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Monday
Feb202012

The Small Things I Miss 

BY ALEX MANBY / @alexmanby

Forgive me, if you will, the shameless sentimentalism; I am unapologetic for it. I loved Highbury and I miss Highbury, impressive, functional and lucrative though our (comparatively) new stadium is.

1. The view from the top of Avenell Road.

I live in Highbury and have the good fortune of walking to matches. I walk over the South, or Danny Fiszman, Bridge to Ashburton Grove, which allows me to take in our impressive behemoth of a stadium from several hundred metres away, in a not dissimilar experience to visiting that loathsome venue Wembley.

But you never saw Highbury from several hundred metres away; it just sort of jumped out at you every time, almost unexpectedly, from its spot nestled amongst the terraced housing.

The first view I got of it was always from the top of Avenell Road, when I'd come round the corner of Aubert Park, turn right, and look down the steepish hill on thousands of red and white shirts scampering about hurriedly.

I miss the adrenalin rush which would kick in every time I saw that sight.

2. Standing on my seat

Nobody stands on their seat at Ashburton Grove. Nobody has to (nobody really even stands at all!). So congratulations to the architects and builders, but I'm afraid you missed a trick; you weren't told that for a young boy there's nothing better than standing on your seat to peer over some enormous guy's shoulder to catch a glimpse of the action.

My dad started taking me to Arsenal games when I was four, but we didn't get season tickets until I was seven, when we adopted a couple of seats in Row 12 of the Clock End, off towards the corner flag, as our football-watching home for the next decade.

Whenever Arsenal attacked, there would be an impromptu and unintentional Mexican Wave of people standing up and straining their necks to catch a better view of the action.

Through necessity, I became very proficient at jumping onto my seat and standing on it, leaning forward between the idiosyncratic pair of friends who sat in front of us (one little, one large - Harry Redknapp would sign them up in a flash!)

There was a tricky period in my life, around the age of 14, when I could no longer fully stand on the seat, because I was too tall, but still needed a bit of extra height to see the action, so I would sort of crouch while standing on the seat to ensure I was about the right height. Incredibly uncomfortable at the time, but oh how I miss it now!

3. The smell of smoke

I’m not a smoker, nor have I ever been, but football matches without the smell of smoke all around just doesn’t seem quite right, does it?

At Highbury the smell of smoke was everywhere. The stadium was so tight and compact, especially compared to the overly clean, overly sanitised stadium we now play in. It just sort of felt like part of the experience, to see men huddled in their coats puffing away on a ciggie.

Remember me mentioning the enormous guy who sat in front of me? Well he liked a smoke of a different kind. He must have been a nervous watcher of football matches, because at half time of every single match he’d pull out a pre-rolled spliff and toke away at it with his smaller friend. I often wonder if he has ever tried to pull that stunt at the Grove…

4. Getting rained on

I saw something during a recent home match - I think it was against Leeds or Aston Villa - which I could scarcely believe. As the rain started to fall, a number of fans in the front rows of the lower tiers vacated their seats and headed for the sheltered area towards the higher rows.

I sit in the upper tier in the new stadium, and so since 2006 I have not had the chance to be rained on during a home match. And I miss it.

There was something about being rained on, while your heroes were out on the pitch also being rained on, by the same rain, which enhanced the experience of watching live football for me.

We were in it together, you see, backs to the wall, sopping wet, united together in trying to win the match for the Arsenal

5. The post-match shuffle

This is perhaps the thing I miss the most about Highbury. At Ashburton Grove there are 20-odd exits from the stadium and an enormous area all the way around the stadium once you leave. I know that 60,000 people heading for the tube can cause queues, but actually getting out of and away from the stadium itself is incredibly painless and efficient.

At Highbury it was another story. Just getting from your seat into the concourse took ten minutes, and it was then another ten cramped minutes until you were in the fresh air of Avenell Road.

This was what my brother Mike and I called the shuffle.

Everyone was keen to get out of the stadium as quickly as they could, but the atmosphere was always friendly and unaggressive, especially after a win.

The technique of moving forward in the cramped area, penned in on all sides, was called the shuffle, and some people (me and Mike) were exceptional at it, while others (Dad) were plain useless. We would get to Avenell Road, sure Dad was just behind us, and then wait for another five minutes to see he’d once again been out-shuffled by several thousand Gooners.

The Highbury Shuffle may sound like a familiar movement to anyone who’s ever been in a crowded area, and to an extent you’d be right, but there was something about being in the low ceilinged, smoky, confined area, with chants being belted out all around, which made the experience a special one.

And besides, if you shout at the top of your voice ‘What do you think of Tot-num?’ in the crowded customs area in an airport, or queuing for the January sales outside a department store, you’re not exactly likely to be greeted with the same enthusiastic response, are you?

Reader Comments (2)

TOPTOP ARTCLE.

February 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAve

Smashed it, wish I had the chance to have gone! Nothing on the Dell though :)

February 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRambo
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