Poor old Emirates Stadium…….was Highbury really that great?

I’m not sure it is normal to feel sorry for an inanimate object. Having said that, no one bats an eyelid if we talk about how much we love Highbury (or The Arsenal Stadium to use it’s correct name).

I am always hearing people bemoan the Emirates. The poor thing even gets the blame for our lack of League success since the move. But really, what has it done to deserve all this blame?

The Atmosphere:

I hear that the stadium is to blame for the lack of atmosphere. Why?? It is not as if there is a problem with the acoustics. I’ve had many games where the atmosphere has been electric so it can’t be the poor old stadium’s fault.

If the team was playing well and challenging for titles, the atmosphere would be great. Just consider the home game against Leicester two seasons ago. We had to beat them to have even a chance of the title. The game was tense all the way until the place exploded with joy at Welbeck’s late winner. Was it the case that the tourist fans and corporates all gave their tickets away to the “genuine” fans that day? No.

Yes, we do get lots of people coming to games who are not die hard Gooners. There are many tourists and corporates (just like every other big club). But this doesn’t mean that there are less Arsenal fans. There are way more fans now than at Highbury. The problem is that we only get really excited when we have something to shout about. This is not the fault of the stadium, and if people think it is then they either never went to games at Highbury, or are wearing rose tinted spectacles.

The truth may shock some people, but Highbury did not have the greatest atmosphere all the time. It is not exactly a secret that rival fans called it the “Highbury Library”. Am I blaming the stadium? No. It’s just the way we are. We are the same fans that we were in the old place.

Ticket prices:

Another myth is the ticket pricing at the Emirates. When I was paying for my season ticket at the end of the Highbury era I don’t remember ever thinking that it was a bargain. Why? Because it wasn’t!

I’m absolutely not saying that many fans (and especially young fans) are not being priced out of the game. I entirely agree that younger fans are more likely to be vocal at the game, thereby improving the atmosphere. BUT……..this has nothing to do with the Emirates. In fact, compared to the price increases in the last few years at Highbury, prices have gone up very little since we moved.

It is not the stadium that is pricing some fans out of the game. It is the club that sets the prices. The current match day revenue and television money make it far easier for the club to reduced prices for younger fans, but they don’t. At Highbury we were massively reliant on ticket revenue, but at the Emirates we are not.

The cost of building the stadium:

The Emirates was an expensive move at the time. There is no doubt that it did make us have to sell our best players. Although we will never know, it is possible that we would have won at least another Premier League title if we had stayed at Highbury.

But, it was impossible to have foreseen that Chelsea & Man City would blow football apart with their spending. I don’t care what anyone says, at the time it was unthinkable. In any case, we can still look back at missed opportunities. If, if, if. We all look back at the Eduardo injury and say what if. Many of us are convinced that we would have won the league that year. If, if, if. If we had won the title would it have been because of the Emirates? No. But would it have made the place feel more special? Undoubtedly.

Secondly, if we hadn’t had made the move, what would our finances be like now? It’s not a coincidence that Spurs and Chelsea are building bigger stadiums. They are not doing it to have a prettier place to play. They are doing it for their long term finances. And if we hadn’t made the move, just imagine what things would be like for us now. Imaging trying to compete with the big spenders in their big stadiums if we were still at Highbury. It would be impossible. I’m not saying I believe that we can compete on a level playing field now, but we are closer than we would have been.

It may have harmed us financially in the short term, but it will help us financially in the long term.

The History:

“It’s a soulless stadium”, is a line that some throw out.

So what is the “soul” of a stadium? It is it’s history. To blame the Emirates for having no history is crazy. I wasn’t around in 1913 when we moved to Highbury, but the place wasn’t instantly filled with the ghosts of great players, great sides, great managers, great games & titles.

Unfortunately, we are going to have to wait for the Emirates to be filled with it’s own history. History takes time. Success will speed things up, but I do think that one day we will reminisce about the early years at the Emirates. We will tell our kids and grandkids about how we were the ones that made the move. We will tell them of the tough times in the early years. We will look back at the titles we won at the Emirates and the great players that graced the pitch. And you know what, we will look back with those same rose tinted spectacles that we now wear when talking about Highbury.

The rose tinted spectacles:

Let’s get one thing straight from the outset. I love Highbury. Just the thought of it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

The place represents my earliest football memories, so it is bound to stir up emotions and memories of youth that I can’t ever get back.

I remember with joy the walk from Finsbury Park station. The pint with mates at the Blackstock before the game, walking past the peanut man (“peanuts all roasted”), the stadium suddenly appearing when you walk between two small terraced housed, tearing out a ticket stub, smoking in the stands (filthy habit, but a lovely memory nonetheless!), Ian Wright hanging out the changing room window after winning the title etc, etc.

The great thing about memories is that you can choose the ones you want and then romanticise them to your hearts content. The feelings I have are real, but just look at how ridiculous my memories really are. All I did was go to the pub (still do that, just a different pub), have a walk past a street vendor (still do that, just different food), entered a stadium (still do that, but without the queue), smoked a fag (fucking disgusting habit). None of that is particularly special, I’m really just remembering my youth.

What I’ve chosen to forget are the squashed queues getting through the tiny barriers, the little seats that meant I was squashed, the lack of space to the seat in front that meant every time I jumped up I would smash my knee, the fucking pillar that blocked my view of the corner flag, the horrendous toilets (yes, even worse than now), the terrible food (hang on, scrap that, I really liked the bagels. Bring back the fucking bagels).

For better or for worse, I loved going to games at Highbury. For better or for worse, I love going to games at the Emirates. Why? Because I love watching Arsenal. For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part I’m an Arsenal fan.