Monday 8th May 2006

I got home around 9pm last night and after dinner my priority was to upload my pictures from a historic and emotional day onto FlickR for the world to see. Photographs for once came before the blog, so here I am some 24 hours after the event, trying to keep my emotions on hold as I write about yesterday. Turning to my notes, I ponder where to begin. Without a shadow of doubt this was the biggest day in my life as a football fan. Yet as an Arsenal fan it meant so much more. Perhaps words cannot truly express how I felt. With the ticket in my hand and the thought of being there as forty thousand people wave goodbye to the stadium. Saturday night I could not sleep, even though it was way past 1am before I actually got into bed. Spending hours slaved in front of the computer preparing for the big day, charging batteries and topping up my Oyster card. Weird dreams of being at Highbury but being ejected by a tough steward just as the celebrations were about to begin. Thankfully I awoke to discover it was all a dream and the magical day had arrived with so much still to play for over ninety minutes. I was apprehensive, rather than excited. The emotions could wait until I was closer to the home of football. I drove my Dad to Gerrard’s Cross and then headed up to Chalfont & Latimer. On route, I found myself stuck behind a white Toyota pickup crawling at 40 miles an hour (in a 60 zone?!) eventually he pulled out of the way and myself and a brand new black Mercedes hit 75 plus trying to make up the lost time. I had been listening to a CD but switched over to the radio. For no reason in particular I switched over to LBC 97.3. A familiar voice from my childhood filled the car and the discussion turned to Arsenal and their departure from their 93 year old home. An elderly gentleman was talking about living near the ground but not being a football fan. Actually further to this he was not really a sports person. His neighbour at the time was the grounds man and on numerous occasions offered him free entry to the stadium but he turned them down. The conversation switched to his confrontations with the police and their demand for him to remove his lorry on match day, he refused being arrested until the thin blue line, banged up the owners of four Rolls Royces across the road. This was 1950 something and the cars were owned by the players. Parking up and walking into the station, I grabbed my phone from my jean pocket and noticed a missed call and text message. It was Chris, I called him back without reading the message. He was early for football, over in Worcester and had a favour to ask. He wanted a match day programme. No problem. Then a voice in the background added, “Signed by Henry!”. I will see what I can do! Chris asked me how I felt but I don’t think I gave him a straight answer. Wishing me a great day, he said goodbye to begin warming up, as I returned to waiting. The tube train was scheduled to arrive at 9.50am, and it arrived perfectly on time. I was on my way to North London but it would be at least ninety minutes before I got there. I text Terry to let him know, sat back and tried to keep my nerves in check and enjoy the ride. Due to engineering works the Metropolitan line was only running to Wembley Park. Here I had to change onto the Jubilee Line to Green Park, then catch the Piccadilly Line up to Arsenal. Rather long winded approach but the most direct route to my team’s spiritual home. My ninety minute estimate was ten minutes out, as I arrived outside the North Bank entrance at 11.10am and called Terry. To my shock there were a big contingent of fans already walking around, taking photos, buying not just one match programme but six. I bought two, from the same person I had bought programmes from in my previous visits this season. Making my way around to the East Stand, I stopped to take photographs of a special “pimped” Rolls Royce. Then, making my way up to the main entrance, I took some further photographs and waited for Terry. On the fourth attempt at calling him, I looked down Avenell Road to see him walking and reaching for his phone, which I quickly disconnected. It was great to see him, on this very special day. We spent the next few hours, walking around the stadium and taking photographs. Then, as I had not see Ashburton Grove, Terry walked me around the corner, where I took some pictures of the Emirates Stadium. It looks amazing but has very big shoes to fill. Took a handful of pictures then walked back towards Highbury. The police presence had grown now and as we walked down Highbury Hill, a policeman and a steward checked our tickets. The copper then asked why we were here so early, I explained it was to soak up the memories. The sun was out now and it was going to be a beautiful memory afternoon for all the right reasons. I was constantly taking photographs, particularly the West Upper Stand entrance, which I would be using to gain access to the ground for the last time. We walked back around, to the East Stand, getting our tickets checked twice. Apparently on those with match tickets should be outside the ground, everyone else was being refused entry, which is a shame for fans who had made the pilgrimage.

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We were told the coach was arriving at 1.30pm, but an hour or so before hand got news via text about the situation with Spurs and food poisoning. Terry rang his friend, who was at home watching Sky Sports News. A statement from the Premier League was due at 1pm. I rang Chris to let him know, he knew nothing about it. He must have been listening to James Blunt instead of tuning into Radio Five Live. Further news was coming in, and the fans around us could not believe if. The match just could not be postponed, it would be a disaster and give our rivals an unfair advantage. We headed back from the Arsenal shop to the main entrance. The shop had been packed and although I had a quick look, there was nothing in there that took my fancy. As we made our way through the crowds, I noticed Faye White (captain of the Ladies team, walk past me) just as the Wigan coach pulled up and the players jump out. The Arsenal coach was on it’s way. I look to my left to see a elderly black lady whom I recognised. He voice was very familiar but her face not as much. It was none other than Eastenders star, Corinne Skinner Carter, standing next to me taking photographs while she waited for the coach to leave. Another famous Gunner! Terry gave it another five minutes, then another five minutes and headed for his seat. He, perhaps, made the right decision. It was quite busy by now and I was quite far from the entrance, with an extremely restricted view, even with my camera waving high above my head. There was a big cheer as you saw the coach, with full police motorcade escort pull around the corner at the top of the road and head down. Really I should not have waited, I did not see any of the players, just shouted out the names with the rest of the crowd. As the coached pulled away, I walked around to the West Stand entrance and braced myself for a roller coaster ride over the next ninety minutes, followed by an ninety minutes of reflection and celebration. Walking up the steps, I took my time to soak up every last drop of the experience, before heading up the final stairs to my block, Z. A steward kindly directed me to my seat. I sat down and grabbed the souvenir of the day, a “I Was There” t-shirt. There was a note that I should put it on and wear for the duration of the match. I decided to put it straight into my bag and instead, while it was relatively quiet to take some photographs. I got talking to a season ticket holder, whom had missed three matches of ArsenĂ© Wenger’s reign. Amazing return over ten years, if you think about it. He offered to take some photographs of me and we continued talking about the new stadium. Then, as more people arrived I took my seat. The stadium was nearly full and the sound being made was truly amazing. The best atmosphere, in the Highbury Library! I could go on with the tale, a full match report and a step by step account of what happened during the closing ceremony. There is no need. Photographs tell a much better story. So I have uploaded them all, 139 in total over to their own set – Highbury – The Final Salute. If you really have time on your hands to browse you can check out the several thousand pictures that other members have uploaded, by searching on the Highbury tag. If you want to know more you can just leave a comment on this blog entry or leave comments on the individual photographs, I will do my best to respond to any questions. To quickly reply to Sriskandh’s (I’ve blog rolled his blog, even though he should update it more regularly!) comments. I did not stay after the closing ceremony, I had to get back as I live outside London and with the tube lines closed, it was a good two hour commute. In terms of Henry, Pires and Cole on the centre circle at the end? I am not too sure. Should Henry stay, should he go? I do not know. All I can say is that moments on Sunday afternoon I was not watching a human being, I was watching a god, a living legend. A hero if you will. A hero to thousands, no millions of people. Looking back over the weekend, it has been all about heroes. Amazing how we can idolise one person, one man on screen and on a pitch. Sure, they are just the same as you and me, of flesh and blood. Yet, they have been blessed with a gift from heaven, which enables them to entertain an audience and make them call their name! A quick round up on other events away from football, Islington and record breaking French international strikers. As we knew already, Mighty Mouse has officially retired from blogging. He just does not have the time these days but will continue to update his project page and gallery with photographs. For this reason I will for the time being (even if purely for old times sake) keep his blog roll live. I eventually got his Myth TV DVD to work by downloading the Media Player Classic, which has been hot fixed to play almost any video format in the world. This was after I downloaded a codec expansion pack and attempt to convert the .nuv files to .avi. The problem was it just recreated a file that was 40gb but still with no sound. MPC did the trick and I must say the sound and picture quality is amazing. So on Saturday afternoon I caught the first episode of the second series of Doctor Who and it was worth the wait. This evening broke the news that Sven has included Theo Walcott in his England squad for the World Cup. Now that is a shock but if you need an ace up your sleeve, surely TW32 is your man! Article over on Guardian Football puts it much better than me. (Hopefully he will get a decent squad number for the WC and Arsenal next season!). Just picture it, England are drawing 1-1 with Sweden, with a 20 minutes to go. Sven takes off Owen and brings on the Arsenal striker. With his deadly pace and fresh fearless attitude will have defenders all over the place. A risk yes, but an educated risk. Sven knows what he is doing and I am sure if he gets the tactics and more crucially substitutes right on the night, England can go the distance in Germany. Some great football to look forward to over the next few weeks and months.

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