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October 2016
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On visiting Real Madrid: thoughts on expanding the Emirates Stadium.

Tim Charlesworth

I was recently on holiday in Madrid and took the opportunity to tour the Bernebau stadium (Real Madrid) with my son. It was interesting to look at a famous stadium and compare it to our own.

My first impression was how small the stadium seemed (narrower, but also higher than the Emirates/Grove). This was an interesting observation as it is an 85,000 capacity stadium (compared to our own 60,000).

My second impression was how steep the stands were (the steepness of the stands probably explaining how you can get more people into an apparently smaller stadium).

I haven’t attended a match there, but it was instantly obvious to me that this was a much more intimidating arena than the Emirates. The words ‘cauldron’, ‘bear-pit’ and ‘arena’ sprung to mind.

This led me to think about a subject which seems very important to me, but I see remarkably little discussion of: our future plans for stadium expansion. We are clearly able to sell more tickets than we currently do (stadium is always sold out, season ticket waiting lists, ever growing popularity of the Premiership etc).

If we were able to add 20,000 seats, I am confident that we would sell them for an average of £20 per match (they wouldn’t be the best seats). This would produce a revenue of c £500,000 per match for roughly 25 matches per season, so about £10m per annum. If such an expansion could be done for £100m it would seem to be profitable, but not massively so. I can see a number of other possible barriers:

Planning permission. This was a major issue when the stadium was first built. The main problems are disruption to the local population on match days and safety and transport problems.

I feel that the resident objections can be overcome. The safety considerations seem more problematic. Certainly the crush on/just after the bridge on the way out doesn’t feel like you could comfortably add 20,000 to it.

But there must be ways to deal with this. There are a lot of 80,000 plus stadiums around the world. This is hardly a unique problem. Surely better use of Drayton Park and Holloway Road stations are possible. The cost of such solutions could, of course, be a barrier to expansion plans. Wikipedia suggests a £60m cost for upgrading Holloway Road.

Is the stadium designed for it?  This matters. For example, did they over-engineer the foundations so that they could bear more weight from future expansion? If not, then expensive and difficult reinforcement might be necessary. Was the roof designed in such a way that it could easily be jacked up to accommodate another tier? What are the problems with filling in the ‘airflow’ gaps at the back of the stadium?

I remember when the plans for the Grove were first announced. It seemed obvious to me that the stadium would be designed with future expansion in mind, but in the following fifteen years, I have seen no evidence that this was the case. Does anyone else have such evidence?

Would it be possible to do the work in the summer? If the team needs to leave the stadium for a period, that adds significant costs.

Can it be done in stages (this would ameliorate many forms of risk)? – North stand, West Stand etc. The stadium is a bowl rather than the traditional four stands design of Highbury. Is this distinction cosmetic or integral to the design? (the roof certainly looks like one structure not four) Can its design stand a staged expansion?

Sunlight/air – the stadium was designed to allow sunlight and air to get to the pitch. Surely this can be overcome with the use of mirrors/UV lamps/air fans.

Would the raising of the necessary funds restrict the club financially again? No-one wants to return to the days of financial parsimony.

So I would guess that the financial case for expanding the stadium is not clear cut. It seems like, subject to better information, it would probably be marginally profitable, but may come with risks and possible financing restrictions (Usmanov level anyone?). However it seems to me that there are a number of non-financial reasons for expanding the stadium that our board should be considering:

Home advantage is an important factor in football, and especially the Champions League. Football people often talk about the ‘fortress’ mentality. Some stadia appear to be very intimidating in the right circumstances: Real, Barca, Dortmund, Old Trafford, Anfield, even Stamford Bridge (any views from people who have attended these stadia?).

This intimidation works on both players, and perhaps more importantly referees. Just imagine how it feels to be a lone referee resisting the howling demands for a free kick of 80,000 screaming Barca fans – all within 100m of you – you have a fraction of a second to make your decision! As a general rule, modern bowl stadia seem to be less intimidating. It seems that ‘size’ and ‘steepness’ are factors which contribute to the intimidation factor. An extra tier at the Emirates would increase the ‘steepness’ as well as its capacity (obviously this would not be true of the ‘fill in the gaps’ option).

People in football talk about ‘big clubs’. In some ways this is a puerile debate, but ‘perceived bigness’ does influence decisions in the world of football. This is most obviously observable in the series of poor decisions that Arsenal players have made to wreck their careers by leaving Arsenal to join Barcelona (list too long to show). A number of factors influence perceived bigness (history, money etc), but the size and intimidation factor of the stadium seems to be one of them.

When in the Bernebau, I couldn’t help thinking what impression it must have made on Mesut Ozil when he first looked at the lower, and more gently sloping, Emirates Stadium. I think it must have felt like a ‘step down’ to him.

Acoustics – this is relevant to intimidation and ‘atmosphere’, two factors in which the Emirates seems deficient to me. Some stadia seem to ‘channel’ sound. The addition of a new tier and possibly roof, would allow the acoustic properties of the stadium to be reconsidered. We might even consider a retractable roof, which seems to add to the atmosphere at the Millenium stadium and Wimbledon’s Centre Court. I particularly dislike the way in which the current roof blocks the view of the opposite stand for fans at the top of the upper tier – I think this really reduces atmosphere.

Getting more fans into the stadium will increase the size and loyalty of the fanbase (another factor in ‘perceived bigness’). Fans feel closer to the team if they can actually attend a match.

Overall, my feeling is that, if we are to fulfil our potential to compete on a level playing field with the likes of Real Madrid, our stadium needs to fit the bill. I think another tier of seating is the best way to do this as it will not only add capacity, but also add to the ‘intimidation factor’ and ‘perceived bigness’. I would like to see more debate about this amongst fans, and for questions to be asked of the Board on the subject (one for those of you who attend the Gazidis sessions?).


Two more anniversaries

  • 21 August 2000: Arsenal 2 Liverpool 0.  Lauren scored for Arsenal on his debut, Henry got the second on 89 minutes. This was the first in a 12 match unbeaten run, after the opening day defeat against Sunderland.  However Vieira was dismissed for the second successive game and got a five match ban.  Liverpool were reduced to nine players after McAllister and Hamann were sent off.
  • 21 August 2001: Arsenal 1 Leeds 2.  League Match 2 of the third double season – after a 4-0 away win on the opening day of the season as Arsenal went unbeaten away all season.  Wiltord scored the Arsenal goal.

25 comments to On visiting Real Madrid: thoughts on expanding the Emirates Stadium.

  • Simon

    There is room and potential built in to the original design to add another 1,0000 I believe. A year or so ago it came up at a meeting with Gazidis (perhaps a supporters meeting) – it was reported online. He responded extending capacity was not a priority at present.

  • Martin

    Isn’t the idea that we’ve got extra wide seats to allow for expansion. There the largest seats in Europe according to Charlie George when doing the Emirates tour. Height of the stadium is the main issue for local residents


  • stadium Wenger will receive another upgrade at the appropriate time.

    The Arsenal way is pragmatic Methodism rather than rash copy catism that comes back to bite the bum of our future dividends.

    The Prof and Board have it all figured out abi no tio

  • TailGunner

    60 thousand plus is adequate for our current requirements, but should it be necessary ground capacity could be achieved by installing smaller seating and introducing standing areas.
    The station upgrades could still occur, we certainly need them open on match days.
    I’m certain Ozil isn’t at all underwhelmed with playing in such a beautiful and welcoming environment .

  • TailGunner

    extra ground capacity could be acheived

  • insideright

    10% narrower seats – probably only in the lower tier – would, in theory add about 2500 to capacity and a standing area behind each goal would at least double that ‘gain’ at much less cost than another tier on top. It would also give greater flexibility at the lower price end which, in marketing terms is far more valuable to the Club in the future.
    Such a small increase in total wouldn’t have anything like the impact on access/egress and would have enough of a vanity project element to it to satisfy most of us I think. Gazidis, at the last fans forum in the summer, said the he personally had no great objection to standing – it’s only the law that stops us.
    Certainly better use of Holloway Rd and Drayton Park would help but the significant expenditure at Finsbury Park and Highbury and Islington going on at the moment would probably mean that nothing would happen anywhere else for a while.
    Actually the fact that there are now many more people living very close to the stadium could well be justification enough to enhance the usability of close-by stations. The long ago mooted tunnel from Holloway Road to Ashburton Grove would be highly beneficial in this respect but I can’t see it happening just for our use a couple of dozen times a year.

  • Pete

    I have been told, some time ago, that the stadium was constructed with potential for significant additional seating (20,000?). I believe the stadium height was one planning issue as was traffic volume. Holloway Rd station would need significant work as you say.

    TailGunner – disagree. People want to watch but can’t get in. I think we should make every effort to enable this. Also, the population of London has increased from under 7mm to 8.6mm over the last 25 years. The potential matchgoing population is vastly bigger than it was back then.

    Economically, the seats may be cheaper, but the club would also hope to sell programmes, food, merchandise etc.

    Let’s hope it can be done sooner rather than later – great article.

  • WalterBroeckx

    As I just got a mail from Arsenal about the number of tickets we will get for a match with our supporters club (Arsenal Belgium) I do have a few things to say about this problem.
    Because for the second time this season we got roughly only half the tickets we asked for. All because of the high demand. That is really a bummer for our supporters club who has been booming since the new board of which I am the president took over one season ago.
    We have expanded the membership with 300% in one year time!!!! And yet we get less tickets now. So it will be a hell of a job to keep everyone happy at our supporters club.

    So I am in favour of anything that will increase more seats. Smaller seats, standing (if allowed), lowering the field and making a lower tier closer to the pitch, putting another tier on top, I don’t care: JUST GET IT DONE AND QUICKLY!

  • wiszley.

    I tink we don’t need to lower d pitch. I tink we can install smaller sits n some add ons over d top

  • Gord

    Some time in the last 6 months, I commented on some volume issues here on Untold. I think that moving sidewalks could be a partial answer. That way, instead of all the subway bound traffic just going to a single subway station, people could take the moving sidewalk to one of the nearby subway stations. When there is not some activity at Wenger Stadium, the motors to drive the moving sidewalk could be turned off, and people would have a covered, raised sidewalk to walk on, possibly with a better view of surroundings.

  • proudkev

    Nothing to be with whether the stadium can or cannot be extended, it can. It was designed to be bigger, hence the spacious seating.

    It was the Council who limited the capacity. The same council who refused to allow Highbury to be increased due to the close proximaty of the residents and noise pollution – it was in the middle of rows of terraced homes.

    Council objections relate to noise generation, safety and the redevelopment of the antiquated Holloway Road Underground station.

  • proudkev

    “So I am in favour of anything that will increase more seats. Smaller seats, standing (if allowed), lowering the field and making a lower tier closer to the pitch, putting another tier on top, I don’t care: JUST GET IT DONE AND QUICKLY!”

    As I said, the stadium capacity can easily be increased, no need for all those changes you suggest Walter. Straight forward to increase the capacity.

    The issue is the Local Council. Nothing can be done without Islington Councils approval and I think that is unlikely. A shame because we need the extra capacity, it is far too exclusive at the moment. I know loads of fans who struggle to get tickets, especially for the Cat A games.

  • Bill Bryant

    There is another reason why the Santiago Bernebau in Madrid seems smaller than the Emirates. That is because the lower tier is below ground / street level. When you enter the stadium you enter at middle tier level and for the lower tier you need to go downstairs.

  • Notoverthehill

    The ancient tube station at Holloway Road IS the problem.

    As far as Islington Borough Council were concerned, a 100,000 capacity stadium could be good for GO! At that time…..

    A feasibility study was undertaken by Arsenal, and the tube station upgrade plus the 40,000 extra seats, would have doubled the costs. At the time, impossible to finance.

    One should start with, planning report PDU/0138/02 and continue with planning application nos. POO/2501; PO1/1500 & PO1/1501 and so on.

  • porter

    It appears that Feyenord are addressing this problem as this report suggests.

    As previously stated however the problem lies with the residents and local council who throughout the stadium build threw up every objection that they could find and made life at the planning stage as difficult as possible I recall.

  • Pete

    And increasing capacity – even by a thousand or so – would really pee off the spuds…

  • colario

    For a look at the spuds new hen house situation. There is a quote from Arsene.

  • nicky

    There would appear to be as many cons as pros , on the thorny subject of catering for an added capacity at the Emirates.
    With the waiting list for season ticket holders not diminishing, there is obviously some sort of prima facie case for extending the stadium.
    The main concern, IMO, must rest on safety and transport facilities and in this regard the most important player will be the local council. 😉

  • porter

    In the early 1990s, Barcelona started converting various standing areas into seating, which reduced capacity, though additional seats were created by lowering the pitch.

    From Wiki, seems to be the way to go.

  • Northern Nuge

    Just my opinion or understanding of things from the original build, but covering main points raised by everyone:
    Roof infrastructure – my understanding is the roof is basically supported at each of the four corners of the bowl by a ‘tripod’ steel infrastructure. Therefore to raise the roof would require a new ‘external’ supporting structure making the progressive, north, east, South & west builds u feasible. The alternaternative would be to remove the roof totally during the progressive build.
    Lowering pitch – this I do not believe feasible due to the structure and design of the stadium, as anyone who has gone on a tour will have seen there are many facilities below, including the store, changing rooms, car parks, etc
    Holloway road tube station – this if I remember was always the biggest issue. I believe Arsenal wanted to purchase adjoining properties to allow for substantial improvements, most which would have come at their expense. The fact this station does not allow entrance post match still causes problems with the movement of supporters post-match putting more pressure on Finsbury Park, Arsenal and Highbury & Islington stations.
    Finally in view of the recent ‘concessions’ towards costs received by our local rivals (no names necessary we all know who!) in the building of their ‘new’ stadia, wouldn’t we be entitled to additional support and dare I say finance to meet the costs or planning permission for such a proposed expansion?

  • Northern Nuge

    Excuse my typos please,

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    Sorry to come late to this conversation, I would like to offer some thoughts on upgrading Holloway Road tube station which I am perhaps better placed to do than many as before I retired I was one of the top engineers at London Underground. A major upgrade to allow sufficient passenger flows to enable the station to be used on match days would likely cost in the region of £250 to £400 million and would mean disruption for something like 4 years. LU would probably require Arsenal to pay the Lions share of the costs as (as far as I am aware) the station doesn’t suffer from major congestion at normal times during the day. The other issue is the actual train capacity to move passengers after they reach the platforms. That may well require the introduction of new signalling systems to allow for tighter gaps between trains (this is planned and gradually being introduced but won’t be complete any time soon).. The final factor is how quickly passengers can board the trains (remember every time someone keeps a door open for a mate they are holding up 500 or so people who are on or waiting to board the next train).

    With increased revenue from TV, sponsorship etc, it may be possible to afford to overcome the issues that restricted the stadium size to the current limit but I suspect that it will be a good few years before it can happen.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Think I remember reading the stadium was designed to expand to 75000?
    Planning permission, certainly not my area, but there is so much building going on in London, there is even a garden bridge to be built using public money , from what I have read, at the behest of Boris Johnsons friend, that great architect , Joanna Lumley. What I am saying, not what you know, but who you know, where there is a will there’s a way and other cliches should the club genuinely want to expand the stadium? Maybe we need a friendly relationship with the council similar to that enjoyed by Rael Madrid over the years.
    Are the transport facilities around the Emirates that much worse than those at Wembley?

  • Gooner Murphy

    The Emirates was designed by the company that constructed Croke Park GAA stadium Dublin, the Emirates is quite similar to Croke Park the corporate boxes and Club level for Instance .The GAA stadium has a capacity of over a large amount of this extra capacity is provided on the Third level. I recall reading during the development of the Emirates’ that a Third level could be added sometime in the future if required.
    Go to see the stadium

  • Tim Charlesworth

    Thanks for all the interesting comments about the practicalities of stadium expansion. I am interested that no-one has commented on the ‘shape’ or ‘steepness’ of the stadium. Does everyone agree with the idea that the Emirates is low on intimidation factor? or do people not think that this matters? I feel that a bigger and more intimidating stadium would improve team results by intimidating opponents and referees. No-one has challenged this idea. Do those of you who go to away matches notice a difference between our stadium and some of our rivals (Old Trafford or Anfield?). Untold is often commenting on the performance of referees. Is there a connection between refereeing intimidation (or lack of) at the Emirates, atmosphere and stadium design? If yes, is it due to stadium shape or just the nature of our fan behaviour? Is seat size important – larger seats at the Ems means that the crowd is less dense – good for comfort, bad for atmosphere?