Ashburton Grove; A Day at the Arsenal (Part 1 of 3)
The excitement built as we pulled up on the underground to Arsenal station. It was a gloomy day, and the day of an away match, so Highbury was empty and quiet. The town was exactly as I had seen in photos, with tight streets and uniform houses. You could feel how the town would come to life with the streets shut down and the town bustling with football supporters and vendors.
We arrived far too early for the tour so I was able to do a full lap around the incredible ground. The plot of land that the Emirates was built on is perfect for the approach from multiple directions. It is Arsenal island and we truly own the area. I speed-walked across the bridge at almost hit a jog to get in. The first lap around the stadium saw every angle covered with flags, paintings, and statues of legends and glory. I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with pride and excitement.
Still too early for the tour we took a lap down the street toward the Tollington to grab lunch and check that side of town. Always advertised to Arsenal fans, it was cool to stop in. They did not have access to a stream and were not showing the match in Hull that would occur later in the day.
Heading back to the Emirates we were lead straight into the Armoury, which I believe almost turned my wife into a fan. If that didn’t do it, it would be our next encounter.
Through the guided tour doors we were introduced to the legend, the gent, and the life-long club man that is Charlie George. His love and appreciation for the club, tied with his prestige and awesome personality, keep me smiling every time I think about the day!
Ashburton Grove; A Day at the Arsenal (Part 2 of 3)
The morning had been an awesome buildup of getting the layout of the Highbury area and seeing all of the Arsenal spots that I’ve spent my entire life hearing about. I laughed to myself at each stop, thinking “the locals don’t even blink an eye at this”. With the excitement finally at a maximum, I was about to enter Arsenal stadium for the first time.
We were directed to the back of the Armoury and into a back entry where we would head straight up into the stands to meet Charlie George. We were sat in the very comfortable seats overlooking the stadium and he joined to introduce himself and give us a brief history of the Arsenal and his role, past and present. Even though he played before my time, I love the stories of Charlie and watching his signature stretched through-balls and shots. I was torn for the ten minutes to follow between his introduction and my first exposure to the Emirates stadium. I was flashing back and forth between both, eyeing up the north bank, the clock end, the pitch, etc. It was imposing and the entire place was stunning for me. I know the comparisons to Highbury, but I’m proud to be a fan of a club with such fantastic facilities. The tour proceeded up to the diamond club and the director’s box, which you can imagine the glamor. Lavishness aside, there were formal tributes to the club and its legends at every turn. The bust of Arsene Wenger stood out among the cannons and various frames filled with significant records and dates.
Continuing the tour through the back hallways, we were taken to the locker room and various player facilities. I was pretty stoked to notice last week’s team sheet still posted on the wall with the time and the lineup. Also, Vic Akers was cool enough to fill the u-shaped locker room with the players’ home kits. Charlie mentioned that Arsene had the room designed in this shape because he felt that the corners of a rectangular room weren’t as positive for the players.
The pitch was immaculate. Looking up from the ground into the stands sent chills down my spine. How had I let myself get to my mid-twenties without playing for the Arsenal?! It was roped off and guarded, but I would’ve done anything at that moment to get out to the center circle for some runs or touches on the ball and shots at goal. Even better, a quick juggle in our dress shoes with Charlie George!
After stretching under the rope to feel the pitch, seeing the bench, and fantasizing about the glory of my name on the back of an Arsenal kit, we headed into the press room to finish the tour. Multiple attempts were made, including one of my own, to mimic Wenger’s most popular phrases on the mic.
The group sat in a very comfortable setup around Charlie George who had all of the time in the world for Arsenal chat and questions. He was asked about his famous celebration and all of the usual jokes. The most significant answer for me was his opinion on the manager. Remember that this was in the fall of 2016, the beginning of the 16/17 season. He stated very genuinely and without hesitation that he believes that Wenger is the best man for the job and that everybody within the club was happy with the current manager. He was confident that a mutual agreement to step aside would be reached when the time was right. I am paraphrasing and I realize that we were on a club-guided tour, but no part of me felt that his overall optimism on the topic of the manager was disingenuous.
We shook hands and thanked him for welcoming us to the home of this truly great club. I walked out with my pride for the Arsenal at an all-time high. The experience was amazing and I highly recommend that every supporter makes the trip.
Ashburton Grove; A Day at the Arsenal (Part 3 of 3)
After shaking hands with Charlie George, who left us in all smiles, I had to come off of the cloud that I was on because it was nearly match time!
We left the ground after a short lap through the museum and took a last look at the statues on the different paths of entry to the ground. As I mentioned earlier, the Tollington wasn’t showing the match that day but luckily Dale had some inside knowledge from his time studying in London.
Heading to the Gunners Pub, we routed through Highbury to make sure that I passed the still-standing East Stand of the old stadium. It pops out as you turn the corner and one can easily see how it is integral to the town that so tightly surrounds it. It has a strong and glorious feel, imposing directly on the street. I can only imagine what it would’ve been like to see the full ground!
The locals that packed the pub were very welcoming and intense, as expected! We finally caught up with Dale from and sunk some (very solid) Punk IPAs during the match. The man is a complete gent, and it was great to hear about London and Melbourne while traveling! It’s amazing that a mutual love for the Arsenal brings so many like-minded people together.
I made a point to take it all in again on the way back to Arsenal Station. The day was a truly overwhelming and amazing experience. It must be mentioned that the controlling emotion on the day was pride. The love for the club, especially in seasons like this, is difficult to express but you never doubt it. Getting to see it, feel it, and be part of it, confirms that it is worth every second.
I had the day of a local gunners fan mixed with a bit of tourism and every single piece of it exceeded my high expectations. I’m planning the next visit to be on the day of a home match, but I can honestly recommend that every Arsenal fan makes it to the ground and the surrounding area to appreciate the immense impact that our club truly has!