A Night At The Emirates by Rohan Blair-Mangat

Arsenal 1-0 Liverpool (Wednesday, 10 February, 2010)
James Curtis caught up with Rohan Blair-Mangat to talk all things Arsenal, after his short film, A Night at the Emirates (over 115,000 views) , became a hit on YouTube.
As a boy I saw most of my live football at Upton Park because of my East End family, although I made it quite clear when Arsenal visited who I supported by wearing full red and white kit in the Bobby Moore stand.
Upton Park never gripped me like Highbury used too. This season I went to Stamford Bridge for the first time and I felt a deadpan atmosphere around the ground.
There is something charismatic and charming about the Emirates which your film caught very well. What do you think that is?
The focus of my film was the Arsenal fans and I think the special atmosphere in the film comes from the fact that they carry the club’s history and traditions with them. I also think that night time games seem to have a magical quality and sense of excitement to them and that adds to the film.
The Emirates has been the most significant move in Arsenal’s history, after signing Arsene Wenger of course.
How have game days changed since moving from Highbury round the corner to Ashburton Grove? Have they?
The experience outside the ground is larger now than in Highbury days as there are more stalls, burger bars and landmarks on the way to the game. I particularly like the massive Arsenal sign and the cannons. I still prefer the more intense atmosphere within Highbury and the different identities of the stands, but at the same time more fans can enjoy the games at the Emirates and the view is a lot better. I’m interested to see what happens when the club brings back the North Bank and if that influences the atmosphere at all.
Your film really touches on the small things: the burger bars, merchandise stools, the canons, Arsenal station, the steps and bridge to the Emirates, the man smoking a cigar outside an Arsenal members club, the large white bearded man selling Arsenal player portraits.
One stool is selling the Arsenal Away Boyz album. I can’t think of any other football team with their own band.
The Arsenal Gate coffee shop really hit me though. It made me think about the other shops and businesses prided on Arsenal, just take a walk down Blackstock road – Arsenal wines, Arsenal hairdressers, Arsenal pizza etc …
Do you think it is the sense of community that makes the Emirates seem so special?
I wanted to try capturing the things fans see when they go to games, the small things that the TV coverage doesn’t pick up on. Despite the fact that we have a modern stadium and corporate presence, the roots of Arsenal are still there and the community is still there. That’s why I think it was a great decision to stay in the area and also to keep the Highbury structure. Arsenal fans are very passionate and that shows when walking around the area before a game.
Where is the place to have a pre-match pint?
I personally like El Comandante (formally the Lord Palmerston) because it’s close to the ground, has a great atmosphere and is quite laid back.
The Liverpool game came immediately after the devastating 2-0 defeat to Chelsea. Your film zoomed in on a newspaper with a headline about Arsenal finding their backbone again. Arsenal won on the night 1-0. Since then we have beaten Sunderland, Stoke, Burnley and West Ham, bridging the gap at the top of the table to just two points.
Presuming Arsenal have a backbone, will they now carry on to win the Premier League?
Arsenal are more than capable of winning the Premier League and I really believe that if we could have picked up a few points against Man U and Chelsea we would be walking away with it now. It’s nice to see a return to the aggressive pressing we displayed at the beginning of the season when we started so well.
Can they win the Champions League?
The Barcelona tie will be very difficult, but on our day we can beat anyone and I think that we have a good chance of winning this year.
Your film shows a clip of the clock from the old Highbury Clock End. There is talk about it being brought inside and the stand names being given back to the Highbury ones.
Nobody would argue with that, but are you a man of tradition or are you happy with Arsenal’s ground being called the Emirates?
At first I was horrified when I heard that the ground was to be named the Emirates Stadium, but over the years I’ve grown a bit more used to it. Although we need the money from the naming rights I am looking forward to the stadium being renamed.
So, you’re hoping it will one day become simply Ashburton Grove?
On the outside of the Emirates your film captures the huge boards with former legends, like Ian Wright, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Tony Adams.
Will we see Cesc Fabregas up there one day, if you know what I mean?
Over the years Cesc has come to embody Arsenal and I’m sure he’ll be up there one day. Like all Arsenal fans I’m not looking forward to the day when he returns to Spain, but I can understand why he would want to and I think that he will be an Arsenal player for a good few more years before he leaves.
Who from the rest of the current squad has it in them to be remembered as a legend? I didn’t see Sol Campbell up there?
I think that Vermaelen is a future captain and legend and it’s surprising how old he is. I also think that Song and Eboue are also starting to build a legendary status at the club and for me Song has been our best performer this season. To me Sol is already a legend and I would love to see him up there too.
Inside the Emirates we see the red and white scarves furiously waving when Abou Diaby scores the only goal. They have really become iconic.
At one point, Steven Gerrard comes to take a corner and a fan can be heard saying; “I can’t boo him.” Very polite! It sums up what people probably think of Arsenal, what with the ‘library’ tag we have been given.
Do you think the sometimes passive atmosphere has anything to do with touted tickets, because you purposely filmed one sticker on a pole reading “touting tickets is a criminal offence”?
I don’t really think that the touted tickets contribute to the passive atmosphere; however, I do think high-ticket prices have maybe excluded some of the more passionate supporters. Since my early experiences at Highbury I have noticed that in some cases a different type of fan has emerged at Arsenal games with the increased space for corporate seats and also the kudos Wenger’s football has earned has attracted people who support the club because it’s seen as fashionable.
I was at Porto and at West Ham, and the atmosphere was rocking. What do you think is the true depiction of the Arsenal fan?
My main motivation behind making the film was the fact that I was fed up hearing the media and other fans reaction to Arsenal fans and the Emirates atmosphere. TV coverage of Arsenal home games is very misleading and doesn’t represent the match day experience at all. I actually think Arsenal fans stand up very well against fans of other clubs and I wanted to show that in my film. There is a strong sense of history, community and tradition at Arsenal and the fans have translated that to the Emirates from Highbury.
Rohan spoke before the Birmingham game. He had travelled to the Midlands on Saturday with the intention of making a sequel. Unfortunately and unjustly, his camera was confiscated by police until after the game. More overbearing and domineering scumbags to add to a list including Howard Webb!

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