When people think of Archibald Leitch, they conjure memories of some of the great northern football grounds including Anfield, Old Trafford, Hillsborough, Villa Park and even Ibrox and Celtic Park in Scotland. Personally, I only knew of him for his work on Anfield and The Kop for many years. It wasn’t until I began exploring the grounds of the north that I came to realise his impact on the beautiful game in the U.K. Leitch passed away in 1939 at the age of 73 yet his legacy lives on today through his grand designs.
For me, one of Leitch’s grandest accomplishments was The Arsenal Stadium in Highbury. Whilst the famous Art Deco style didn’t come until after the original construction, it still an amazing design. Originally built in 1913 for a princely sum of £125,000 (£11.3 MILLION in today’s terms), The Arsenal Stadium became a landmark design for its time. In the 1930’s, the ground as we kind of still know it today due to its listing was designed by Claude Ferrier and William Binnie at a collecting cost of £300,000! The Art Deco style would become synonymous with the London club until May 7 2006 when the last ever match was played at The Arsenal Stadium, or, Highbury as most of us affectionately know it by. It was a shame to see Arsenal leave such a beautiful stadium behind. Having been to The Emirates a few times now, I still can’t believe Arsenal moved out of Highbury. I know it’s all about money but Arsenal haven’t looked like winning a title since the move to their new home.
Highbury became affectionately known as “The Home of Football” with the passing of Father Time.
My only regret is not going to Highbury when I had the chance in the early 2000’s. One of my greatest regrets to this day.
A couple of years ago, I decided to take a wander down to Highbury and was blown away to find the heritage listed East & West stands still in place at the newly named “Highbury Square” residential development that included over 700 appartments. Times had changed yet the remnants of a wonderful English football ground still stood firm. It was a nice touch to see. Where the old pitch is, lay security gates that lead to a decorated parkland which is also a nice touch considering the developers could have easily dumped even more appartments in the middle of it all. To buy into the development, you can acquire a block for around £800,000!
I spent a good deal of time wandering around the complex. Despite there being no ground to watch football at, it was kind of quirky to think about what used to go on in the years and decades before. One also gets a slight feeling of sympathy for the Arsenal supporters who used to frequent The Arsenal Stadium. At one juncture, I bumped into an older gentleman who spoke of his time growing up in the area and going the match back in the 1950’s & 60’s. If I recall, his name was Allen and he went to The Emirates just the once over 10 years ago and he hated the experience as a whole. Too many ignorant football club owners today put their ego’s and money ahead of the traditions of the beautiful game and, as a consequence, the genuine football supporters are often the first to suffer. People like Allen are pushed aside for progress yet, without the Allen’s of this world, the game wouldn’t be what it is today.
Days like this do make me wonder what will happen in the coming decades? How many more beautiful old fashioned stadiums will be brushed aside in the name of progress? How many more clubs will be pushed to the point of extinction? Many of the modern grounds are soulless bowls that all look the same, feel the same and are, more often than not, surrounded by B&Q, Tesco and IKEA superstores. Food vans, for many decades, run by local families are being replaced by Pizza Hut and McDonalds chain stores whilst there is even continued talk of match day programmes being cast aside due to a decrease in popularity.
There is some solace mind. Many non-league football grounds have remained relatively unchanged over the years. Predominantly because many of them don’t have the funds to upgrade. It’s the charm of standing on an unchanged terrace at these smaller clubs that has excited me more and more in recent years. That along with respectable and reasonable ticket prices. Either way. I dearly hope all the non-league clubs continue to survive for many moons to come. In an era where more and more traditional English grounds are being swallowed up by tourist dollars and incredibly greedy, money driven players, it’s nice to still be able to take a stroll around what is left of Highbury or spend a Saturday afternoon down at a local non-league club where you can still stand with your mates and not pay a fortune for a pie and a drink.
It’s quite sad that we no longer have Highbury with us as a competitive stadium. There really isn’t a great deal of difference in watching a match at either The Emirates or The Etihad. They are both lifeless and lacking character but that is the world we are now living in and no matter how many times we pine for days gone by, they simply aren’t coming back any time soon. When I see players today earning upwards of £150,000 a week and kissing badges weeks before moving to “bigger” clubs, I just shake my head and think to myself, how did we get it all so incredibly wrong?