"Arsenal Stadium" the lettering reads - truly the home of football, albeit virtually invisible from more than 500 yards away in any direction. I always wonder how many people drive or walk within a stones throw of the famous football ground - almost near enough to hear the cheering - without even knowing that it was there? I then reflect upon what they are missing; The smell of the hot dogs and burgers from the stand at the corner of Conewood Street and Avenell Road, the uniformed comissionaire atop the steps leading into the marble halls, the immaculately groomed Police horses threading their way through the assembling crowds.
The atmosphere is truly unique and you honestly haven't experienced football until you have made that walk - but where and why did it all come about? :
As you all know, Arsenal Football Club began life in 1886 as Dial Square, then Royal Arsenal, Woolwich Arsenal, and latterly "Arsenal" plain and simple (but that's another story).
Step forward Henry Norris, a property developer, London born and bred, who had a vision of a football club based in the capital city that would be able to take on and beat the superior teams from the North of England. Norris approached Woolwich Arsenal, probably because they were virtually penniless at the time, and Norris, being a businessman, relished the challenge of starting with next to nothing. he took control of the club in 1910, however things went from bad to worse, and in season 1912-13, the club was relegated into the second division. the club were struggling, and his answer was typically ambitious - the club had to move to a new home and start again - virtually from scratch.
Between Highbury Hill to the west, and Avenell Road to the east, stood St.Johns College of Divinity. the area where the stadium now stands was formerly the college sports ground, and on the land behind the present Clock End - now blocks of flats - stood the college itself. Norris took out a 21-year lease on the sports ground for twenty thousand pounds, and pressed on with his plans to build a home fit for the Arsenal.
The club played it's last game at the Plumstead Manor Ground on April 26th.1913 - and Norris vowed that the clubs new home would be ready for the Opening of the following season. Indeed the first game of football played at Highbury was on September 6th.1913 against Leicester. The preparation of the ground in order that the pitch could be laid had cost over £125,000 - a vast sum of money in those days. It is for this reason that the grandstand (on the Avenell road side of the ground, where the East Stand is now built) took so long to build - Norris had to pay the builders "on the drip" as gate money became available. the stand took three years to complete, and was the only covered spectator area until 1932, when the West Stand was opened on December 10th. of that year. The roof of the North Bank was built in 1935, resulting in the famous clock beig moved to the South End of the ground, where it has remained ever since.
The newly rebuilt East Stand was opened on October 24th. 1936, despite the huge costs involed. At this time the club was allegedly £200,00 in debt to the bank, and needed crowds in excess of 40,000 for each game in order to break even!
This meant that the team had to deliver the good on the field - and deliver they did as we all know.
Arsenal now have possibly the finest Stadium of its kind in the country, which has been modernised over the years, whilst at the same time retaining the original character built into the place at the time of it's inception. Crowds of up to 70,000 have witnessed some of the greatest games of football played on this Island at the famous Stadium - with both Arsenal and England participating.
The capacity is now around 38,500, brought about by the advent of all-seater stadia in the wake of the Hillsborough tragedy and the subsequent report by Lord Chief Justice Taylor. As you will all know, the club are about to expand, having overcome considerable opposition from local residents (who complained just as bitterly as they did back in 1913).
One day in the not too distant future we will witness the final curtain come down on the Arsenal at Highbury - unthinkable for many, but sadly inevitable - words fail me, they really do.