The Force of Arsenalisation
Tomorrow sees the club escalate the 'Arsenalisation` of Ashburton Grove, with the club making the simple and sensible decision to rename the four sides of the ground a la Highbury. So the Clock, and thus, The Clock End and the North Bank shall be unveiled. In conjunction with this, those of us that sit at the sides of the stadium; shall metaphorically smash our champagne bottles overt the newly christened East and West stands. This replaces the ill famed coloured quadrant idea; which made the ground sound like a multi storey car park. I have sat in the same seat since the stadium opened and even now, without looking at my ticket, I couldn`t tell you which colour quadrant my seat was in. I always causally referred to it as the East Upper, so it`s business as usual as far as I`m concerned. The very least the club could have done with the original coloured quadrant system would have been to have made them Arsenal colours instead of all this blue, orange, winter violet, baby peach crap.
However, my season ticket seat at Highbury was positioned in the Clock End, so the unveiling of the new Clock End- albeit from afar now I`ve graduated and traded in atmosphere for view (getting old you see)will hold sentimental significance to me. The move is another example of the simple, yet very effective, charm offensive Gazidis has undertaken in his eighteen months in situ. Football fans are unabashedly sentimental creatures and the touches that have been applied to the stadium over the last 12 months have been greatly appreciated by the supporters. Firstly, with the imposing and impressive erection (ooh err) of the murals of legendary Arsenal players linking arms around the stadium. Graphically simple yet very effective again, a reminder of the club`s heritage and an eye catching signification of our home being watched over by our own 50 foot minders 24 hours of the day. (Would you try and force your way into Club Level knowing Martin Keown`s ready eye looms overhead?) It certainly makes the stadium more eye catching as you approach from either Holloway Road or either of the adjacent bridges from Drayton Park or Arsenal. Whereas before the Emirates logo and a vast expanse of concrete made the stadium somewhat blend into the background, the neck immediately cranes now upon advancement to the ground.
There have been a number of smaller touches too. Inside the lower tier, snapshots of our history, pictures and quotes from famous players have been superimposed onto the walls. I was at the Member`s Day a fortnight ago and have also seen the concrete slabs which fans can personalise outside of the Armoury. But perhaps my favourite touch of 'Arsenalisation` is the most hidden and least written about. Just above the Armoury, facing towards the Clock End Bridge; there is a panoramic team shot containing every Arsenal player to have ever played at Highbury, starting with the 1913 squad and blending seamlessly along to 2006. If you`re going along tomorrow- or indeed to any home game this season, I advise putting ten minutes aside to give it the once over. (Before you ask, someone has already defiled the face of Ashley Cole in the photo). You will inevitably find yourself scouring the faces and trying to name the players; looking for players of significance from your youth. (Warning, if you`re on old git, or are indeed studying the mural with a couple of old gits, like I did on Member`s Day, you might want to leave more than ten minutes when taking this graphic in). The photo montage has the legend 'The Deeper the Foundation the Stronger the Fortress` written underneath it. Well worth a look.
Arsenal have also offered the chance for supporters to have their season ticket seats personally engraved. So if you`re ever floating around the East Upper and you see 'Little Dutch` written on the seat, you`re in the wrong seat bucko! The club have also succumbed to the voices of the public by confirming they have ditched 'The Wonder of You` as the pre match tune; to be replaced with Fatboy Slim`s 'Right Here, Right Now` which was popular at Highbury. This week Arsenal have also announced their 'Fanshare` scheme, which offers supporters a more affordable way to buy into the club and try to have some say in its running. I don`t think anyone is kidding themselves that this will amount to a Barcelona/ Real Madrid model of fan ownership; but in an age where the terms 'billionaire takeover`, 'leverage debt` and finally, 'winding up order` are becoming a regular part of the football fan`s lexicon, it`s a stark message that Arsenal are moving in another direction. Plurality of ownership can only be a positive thing for a football club and any moves to nudge it further in that direction; even if only slightly, is quite welcome with me. I am aware that these initiatives of Gazidis are, for the most part, skin deep and populist. I am also aware of cheap politician`s tricks designed to sedate the cries of a soporific public (more Bobbies on the beat, less red tape etc, etc). But I think Gazidis has struck a real balance of listening to the supporters and implementing some simple ideas, without all of the vomit inducing rhetoric of the likes of Gillett and Hicks. (Blackburn`s prospective new buyer this week says he has decided to buy Blackburn because he watched started watching the Premiership ten years ago and liked David Beckham). It strikes me that there is a quite hysterical negativity around the club at the moment from the supporters- when a draw away at Liverpool can draw such gnashing of teeth then I would class it as hysteria. So once the new Clock End and North Banks are christened tomorrow, be grateful that at the moment we will be waving our scarves in appreciation of our club; rather than wielding banners and multi coloured scarves in protest at the stewardship. Hell, it even looks like we`re going to sign a centre half and a goalkeeper this week.LD.