Emirates Stadium

The Emirates Stadium (IPA: /ðiːˈɛmərəts/) formerly Ashburton Grove, is a football stadium located in London and is the current home of Arsenal FC. The stadium opened in July 2006 and has an all seated capacity of 60,355, making it the second largest football club stadium in England behind Manchester United's Old Trafford, and the third largest stadium of any kind in London, after Wembley and Twickenham, and overall the fifth largest football stadium in the United Kingdom. It was initially known as Ashburton Grove after the road it was located on, before a naming rights deal with the airline Emirates was struck in October 2004. The project cost £390 million, including the cost of the associated infrastructure.


The stadium is a four-tiered bowl with roofing over the stands but not over the pitch. The design team included architects HOK Sport (now known as Populous), construction consultants Arcadis AYH, and engineering firm Buro Happold. The stadium was constructed by Sir Robert McAlpine on the site of Ashburton Grove industrial estate, several hundred yards from Arsenal's former home at Highbury.

The upper (26,646) and lower (24,425) parts of Emirates Stadium feature standard seating. For the 2006–07 season, ticket prices for an adult ranged between £32 and £66 for most matches, but were as low as £13 for juniors and Cannon Club members, in the family enclosure only (designated "Category B"), with the price rising for "Category A" matches against certain top sides to between £46 and £94, with around £20 for juniors in the family enclosure. Season ticket prices for 2006–07 ranged between £885 and £1,825.

The main middle tier, known as the "Club Level", is premium priced and also includes the director's box. There are 7,139 seats at this level, which are sold on licences lasting from one to four years. The cost of club tier seats for 2006–07 ranges from £2,500 to £4,750 per season and covers admission to all home league games and any home games Arsenal play in the UEFA Champions League, FA Cup and Carling Cup. These were sold out by May 2006. Immediately above the club tier there is a small tier consisting of 150 boxes of 10, 12 and 15 seats. The total number of spectators at this level is 2,222. Box prices start at £65,000 per annum plus VAT, and covers admission to all home league games and any home games Arsenal play in the UEFA Champions League, FA Cup and Carling Cup. The most exclusive area in the stadium is known as the "Diamond Club" which is invitation only and costs £25,000 up front plus £25,000 a year. The high demand for tickets, as well as the relative wealth of their London fans, means revenue from premium seating and corporate boxes is nearly as high as the revenue from the entire stadium at Highbury.

The pitch is 105 × 68 metres in size, while at Highbury it was 100 x 66.7 metres. "The total grass area at Emirates is 113m x 76m". It runs north-south like at Highbury, with the players' tunnel and the dugouts on the west side of the pitch underneath the main TV camera. The away fans are found in the south-east corner of the lower tier. The away supporter configuration can be expanded from 1,500 seats to 4,500 seats behind the south goal in the lower tier, and a further 4,500 seats can be made available also in the upper tier, bringing the total to 9,000 supporters (the regulation 15% required for domestic cup competitions such as the FA Cup and Carling Cup).

The upper tier is contoured to leave open space in the corners of the ground, and the roof is significantly canted inwards. Both of these features are meant to provide as much airflow and sunlight to the pitch as possible. Arsenal have a reputation for having one of the best playing surfaces in the world, and the design of the new stadium took this into account. This does have the effect that supporters in the upper tier on one side of the ground are unable to see supporters in the upper tier opposite. In the north-west and south-east corners of the stadium are two giant screens suspended from the roof. The club are currently in the process of examining whether to add a third giant screen in the north-east corner of the stadium.

The new stadium pays tribute to Arsenal's former home, Highbury. The club's offices are officially called Highbury House, located north-east of Emirates Stadium, and house the bust of Herbert Chapman that used to reside at Highbury. Three other busts that used to reside at Highbury of Claude Ferrier (architect of Highbury's East stand), Denis Hill-Wood (Former Arsenal chairman and father of current chairman Peter Hill-Wood) and Arsène Wenger (current Arsenal manager) have also been moved to Emirates Stadium and are currently in display in the entrance of the Diamond Club.

Additionally, the two bridges over the railway line to the east of the stadium, connecting the stadium to Drayton Park, are called the Clock End and North Bank bridges, after the stands at Highbury; the clock that gave its name to the old Clock End has been resited on the exterior of Emirates Stadium facing the bridge of the same name.

The Arsenal club museum, which was formerly held in the North Bank Stand, opened in October 2006 and is located to the north of the stadium, within the Northern Triangle building.


It was announced on 5 October 2004 that Emirates Airline had signed a 15-year deal for naming right of the stadium, worth £100M. This sum also includes payments for an eight-year shirt sponsorship by Emirates, starting in the 2006–07 season.

The stadium name is often colloquially shortened from "Emirates Stadium" to "The Emirates", although some supporters continue to use the former name "Ashburton Grove" or even "The Grove" for the new stadium, especially those who object to the concept of corporate sponsorship of stadium names. This discrepancy between official and unofficial names is similar to the manner in which Arsenal's former ground, Arsenal Stadium, was almost universally referred to as "Highbury" by supporters, the media and the club itself.

Due to UEFA regulations on stadium sponsors, during UEFA Champions League matches the stadium is not officially referred to as Emirates Stadium, as Emirates are not an official sponsor of the Champions League competition; other stadia, such as the Allianz Arena in Munich, have fallen foul of this rule before. UEFA refer to the stadium as Arsenal Stadium, which was the official name of the stadium at Highbury.


The need for a new stadium

Arsenal started looking to develop a larger stadium during the later part of the 1990s, as their existing ground at Highbury had a capacity of 38,419 when it became all-seater in 1993, which was lower than the stadium capacities of almost every other European football club of comparable stature. There was little room for expansion as the East Stand backed directly onto the pavement of a public road and the other three backed onto housing; in addition the East Stand is a Grade II listed building. Local residents had objected to any expansion of the stadium and the local council was not sympathetic.

Arsenal had a season ticket waiting list which had been closed for some time with over 20,000 members, and were missing out on a great deal of potential revenue. However, finding a site for a new stadium in London was extremely difficult.

The club were willing to consider a location close to the M25 motorway if necessary, but had a strong preference for a location in the London Borough of Islington close to Highbury. At one stage they had considered moving to Wembley Stadium (Arsenal had played Champions League games at the old Wembley Stadium during the 1998–99 and 1999–2000 seasons) but in the end pulled out of the plans. When the Wembley revamp was given the go-ahead in 2002, there was speculation that Arsenal and Tottenham would move into the new stadium when it was finished, even though the club was pressing ahead with the Ashburton Grove project by this stage.

Ashburton Grove chosen

Eventually the club selected a site, an industrial estate at Ashburton Grove, which was just five hundred yards from Highbury. The plan was announced in November 1999, with a scheduled opening date of August 2003; this later slipped back to summer 2006 due to planning and financial difficulties. The Ashburton Grove site had many occupants, the most significant being Islington London Borough Council's recycling plant and the Royal Mail Holloway Delivery Office. In order to develop the site, it was necessary to buy out the existing occupants, and pay for their relocation (Arsenal purchased 10 acres (40,000 m²) of former railway land on Lough Road, off Caledonian Road, to house a new recycling plant, while the Royal Mail moved to Hamilton Park); this proved to be very expensive.

Local opposition

Despite Arsenal's presence in Islington for over 80 years, there were local residents and businesses who opposed the new stadium. Some who were forced to move filed a legal action in July 2002, although they lost the case. The stadium became a major issue in the local elections in May 2006. The Metropolitan Police also demanded that supporters' coaches be parked in the nearby Sobel Sports Centre rather than in the underground car park, and restrictions on access to 14 streets be imposed on match days. The health and safety certificate would not be issued unless the stadium meets such conditions, without which the stadium could not open. The road closures were passed at a council meeting, but kept under review.


Actual construction of the stadium began in February 2004. And the stadium itself, two bridges over the Northern City railway line connecting the stadium with Drayton Park were also built; these were completed in summer 2004. The stadium topped out in August 2005, and was completed ahead of schedule and on budget. The club announced that all of the hospitality boxes have been taken, and by February 2006 90% of the club tier seats had been sold, with the remainder sold by June 2006. The first seat in the new stadium was ceremonially installed on 13 March 2006 by Arsenal midfielder Abou Diaby. The stadium's floodlights were successfully tested for the first time on 25 June, and a day later the goalposts were erected.

Official opening

The Emirates Stadium was officially opened by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh on Thursday 26 October 2006; it had been intended that Queen Elizabeth II would officially open the stadium as well, but she suffered a back injury and was unable to attend on the day. Prince Philip quipped with the crowd: "Well, you may not have my wife, but you've got the second most experienced plaque unveiler in the world.". The royal visit echoed the attendance of the Queen's uncle, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) at the official opening of Highbury's West Stand in 1932. As a result of the change of plan, Queen Elizabeth did the club the honour of inviting the chairman, manager and first team to join her at Buckingham Palace for afternoon tea on 15 February 2007, the first club to be invited to the palace for such an event.


In order to obtain the licences the stadium needed to open, it first hosted three non-full capacity events. The first non full-capacity event was a shareholder open day on July 18, 2006, the second an open training session for 20,000 selected club members held on July 20. The third event on July 22 was the first match, as detailed below.

  • The first match to be played at the stadium was a testimonial for Dennis Bergkamp against his former club, Ajax. The match featured four teams; the first half saw the current Arsenal and Ajax sides play each other, while after the break each club fielded "Legends" sides. Arsenal won 2–1; Ajax's Klaas-Jan Huntelaar became the first player to score a goal at the stadium, while Thierry Henry scored the first ever Arsenal goal there to equalise. Arsenal striker Kanu then won the game for Arsenal in the 81st minute with a deflected shot going in from 23 yards out.
  • Arsenal's first competitive match at the stadium was an FA Premier League game against Aston Villa on 19 August 2006, which ended 1–1. Aston Villa player Olof Mellberg scored the first goal of the game and thus the first Premier League goal at Emirates Stadium. Arsenal had to wait until 23 September 2006 for their first Premier League win at the stadium, defeating Sheffield United 3–0.
  • The first European match there was Arsenal's UEFA Champions League third qualifying round second leg match on 23 August 2006 against Dinamo Zagreb.
  • The first international match there was a friendly between Argentina and Brazil, on 3 September 2006; Brazil won 3–0 with two goals from Elano and one from Kaká.
  • Arsenal's first defeat at the Emirates Stadium was a 1–0 loss to West Ham United on 7 April 2007, in Arsenal's 23rd home game at the ground. Coincidentally, West Ham United were also the last team to beat Arsenal at their old home, Highbury, on 1 February 2006.
  • The highest ever attendance recorded at the stadium (60,161) is on November 3, 2007, during a league match against rivals Manchester United, ending in a 2–2 draw
  • On May 10, 2009, local rivals Chelsea inflicted Arsenal's biggest ever defeat and highest scoring defeat at the stadium, winning 4–1 (the previous record of an Arsenal defeat at the stadium being a 2–0 loss to Aston Villa)
  • Later that year on November 29, 2009, Chelsea matched the record, recording a 3–0 victory against Arsenal at the stadium, making them the only team to beat Arsenal by 3 goals at the stadium, doing it twice in the space of 6 months
  • Before the 2010/2011 season, the historic original "Highbury Clock" from Arsenal's last stadium was installed in the south end at the Emirates, with the sections being renamed to the East Stand, West Stand, North Bank, and Clock End as they were at Highbury. The new names as well as the clock were officially unveiled at Arsenal's first home game of the season on August 21, 2010, in a 6–0 win over Blackpool.
  • On the 8th January 2011, The Emirates got their highest away attendance in an FA Cup third-round tie against Leeds United.

Possible expansion

Current demand for tickets still greatly outweighs the number of seats available, with some 47,000 members on the season-ticket waiting list. Arsenal have not spoken publicly on the topic, but it has been reported that the club is looking into expanding the capacity of the stadium from its current 60,355 capacity.


In response to criticism from fans that the stadium was too corporate and lacked any nods to the teams rich heritage, the club began a program of 'Arsenalisation' of the Emirates, spearheaded by CEO Ivan Gazidis. Among the changes made since the 2009 close season:

  • White seats installed in the pattern of the club's trademark cannon in the lower level stands opposite the entrance tunnel
  • "The Spirit of Highbury" shrine depicting every player to have played for Arsenal during its 93 year residence at Highbury
  • The installation of eight large murals on the exterior of the stadium, each depicting four Arsenal legends linking arms, such that the effect of the completed design is 32 legends in a huddle embracing the stadium:
    • Ian Wright, George Armstrong, David Jack, Martin Keown
    • Cliff Bastin, Tony Adams, Liam Brady, Thierry Henry
    • David Seaman, Ted Drake, David Rocastle, Alex James
    • Patrick Vieira, Reg Lewis, Lee Dixon, Joe Mercer
    • Dennis Bergkamp, Bob Wilson, Eddie Hapgood, Charlie George
    • Nigel Winterburn, David Danskin, Kenny Sansom, Jack Kelsey
    • Robert Pirès, John Radford, David O'Leary, George Male
    • Ray Parlour, Frank McLintock, Steve Bould, Pat Rice
  • Murals depicting 12 "Greatest Moments" in Arsenal history around the lower concourse
  • The renaming of the coloured seating quadrants to East Stand, West Stand, North Bank, and Clock End, as they were named at Highbury
  • The installation of a clock above the newly renamed Clock End in homage to the clock at Highbury


As with its predecessor, the stadium is well known for its high quality playing surface, with the groundsmen continuing to win awards for their work.

Other uses

As well as functioning as a football stadium, the Emirates Stadium also operates as a conference centre and music venue. On 27 March 2008, the stadium played host to a summit between British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in part because the stadium was regarded as "a shining example of Anglo-French co-operation". Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band became the first act to play a concert at Emirates Stadium, on 30 May 2008 and played a second gig on 31 May 2008. On 7 June 2009, Emirates Stadium held Capital FM's Summertime Ball with artists including Lionel Richie, Leona Lewis and Blue. When the IRB announced that England had won the race to host the 2015 Rugby World Cup on 28 July 2009, The Emirates was named as one of the venues to host matches. It is not yet known how many games will be played at the stadium, but it is confirmed that the stadium will be used for pool games and the Bronze (3rd place playoff) final. Emirates Stadium had also been included in the English Football Association's unsuccessful bid to host the 2018 World Cup. The stadium has also been used for a number of international friendly matches most of which have features the Brazil national football team who have unofficially used the stadium as their European home ground.


The stadium's capacity is currently 60,355, a slight reduction from the original capacity of 60,432 when it opened in 2006. The highest attendance for a match at Emirates Stadium to date is 60,161, for a 2–2 draw with Manchester United on 3 November 2007. The average attendance for competitive first-team fixtures in the stadium's first season, 2006–07, was 59,837, with a Premier League average attendance of 60,045. The capacity is the 2nd highest in English club football behind Old Trafford. The average league attendance increased slightly to 60,070 in 2007–08, Arsenal's second season at the stadium. Arsenal came close to beating the attendance record on December 27, 2010 during a 3–1 home win against Chelsea, in which the attendance was 60,112 leaving it just 50 away from beating the record. Arsenal yet again came close to their highest attendance at the stadium, recording 60,107 against Manchester United on May 1, 2011, a match that Arsenal won 1-0.


The £470 million cost of the project, augmented by the extra costs the club had to meet besides building the stadium itself, was a formidable obstacle, especially as Arsenal were not granted any public subsidy. Arsenal had difficulty obtaining finance for the project, and work ceased just after it had begun, before restarting when a £260m loan package was obtained from a consortium of banks, led by the Royal Bank of Scotland.

In August 2005 Arsenal announced plans to replace most of the bank debt with bonds. The proposed bond issue went ahead on 13 July 2006. The club issued £210 million worth of 13.5 year bonds with a spread of 52 basis points over UK government bonds and £50 million of 7.1 year bonds with a spread of 22 basis points over LIBOR. It was the first publicly marketed, asset-backed bond issue by a European football club. The effective interest rate on these bonds is 5.14% and 5.97% respectively, and they are due to be paid back over a 25 year period; the move to bonds has reduced the club's annual debt service cost to approximately £20 million a year. On 31 May 2007 the club's net debt stood at £262.1 million.

However at the same time there are multiple sources of income for the club; the remainder of the Lough Road site is being used for new housing, as are the surplus areas around the stadium at Ashburton Grove. Highbury is currently being converted into apartments, most of which have been sold. In total, more than 2,000 homes will be built at the three sites, and the club is counting on the profit from these developments to make a major contribution towards the costs of the new stadium. Other sources of revenue include the £100m from Emirates for the naming rights, to be paid over the course of the deal and a £15m contribution towards the capital costs of the stadium's catering facilities from catering firm Delaware North, which has a 20-year exclusive contract to run the stadium's catering operation.

Finally, there is the increased revenue from the stadium itself. In 2005, Arsenal's then chief executive Keith Edelman commented that the new stadium is expected to increase Arsenal's turnover from typically £115 million to around £170 million. Final accounts for the year ending May 2007, Arsenal's first season at the Emirates, show that Arsenal's turnover has increased to £200.8m, compared to £137.2m the previous year and that group operating profits increased to £51.2m. Even once debt repayments are taken into account, the club's turnover has increased by at least £20m a year, (in 2006–07 the club recorded a surplus of £37 million).


The Emirates Stadium is served by a number of London Underground stations and bus routes. Arsenal tube station is the closest for the northern portion of the stadium, with Highbury & Islington tube station servicing the southern end. While Holloway Road tube station is the closest to the southern portion, it is entry-only before matches and exit-only afterwards to prevent overcrowding. Drayton Park station, adjacent to the Clock End Bridge is shut on matchdays as the rail services to this station do not operate at weekends nor after 10 pm. £7.6 million had been set aside in the planning permission for upgrading Drayton Park and Holloway Road; however Transport for London decided not to upgrade either station, in favour of improvement works at the interchanges at Highbury & Islington and Finsbury Park, both of which are served by Underground and First Capital Connect services and are approximately a 10-minute walk away.

There are also numerous bus routes serving the area. Driving to the Emirates Stadium is strongly discouraged; there are strict match-day parking restrictions in operation around the stadium and for one hour before kick off to one hour after the final whistle there is a complete ban on vehicle movement on a number of the surrounding roads, with no exceptions.

Generally, the stadium opens to ticket holders two hours before kick off. The the stadium was originally divided in to four colour-coded quadrants to ease access – Orange and Blue at the North end of the stadium, and Yellow and Green to the South. As part of the 'Arsenalisation' process, these were changed before the 2010–11 season so that Orange became North Bank, Blue became East Stand, Yellow became West Stand and Green became Clock End.

The main club shop, named 'The Armoury', and ticket offices are located near the West Stand, with other an additional store at the base of the North Bank Bridge, named 'All Arsenal' and the 'Arsenal Store' next to Finsbury Park station.

The stadium operates an electronic ticketing system where members of 'The Arsenal' (the club's fan membership scheme) use their membership cards to enter the stadium, thus removing the need for turnstile operators. Non-members are issued with one-off paper tickets embedded with an RFID tag allowing them to enter the stadium.


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  • Ian Pearce
    Ian Pearce commented
    Home of classiest most entertaining football club in Great Britain. The building is a modern highly functional 21st Century construction that does not yet have the history or aura of their former home "Highbury" but this will come. Their rivals Totteringham meanwhile are akin to a bunch of broke students looking for a place to share as their home is overrun by pests, stinking, squallid and rightly unloved by anyone visiting the shameful, so-called 'top tier' club, a fetid and feeble reminder of faded glory days 50 years ago. Yes, 50! astonishing isn't it how poor the totts are.
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