The sun’s out for a short while at least, so to cajole it into staying this morning’s playlist is the wonderful summer sounds of Elefant Records. Elefant In The Room (Vol 1) can be found in the right sidebar on Dad’s Jukebox or grooving in the archives.
A decade ago, Arsenal left Highbury for a bright new future at The Emirates and social media is flooded with memories of that day. For many of us, there are decades of emotions and memories invested in the stadium which haven’t transported into the new ground. That it is still referred to as ‘new’ tells you how much work remains to be done in that sense.
Even as I type this, I find myself transported back to the mid-80s, sitting on the terrace drinking beer with the sun shining, watching highlights on the newly installed Jumbotron screens, set diagonally from each other, one in the corner of the Clock End, the other to my right on the North Bank. The terraces fill in a steady flow, the steady flow of the turnstiles creating the rhythm of pubs and tube stations emptying.
The sounds and smells are familiar, merging with times before and since. Shouts for “Peanuts!” vie for your attention with programmes, scarves and fanzines, as spares were bought and sold for “the best price” as your eyes adjusted to the daylight at the top of the steps of Arsenal tube station, a crescendo as the smells of fried onions fill the air on the walk down Gillespie Road.
The Emirates has yet to find that indelible place in my soul. For others, too young to have become that attached to Highbury, it will be a similar and familiar tale. Over time, as trophies are won or great afternoon and nights pass into lore, the memories I have of home become the same in someone else’s mind of a different place.
Age has a lot to do with it. Highbury was my youth and whilst far from my dotage, The Emirates arrived as a result of the changes in football. Broadcast moneys mingle with the sponsors pounds transformed a sport in which I have invested more time and money than can be rationally be called sensible. A new stadium is only there to increase that wealth.
It’s turned out that way. Arsenal has evolved, no longer in the care of custodians but the investment of men who have no emotional tie to the club, only needing its balance sheet. That’s the way of the world, not just at Arsenal but throughout football.
The flipside of that is the increasing globalisation of the game brought more people to the club and enriched the club in different ways. More people to engage with in the electronic public bar; sensible conversations and chatting whatever in equal measure.
The changing face of football, continuing to evolve under pressure from those it now refers to as ‘customers’. Still a captive audience, we’re finding our voice once more, not in a terrace chant but on the pages of websites such as this, forums and social media. A groundswell of opinions, appeased and ignored in equal measure by the club in its pursuit of wealth. Glory is a poor second.
Seats are further from the pitch at The Emirates, indicative of the increasing distance between supporters and clubs. It’s the intimacy of Highbury, that feeling of being on top of the pitch, which I miss most. A compact stadium where the crowd has its own set of faults but more strength with a sense of unity of purpose which has been dissolved on moving.
There was as much discord and rancour as there is now. We’ve always been able to moan and never resisted the opportunity. Nowadays, you have a wider audience in front of which it played out. Then, conversations with familiar faces, friends and acquaintances, was everything. Fanzines, very much in their infancy, offered some opportunity but feedback waited, for the most part, until the following issue.
The fondness for Highbury is born of a different age, another time. More years spent in stadium which didn’t need ‘Arsenalisation’ to find its soul; that was there from generations before. The Emirates has a long wait before it is truly going to be thought of as home, many events – good and bad – to create its own place in Arsenal’s history. The current indifference or apathy is part of that, weaving a theme through an age.
For some of us, Highbury will always be home. The house which although not there any more, still causes us to pause and remember with a great fondness. You don’t have the same? You will in time.