By Tony Attwood
What do you want your club to be? Champions of the Football League? Double Winners? Champions of Europe?
Yes, undoubtedly. But here’s a question. Does it matter how we go about getting to these heights? Would it matter if our club bribed referees? Would it matter if we ensured that only refs who were compatible with the Arsenal way of doing things were in charge of our games?
Would it matter if we brought over young men from Africa, tried them out, and then if they were not good enough, just dismissed them, knowing that they would be left alone, homeless, begging on the streets?
Or let’s go back a bit. We have a wonderful stadium. But would it matter if in building it we dispossessed people on limited income and reduced their houses to worthlessness?
In short, does what we do off the football pitch matter?
I believe it does. Which is why I am writing this piece today. And my comparison is going to be between Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC, and the battlefield I have chosen to examine is the way the clubs have handled their local environment.
Let me explain…
Think of the Emirates Stadium and you don’t normally think of housing. But the partnership between Arsenal and the local housing trusts has resulted in the development of well over 1000 new “affordable” homes, and a complete regeneration of the area.
The first homes for Key Workers opened in Hornsey Street and the work is continuing outwards. And let’s be clear from the off, I am not talking about the redevelopment of the Highbury ground as expensive apartments, but of apartments whose prices are held at a level that essential workers (nurses, police officers, teachers and the like) can afford.
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In short the Arsenal Regeneration programme was instituted to create a mixture of new homes including Shared Ownership apartments with a view to help people get on the property ladder for the first time. It also produced low cost rented housing for local people and again for Key Workers.
The work includes development in Hornsey Street, Northern Triangle (which is right next to Emirates stadium), Drayton Park, Caledonian Road, Highbury Square….
“So what?” you may ask. Arsenal builds houses.
I think it is important – particularly so when you remember that Islington Council turned down Arsenal’s first approaches to redevelop the area in 1997, just as they opposed Arsenal’s move to Highbury in 1913.
I don’t want to go through each and every planning issue, nor go back over Arsenal’s move from Plumstead to Highbury. but I do want to contrast what Arsenal have done, with what Liverpool are doing.
If you go to Anfield now you just see empty and abandoned houses all around the ground. They are being purchased bit by bit by the club, and this has been going on since the mid-1990s. The amount of money paid to buy these houses is not enough for the owners to buy new houses in the city. The owners who had their own homes now have to take out mortgages they can hardly afford, all to keep a roof over their heads. The area is falling apart – and all because Liverpool want a bigger stadium and more income.
Now there is nothing wrong with such an objective – these are the very reasons Arsenal moved from Highbury to the Emirates.
But in moving Arsenal rebuilt a rundown part of north London and are still doing so. And yes, residents opposed Arsenal’s developments. Maybe some still do. But when you go to the stadium and just see how many new houses there are in the area, and remember those run down warehouses and small business units that existed there, it is hard to ignore the huge improvements made to the area.
Compare that with Liverpool where the accusation is often made that the club has bought up houses piecemeal to keep prices low. There has been no public announcement about Liverpool’s buying up plans, nor indeed its current operation. Officially none of this is happening.
Worse, houses that Liverpool bought up 15 or more years ago are still boarded up and left empty. Some have junkies in them. Some have been set fire to. You can imagine what that does to the area and for the people who still live there.
The Guardian recently exposed the involvement in Liverpool’s scheme of Kevin Dooley who acted for the convicted drug dealer Curtis Warren. Dooley was struck off by the Law Society in 2002 after being found guilty of involvement in fraudulent purported bank schemes. But he was very much part of Liverpool’s plan to buy up empty houses around Anfield.
The main difference between Arsenal and Liverpool in all this is that Liverpool have never clearly announced what they are up to at Anfield. It is simply a matter of observation that they are buying houses, and leaving them empty. They are deliberately blighting the area in fact.
Not surprisingly, Anfield is now an area in total decline of the club’s own making. One local newspaper revealed that a plan had been put into place without discussion with the local population, and the local council was forced into an enquiry. But despite all this the club has not put tenants into the empty houses that it owns and the council has taken no action at all.
Liverpool will presumably eventually get its 60,000 seater stadium, once it has forced everyone in the area out of their homes. Arsenal got its 60,000 seater stadium too, but it did so by working with the local communities, being open, and building thousands of new homes.
There is a difference. As Arsenal supporters we should be proud of the redevelopment of the Highbury communities which we have been part of. Just as we should be proud of our move from Plumstead to Highbury 100 years ago when we brought new life and vigour to the community and raised the gates of both Tottenham and Arsenal..
But mention of Tottenham brings me to my final point. What is happening regarding to new Tottenham ground?
In December 2008, the design for the new stadium, by KSS Design Group and Buro Happold was revealed A projected completion date was predicted on 26 October 2009, as Daniel Levy stated that Tottenham intended to move into the partially built new stadium for the start of the 2012–13 season (ie the season just completed), with the final 56,250-seat venue ready for 2013/14.
On 28 September 2011 the GLC relieved Tottenham H of all infrastructure payments previously requested and the Borough of Haringey committed an extra £9m to improve services for residents in the area.
The Mayor of London gave his approval to the plans to redevelop the stadium on 25 November 2010. The club confirmed, on 9 December 2010, that the Secretary of State for Environment had said that she did not propose to call in the planning application
Tottenham H FC has a page on its web site which is devoted to the new stadium. The last entry on the page is dated 18 September 2012 and it contains these points.
- First work starts as part of new stadium scheme – September 2012
- Important step forward towards delivering much needed regeneration
- The new supermarket will create up to 250 news jobs whilst securing jobs from existing Sainsbury’s store in Tottenham
- Expected opening late 2013/early 2014
That might still happen for the supermarket, but that is all we are talking about here. A supermarket.
And so we wait. But there is one more point. As we know, Arsenal got a fair amount of sponsorship money from Emirates and other sources at the time of building the new ground, and front loaded those deals so that they reduced the borrowing the club had to make. Tottenham, if the ground is on schedule (despite the lack of news on their own club web site) will undoubtedly do the same.
Now we also know that the approach meant that Arsenal have been restricted in their expenditure over the past seven years because of the need to keep within the terms of the loan they gained to build to stadium. It is reasonable to expect that Tottenham will have similar financial constraints. Although by 2020 or thereafter Tottenham may well have a superb ground and a lot of money to spend on players the chances are that until then they will be as restricted as Arsenal have been in recent years. The main difference is that during that period Arsenal have been able to call on the Champions League income, which Tottenham are not always able to do.
As for Liverpool, they may have lower costs in terms of rebuilding, rather than building a new stadium, but it is unlikely their ground will be as splendid as Arsenal’s or the ground that Tottenham propose. They not only lack Arsenal’s Champions League income, those also lack Tottenham’s Europa League income.
So, we wait, although meanwhile back at the Ems we are still building. And within the plaza the Bergkamp statue (one in a series of statues initially proposed to the club by Untold Arsenal and the Arsenal History Society) will be with us shortly.
- Newcastle Sports Direct v The Arsenal. The view from the Emirates
- Onwards and Upwards: what will happen at Arsenal this summer
- Victoria Concordia Crescit – When and Why?
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal FC: crowd behaviour at the early matches