Tuesday was time to fulfill a promise – we make them at our peril because the trust of our children is bound up in them. When Alasdair declared his decision to be an Arsenal fan a few of years back I was pleased. It had no bearing on his support of Wingate & Finchley and at least he was choosing a local team to support at the professional level. Had I been more into football at his age I would probably have become a fan of Arsenal or Queens Park Rangers. Most of the supporters at Wingate are also fans of a major club – Arsenal, Tottenham and West Ham being some of the local choices from the Premier League. There is, of course, a minor infestation of Manchester United supporters – they can be found crawling out from under stones just about anywhere except Manchester! 😉 One of our supporters even follows a German team in the Bundesliga in preference to a Premier League side. And I’ll hold my hand up and admit to keeping a close eye on The Warriors – Stenhousemuir! Anyway, back to that promise…
In the course of a day out some time ago Alasdair had cunningly twisted me into agreeing to taking him on an Emirates Stadium tour – I can even put a date on the promise – 28th January 2011 because I have the photos to remember it by! ps – he even claims he wasn’t there!!! Like all promises, it went into the back drawer for future reference. Maybe I felt that he was too young at the time or perhaps I was waiting to see how solid his devotion to Arsenal was. Anyway, two and a half years were to pass before I finally booked us on a tour. Stadium tours at The Emirates come in two flavours – walk round with an audio guide or be taken round in a group with an Arsenal Legend. The Legend’s Tour costs quite a bit more than the audio tour. When I booked via the website I took a very deep breath as I clicked the pay button after choosing to join a tour led by Perry Groves – Ouch… Would it prove to be a waste of money?
Tuesday morning dawned bright and sunny and we caught the 263 to Archway where we boarded a 271 down to Holloway Road station. The 271 was an old Trident and clearly would have preferred a lazy day in the depot. Several times it refused to go in gear after stopping to let passengers off. Buses can be quite cantankerous when they want! But we finally alighted at Holloway Road for the short walk to the Emirates Stadium where we had time in hand to take a few outside images and to admire a fantastic blended image of past team photos
The counter staff at the tours entrance were surprised when we arrived for the 12:00 tour as the tours usually start at 13:00! After some confusion it was finally agreed that actually this one would be starting at 12:00 – some change in the way that tours are organised had not been communicated fully to the staff. Sounds like the Manager is not getting the tactical message through to the players 😉 The group of around 30 was escorted through to the Director’s box where we were joined by Perry Groves and the tour started.
Perry Groves’ experience, Knowledge and love of the club came out clearly in his address about the stands and the ground in general. He was open to questions and not afraid to bridge the gap between the fans and what is currently happening at the club; also telling stories of the old days as a way of illustrating the changes over time. As a non-Gooner I found it a pleasure to hear what he had to say as we moved from the Director’s Box via the Diamond Club and down to the dressing rooms and the pitch. The tales he told of the changing room in the days of Jens Lehman were especially amusing – ticking clock vs ticking German 😉 His insight into the necessary state of mind for Aresenal Players and his willingness to talk about the change from the times of George Graham to the Current regime under Arsene Wenger were particularly telling – the hard-nosed ‘must win’ of the past against the ‘ok, so we lost, where’s my Ferrari’ attitude that seems to infect football at the premiership level in all clubs.
The Changing Rooms at the Emirates are different for Home and Away – someting you don’t think about as a fan. The home dressing room is very much like a health spa with all sorts of bathing facilities – and Arsene Wenger apparently was deeply involved at the design stage. The changing room itself is horseshoe shaped – good for general harmony – and is acoustically enhanced so that the manager can speak without needing to raise his voice to be heard. The shape also ensures that no player is able to hide in a corner. Apparently, the floor is made of non-slip materials to prevent injury (it certainly was non-slip for my trainers!). Even the cushions are designed to ensure that bloodflow to the legs is maintained during a half time chat. The Away dressing room on the otherhand is square – to promote disharmony. The lighting is harsher and the floor is normal dimpled lino. No cushions are provided. It’s all about gaining a slight psychological advantage. Don’t be alarmed, all the big clubs are at it! I had to laugh when Perry Groves cited Chelsea as having benches that were very low in their away changing room – clearly they’d nicked the designer of the seats on the Thameslink trains 😉 Perry also cited some other stories of away dressing rooms but I think you should go on the tour to hear them 🙂
Perry also gave lots of details about the pitch and how it is maintained. I love the pitch at Wingate and Finchley but this was better – un-surprising really. Relaid at the start of each season, it is flat along its length and has a slight camber from the centre to each side for drainage purposes. It looks magnificent! Rainwater is also collected from the roof and fed into the drainage system from which water is reused to water the grass, (an idea I have suggested at Wingate & Finchley). And I’m not going to get on the Chairman’s case about how much better their lights are than ours 😉
Tour over, Perry was more than happy to sign the ‘homoerotic images’ of himself playing in the tight shorts of the early 1990’s that were supplied in the gift bags as part of the tour and he also signed Alasdair’s shirt. I then got rushed for a new shirt in the shop with the Addison name on the back and the number 19 – don’t ask me how much that cost unless you’re into seeing grown men cry 😉 Alasdair has nobly agreed that Dad is now due some train photography outings on the basis that I need to destress and get some funds back into the kitty!
Would I recommend the tour? – yes, for the foreign fan the audio tour is good and is probably adequate for ground hopping British fans too. For a diehard Gooner and for any other serious UK football fan you have to opt for the Legend’s Tour for that extra bit of insight that a recording can never impart. I thought Perry Groves was brilliant but I’m sure that the other Legends would be equally entertaining 🙂 Now when are we going to sign up Craig Ellis to do Stadium Tours at Wingate & Finchley 😉