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My First and Last Visit to Arsenal's Highbury

highbury west stand My First and Last Visit to Arsenal's HighburyThe 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.

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About Christopher Harris

Founder and publisher of World Soccer Talk, Christopher Harris is the managing editor of the site. He has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Guardian and several other publications. Plus he has made appearances on NPR, BBC World, CBC, BBC Five Live, talkSPORT and beIN SPORT. Harris, who has lived in Florida since 1984, has supported Swansea City since 1979. He's also an expert on soccer in South Florida, and got engaged during half-time of a MLS game. Harris launched EPL Talk in 2005, which was rebranded as World Soccer Talk in 2013.
View all posts by Christopher Harris →

One Response to My First and Last Visit to Arsenal's Highbury

  1. redNwhiteUpNauf says:

    In reaction to ‘My first and last visit to Arsenal’s Highbury’

    It was great to read your article, as a neutral fan to have such passion for my clubs old place of football worship! I am also fascinated by stadiums, a magical place to visit on matchdays and quite surreal when empty and quite. I am also very biased when I regard Highbury as one of the most magical I have visited!

    I have been an Arsenal fan since I can remember, thanks to my dad, taking me at 3 years old. It was a very sad day when Highbury played out it’s last competitive game. I was lucky enough to go to that very last game, my dad again kind enough to share in the experience and let me have his seat.

    I am a graphic designer / photographer by profession and so in return for his generosity I decided to create something special in memory of the old place. Since then I decided to try and sell the end product (slightly adapted) appropriately named ‘Highbury montage’ to fellow gooners.

    I am guessing you are probably not an Arsenal fan and so your desire to own one of my prints would not be that great. However, I would appreciate it if you could pass the good word on to those that might.

    I do hope you don’t take offence to this post. It is not just a shameless plug to sell my prints, but the ‘Highbury Montage’ itself is a real attempt at capturing all that is magical on a matchday. Not only that but it has inspired me to attempt to capture similar projects for other stadiums around the country, the series would capture all that is magical within our game…so watch this space.

    Please visit http://www.fidgitaldesign.co.uk/thof to view the montage and five other unique views of Highbury and it’s surroundings!

    All the best
    Martin (redNwhiteUpNauf)

    http://Www.fidgitaldesign.co.uk

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