Book Review: 'Highbury: The Story of Arsenal Stadium'

Last updated : 16 July 2006 By Brian Dawes
Originally published in hardback last November this paperback edition of the title has been updated to include the final season and includes photographs of the last matchday at Highbury.

Bruce Smith is an award-winning journalist, stadium consultant and businessman who quite obviously loves stadia and in particular Highbury. The fact that he's an Arsenal bond holder gives a bit of a clue as to why he wrote this particular title and it has to be said he certainly knows his stuff.

He also happens to open his introduction with the greatest night the stadium has ever seen, so I was greatly encouraged from the off. If you already have an intimate knowledge of the Laundry End, the College End, Henry Norris, Archibald Leitch, A G Kearney, St.John's College of Divinity, the 45 minute clock, the Horse Shoe Bar, enumerators, Claude Waterlow Ferrier, William Binnie, The Lobb Partnership, Grade II listed buildings and you know a Bobite from a Gooner you may not have need of a publication such as this. But if you want to find out more about the history of Arsenal's home between 1913 and 2006, or just happen to regard Highbury as your own second home then you should certainly investigate this title.

The volume covers both the building and rebuilding of this world famous iconic structure in some detail, certainly in more detail than I've seen elsewhere. It also covers all the key personnel who've been involved in the initiation, building and development of Highbury in it's many guises. In it's creditable attempt to cover the managers, matches, fortunes and successes of the Club there is an obvious duplication of Arsenal history found in print elsewhere for any fan already owning a half way decent Arsenal library. But that said it's fairly thorough and puts much of the Stadium's history rather necessarily into context. It also goes much further than some other ‘Arsenal histories' in some aspects, landmark games for example receive a separate chapter. This being a history of the stadium, rather than just the Club, consideration is also given to major events such as FA Cup semi-finals, international matches, representative encounters, European games not involving Arsenal, third place play-offs, boxing, FA Amateur Cup and the like. It also includes quite a good timeline of our time at Highbury.

For those of you who didn't attend ‘The Home of Football' prior to 1989 you may be surprised to hear that the East Stand used to be a somewhat curious cream and green in colour. You may have thought we'd always had the big screens and you won't be aware that we've only had undersoil heating since 1964 and that this was upgraded for the third time in 1986. These and numerous other facts are included in a book that contains pretty well everything there is to know about Highbury and describes it all. Right down to the carbuncle in the south-east corner and the altogether more charming edifice that provides an entrance to the West Upper in Highbury Hill. If the book has a fault then for me it is the way it occasionally skips around and as a result is in danger of repeating the odd fact in different chapters.

For a quality book of this nature containing, as it does, some 280 pages I would have hoped for more illustrations, but this seems to be a common failing with this particular publisher, certainly so in their other Arsenal related titles. The photographs included are good, however the vast majority are illustrations of things the way they are today, many of which were seemingly taken by the author. Personally I would have much preferred many more historical pictures and also additional pictures of the ground on matchdays when it really comes to life. That said those old photographs that are included, such as the building of the Laundry End and a later shot of the completed end with a capacity crowd are excellent.

Certainly well worthy of consideration as an addition to your Arsenal library.

Highbury: The Story of Arsenal Stadium
Bruce Smith
Published by Mainstream Publishing
Price £12.99 - Published 17 July 2006
You should be able to order this title from any decent bookstore if you quote the following reference number ISBN 1 84596 104 8 or no doubt your favourite online bookstore will also oblige - Amazon have it available for £8.57 at the time of writing.