This Room101-102.com top 10 list has been compiled from away day experiences spanning nearly twenty years, although it should perhaps be pointed out that many of those experiences took place under the influence of alcohol and are not perhaps all that reliable. Despite that, I do stand by it, although I am fully aware that I shall shortly be receiving numerous emails questioning my parentage from dribbling, monobrowed half-wits furious at the thought that someone wouldn’t rank their favourite ground as one of the best in the country. Get over it and have a lie down.
#10 Emirates Stadium (Arsenal)
New stadiums are value engineered, isolated, bland, lack atmosphere, invariably too big for the team playing there and lack the asymmetry and quirks that give traditional football stadiums their character.
That is what we are told, and for the most part it is true. There are however one or two exceptions to this rule, and the Emirates is definitely one them. Indeed, it is the only new build to make this list (apologies if that has killed the suspense, but seriously, you didn’t really expect the King Power to make the top 10 did you?).
None of those criticisms listed above can be reasonably leveled at the Emirates. It wasn’t value engineered, on the contrary, the use of materials and finish is exceptional. The location is perfect (just a couple of tube stops from the centre of – arguably – the greatest city on Earth); the design (especially the curved, raised roof) is interesting enough; it isn’t too big for the team playing there, and the atmosphere is no worse than any other Premier League venue despite what some may say to the contrary.
Much is said about the atmosphere at this and other football grounds, and much of it is nonsense. Visit a particular stadium on a particular day and the atmosphere might be terrible, but yet a week later against different opposition or in different circumstances it might be rocking. That applies everywhere, and while the noise level on my visit to the Emirates was OK, I understood that the team I follow represented pretty low key opposition and I wasn’t going to make any judgements based solely on my own experience. Spurs at home I suspect would be a different kind of atmosphere altogether.
The lesson for those clubs contemplating a move is to surely do it the Arsenal way. The key was relocating so close to Highbury, ensuring that supporters could still catch the same train, park in the same spot and drink in the same pub. Just imagine if they had built the same venue just inside the M25 – it wouldn’t have made this list that’s for certain.