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New stadium boost for Arsenal

August 18, 2005 12:13 IST

Looking like a flying saucer landed at the bottom of Highbury hill, Arsenal's new stadium will allow the north London club to compete on equal financial terms with Manchester United, if not champions Chelsea.

Arsenal have played at their 38,000 capacity Highbury stadium since 1913.

As money flowed into the game following the establishment of the Premier League, many top sides built out-of-town stadiums or expanded their existing grounds.

The Gunners stayed put, but when the capacity of United's Old Trafford stadium climbed over 60,000 and headed for 70,000, Arsenal directors realised history could not stand in the way of financial necessity and the club had to move.

United take in around 20 million pounds ($36.1 million) a season more than Arsenal in match day revenue, allowing them to buy players like English striker Wayne Rooney for 27 million last year.

Where to move was Arsenal's main problem. There was talk of sharing the new Wembley stadium with the England side and moving out to London's M25 ringroad, yet the club wanted to remain close to its north London roots.

The solution was found just a couple of goal kicks down the hill from the present ground, at Ashburton Grove, a large area of light industrial buildings which included the local council's waste and recycling depot.

The laborious planning process took nearly three years to complete before work on the 357 million pound project started 18 months ago. At a ceremony at the stadium this week, Arsenal directors said work would be finished in August 2006 as planned.


The new 60,000-seater Emirates Stadium will lead to a huge increase in matchday revenue for Arsenal - there will be 150 executive boxes compared with 48 at Highbury, 8,000 more season tickets and 6,700 new "premier seats".

One of the by-products of Highbury's small capacity is that Arsenal have the most expensive season tickets in Europe.

"We have punched above our weight [until now]. This stadium will allow us to compete at the highest level... with the strongest clubs in the world," said director Danny Fiszman.

Manager Arsene Wenger believes it was case of "move or die" and the increased financial muscle supplied by the new stadium can help the Gunners become the biggest club in the world.

"This will increase the potential of the club by 50 percent and bring us up to the level of Manchester United," said Wenger. Chelsea, fuelled by the fortune of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, remain in a financial league of their own, however.

The stadium could also bring in up to 100 million pounds from Dubai-based airline Emirates who bought the venue's naming rights in the biggest sponsorship deal in English soccer history last year.

Before deciding on a design, Arsenal officials looked at about 30 stadiums around the world and they took their cue from the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

The Highbury stadium was renowned for its narrow pitch and something similar is planned at the Emirates where the seats will come down close to pitchside.


"We wanted it to be as tight as it could be to create an atmosphere like Highbury. This will be even tighter than Cardiff," said Fiszman. Spectators will enjoy fully padded seats, a first for a British stadium.

Wenger had a large input into the design of the technical areas in the stadium, including the colour scheme of the dressing rooms and the inclusion of a spa.

Arsenal's experience in building the stadium holds interesting pointers for the organisers of the 2012 Olympics, which will be centred a few miles further east.

Getting planning permission is a laborious business in London and local opposition can slow a project for months if not years - the opening date for the Arsenal stadium was delayed a year by the planning process.

Regeneration was a key part of London's pitch for the 2012 Games and Arsenal's promises to revive an area of north London bordering the A1 road out of the capital helped convince Islington Council to agree to the stadium plan.

More than 2,500 new homes will be created in Islington borough and 2,600 jobs, according to the club, which has also built a new waste centre costing 60 million pounds.

The centre circle of the new pitch will be on the site of the old council dump.


Robert Woodward
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