OUR NEW HOME – TWO AND A HALF YEARS ON

 
Having sworn off further transfer speculation for the duration of this window, I thought I’d have a look at our new home after two and half seasons “in situ”.
Walking up to the ground for the first match, Dennis Bergkamp’s testimonial was a strange experience. I’d been gifted a seat in the Club zone so a mate had my seat. All very swank but the service was awful. To be expected I suppose as the staff were finding their way around too. The air conditioning was welcome on a warm afternoon.
It was a bit like moving into a new house or flat after ages living anywhere else. Saying goodbye to Dennis was special. Such a great servant for our club.
The first time in my own seat was Aston Villa at home. Again, very much like a new home, not quite sure where everything is and the place had that unfinished look. To be expected really in the rush to get it open. I decided to sample the catering for a few games. Despite all the promises and hype, the service was still dismal, the prices astronomical. The quality of the food was better but not equal to the hype. Does anybody really expect us to believe that the pies are “hand-made”? Do me a favour.
After a while the place started to seem more and more like home. Somebody said to me a few games in. “It’s got no history”. Of course it hadn’t! It’d only been open two minutes! The first time the place really rocked as the late come-back win against United. Our new home was starting to build up its history.
Fast forward two and a half seasons and the Grove now feels like home. I know where everything is I will always carry wonderful old Highbury in my heart. It’s where I grew up. I look forward to a good few seasons more of (hopefully) great memories.
So let’s give our glamorous new home the once over from a few different angles:
ARCHITECTURE/LOOK
It’s top quality modern stadium architecture, no doubt about that. It does veer perilously close to upmarket airport style though. A bit on the anonymous side for my taste. I was looking for something iconic like the asymmetrical steel girders of the “Birds’ Nest” Olympic Stadium in Beijing,  the circular towers that support the third tier and roof at the San Siro in Milan or the exterior neon lighting that makes the Allianz Arena in Munich look so spectacular. The lighting changes from red when Bayern are at home, to blue when 1860 Munich plays there to white when the German national team is in town. All these features mean the ground is instantly identifiable. “Iconic” is an over-used word but it’s what I was hoping for and we haven’t quite managed that.
A sensible decision was taken to build new offices for the club rather than try and fit them into the new ground. The building is a bit cut-price naff though. The building looks like the offices of a DIY firm on an industrial estate. Not the classy bit of modern architecture you’d expect the administration of a club like Arsenal to be housed in. The museum is also DEEPLY disappointing. An afterthought and not at all in keeping with our history and traditions.
VIEWS
I’ve sat in the lower tier (for Argentina v Brazil and Yoonited in the Yoof Cup), as well as my usual seat in Block 112 row 14 in the upper tier on the half-way line.
Frankly, the rake in the lower tier is too shallow I think and the front seats are too low, far too low. I imagine both these issues are connected with the restrictions planning permission placed on the height of the building and cost. Disappointing though. I was up and down like a harlot’s under-garments at both games where I sat in the lower tier.
My usual perch in the upper tier is fine but much further up and away from play than my former seat at Highbury. I was eight rows from the front there in Row H of Block C in the centre of the old East Upper, right next to the directors’ box. A blinding view. The equivalent at the Grove would be Club centre block. I didn’t have £19k to lash out on a season ticket for four seasons there. I still think my seat is WELL overpriced at £1,825, even though it hasn’t gone up for four seasons now. The top-priced general admission season tickets were the only ones not increased for this season. I thought with the huge new broadcasting deal the club could have frozen all prices for the duration of this contract at least. I didn’t expect them too. Unfortunately I was right.
The views from the upper tier are fine, if a long way from the pitch at the back.
ACCESS
Not an issue for me as live just around the corner but I’ve heard many tales of what a trial it can be to get away, especially if the Piccadilly Line is playing up which is a frequent occurrence. I was interested to see what would happen with nearly nine thousand visiting fans for the Plymouth Argyle FA Cup game, the first time the Grove has had so many visiting supporters. From what I saw it seemed to go off OK, despite the visitors arriving in eighty coaches.
CATERING
Can’t comment on the posh catering as I’ve never experienced it on a matchday. I was at the shareholders’ lunch held before the official opening of the ground. That way very tasty and the wine-list wasn’t bad although super-pricy. I’ve also organised a conference at the Grove and the food was very good, although the prices nearly gave my treasurer a heart-seizure.
Match day catering is miserably slow and horribly over-priced. I simply won’t eat or drink at the Grove unless I absolutely have to having rushed to the ground from a work appointment without being able to eat beforehand. A drop of beer has never passed my lips in the ground. I can’t stand either John Smith’s or Foster’s, two bilious swills I wouldn’t ask Spurs fans to drink. I’m clearly in a minority though as plenty of pints seem to get sunk. The quality of the food has improved but from a VERY low base, and why no bagels? This was a great Highbury innovation that we haven’t bought with us to the Grove.
ATMOSPHERE
Generally pretty much like Highbury. I admire those like REDAction trying to do something about this but it’s an uphill struggle. The prices and shortage of readily available tickets, together with the current legal prohibition on standing areas make this likely to be continuing issue. Likewise the new breed of “spectator” rather than “supporter” which has been bred by football being fashionable and expensive. Like many those that arrive late and leave early give me the pip but it’s a phenomena I fear is here to stay.
IMPROVEMENTS?
Standing areas would be a start. Bayern Munich listened to their fans and replaced 10,500 permanent seats in the lower tier with Kombi seating that can be turned into standing areas for 13,500 for Bundesliga games where standing is permitted. We need both the club and the Government to listen to fans and allow the same here. It wasn’t standing that killed the fans at Liverpool, it was the fences. Allowing standing areas would give fans the choice they clearly want. Nobody standing in a seated area could moan if told to sit down if they had the choice to stand in a properly designed safe area. Prices could be bought down with no loss of income as more can safely be accommodated in a standing area. I can’t believe the stadium couldn’t cope with three thousand more fans.
Re-design the catering areas to allow the staff to freely move around. They’re falling over each other at the moment, which can’t help service times.
Keep on with the “Arsenalisation” of the ground. The red ring with all the club honours on it was a start, but some art in the concourses which aren’t adverts for sponsors would be nice too.
Some would like to lose the naming rights. Personally this isn’t a big issue with me. It’s extra income for the club. The £90 million from Emirates, a lot of it paid up front, was crucial in getting the Grove built. I would prefer no naming rights but I don’t lose any sleep over it.
Keep the faith my fellow Gooners.

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