven't been drawn yet. After spotting a good match, check Arsenal's ticket list to see if there are tickets available for red members.
If not, an excellent service to buy tickets from other supporters is Arsenal Tickets - a Twitter account for fans to sell their already purchased tickets for face value or less. Follow that account and be quick when someone posts, and you can get tickets for as low as £30 for some games.
Travel is easy within London, so no need to plan too carefully. Find out where all the away supporters are gathering before the game (usually they all meet up in a pub nearby the stadium) and head over. Get a few beers in you and start chatting, don't be afraid to let people know you're completely new at this. It's a good way to bond with other supporters and find new friends.
A good way to find out where away supporters are meeting up is to follow the AFC Away Twitter account. Not only do they provide information about meeting spots, hotels and travel suggestions, they also post tickets from time to time and have an excellent FAQ on their website for beginner level travelling supporters.
Interview with an away supporter
When researching this article, we reached out to the community for help. Travelling supporter Joe Husson (@Joe_Husson) was kind enough to answer some questions about being an away fan, how it started and his experiences overall. We thought his answers were really inspiring, so we wanted to end this article on a high and give you a travelling supporter's perspective:
AR: How did you get started as a travelling supporter?
JH: My first away experience was at Upton Park, went with a good mate of mine (Dim) who organised tickets etc. It was at this game I met fellow away fans, one of whom I now class as one of my best mates!
AR: What is the biggest positive about being an away fan?
JH: As a season ticket holder I can honestly say I'd choose an away game over the emirates nine times out of ten! The whole day is brilliant, the anticipation when travelling to the ground, meeting new people, out-singing the home fans, the excitement and debate on a long trip home after a victory, it's just a feeling you can't put into words!
AR: If you're going to a domestic away game outside London, where do you get tickets for travelling? Do you use train, bus, carpool, etc?
JH: What me and my friends generally do is drive up. There's usually four or five of us so we just take it in turns to drive. We have also used the train but there's something about driving up to places like Hull and Newcastle that adds to the away day experience in my opinion.
AR: Do you use ready-made travel packages from Arsenal (or other companies), or do you put it together yourself?
JH: Champions League I left up to Arsenal as I don't do it very often so wanted to play it safe. Domestic games our group organise everything ourselves.
AR: Where do you normally get tickets for the games?
JH: Usually through my season ticket but if not I use forums or twitter to buy tickets off fellow arsenal fans.
AR: How much would you estimate you spend on being a travelling supporter every month (excluding season tickets or any other home game specific costs)?
JH: Don't go to every away game so the best way for me to estimate is when I go to away games I usually spend about £80 (match ticket, travel, food etc)
AR: Are there some cliques of travelling supporters or certain away fixtures newcomers should avoid?
JH: I've never found trouble anywhere! The best thing you can do is stick with the crowds! If you go looking for trouble you'll find it so all I would say is go to enjoy the football, enjoy the experience and support The Arsenal!
AR: If you only had one "expert" tip or advice to give new travelling supporters, what would it be?
JH: Don't cut corners, make a day of it! The away experience is fantastic and I would recommend it to everyone!
Keep us updated!
If you do take our advice to start becoming a travelling supporter, or if you have any questions not answered in the article, please use the comments section below! We'd love to hear how you got on, if you picked up any good tips & tricks, or just how the overall experience was.
Thanks to Joe Husson for the mini-interview.