The Emirates Stadium, Arsenal
v Dinamo Zagreb, Champions League Qualifying Round
Wednesday, August 23rd, 8.05pm
By Colin Peel
| Through a contact who
keeps two memberships of Arsenal FC, I managed
to see the Champions League Qualifier with
Dinamo Zagreb on August 23, the second
competitive game at the Emirates. The game
wasn't a sell out but
the club did not offer a general sale for the
2,000 or so unsold seats. Going completely
against the Arsenal Travel Plan, I drove to
London and parked on Stroud Green Road, just to
the North of Finsbury Park tube. Before 7pm,
this is pay & display and a max stay of one
hour (making it useless
for day games) but it's unrestricted after 7pm
and, unlike the local side roads, not subject to
residents' parking controls.
Arriving from the North, the Emirates Stadium site is announced by the ugly, unsympathetic 'Highbury House' on Drayton Park, which houses (another) club shop and (another) restaurant built above an access bridge into the site. The bridge brings you out at the North end of the ground, which has much less circulation space than the South end. We took a walk around the stadium perimeter but this turned out to be a mistake as the heavens opened and the absence of cover became apparent. One unusual feature outside the stadium is an austere toilet block on each corner of the site.
When members buy their 'tickets', the right to get in is remotely programmed onto the membership card. The card is slotted in to the turnstile (unlike Manchester City's 'proximity' mechanism) and a green light indicates that the turnstile has been released. Presumably a steward has to intervene if a red light is triggered. This rather unromantic system means that instead of 'getting a ticket', you are simply buying 'access rights' to the game. Since very few games are expected to go to a general sale, and memberships cost at least £30, the system should stop ticket touts in their tracks.
Our seats were in the upper North-East quadrant, an acceptable climb from the lower concourse. The upper concourse is quite spacious, and you are never more than a few yards from a screen showing 'Arsenal TV', the club's in-house channel. There are plenty of catering outlets, but each one serves something different, giving you a choice from bagels (£5), burgers (£4), pizza (£4), pies (an astonishing £4) and beer (£3.20). A nice touch are the counters set up against the external glass walls to rest your food and drink whilst gazing out over the old ground and the gathering crowd.
I'll separate the seating bowl from the roof when describing the stadium. The 'saddleback' shape of the bowl has two main benefits; one is technical in that the highest seats (on the sides and ends) should be no further from the centre circle than the lowest seats in the corner, despite the optical illusion that the corners are nearer, but the other is purely aesthetic. However, in most saddleback stadiums (such as Manchester City and Bolton) the aesthetics are reinforced by the roof following the shape of the stands, whereas the Emirates does the opposite. The complex roof shape slopes in towards the centre from the perimeter ring but also bows downwards at the centre due to the shape of the exposed trusses. Personally, I really dislike it. It also made me wonder how rainfall drains off the roof, especially when water came cascading over the front edge of the North-West roof section in the second-half. Having said that, the clear span of the roof when you are sat beneath it, especially at the ends, is awesome.
Some other points of interest are the unusually large size of the (comfortable) seats, the excellent video screens (assuming you can see them), the almost-total absence of branding in the stadium bowl, ventilation gaps between the bowl and the roof, and a quite excellent PA system which demonstrates how to be perfectly audible without deafening your audience. Sadly for Arsenal the home fans were anything but deafening and were easily outsung by their Croatian visitors.
Getting out was straightforward until hitting the severely congested bridge back over the railway, but this was nothing compared to the crush between here and Arsenal tube station. Nearer Finsbury Park there were some unexplained crowd control measures put in place by the Police but the delays weren't serious and I was back up the M1 in good time.
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