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Ken Friar: ‘I still get a tingle working for The Arsenal’

PUBLISHED: 14:32 18 May 2017 | UPDATED: 15:20 18 May 2017

Ken Friar opens the new pitch at his old school, St John�s Highbury Vale Primary, on Tuesday. It was funded by the Arsenal Foundation. Picture: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC

Ken Friar opens the new pitch at his old school, St John�s Highbury Vale Primary, on Tuesday. It was funded by the Arsenal Foundation. Picture: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC

Arsenal FC

Ken Friar’s 71-year (and counting) tie to Arsenal began with a mis-kicked football in the street. He tells the Gazette why working there is ‘not a job’.

Ken Friar at the unveiling of a statue in his honour outside the Emirates Stadium in 2014. Picture: Adam Davy/PAKen Friar at the unveiling of a statue in his honour outside the Emirates Stadium in 2014. Picture: Adam Davy/PA

Is there anyone more Arsenal than Ken Friar?

He is 82, and has worked for the club for 71 of those years.

A born and bred Highbury boy, Mr Friar – as he is affectionately known at the club – was playing with his mates in front of the old Highbury Stadium in 1946.

He mis-kicked a ball under the car of then-manager George Allison. Impressed by his enthusiasm, Allison offered Mr Friar a job as a messenger on matchdays.

He has worked at the club in various capacities, including secretary and managing director, ever since. There’s a statue of him outside Emirates Stadium.

Now a director, Mr Friar returned to his old school, St John’s Highbury Vale Primary, on Tuesday to open a new pitch that had been funded by the club’s community foundation.

“It was quite emotional, to be honest,” he tells the Gazette. “It was lovely to see the youngters enjoying the new pitch.

“When I was a boy, I had nothing like these pitches. We played football on concrete and kept Elastoplast in business!

Ken Friar, second left, oversaw Arsenal's move from Highbury to Ashburton Grove, now known as Emirates Stadium. He is pictured at the planting of a time capsule into the new stadium's foundations in 2004 with Arsene Wenger, David Dein, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry. Johnny Green/PAKen Friar, second left, oversaw Arsenal's move from Highbury to Ashburton Grove, now known as Emirates Stadium. He is pictured at the planting of a time capsule into the new stadium's foundations in 2004 with Arsene Wenger, David Dein, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry. Johnny Green/PA

“I had not been back to the school for quite some years, but some of the buildings are still the same as when I was a pupil. I remember the headteacher, Mr Jarvis, but not much else.”

It’s Arsenal’s esteemed community work of which Mr Friar is most proud.

“I’m very much an Islington chap. I’ve been Islington from birth. I’ve worked here all my life and I’m very much attuned with the community. It makes me so proud to see the ways we have been able to assist people.

“We started the community programme 30 years ago, not just for Islington but also neighbouring boroughs. That still exists today and the Arsenal Hub [in Benwell Road, in the shadow of Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium] is used by the community 52 hours a week. I think that’s amazing.”

Mr Friar oversaw the club’s move from Highbury to Emirates Stadium, but he admitted: “I miss those days, of course I do. I was at Highbury from 1946 to 2006. It’s a special place. When you spend 60 years somewhere, of course you are going to miss it.

“But tradition doesn’t pay the bills and the club had to move on. I think the stadium we have now justifies why we moved.”

After all these years, does he ever see himself leaving? “It will happen one day,” Mr Friar admits.

“But it’s not something I like to think about. It’s not a job! I still get a tingle when I get into work in the morning.”

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