My Highbury windows
Pre-game, Arsenal v Stoke, 2nd February 2013.
For once I wasn’t timing it down to the minute: departing home on my bicycle at 2.15pm, knowing it would take 36 minutes from front door to one of the lampposts right by the stadium and five more minutes to my seat. Instead, it was the Piccadilly Line from town and so time had to be left for things to go wrong but they didn’t and at 2:20pm I was already outside Arsenal station. I thought first about swinging left towards Avenell Road but really it was the old West Stand that for me held greater resonance.
Two weird looking flats occupy the gap in the terraces (housing not football) where I first entered the West lower for Arsenal v Man City on 14th October 1989. The roofs are in harmony with those round them, the fronts not. Further up the road the old West Upper entrance retains its resplendent deep red. I ventured to peer into the apparently gated community and as I did the gate opened for a resident on their way out. And so I made my way in.
And for ten minutes I stood at one end of the old pitch, a wind mildly howling an appropriate soundtrack to the swirling of the memories. Hundreds of inscrutable windows staring out towards the grass but in my mind almost an advent calendar of growing-up watching Arsenal, an experience that was rarely in the same seat twice.
There was a window for that City game that I’d gone to with the brother I still sit next to and the father no longer around.
There was a window for every season. One high in the East lower for the 3-0 win over Liverpool that Benji’s family took me to in December of the following year. One back in the West lower but right up against the North Bank this time for Ian Wright finally breaking the Spurs resistance on a cold Sunday late in 1991, one for Sheffield Wednesday in front of the mural, one almost at pitch level for that famous win over PSG on a barmy April night 15 months later, one just behind where I was now standing for that dreadful 1-1 in February with Leicester that was to be George Graham’s last ever game, one way over the other side in the East Lower paddock just six months later for day one of the Dennis Bergkamp era.
One back in the North Bank for Patrick Vieira’s fantastic first for Arsenal v Derby a year later, one for the woeful 0-0 draw with Port Vale in 97-98 that was a world away from what was to come months later, one back home in the West Lower for Kanu v Villa and final day disappointment in 98-99, and next to it Kanu again and his shimmy v Deportivo in 99-00. One in the West Lower paddock for routine victory over Bradford in the season that followed and one for that day exactly 11 years ago when against Southampton on 2nd February, we failed to win in the league for the last time that season.
One in the North lower for defeat to Sunderland in the League Cup on the night Robert Pires returned, so very many for events of the following season: in the North Upper with Richard when the stand swayed as Henry destroyed Liverpool, in the West Upper when people looked at each other in wonderment as he annihilated Leeds. Thierry Henry was behind a lot of my Highbury windows.
One for that one last hurrah of the Invincibles, the 49th game v Villa, arguably the purest of that team’s performances. And one last window in the North Lower for the same opposition in April 2005 to see Abou Diaby steer in my final Highbury goal.
And by the time I’d been through all those windows it was time to depart our old stadium for the new, where one snippet of team news was the return to the side of the very same Abou Diaby, the only one of the current playing staff to have graced that old place in the red and white.