Monday, December 04, 2006

Stadiums


For the majority of their time in south-east London, Arsenal played at the Manor Ground in Plumstead, a three-year period at the nearby Invicta Ground between 1890 and 1893 excepted. The Manor Ground was initially just a field, but the club installed stands and terracing in time for their first Football League match in September 1893. They played there for the next twenty years, until the move to north London in 1913.

Arsenal Stadium, widely referred to as Highbury, was Arsenal's home from September 1913 until May 2006. The original stadium was designed by the renowned football architect Archibald Leitch, and had a design common to many football grounds in the UK at the time, with a single covered stand and three open-air banks of terracing. In the 1930s, the entire stadium was given a massive overhaul, with new Art Deco East and West stands constructed, and roofs added to the North Bank and Clock End terraces. At its peak, Highbury could hold over 60,000 spectators, and had a capacity of 57,000 until the early 1990s. The Taylor Report and Premier League regulations forced Arsenal to convert Highbury into an all-seater in time for the 1993–94 season, reducing the capacity to just under 39,000 seated spectators. This capacity had to be reduced further during Champions League matches to accommodate additional advertising hoardings, so much so that for two seasons (1998–99 and 1999–00) Arsenal played Champions League home matches at Wembley, which could house more than 70,000 spectators.

Expansion of Highbury was restricted because the East Stand had been designated as a Grade II listed building and the other three stands were close to residential properties whose owners objected to expansion. These limitations have prevented the club from maximising the revenue that their domestic form could have brought in recent seasons. After considering various options, Arsenal decided in 1999 to build a new 60,000-seater stadium at Ashburton Grove (since renamed the Emirates Stadium), about 500 metres south-west of Highbury. The project was initially delayed by red tape and rising costs, but construction was completed in July 2006, in time for the start of the 2006–07 season. The stadium is named after its sponsors, the airline company Emirates, with whom the club signed the largest sponsorship deal in English football history, worth approximately £100 million; however some fans refer to the ground as Ashburton Grove, or the Grove, as they do not agree with corporate sponsorship of stadium names. The stadium will be officially known as Emirates Stadium until at least 2021, and the airline will be the club's shirt sponsor until the end of the 2013–14 season.