The following article is one in a series posted on the EPL Talk Blog recounting my recent trip to England in search of better understanding the difference between watching Premiership matches in person compared to watching them on television. For previous articles on Goodison Park, Anfield and Ewood Park, feel free to visit the archives on this blog.
After meeting up with The Beautiful Game podcaster Chris Slegg, interviewing each other and then saying cheerio at the Arsenal tube station, I strolled down the street of Islington in search of Highbury, Arsenal’s former home for such a large part of their history.
Just as with West Ham’s Boleyn Ground (more commonly referred to as Upton Park), Highbury’s official name is The Arsenal Stadium. Walking down Gillespie Road from the underground station, I could see that the neighborhood was exactly that. Children walking home after school with their parents in tow. People going about their everyday business and errands.
In between two terraced houses on Gillespie Road, I caught my first site of Highbury behind a metal gate. It was incredible to see how tight Highbury was nestled on all four sides by residential housing. I picked up my step, turned the corner and walked up Avenell Road with anticipation and excitement toward Highbury’s historic East Stand.
What I witnessed was devastating to me. On this, my first trip to Highbury, I could see the East Stand shrouded in scaffolding, but what disappointed me more was the sight of Highbury’s North Bank to my right that had the guts of the stand bellowing out of the once impressive structure. The face of the stand had been removed and all that could be seen was the innards exposed to the gloomy weather on a Monday afternoon.
Walking up Avenell Road, the East Stand came alive through the sparks from the workers welding metal together in the upper echelons of the once magnificent stand. Behind all of the scaffolding, I could see the glorious stone walls now dirty in color and the words ‘ARSENAL’ emblazoned on the outside. Workers stood everywhere seemingly cold and unknowing of how historic a stadium this had been throughout the history of English football.
Standing outside the East Stand’s main doorway, all I could do was imagine what the marble floors looked like inside with the Gunners insignia and the bust of Herbert Chapman. the most famous Arsenal chairman. The entire ground was closed to the public.
Walking up Avenell Road to catch a view of the Clock End, I realized how shocked I was that the rebuilding of Highbury was being undertaken so drastically. In reading the articles and looking at the pictures of the luxury condominiums that will be built on the ground, I had envisioned the builders leaving Highbury more in-tact and building on top or around it. I had no idea how much they planned on destructing Highbury to reach their goal.
Unfortunately the Clock End was gone. The entire end of Highbury had been reduced to mud. Not a single trace of that famous end remained, so I soldiered up the Avenell Road hill and tried to get a good view of Highbury from the flats situated at the top. Unfortunately due to the building walls that have been erected around Highbury, it was impossible to get a good glimpse of the stadium, so I strolled down Highbury Hill to see if I could find a different vantage point.
Halfway down Highbury Hill, I came across two diggers outside the entrance to Arsenal’s West Stand. Here was a tall white building sandwiched between terraced housing and with the words “Arsenal Football Club” proudly displayed down the left and right side of the structure. While the rest of Highbury was in pieces, this entranceway was completely intact and entirely beautiful. Without a doubt, it’s a work of art and such a rarity to see a building like this in football of today or even yesteryear still standing.
Reaching the bottom of Highbury Hill that intersected with Gillespie Road, I realized my journey to Highbury was over. While I was disheartened by the poor state of the stadium, I felt extremely fortunate to have visited the hallowed ground in such a beautiful neighborhood of London.
It’s so hard to think that the modern marvel that is the Emirates is just around the corner.
In the coming weeks, stay tuned for additional articles about the Invicta Ground, Emirates Stadium, White Hart Lane, Boleyn Ground (aka Upton Park), The Valley, Craven Cottage and Old Trafford. In the meantime, watch the photo slideshow from Highbury and view images from the other grounds that The Gaffer visited here.