LONDON -- Drive 45 minutes out of downtown London. Get off of the main drive and pull down an unmarked road that is no wider than a bus. Go another few thousand feet and arrive at another unmarked building with an armed guard standing outside. Welcome to a place that is intentionally hidden. Welcome to a place that is intentionally kept off the radar and surprisingly to those of us riding on the bus, the home of the St. Louis Rams for the next few days. Welcome to the soccer training facility for Arsenal.
This massive facility for Arsenal was unbelievable and unbelievably hidden. Multiple soccer fields with not a blade of grass out of place. It is tough to even describe the beauty of all of the fields. It is sort of like walking on the grass of a perfectly manicured golf course, but it spreads out in every direction with soccer posts intermittently popping up out of the ground.
The facility, as I was told, is intentionally placed out of the sight of other teams and those who might be curious about what is going on with one of the prestigious franchises in all of sports. The facility sits, as best I can tell, surrounded by fields used for the grazing of sheep. On the perimeter are massive trees that give the club the privacy to conduct practice out of the sight of the media and anyone else trying to gain an advantage for their next match. It was some real cloak and dagger stuff in the home of James Bond.
What also struck me as I walking down the gravel road to the back field was that the Rams were practicing this morning at a place where many soccer fans from around the world would do anything to take in what I was taking in. A behind the scenes look at what makes their team click. A peek behind the curtain to see what makes a great soccer club.
It also hit me that while that the soccer fan would be in soccer heaven and would be geeked out by the surroundings, for me it was just another trip to a Rams practice. The fields and hallways that were the home of Arsenal, a club with some of the greatest players in the world, for us was just another different place to do our jobs. It truly was the case of one man’s dream is just another man’s daily life.
When walking with our very own Brian Feldman down the road, I even asked him, "I wonder what this experience would be worth to an English Football fan?"
Tonight Arsenal will be playing in a Champions League match with 70,000 people screaming their hearts out. There could have been players - superstars - walking right by us today that will be the focus of many millions this evening. I know I wouldn’t have known. But to the Americans here we were more interested in what was happening on a back field for a game that is days away. Perception is everything in life and in sports. Today was one of those days where it couldn’t be any truer.