100 years of Arsenal in Islington

Post Date: 10th October 2013
Author: Matt Gedge

Being a walking tour guide of London has its benefits. I am acutely aware how lucky I am to go on walks in the name of research, or study something which is so interesting I spend an unhealthy amount of time with my head in books or on a google adventure. This morning was a case in point:

Today I fulfilled a lifelong dream of wearing the Arsenal shirt and gracing the same space where my football heroes from Charlie Nicholas to David Rocastle and Thierry Henry had their defining moments in the game. With my back to the Clock End I faced the North Bank and took in the iconic art deco stands.

I even walked through the Marble Halls and saw the bust of Herbert Chapman. Along the way I talked to a fan who could recall the double of 1971 and was at the most extraordinary game of the century, Arsenal’s 2-0 win at Anfield on the final day of the 1989 season.

Ok, I wasn’t starring alongside Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil at the Emirates stadium, but instead joined a tour which is part of the 100 year commemoration of Arsenal FC in Islington.

Our guide retold the story of how Royal Arsenal were formed in 1886, became Woolwich Arsenal in 1893 and then The Arsenal in 1914, and finally plain old Arsenal in 1919, dropping ‘Woolwich’ due to the financially necessary move to Islington in 1913. Interesting how some fans still refer to the team as ‘The Arsenal’.

Along the way we heard how a V2 bomb had obliterated Highbury & Islington station, saw the studio of artist and Jack the Ripper contender Walter Sickert and saw old maps showing how the huge green expanse through to Finsbury Park was eroded by late Georgian and Victorian development, leaving Islington as the least green London borough today.

We also heard the apocryphal story of how the pioneering Arsenal manager of the 1930s Herbert Chapman had once asked “Whoever heard of Gillespie Road? It’s Arsenal round here!” which led to the renaming of the tube station 1932. (Arsenal are the only London football team with an underground station named after them).

Today although the North Bank and Clock End were demolished and the pitch now a communal garden, the beautiful 1930s East and West Stands are preserved as listed buildings and frame the apartments. If you focus on the layout and the art deco shell you could just – at a pinch – feel yourself returning to another, more exciting time.

We finished with a tour of the new stadium and museum, which was wonderful in its own way, but it was with a pang in my heart that I left the old and very special Highbury.

If you are interested in taking a tour, check out the Islington Museum. Further free tours are available on 11th & 16th October, while a talk is scheduled for 24th October.

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