Arsenal Stadium was a football stadium in North London, the home ground of Arsenal Football Club between 6th September 1913 and 7th May 2006. It was popularly known as Highbury, being in that area of London. It was given the affectionate and unofficial nickname of “The Home of Football”, by both fans and the club.
Arsenal Stadium was originally built in 1913 on the site of a local college’s recreation ground. It has since been redeveloped twice, the first in the 1930s (from which the still-existing Art Deco East and West Stands date), and the second in the late 1980 and early 1990s following the Taylor Report, during which the terraces at both ends of the pitch were replaced, reducing the stadium’s capacity. This reduction, coupled with East Stand’s listed building status, has prevented Arsenal from maximising their matchday revenue, so in 2006 the club moved to the nearby and larger Emirates Stadium, constructed by the club as a replacement for Highbury. Since then, Highbury has been undergoing redevelopment to turn it into an apartment complex, with most of the stadium having been demolished, save for parts of the East and West Stands, which are being incorporated into the new development.
As well as being home to Arsenal for over 90 years, the stadium also hosted England matches and FA Cup semi-finals, as well as other sports such as boxing, baseball and cricket. Its presence also led to the local Tube station being renamed to “Arsenal” in 1932, making it the only station on the network to be named after a football club.
At the time of its closure, the stadium consisted of four separate all-seater stands; the pitch was aligned north-south, with the North Bank Stand and South Stand (popularly known as the Clock End) at the ends. The East and West Stands ran alongside the pitch, and are two of the few examples of British football stands designed in the Art Deco style. The East Stand incorporated the club’s offices and was well known for its marble halls, which are often cited in media depictions of the stadium, and the facade that faces onto Avenell Road. The stand is considered architecturally significant enough to have been designated a Grade II listed building.
When it closed, Highbury had a capacity of 38,419 (approximately 12,500 in the North Bank, 11,000 in the West Stand, 9,000 in the East Stand and 6,000 in the Clock End), all seated, and had Jumbotron screens in the south-east and north-west corners. The stadium’s main entrances were on Gillespie Road, Avenell Road and Highbury Hill.
Before the Taylor Report and the era of all-seater stadiums in Britain, both the North Bank and Clock End consisted of terracing, and the stadium often saw crowds of up to 60,000 or more; its largest attendance was 73,295 on March 9th, 1935 when Arsenal played Sunderland; the game finished 0-0.
Arsenal Stadium was well known for its very small immaculately-kept pitch, which measured only 109×73 yards (100×67 metres). Arsenal’s groundsmen, Steve Braddock and his successor Paul Burgess, have won the FA Premier League’s Groundsman of the Year award several times.
The original stadium was built in 1913, when Woolwich Arsenal moved from the Manor Ground in Plumstead, South East London to Highbury, leasing the recreation fields of St John’s College of Divinity for £20,000. The stadium was hurriedly built over the summer of that year, and was designed by Archibald Leitch, architect of many other football grounds of that era; it featured a single stand on the eastern side, and the other three sides had banked terracing. The new stadium cost £125,000. It opened whilst not yet fully complete, with Arsenal’s first match of the 1913-14 season, a 2-1 Second Division win against Leicester Fosse on September 6th, 1913; Leicester’s Tommy Benfield scored the first goal at the new ground, while George Jobey was the first Arsenal player to do so. Highbury hosted its first England match in 1920. Arsenal bought the stadium site outright in 1925, for £64,000.
No significant portion of Leitch’s original stadium remains today, following a series of bold redevelopments during the 1930s. The first of these was the West Stand, designed by Claude Waterlow Ferrier and William Binnie in the Art Deco style, which opened in 1932; the same year, on November 5th, the local Tube station was renamed from “”Gillespie Road” to “Arsenal”. Leitch’s main stand was demolished to make way for a new East Stand, matching the West, in 1936. The West Stand cost £45,000 while the East Stand went far over budget and ended up costing £130,000, mainly thanks to the expense of the facade. The North Bank terrace was given a roof, and the southern terrace had a clock fitted to its front, giving it the name “The Clock End.”
For the next 50 years, the stadium changed little, although during World War II the North Bank terrace was bombed and had to be rebuilt; the roof was not restored until 1956. Floodlights were fitted in 1951, with the first floodlit match being a friendly against Hapoel Tel Aviv on October 17th of that year. Undersoil heating was added in 1964. Unlike at many other grounds, Arsenal refused to install perimeter fencing, even at the height of hooliganism in the 1980s, a decision that saw it struck off the list of eligible FA Cup semi-final venues.
In the early 1990s, the Taylor report on the Hillsborough disaster was published, which recommended that football stadiums become all-seater. The North Bank, which had become home of Arsenal’s most passionate supporters, was demolished in 1992, and a new all-seater stand opened in its place the following year. During the work, a giant mural of fans was placed behind the goal at that end, to give the illusion that the players were kicking towards a crowd rather than a construction site. The mural initially attracted criticism for its absence of black fans, which was quickly rectified. The Clock End meanwhile had been redeveloped, with a roof, seating and executive boxes fitted in 1989.