Highbury Corner shut: A1 blocked by visiting FC Köln fans ahead of Arsenal’s first Europa League group game

PUBLISHED: 16:53 14 September 2017 | UPDATED: 18:17 14 September 2017

Away fans blocking Highbury Corner on Thursday afternoon. Picture: Emily Bawtree/Twitter

Away fans blocking Highbury Corner on Thursday afternoon. Picture: Emily Bawtree/Twitter

Emily Bawtree/Twitter

Up to 10,000 visiting away fans inadvertently blocked Highbury Corner this afternoon as they travelled to see Arsenal play FC Köln at the Emirates stadium.

Crowds block Highbury Corner this afternoon. Picture: TfL Bus Alerts/@TfLBusAlertsCrowds block Highbury Corner this afternoon. Picture: TfL Bus Alerts/@TfLBusAlerts

Buses were diverted and police were called to manage the huge crowd as it travelled north from Soho and arrived at Highbury and Islington station before spilling into the road. The Gunners’ first ever Europa League group game, against the Cologne side, is set to begin at 8.05pm.

Transport for London said the A1 had been shut for about an hour in both directions from 3.20pm. Nine bus routes were diverted and disruption is likely to continue even with the roads open. Tube and Overground services are not affected.

Pictures show an enormous group of people gathered at the roundabout, which has been narrowed to a single lane in either direction in places by roadworks. They had earlier marched through the West End.

Charity worker Emily Bawtree, an Arsenal season ticket holder for six years, told the Gazette she had never seen so many visiting fans.

“It’s just crazy busy,” she said. “It all seems really good natured but I’ve never seen that many away fans before a game.

“Not sure where they’re all going to go, though.”

Police said they were called at 3.30pm to a large group of football fans moving through central London, and had an “appropriate policing plan in place”. No arrests have been made at either Oxford Circus or Highbury and the crowd is believed to be good-natured.

Council leader Cllr Richard Watts tweeted: “Just popped out to see the chaos around Highbury Corner caused by FC Köln fans. It’s a real mess and we’ll try to get it sorted ASAP.”

The crowd was believed to be heading for Highbury Fields ahead of kickoff.

This afternoon’s disruption comes after Green councillor Caroline Russell, in her role on the London Assembly, called for nearby Drayton Park station to ease some of the strain on Highbury and Islington. At the moment, the Govia Thameslink Railway is shut on match days.

Sadiq Khan told her he would ask TfL to raise the issue with the train operator.

Highbury Corner has been blighted by roadworks since 2015 so the bridge that carries the road over the railway can be strengthened. Work, which is expected to cost about £25million, is due to be completed next year.

Cllr Russell said: “I was concerned after the match last weekend that there was no decent system in place for managing pedestrian movement in and out of the Tube and around the Highbury Corner area.

“It was chaos on Saturday and TfL and Arsenal stewards were overwhelmed.

“It sounds like Arsenal needs to manage the fans attracted to the stadium and take some responsibility.

“Hopefully this is a wake-up call for everyone involved – TfL, the council and Arsenal – to organise and prepare for mass pedestrian movement on match days.

“Residents understand that big engineering projects have to happen but their patience is understandably wearing thin when they experience disruption like this.”

TfL and Arsenal could not immediately be reached, while Islington Council declined to comment on Cllr Russell’s words.

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