A century on, the reverberations of the club’s move to Avenell Road are still felt despite moving the short distance to Ashburton Grove. Despite being unfinished, Arsenal Stadium opened its doors for business on 6th September 1913 against Leicester Fosse. Like Aston Villa’s visit to The Emirates for the opening Premier League game in that stadium, the visitors opened the scoring. Unlike that day, Arsenal emerged victorious at Highbury.
It was a pivotal moment, defining the club as it is today. Everything we are today was underpinned by Henry Norris’ decision to take the club north of the river, no matter how much of an anathema some will find that statement. It is pure speculation to state otherwise, that the path to today would have been the same had Norris settled on White City or any of the other sites he reportedly viewed as a potential home. It would be another twelve years before the club bought the land outright for £64,000 (£21m) having invested £125,000 (£64m) whilst tenants.
But it isn’t the statistics which made Highbury home, the characters with tears of joy and sorrow on nights which were good, bad and ugly, occasionally all in one moment. People who created history, not just players but to all of those whose employment was at the stadium, groundsman to tea ladies to office workers. Of the stories and legends, curses and 150,000 capacities. Of memories that mean nothing except to that special few. Of friendships forged on the terraces before growing up in the West Stand on the halfway line. Separated by ten yards on a packed North Bank, surging waves of bodies making it a 45-minute journey. Watching titles seemingly slip away before being reclaimed elsewhere, cup dreams realised and shattered. Standing in the same spot each game, wooden sheds evolving, knowing the big crowd feeling. Walking out of the tube station to turn left, anticipation growing before being hit by the stateliness once through the turnstiles. Of tedium, despair and joy, febrile before kick-off, heads in the cloud, feet on the ground, jaws below the surface; traipsing to The Plimsoll or on the tube to The Hole In The Wall or Balcony Bar to dissect the days events. A pint of solace or good cheer. Moments of growling menace or pleasantries exchanged.
Knowing the past has created this future; Everything that we are now has these roots.
Everyone has different memories, each of us who visited either regularly or a solitary time will take a piece of that history to the grave. The club has an event celebrating the day, there is another taking place with a trip from the birthplace of the club in Plumstead to Highbury, finished off with an evening event at The Gunners public house. Enjoy yourselves if you are going.
May be The Emirates or whatever corporate name Ashburton Grove retains in times to come, will imbue the same nostalgia. I am sure, given time, that it will.
And history intersects, Mesut Özil’s arrival shattered the club’s transfer record, the new commercial era in force with the bubble protecting football seemingly impervious to damage from economic reality of life. Özil signals the economic reality of the modern game yet the words of his first official interview with the club media have echoes of the past with the standard form of words about trophies, fans, players and the manager. Sunderland awaits.
Contrast that with Abou Diaby. With injuries still ravaging his career, at 27 he must be wondering when he will receive the break that ends his cursed luck. His experience in this situation must offer some solace but envious glances are surely cast when the likes of Flamini and Özil arrive, resurrection and new beginnings. Where would Diaby fit into the current side? As harsh as it is, he would not be an automatic starter with Aaron Ramsey’s flourishing form making such an outcome unlikely. He has the years to come, of course, if he can avert further setbacks and in that time will compete with the likes of Ramsey and Wilshere for a place in the starting XI. Form is transient yet just when he seems to be in a position to take advantage, Diaby receives the harshest treatment. The fickleness of fate with roots in one horrendous challenge as a season drew to its close.
It will be a familiar experience for the French international in watching his teammates train, cast into battle for another season. It is a testament to his mental strength that despite all the setbacks suffered, he has not given in, even when he has admitted, that option seemed the best outcome. Ambitions in that sense must surely be to get fit, get games, play a season and take it from there. Time is still on his side, perhaps the fates will be this time as well.