Was Leaving Highbury A Bad Deal For Arsenal?

By Daniel Cowan
In Arsenal
Apr 20th, 2016

Emirates Stadium vs Napoli

If you were to ask Arsenal supporters what their worst moment as a fan of the club was I suspect most answers will fall under the tenure of Arsène Wenger. The man is a hot topic at the moment – the moment being the last 8 years, although it could be argued the discord has never been felt more keenly than this season.

It is natural to have an array of low points to choose from when the highs have been so lofty. Arguably most of Arsenal’s greatest highs have been overseen by Wenger and such successes raises expectations to a level where anything less is a form of failure. In addition, any random 20 year period is going to have a few low points, it just so happens Wenger can fill a 20 year period all by himself. As such, the ravages of time aren’t necessarily directly linked to the manager, nor are they definitively separate.

Ask Manchester United fans what their worst moment was and I’d be shocked if most didn’t say finishing 7th under Moyes. Older fans should know better but as much as we all crow about history, for most fans, it is a feather in the cap of recency. The here and the now, the recent past, these are things the average football fan brag or commiserate over. We are a short-termist society. We cannot effectively troll Chelsea fans over their dismal season, even in comparison to ours, because they won the title last year and we’ve not won one in 12. Liverpool fans will retort with how many European Cups they’ve won when any rival fan tries to rib them about their almost 30 year title drought. We’ll claim they live off past glories yet laud our own. Football fans are walking bags of contradictions swathed in hypocrisies. We revere history yet dismiss it readily when it doesn’t suit the narrative of our own crowing or complaining.

This bias towards the recent means many of us will list a number of failures under Wenger as our worst moments and confuse it as an anomalous diversion on the gold paved journey of Arsenal Football Club and not see it for what it is, part of football. Might we have done better under a different manager? It’s a possibility but not a certainty and in 30 years time our worst moments list will undoubtedly look quite different.

I determine my worst moments in football by how they made me feel. The 2011 League Cup final. Bradford. Villa Park 1999. Old Trafford 2005. Paris 2006 still pains me. Old Trafford away this season will rankle for a few years. My worst moment wasn’t result related though. It was the day I realised I’ll never see Highbury again.

I love the Emirates, I think it is a world-class, modern stadium and the sight of that immaculate green carpet always sets my nerves a-tingling but Highbury was special. I believed it was necessary to move and you see now how other clubs are following suit. We’re always saying how the fans are the bedrock of the club, well, an increased capacity stadium shows that the club agrees. Frustratingly the Emirates is often dubbed ‘the soulless bowl’, in my experience usually by people who add nothing to the atmosphere themselves. That’s a discussion for another article though. The food is awful and overpriced but there is little I find wrong with it except for how bad of a deal our London rivals are making it look.

Sp*rs seem to be getting a lot more bang for their buck and West Ham have found a diamond encrusted turd and convinced everyone they’re doing them a favour by taking it away for free – after all, a turd is a turd.

I can only congratulate West Ham on securing such a favourable contract, if it were Arsenal I’d be over the moon. However, as an Arsenal fan and taxpayer it pisses me off royally. We’ve toiled away to pay for our stadium and West Ham are effectively being allowed to squat. Our taxes paid for the Olympic Stadium to be built and now we’re paying lion’s share of the renovations and aren’t far short of letting West Ham use it for free.

The annual rent for West Ham is £2.5m. Assuming an average ticket price of just £30 they’ll pay their rent in less than 135 minutes of football. Before the whistle goes for half time in their second home game their rent will have been paid for.

Our ‘rent’ is the £20m interest and capital repayment we pay annually on the stadium. West Ham’s annual stadium cost is 12.5% of ours. Now, of course there will come a time when Arsenal pay nothing on their stadium but £2.5m is nominal for a Premier League club and it will halve if West Ham are ever relegated. Arsenal may have the highest match day revenue but their stadium cost is 20% of that.

West Ham, not factoring in any games outside of the Premier League despite Arsenal’s 20% being for 24 games+, will have a matchday around £35m, although some predict will get close to or beat Tottenham’s current of around £43m. Their current matchday revenue is £18m so they will effectively pay £2.5m for an extra £15m to their bottom line. That’s some scheme.

Arsenal’s income still dwarfs this but it is a further shortening of the gap that Arsenal toiled to create. It’s no wonder so many supporters are unhappy with Arsenal. We took on 10 years of financial hardship and just as we get out of it we find that the rest of the league have pulled away or are catching up fast. We left Highbury for what?

I know why we left Highbury and it’s a decision I still agree with but I also understand why so many question the decision. Tottenham have managed to catch up with a smaller stadium. West Ham are hovering just outside of the top four with a smaller stadium. Could we have waited as long as they have and be in a better position?

Possibly what annoys me most of all is we’ve been hamstrung for so long and the figures we’ve lost in the boardroom that are lamented as the reason we’ve lost the competitive football mindset in the boardroom and ability to negotiate on the transfer market are the ones who brokered the Emirates deal.

Wenger is supposedly missing the nous and deal-making skills of Dein and Fiszman yet both of these figures featured heavily in the financing of Ashburton Grove. In fairness to Dein he wanted us to take over Wembley in a similar deal to West Ham at the Olympic Stadium so certainly he cared more for the pragmatic approach to revenue generation than the creation of a legacy like some other directors.

When you look at the deals going down for new stadiums it’s hard not to feel like we drew the short straw. We have the better facilities but will that be the case once Tottenham open their stadium? It’ll be close.

We lost a lot of history when we left Highbury. The plan was we’d struggle for a bit but would then be in a position to compete or dominate. Domination seems like a childish dream right now and even the notion of a sustained yearly challenge looks to be fading away. We’ve a world-class stadium but look further from filling it with a world-class team and the fruits of their labour than we did when we left the real home of football.

Arsenal sacrificed a lot to build their stadium and was it worth it? A few seasons ago I would have said unequivocally, yes. Building the stadium was the right thing to do but I can’t help feeling we sold ourselves a little cheaply to get it done and struggled for longer than was necessary. We may yet realise the vision the club had when we moved stadiums but right now we look like a long distance runner who pushed themselves to the limit only to hear the pounding feet of their slower paced rivals growing louder behind them.

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About "" - 500 Posts

I am a South London born Gooner now living in Leigh-On-Sea, Essex. I'm a husband, daddy, podcaster, trainer enthusiast and aspiring author. My work is my passion and for that I will always be grateful. Here is where I write my thoughts and views on Arsenal Football Club, the greatest team the world has ever seen.

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