Ok! This was long overdue, I suppose. It’s been 3 years to this day, since I visited the holiest of all places for an Arsenal fan, the Emirates Stadium.
The first site of the magnificent stadium is quite humbling, and I am going to tell you about the entire story. So, here goes.
Date : July 23rd, 2009
Venue : Emirates Stadium, Islington, North London
Purpose : Pilgrimage
Approx 10:30 AM – As I stepped out of the tube train at the Arsenal tube station at Gillespie Road, I was obviously quite excited. This was going to be the most memorable day in my life. After 5 years of supporting Arsenal through thick and thin, I was finally going to visit the magnificent Emirates Stadium. Arsenal Tube Station is a moderate sized tube station, and you can just imagine the buzz during matchdays. There were a couple of kids on the platform donning the Arsenal jersey, and I was well into Gunnerland. As I walked out of the station, there lay a very small sign on a pole, right outside the tube station. And by small, I mean very small. The words on it were ‘Arsenal Football Club’.
Approx 10:35 AM - Out of the tube station, we move right, and there was some construction work going on that day on the pavement, and I was looking around in exasperation for the stadium. You know, there was this huge cardboard wall they had set up, so the facade of the Emirates was covered. Luckily, my brother in law did tell me to calm down, and a few 20 yards later, I finally had a glimpse of the Emirates, and it took my breath away. We walked further ahead, and there was a little counter, with the words “Box Office” written over it, and the lady there told us to take the steps, into the stadium. And so we did.
Approx 10:40 AM - Finally, I get the full view of the Emirates, and my heart is racing. It’s like I am going to meet a supermodel on a date. I fumble around with the camera, and then snap the gigantic Arsenal crest on the outside of the Emirates.
10:45 AM - At this point, my sister can clearly see I am overwhelmed by the occasion, and promptly takes hold of her precious camera, which she fears I would drop. C’mon, who am I? Manuel Almunia? Anyways, she has the camera, and she tells me to give some poses, and I do, turns out I look stupid. Anyways..
10:50 AM - Sis and bro-in-law take some photographs around as I continue being in the mesmerised state. I wouldn’t blame them either. It was their 2nd anniversary the previous day, and I was just being a ‘Kabab mein haddi’ (My fellow Indian Gooners will know what that means!) Anyways, we were on time for our scheduled 11 AM stadium tour, and there were a lot of people there. Around 30 I suppose.
11:00 AM - Our tour guide introduces himself, a nice old fella, around 50, suited up. He asks us to form a queue as he takes a look at our bookings. And he also gives all of us a copy of Perry Groves’ authored “We all Live in a Perry Groves World” (One of the best books I have read!) as well as a copy of the Brazil vs Italy match programme. What a nice guy. Plus, he also gives each one of us an Arsenal sticker, not for decorative purposes, but for having it on out shirts. And while the rest wait for their turn, I have my own moment with the legendary Herbert Chapman and Arsene Wenger. Atleast their busts
11:10 AM - Everyone’s done, so we are set to go. Well not yet, Jerry makes a short speech. He asks almost all of us where we are from. There was a family from Spain and they said they are Real Madrid fans, and then there was a Mexican family. And, me of course, from India. So, it was a very multicultural crowd. Jerry cautions us though “Do not share the secrets that I will be divulging to you guys to either of Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool or those idiots down the road!” (If you know what he means)
11:15 AM - We make our way up a flight of stairs, and into the director’s box, and on the way I push a woman, in excitement! (Sorry Maám). The first view of the pitch is simple breathtaking. I can still remember that moment vividly. The director’s box is pretty huge, seats I forgot how many, but they literally are the best seats in the house. The best view and most comfy. Jerry tells us opposition directors come often and they sit here alongside the Arsenal directors of course. Plus celebrities and former legends too. He points to a couple of flower pots at the entrance of the director’s box and tells that the colors are changed according to the home colors of the opposition.
He also tells that conferences, events and even weddings can be hosted at the Emirates. And I murmur into my sister’s ears “I am getting married here, no matter what”, and she responds with a facepalm. And here are a few photo’s of course.
11:35 AM - I take more pics, and more pics, while Jerry goes beserk with Arsenal facts and traditions. His voice is getting kind of compounded with vaccum cleaners. (The stadium was undergoing cleanup, ahead of the Emirates Cup). I hear some things about the tea lady, and stuff. And then he tells about all the years marked around the stadium. He talks fondly about the 1971 and 1989 teams, and then points out to the numbers ’2005′, and tells “That’s the last trophy we won, and definitely not the least!”
11:40 AM – The tour of the director’s box is done, and right outside it, is the last league title we won, encased. I take a photo with that beautiful piece of silverware.
11:42 AM - Now we are taken to the basement, where the players enter before games in their flashy cars, of course. There are photos all around of famous title wins, among others. The photos are self-explanatory I suppose.
11:45 AM - Close by, Jerry takes us to the very foundation of Emirates Stadium, where the first brick was layed, and there is an inspiring quote on the wall, with the backdrop of the crest. “The Deeper the Foundations, the stronger the fortress!” Also, there is a time capsule next to it. The stuff that’s there inside it are, the 2003/2004 home shirt signed by Patrick Vieira, the 1989 away shirt, some Highbury grass, commentary from the 1989 game, a complete video of Arsenal’s history, another signed shirt by Tony Adams, Charlie George’s hair (really, yes ), among others. It was something remarkably unique.
11:50 AM - The tour of the basement done, we are then taken to the player’s dressing rooms. The way to the dressing rooms is a narrow passage way, and on both sides of the walls are images of Arsenal’s glorious past. The room is pretty dark, to really give the players that vibe I suppose. And right before the entrance, there is a huge cannon entrenched on the wall.
11:55 AM - We are in the dressing room, and it really is sinking in now. Jerry makes all sit like players, as he takes a manager’s stance like we are facing Manchester United in 20 minutes, and all of us look knackered. Anyways, Jerry tells us that the home dressing room is specially designed using feng-shui crystals, to give the players positive vibes. It was Arsene Wenger’s idea. He tells us that the flooring and the lighting are all designed in a special way, so as to really send across the energy to the players. And, the funny part is the away dressing room is exactly the opposite. The flooring is purposely slippery, and the room is designed to give negative vibes. I hope Wayne Rooney, Samir Nasri and Emmanuel Adebayor slip soon and break their metatarsals or something. He then asks us a question “Apart from that what is special about the way the shirts are kept?” And, me being the Arsenal genius that I am, correctly answer, “They are placed in order of goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders, forwards, and then subs.” “Bang on, son” comes the reply. At this point, I am really hoping he gifts me a jersey or something, but alas. He is not so nice afterall
There is also a tactics board, and in the centre of the dressing room is a desk of towels, specially scented or something, for vibes again. There is also Arsene’s office, nearby, out of bounds, though. Now, for some pics, of course.
12: 15 PM - And finally, the moment to go on to the pitch has arrived. Supreet Kini takes his place in the tunnel, alongside the rest of the Arsenal team.
12:17 PM – And then as I am about to enter the pitch, that cruel tour guide Jerry blurts out “The playing surface is out of bounds”. “Fuck!” I think! I get to sit on Arsene’s seat, and then take a pic with a young fellow, who looks like the next Niklas Bendtner. Jerry tells us about the seats, specially designed for comfort, and that the Emirates provides the best leg space in the Premier League, and all that. The pitch is also great it seems, awarded numerous times. I really forgot the rest of it.
12:25 PM – Pitchside done, the next destintation is the press room. The Emirates has the press room in the league (Fuck yeah!) with 350 seats, and the journalists absolutely love it! Jerry then takes a dig at the Sp*rs! He tells us “Now I am going to show you all a video of Sp*rs glorious past!” Everyone is like “What?” And he turns off the light for a second and he’s like “Oops, did you miss it?” Good old British humor. Never dies. And then of course, the pics.
12: 40 PM - And, with that, the stadium tour almost ends. Jerry takes us to the club store, Armoury, and also tips us off saying that we can take the self-guided tour of the Arsenal Museum after that. I buy myself a nice book for 16 bucks, the “A to Z of Arsenal – The Arsenal Encyclopedia”. The club store is massive, and here are more pics for you.
1:05 PM - The stadium tour is finally done. Well almost. I insist on visiting the Arsenal museum, but clearly we all are hungry, so we head off to the nearest KFC.
2:30 PM - At the Arsenal museum. This is a fantastic place. All of Arsenal’s trophies are here, as well as a lifelike statue of Charlie George’s famous FA Cup 1971 sliding celebration. There’s the piece of the centre-pitch from the last game at Highbury against Wigan (My sis claims she is a Wigan fan), and millions of famous Arsenal quotes. It is just extraordinary. It took us an hour to negotiate this, though I have featured very few pics below.
15:20 - It is finally over. The greatest day of my life, surely! I will be back soon, and hopefully I will get to watch the team in action.
15: 30 - Adios, Islington, till next time! At the Arsenal tube station.
I hope you enjoyed reading my experience at the Emirates, as well as the pictures! Do tell me what you think below.
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