Post Date: 20th October 2013
Author: Matt Gedge
Although I have been an Arsenal fan all my life and watched some great games from the stands over the years (and a load more from the comfort of my armchair), I had never visited the stadium on a non-match day. Until now.
I was fortunate to have a guided tour around the stadium by the Islington Museum curator, Salim, following on from my journey into Arsenal’s past (see my other Arsenal blog here) as part of the centenary celebrations of Arsenal in Islington.
The stadium tour passes through the startlingly large media room to the press conference room where you can sit in Arsene Wenger’s seat and imagine you are responding to the 100th question about why you’re not spending enough money with a Gallic shrug of the shoulders. Just around the corner are the post-match interview booths, providing an opportunity to fend off questions with a suitably vague football idiom or two (I was half expecting to find a list of them scrolled on the wall).
Then it’s off to the tunnel and a short walk to the edge of the perfectly manicured lawn that is the pitch. It is striking how everything lies in such close proximity, for it’s a short walk to the largest away dressing room in the Premier League. Pretty spartan was my initial assessment, and especially when you then enter the Home changing room, adorned with shirts of the first team and substitutes. Awe inspiring and truly exciting it may be, but I couldn’t resist pretending to have a smoke in Jack Wilshere’s seat. Unfortunately having a dip in the very luxurious baths was not permitted.
The whole tour leaves an impression of grandeur, much in line with the Marble Halls of Highbury, a setting which itself has been lovingly recreated in one room of the new stadium, complete with busts of the great managers Herbert Chapman and Arsene Wenger. But where I felt it most unsurprisingly was in the Directors’ Box. A glass fronted dining room leads out to a majestic view of the pitch. Sitting in the ever so comfortable padded seats we were so close to the pitch I felt almost like I was at my own local team, which I guess is part of the idea.
On to the museum then, and alongside the displays of great players and teams of yesteryear, there were more than a dozen items which caused my heart to race. Charlie George’s 1971 FA Cup Final Shirt, Alan Smith’s shirt which he wore to score the incredible winner in the 1994 Cup Winners Cup Final, and most amazing of all, the actual boots Michael Thomas wore when scoring the goal which won the League Championship at Anfield in 1989. Wow.
And although the Gunners Shop leaves you feeling like you’ve just been to ASDA, there is enough love and attention here to realise that even in the modern world of multi-millionaire footballers and corporate ownership, the tradition and passion for the game lives on at the Emirates.