Arsenal has benefited from Emirates Stadium move...but what about Islington?
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Ten years ago, Arsenal announced itself as a football superpower by moving to the 60,000-seat Emirates Stadium. While it hasn’t resulted in much success on the pitch, James Morris explores the stadium’s impact on Islington.
As London’s smallest borough, perhaps we take it for granted that Islington is home to one of the world’s biggest football clubs.
Sure, it was always a leading domestic force at its old Highbury home. Here, Arsene Wenger formed one of the greatest club sides ever: the 2003/04 “invincibles”.
But with a small capacity of 38,000, the Gunners could not claim to be as powerful on the world stage.
Ten years on, and despite a lack of trophies, no one can deny Arsenal is a superpower in its 60,000-capacity Emirates Stadium.
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And though some of Highbury’s “soul” may have been lost, Cllr Janet Burgess, deputy leader of Islington Council, points out: “Most people are very proud of the fact Arsenal is still in the Islington borough, not to mention just around the corner from Highbury stadium.
“Lots of other places have lost their football teams when there has been a stadium move.”
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But as the most densely populated borough in the UK, greater stadium capacity has pressured Islington’s infrastructure.
“Arsenal creates fierce loyalty,” says Cllr Burgess. “The sheer volume of people coming in does create problems. I was once at a meeting in the south of Islington on a match day, and it took a very, very long time to get home in the north.
“There was talk before the move of making Holloway Road station fit for purpose, so it was disappointing that never happened as most of the time it is closed on matchdays. But with more people spending time here, our businesses also benefit.”
However, with the stadium’s corporate sheen – the clue is in its Emirates name – has come a reputation for extortionate ticket prices.
The club say prices have been frozen for the next two seasons. But the facts remain. Last year, a BBC survey found the cheapest season ticket was £1,014. The most expensive match day ticket, meanwhile, was £97.
“The ticket situation is disgraceful,” Arsenal Supporters Club secretary Barry Baker says.
“We have a big stadium – I don’t know why we have to be the dearest. It’s not as if it is spent on world-class players!”
Mr Baker said Highbury won hands-down for fan experience. “Life has changed drastically. There’s no atmosphere at the Emirates. It’s like going in a shop and staring at the shelves. It just seems a bit colder.
“Highbury always felt totally packed, with much more noise. It had a feeling about it.”
What of Highbury now? Its famous “Arsenal Stadium” East Stand facade remains, but it is now called Highbury Square, a development of expensive flats. In one famous estate agent listing last year, a two-bed was on the market for £660,000.
It still rankles with Islington North MP and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Speaking to the Gazette on Saturday, he said: “I wanted it to be the best possible proportion of social housing. What it ended up with was hardly any social housing.”
But no one can deny Arsenal’s presence in the Islington community has been a positive outcome of the move.
And executive director Ken Friar, who has been involved with the club for 60 years, is happy to agree.
“We are immensely proud of the positive influence we have in Islington,” he said.
“As well as building a world-class stadium, we became heavily involved in the regeneration of the area, including Arsenal’s new community centre [Arsenal Hub] and a new waste transfer centre,
“Community is a fundamental part of what we do and what we represent. We work across north London and beyond to help young people fulfil their potential.”