Stone Cold Friday: Fascinating Tales From The Arsenal Kitchen
Yogi might be away but Friday wouldn’t be Friday without a Stone Cold slice of Darius
While Mrs. YW’s embargo holds with YW’s laptop firmly in the strong-room, it’s been a week filled with fascinating and inspirational posts. The daily nourishment from the line-up of ACLF’s very own caretaker custodians has been nothing but stellar.
I’m sure like Zim Paul, Steww, Muppet, Consolsbob and Limpar – I find myself in the challenging position of having to maintain or surpass the quality of the daily musings. I suspect that this is the sort of peer pressure that breeds a spirit of competition within the ranks of our beloved team and inspires better performances all over the pitch. That can only be a good thing, especially if YW has to fight hard to regain his place on his return.
This week I thought I’d steer clear from the battle of wills between the doomers and the fully paid card carrying members of the ‘I have total belief in Arsenal’ society. To be honest, I’m a bit jaded by the Triple A vs AKB stand-off as it risks interfering with my ability to enjoy the football in front of us.
I thought it would be helpful to talk about something different rather than provide fodder for the usual suspects to throw stones at each other.
So why the Arsenal Kitchen?
A few weeks ago I was on a long drive back home from work and the radio provided some unexpected but quality entertainment for a change. Robert Fagg, Arsenal’s head chef had been invited to the radio show by Ray Parlour and they chatted freely about what happens behind the scenes at the club.
I thoroughly enjoyed Robert’s interview, and the articulate and enjoyable way in which he described fascinating tales at London Colney in the 12 years that he’s been the head chef. I thought I’d summarize and share some of my reflections and thoughts from the interview about stuff that we might not know about how our club operates behind the scenes.
1. The hierarchy of Power
In any huge company , there exists what I call the ‘shadow’ organization. Forget the board of directors, the CEO or the manager – the shadow organization runs the show in the corridors, the gossip lounges, the water coolers et al. Very little happens without their nod and even the official powers that be, use such individuals to gauge the temperature of the troops or to implement their agendas.
After that interview, I concluded that At Arsenal, the most powerful individuals in that shadow organization are Rob Fagg the head chef and Vic Acres the kit man. Piss off any of these characters and you’re destined for a very long week at London Colney.
It was interesting how much Ray Parlour still valued the chef even after 5 years away from the game.
2. Arsenal’s match day and travel arrangements
There I was thinking that match days were straight forward affairs. I concluded that Arsenal (like most clubs I suspect) are anal about pre-match routines and they are not messed with by anyone.
Arsenal has a specially adapted coach that is used as a mobile kitchen and eatery, and to carry the players kits. When they go for away games around the country, the coach will leave in advance and the players will normally fly to and from the nearest airport.
On the actual match day, they would have their meals prepared from the coach and this is where they’ll be served from. The catering team will prepare breakfast as well as any pre and post match meals. They will then watch the first half of the match and at half time, would retreat back to the coach and prepare a meal for the players. Once the players have finished their dressing room shenanigans, they will file in for their after match meals.
When it’s not feasible to use the mobile kitchen to prepare meals, Arsenal supplies the hotel with its own food, especially fish. I suppose after lasagnagate with the Tiny Tots, the powers that be don’t take any chances. Since they use regular hotels in certain cities, they have a relationship with the catering staff at those hotels so this makes it easier.
It’s not uncommon however for Arsenal to carry their own water or even their linen for trips abroad where the adventure is an unknown quantity. Rob cited a trip to Ukraine once that they had to use their own linen because what the hotel provided was unacceptable.
3. Arsenal’s staple diet
It’s no secret that Wenger and his quacks and nutritionists are anal about food selection and food quality. At Arsenal, it is a very big deal.
Fish, chicken, pasta and vegetables form the core of Arsenal’s menu, though there are seasonal variations. Once in a while, the chef will throw in some curry and a few burgers for the young lads, or even indulge those who are homesick with some familiar comfort food.
The method of cooking revolves around steaming, grilling and boiling. Not surprisingly, the dining tables seem to have a permanent fixture of selected sauces, especially enjoyed by our foreign contingent of players – most of whom can’t fathom why food has to be as unadventurous as they come. Our Hispanic and African players have been known to empty whole bottles of chilli sauce in one sitting.
The most popular dish at Arsenal for years has been the clubs own banoffee pie. Apparently the pie is so legendary Arsenal has donated the recipe to charity. It’s even said that when we played Barcelona in April, Thierry Henry’s first action on returning to the Emirates was to hunt down Rob and confront him for his portion of banoffee pie.
4. Arsenal’s strangest eater
This title was taken by Freddie Ljungberg. Freddie could never sit and eat with the rest of the players and was the slowest eater at Arsenal.
He was so weird that he preferred to eat in the kitchen. The staff would lay a cloth for him over the bin and he would happily sit on the bin and slowly masticate his pasta and vegetables as he surveyed the surroundings and chatted with the girls in the kitchen.
At the moment, Robin van Persie seems to be the slowest eater who takes his time like it was a job that needed doing with passion and commitment. Naturally, Rob commented on the eating habits of Ray Parlour and Soul Campbell who – well, could eat for England.
5. The regimental fitness routine
There is a method to the madness of how players’ fitness and dietary habits are monitored at Arsenal. Sports science baffles most of us at the best of times but Arsenal just takes it to a whole new level.
The professor is ruthless about the fitness regime that the players are subject to in a bid to ensure maximum conditioning of their bodies. There are charts all round the place reminding players of what to watch and when. Even in the toilets, there are charts on how they should check on the colour of their urine as an indicator of hydration.
Players are advised to drink water that is at room temperature, and the nutritional and dietary elements of player development is strongly linked with their training regime. Naturally, most of the players are disciplined athletes and will continue this anal regime away from the training ground as they want to prolong their playing careers.
For those who perhaps don’t have girlfriends or wives who can keep them in check, the kitchen finds that it gets requests for take away services which they happily prepare for the young lads to take home and pop into the microwave. I suppose that it’s better than having them go down the kebab shop a few nights a week.
6. The most rewarding part of the job of support staff
Well, apart from perks like attending games and seeing the club triumph, Rob suggested that the most remarkable and rewarding aspect of their job is seeing young players rise through the ranks from the reserves and make it to the first team. Their joy has been to watch players like Kieran Gibbs, Nicklas Bendtner, Gaél Clichy, JET, Jack Wilshere, Craig Eastmond, Henri Lansbury et al – go through the system and graduate to the first team.
It’s a rite of passage that is revered and held in the highest regard. You can see the hunger in the young players as they strive to be treated and respected like the first team players; as they long to sit on the high table with the first team players during dinner; as they strive to reach the heights that their idols and heroes in the first team have reached.
The support staff get to know the players pretty well and they also get to see the pain and anguish the players go through when things don’t work out. Rob tells how the players refuse to eat after matches that we lose (and sometimes draw) because of the sheer impact of the loss to the team.
He defies anyone to suggest that the players don’t care, are not affected or do not appreciate the impact on fans when they lose games. In fact, travelling back home after losing a match is one of the most challenging parts of the trip as the impact of the loss is palpable and nerve wrecking. The players we have at Arsenal are talented beyond belief, they have an excellent team spirit and togetherness, and their time will come.
The thing that impressed me the most about Rob’s fascinating tales about the Arsenal was the belief and conviction that oozed out from him as he proudly spoke about the spirit, desire and determination at Arsenal to achieve big things and to ensure that we achieve it in the right way and in style.