Highbury | Ground of Kings
(Posted on 06/09/17)
English football is blessed with some of the greatest sporting venues in the world, be it the sea of scarfs at Anfield, the historic Old Trafford or the gargantuan St. James’ Park.
But one place always fondly remembered as one of the most significant and greatest grounds of them all is Arsenal’s former home, the much loved Highbury.
On this day in 1913 the Gunners first ran out on to what would become sacred turf, where the likes of Cliff Bastin, Ted Drake, David O’Leary, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry to name a few, would woo the crowd over the next 93 years .
It all started against Leicester Fosse on September 6th 1913 in the Second Division, where Tommy Benfield scored the first goal at the new ground for the visitors. An equaliser came shortly afterwards with George Jobey netting Arsenal’s first in the 2-1 win.
The ground cost £125,000 to build on the site of an old recreational field for a college and was significantly redeveloped twice, once a major build in the 1930’s and over the years had redevelopment on the executive boxes of the famous ‘clock end’ and re-building of the north bank during the 1980’s and 90’s. It had become one of the most powerful and daunting grounds for any away player to visit.
Having played in the second division, they went back into the top flight and eventually won their first Division One title in the 1929/30 season. It was the beginning of an unbelievable decade for the Arsenal, winning five league titles and two FA Cup’s. That first FA Cup win was a real relief in 1930 having lost in the final three years previous to under dogs Cardiff City after a mistake from Gunners goalkeeper Dan Lewis, the Welshman whose error handed the first and only FA Cup win for a Welsh side.
There have been some amazing matches played at the old ground which they moved from in May 2006 to the brand new super stadium a stone’s throw away from the old site, built to the tune of £390 million. The club was almost half a billion out of pocket and had lost the vast majority of its atmosphere, but now earn more match day revenue than any other club in the English top flight.
One man who will always be thought of the second you mention Highbury is its king, Thierry Henry. The all-time leading goalscorer for the Gunners, Henry landed in North London in 1999 and netted 174 Premier League goals during his eight year reign at the top of the Arsenal food chain. He scored some of the best goals in both Arsenal and Premier League history including an amazing solo goal v Tottenham and wicked turn and volley against Manchester United at the old ground.
In 2003/04 at Highbury, Arsenal went from winners to invincible, going all 38 league games unbeaten, the first and only side to do it. The famous side of Henry, Cole, Viera, Pires, Bergkamp and Campbell steamrolled to the league title, winning it with a draw at fierce rivals Tottenham at White Hart Lane. They took the title and brought it back to Highbury to lift in front of the adoring supporters.
It’s not just Arsenal who have fond memories of playing at the famous ground, but many other English sides. The FA Cup Semi-Final was played there on numerous occasions from the first semi-final in 1929 as Portsmouth beat Aston Villa to the last in 1997 as Chelsea overcame Wimbledon.
There has been 12 England senior international games played there as well, 10 friendlies, one British Home Championship and a World Cup Qualifier. The Three Lions had some success playing there, with nine wins, two draws and a loss. The World Cup in 1966 – famously held and won by England – never used Highbury but instead two other London grounds, Wembley Stadium and the old White City Stadium which was used for Athletics, Speedway and Greyhound racing, it was demolished in 1985 a year after it closed.
Now without this famous old ground, which has been out of action and since developed into flats, football is certainly missing something. The daunting affect ended in May 2006 with a 4-2 thriller against Wigan, the king of Highbury Henry got a fitting hatrick to end things as he kissed the turf and waved goodbye to one of the world’s best sporting venues.
During that famous match they wore their 2005/07 home shirt, a hugely popular redcurrant shirt to commemorate the final year at the ground. With the badge in the centre of the shirt with 'Highbury 1913-2006' embroidered around it. The back of the shirt also had the commemoration of the ground on and the shirt is still highly sought after by collectors worldwide. The Nike design was one of the best they ever supplied Arsenal with and is as iconic as the red base and white sleeve we know and love the Arsenal for.
With grounds like this beginning to die out for want of a better world ‘soulless’ mega-stadia, the game is becoming more modern for every brick demolished. Upton Park of West Ham United has been replaced by the Olympic Stadium making the atmosphere much harder to generate with a running track separating the fans from the action, meaning the fans may as well be trying to get their voices heard from those stands to Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. Whilst Arsenal’s North London rivals Spurs are in the midst of moving grounds, temporarily crashing on the sofa at Wembley whilst demolishing of White Hart Lane continues and the new ground finishes construction.
We salute Highbury, we love its charm and rich history, but with more and more being wiped off the face of the earth to seek a maximum return on new found revenue, it would seem that every season another one bites the dust.
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