Arsenal FC is one of the biggest football clubs in the world. They have spent the most consecutive seasons in top-flight football in England and are second only to Everton in the number of seasons spent in the top flight.
They are a historically huge club with a massively devoted group of fans. These fans make the pilgrimage to the Emirates every week to watch their beloved club, but before this, the team played their games at the Arsenal Stadium in Highbury. This stadium was nicknamed, you guessed it, “Highbury”.
So why did Arsenal choose to leave one of the most well-loved stadiums in the UK? In this article, we’re going to take a look at some of the key factors that led to this decision and some of the main differences between Highbury and the Emirates.
Highbury was built in 1913, just a year before World War One. It was erected at the site of a college in the area, so it was a fairly basic structure initially. This meant it needed large redevelopments before it could become a truly imposing football ground.
The first major reconstruction happened in the 1930s. During this, the Art Deco East Stand and the West Stand were built. They became iconic features of Arsenal FC’s home ground for many years.
In the late 1980s, another redevelopment took place. This time, executive boxes were added to the Clock End to allow more luxury for certain attendees. 4 years later, in 1993, a brand new North Bank Stand was built. This meant the stadium was now an all-seater, which became the trend in football after several disasters caused a review in what made a stadium safe for the fans.
This expansion had been continuing for some time but was beginning to be met with resistance by members of the community surrounding the ground. Their homes were at risk, and Arsenal FC was growing in popularity, increasing demand and furthering the likelihood of expansion to the stadium.
This resistance meant that the best option for Arsenal was to build a brand new stadium instead of staying at Highbury.
This move happened in 2006, and Highbury was redeveloped into a residential area now known as Highbury Square. Certain parts of the stadium remain due to their status as listed buildings, but the rest of the stadium is now only a memory.
As was stated previously, Arsenal FC had some good reasons to relocate to the Emirates. This wasn’t just to play football in a flashier stadium, although the Emirates is undoubtedly impressive. It was much more practical to move.
There were plenty of financial reasons to leave Highbury that benefited the club much more than if they had stayed. This is part and parcel when you’re still using a stadium that was originally built in the early part of the 20th century.
Unless Arsenal were able to keep expanding and expanding, the number of people that were allowed through the doors could not really result in much profit. With the introduction of all-seater stadium rules, the capacity of Highbury was drastically reduced.
With the amount of money it takes to fund redevelopments, and the backlash from the community, the idea of expanding constantly was unsustainable and wouldn’t have made sense from a business standpoint.
At the time when Arsenal was winning the league and had their famous “invincibles” season, they were growing exponentially as a club and as a brand.
Something had to give, and the club didn’t want to keep increasing ticket prices for their local fans, so the construction of a new stadium was the best financial option for the club in the long run; it allowed more people through the door for a variety of prices.
In a dream world, Arsenal could have transformed Highbury into the perfect stadium. This is what many fans would have wanted as the stadium had become their home. It was a hugely historic sight with a long list of memorable events that have taken place within its four large walls.
Unfortunately, the location and infrastructure of the stadium made this highly difficult to achieve. There were 25 homes surrounding Highbury that would have had to be destroyed in order to keep expanding in the way that was suitable for a modern football stadium.
No one wants to be kicked out of their homes, and it’s not morally right to do so. Naturally, the proposition to keep building was met with rejection across the board and throughout the community.
And the history of the area itself has to be considered. For example, the East Stand had massive historical significance and was a Grade 2 listed building. You can’t just knock down historic sights in the name of financial gain.
With resistance from almost every side, the desire to have a stadium to match the standards of Arsenal FC whilst remaining at Highbury was just unrealistic.
There was only so much Arsenal could do to meet the ever-changing standards of UEFA around the early 2000s. This even affected areas such as the players’ changing rooms, which UEFA believed were not up to the standard that should be provided to players.
With Highbury being so old, it was hard to refurbish certain things without causing some of the problems that were mentioned previously in this article.
By moving to the Emirates, Arsenal could meet all of UEFA’s new standards and get ahead of the curve as opposed to constantly catching up with a sport that would not stop changing any time soon.
Whilst Highbury was beloved by fans, the Emirates is very impressive and is undoubtedly one of the best stadiums in the UK. With some of the best facilities in the country, it is somewhere that football fans feel lucky to visit.