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Wednesday
Sep262012

Checking Out Of The Library

BY LUCY CROSSLEY / @RealLCrossley

After learning on Twitter that Carl Jenkinson's MySpace profile had been uncovered from the deepest darkest corners of the internet I was prompted to log into my own (long-forgotten) page - mostly to make sure that any embarrassing photographs had been well and truly hidden.

Scrolling through the blog section I came across a piece I had written about the last ever game at Highbury, way back in May 2006. I was still at university at the time, and my writing style left a lot to be desired, but reading through I couldn't help but grin at moments from the day I had long since forgotten.

Here it is, six and a half years on. (Warning - may contain hopes for the Champions League final...)

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Current mood: contemplative. At around 4.45pm yesterday the final whistle blew at Highbury for the last time. From next season all us Gooners will be taking our new seats at Ashburton Grove and will be leaving behind 93 years of memories.

My dad, my sister and I were lucky enough to get tickets in the North Bank and to make sure that the day went smoothly we had to make sure that we did ALL of our little superstitions before the game.

Lunch in the noodle bar at Kings Cross, drinks in the Highbury Barn (where we were in the queue behind Alan Davies, aka Jonathan Creek, wearing the infamous "bruised banana" vintage away shirt) and buying fizzy sweets and jelly beans from the bloke near to the North Bank entrance.

You might think all that these rituals are rather sad but believe me, things can go badly wrong otherwise! Last season's home game against Manchester United is a case in point.

As we walked down Highbury Hill there was a carnival atmosphere. The giant Wenger, Henry, Bergkamp and Adams heads kept everyone entertained as fans tried to catch a glimpse inside the Marble Halls for the last time.

When we got to our seats we put on our special "I was there" shirts that had been left for every supporter. Normally on the last game of the season you have to hold up cards to "turn the stadium red and white", but the effect from the t-shirts was much more impressive as it lasted for the whole game instead of just 10 minutes at the start. 

The game itself was secondary to the occasion really. Arsenal's shoddy defending skills made the game a bit more balanced and even gave Wigan the lead, albeit for two minutes. Lets hope Barcelona don't get any free kicks in Paris eh? 

Referee Uriah Rennie obviously wanted to get his name in the history books as the last referee not to have a clue what he was doing at Highbury, although we ultimately benefitted from the penalty that allowed Thierry to become the final player to score a hat trick at the ground. I can't imagine what the events following the game would have been like had we lost, or if Spurs had beaten West Ham.

I think it was the perfect end to the season and the perfect farewell to Highbury. You might think "What’s the big deal? It's just a building", but those of you who have ever been to THOF will know that the ground has an atmosphere about it that just cant be matched. 

There's something about the art deco stands, the bowling green pitch, even the fact that it's like looking through a letter box if you're sitting at the back of the East or West Stand lower tier.  In Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch he sums up how the fans feel about the ground, when he compares the pitch to "our garden". 

Arsenal is like a family, and we're moving home.  The post-match party provided an excellent chance to say goodbye. Ian Wright stole the show at the Legends Parade by dancing around the pitch wearing his t-shirt just like all of the fans. I'm sure you could see Charlie George, the King of Highbury, shed a tear and Paul Davies had his video camera out to capture the day. 

The return of the marching band provided a sense of occasion and it was great to see Police tenor Alex Morgan make his return, note perfect, 30 odd years after he last graced the ground.  It was also reassuring to see that the Arsenal Supporters Club bloke who was supposed to be at every Saturday game throughout the season hadn't died after he unexpectedly stopped being a matchday feature earlier in the year. 

Perhaps the most moving part of the day was the period of reflection. For many people Highbury provided a chance to keep the memories of loved ones who used to attend matches alive.  Rather than have a period of silence, the fans burst into a spontaneous applause when images of departed friends were shown on the plasma screens. It was a celebration of everyone who'd had the chance to leave their mark on the ground, and on the Club, however small.

After Roger Daltry (who walked onto the pitch to cheers of 'who are ya?!) had, rather embarrassingly, tried to lead the crowd in a specially commissioned song, it was time to say goodbye. Peter Hill-Wood, Wenger and TH14 lead us all in the countdown, the fireworks started and the time at Highbury was over.

As each of the players were returning to the tunnel, Thierry Henry sat with Giberto in the middle of the pitch. Wouldn't you have loved to hear that conversation? I really hope it was along the lines of 'Ow could I leave arsenal? Zee fans they have the va va voom!'

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Photograph courtesy of Martin Davies. See more of his work here.

Reader Comments (1)

I love that picture. I will always miss Highbury

October 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFootball 101
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