The Emirates is huge.
As you make your way across the Ken Friar Bridge, passing the pictures of Cesc Fabregas, Patrick Vieira and Charlie George, you come to a set of stairs that lead down to the stadium. You are immediately confronted with the amazing sight of the front of the stadium. There is a giant Arsenal symbol that looks out over the bridge. To each side of the symbol the backs of greats such as Parlour, Henry, Brady and Bastin standing in a line provide an impressive, classy title.
Immediately you know you are in for a treat in North London today.
As an Arsenal fan you are filled with pride at this stadium whose exterior and interior is arguably one of the best in England. As a neutral or even a hater of the Gunners, one cannot help feel respect and admiration over this magnificent monument. The Emirates, which has a capacity of 60,361, is one of the biggest grounds in England, which is epitomized as the line for the nearby toilets stretch far out the door.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
As you enter the stadium, no matter which entrance, A-Z, there is a canteen within a short distance. The only problem is due to the amount of people the stadium attracts inevitably the queues are large. Although the Emirates is classy and posh, the food at the canteen fails to reflect this, however few are complaining.
It is the typical stadium food ranging from pies, chips, hot dogs crisps and sweets. Although the prices are expensive with Ł6.25 hot dogs, it does the job for a day at the Emirates, and there is no shortage of good tastes. Arsenal has even created a special hot dog commemorating their recent 125 year anniversary. The addition of maltesers is also a nice touch and provides any sweet tooth with a perfect little snack while watching good football.
There is no shortage of acquiring alcohol with bars prevalent in the stadium. Many fans recommend drinking beforehand as it is pricey. If you have considerable money to splash, then there are restaurants and bars such as the Royal Oak and Woolwich which offer high priced, high quality dining and even buffet. However you are here to watch football so get to it.
Despite the amount of people and size, it is not as noisy as one would expect. Arsenal's previous stadium Highbury, was often nicknamed "Highbury the Library", due to the occasional lack of sound that arose. The Emirates has a similar cathedral air.
As you enter the seating area the first thing that strikes you is the truly amazing quality of the playing field. This pitch, which is scattered with groundsmen who all look neat and tidy in Arsenal jackets whilst clutching pitchforks, is a stunning, lush dark green which does not appear to have a single bump or hint of mud.
After coming to terms with the pitch, you are then hit with the true size and atmosphere of the Emirates. There are four stories of seats which by kick off are almost all filled. There are many banners scattered around and one that catches the eye is a large red one with the writing "Class is Permanent, Arsenal Forever". This stadium is class, the seats all shine magnificently; this is pure, expensive class at its best.
None the less, there is a general buzz around the ground as the substitutes warm up with the groundsmen carefully prodding at various patches of the pitch to ensure it is in tip top condition for kick off. It still takes a while to take in the stadium but as the two large video screens on either end of the stadium begin to blare inspirational music as highlights of Arsenal goals' ranging from the 70's to now is shown, the aura lifts and one gets the feeling something special may happen.
From the bottom floor, the corporate and executive boxes look flash whilst the top story has seats stretching right back to positions that make you wonder how small the players must seem.
The commentator enthusiastically shouts the starting eleven and the crowd responds with an equally emphatic cheer as each player's name is read. Sitting almost directly in line with the halfway line, eight rows back from the base of the pitch, it is a great view and it intensifies the beauty of the playing field.
As the players run out to a huge cheer and the match kicks off, I cannot help but feel that the size of the stadium does diminish the intense, close up atmosphere that can be achieved at the smaller stadiums which are right up to the pitch. Although it is a magnificent spectacle, there is the lacking aura that a stadium such as White Hart Lane or Elland Road may produce.
Chants such as "Oh We Love You Arsenal, We Do" and "Come on Arsenal, Come on Arsenal" arise as the game wears on but, in truth, it does not reflect or mirror the amount of fans that have turned out.
Rarely is there a full stadium chant with usually small sections of the crowds chanting.
North London has parts that are pretty and convenient particularly near the ground. The walk to the stadium is an easy stroll with much to keep your eyes interested. In terms of pre match food there is lots to offer. There is a considerable number of barbeque fans selling burgers, chips, sausages and drinks as you make your way towards the stadium and also coming off the tubes. It creates a tantalizing, rich smell that generally improves the footballing atmosphere.
There are renowned nearby pubs such as the Drayton Arms and Twelve Pins alongside Blackstock and the Seven Sisters which all provide a suitable place to enjoy banter, watch other games and generally soak up pre game or post game atmosphere. Most have wifi which is a nice bonus.
The Arsenal fans are frustrated. They frustrate easily and turn on the players for their poor finishing and poor passing. But there is no denying they are dedicated, proud and love it when the football is good and the goals are scored.
It's not easy supporting the Gunners, the amount of ball and the quality of players never ensures a win, alongside the lingering burden of six seasons without silverware, has evidently gotten to the Arsenal faithful. Never the less, they keep turning up and praying for goals, as the lady beside me did despite her frustrations.
They are certainly not the loudest bunch but when they want to be heard to lift or praise their team they certainly will and at times in the matches there was the occasional full stadium bellow of "Come on Arsenal" which was an awesome feel to be a part of and appeared to lift the team.
There was no real hatred or blood to the visitors and there certainly isn't a dangerous or unwelcoming feel. Everyone is eager and chatty, willing to talk about the team or share the current live scores.
Due to the size of the stadium, Arsenal are able to manage many toilet locations and many canteens. Despite this, there are still massive queues for both. As expected the toilets reflect the class of the Emirates with bright, shiny interior. However the long trough makes an awkward, and crowded experience.
In terms of getting to the ground, it is not overly difficult. The nearby stations are Arsenal Tube Station, Finsbury Park on the Piccadilly Line and Highbury & Islington on the Victoria Line. These are all within walking distances to the Emirates and it is by no means a hard walk. There is no shortage of Arsenal fans so it is simply a turn and follow.
However, parking is a nightmare and is thoroughly not recommended near the stadium as it is virtually impossible. A tip for fans who are driving is to look for parking around Stoke Newington, which is either free or relatively cheap, no more than five pounds, and then enjoy a walk to the Emirates which passes bars and eating joints such as Nandos.
Ticket prices are expensive. There is no denying this and they can be hard to acquire. However, there were scalpers selling tickets moments before the game for around 40-60 quid. This is a stadium that all football fans and sport fans in general should come to and watch football.
It is huge, classy and boasts a magnificent, state of the art pitch that was meant for English Premier League Football. Arsenal consistently plays exciting, interesting football and there are plenty of food and drink options in and around the stadium. Although it is a packed house and queues are a given, this stadium is one of the best in England.
I guarantee it will be a memorable, fun and safe experience that will stay with you forever, particularly if Arsenal wins.
It is worth coming to the Emirates to see the amazing pitch. As you enter the seating area the first thing that strikes you is the truly amazing quality of the playing field.
Arsenal's pitch could easily be considered the best in England. There is also the Arsenal shop which is located just under the Ken Friar Bridge and is huge, offering lots of Arsenal souvenirs, shirts, clothing, dvds, games, books, the lot and is a must see for the Arsenal fans. The Arsenal museum is literally ten seconds from the front of the Emirates too.
Overall the Emirates is a stadium you should visit.
**Photos courtesy of Robert Campion of All Roads Lead Somewhere
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