SAN JOSE, Calif.—If you’re a fan of the Arsenal Football Club, there was one place to be the day before Thursday's MLS All-Star Game: the Regency Ballroom at the Fairmont San Jose hotel.
That’s where Liam Smith was, just a couple of days after his wedding.
It’s where the entire South Bay Gunners fan club congregated.
And it was the destination for Dipak Patel and his family of four's long road trip from Knoxville, Tennessee.
Songs broke out and were debuted, laughter was had and the Gunners were indeed celebrated.
Wednesday marked the day for the official Arsenal Fan Party as part of Major League Soccer’s All-Star Week festivities. Smith and Patel were among the 600 Arsenal fans that converged on the Fairmont to partake in an afternoon of festivities welcoming the North London club to San Jose prior to taking the pitch vs. the MLS All-Stars.
“It’s amazing,” said Smith, who was on his honeymoon and made the trip from Madison, Wisconsin with his wife. “These are guys that we watch day in and day out, so seeing them here, in the flesh, they’re our heroes. It’s amazing.”
Arsenal truly was the center of their universe on Wednesday. The afternoon began with songs and dance amongst Arsenal fans, including the debut of a new tune dedicated to Granit Xhaka that received the newly-acquired Swiss midfielder’s seal of approval later in the afternoon.
The joy continued with former MLS All-Star Game captain (2009) and Arsenal Invincible Freddie Ljungberg on stage reminiscing about his time with the Gunners – an era that included two Premier League titles and three FA Cups.
“It’s a great honor to travel the world as an Arsenal ambassador,” Ljungberg said. “It’s great to meet as many people as we can.”
Six Gunners who hope their names are one day remembered similarly in the Arsenal pantheon followed Ljungberg on stage: Xhaka, Kieran Gibbs, Calum Chambers, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Hector Bellerin and Gedion Zelalem.
The Gunner sextet were the toast of the event, answering fan questions, partaking in a friendly Arsenal fan quiz and capping the day with a “team photo” that included all fans in attendance.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to travel the world and follow the team,” Patel said. “The reception here has been great.”
Said Smith: “The event went beyond my expectations.”
Arsenal will take on the MLS All-Stars on Thursday at Avaya Stadium in San Jose (7:30 pm ET; ESPN/UniMás in US, TSN in Canada). The Gunners will then take off to Los Angeles to finish the North American leg of their preseason tour with a friendly vs. Chivas Guadalajara.