What Makes A Club: 21 photos that explain the essence of Arsenal

In Depth

Players, managers, owners…they all help give a football team an identity, but they come and go. So too do those team identities, but a football club is about more than just the team.

The team is not what makes our clubs unique. A team can be brilliant one season but rubbish the next. It can have a British manager and core of British players one season but a Spanish boss and mass influx of overseas signings the next.

But while a team’s identity may change from one year to the next, a club’s identity is set in stone. And it is that identity that makes our clubs unique. It’s the fans, the pubs, the pies. It’s the songs, the shirts, the past heroes. It’s the walks to the stadium, the meeting-up with friends, the bonding between father and son. That is what truly makes a football club.

In this series, we’ll celebrate the uniqueness of clubs up and down the land. We want to visit every stadium and speak to every set of supporters to find out what makes their club special. What makes their match day experience different to any other?

This is what football is really about.

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READ: 21 amazing photographs that sum up football in 2016

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Où est cette chose que vous appelez, L’Arsenal?

Or for the rest of us, “Where is this thing you call, “The Arsenal”?” It felt right to ask in French because the Arsenal of my era had a certain Gallic swagger. When Arsene Wenger got into his stride his teams brought a real verve to this trendy little enclave of north London.

The Invincibles squad was assembled from around the globe but embraced the old art deco Highbury. They made it rock again among the over-priced terraces in north London. They caught the vibe of modern multi-cultural London. Right club, right place, right time. It was football with freedom.

They were, for me, the victims of their own success. That lovely little ground in the trendy suburb was too small. The joie de vivre was replaced with the cold reality of mortgage payments on the shiny new gaff.

Monsieur Wenger stayed on, motivated by the challenge of buying young and dreaming big, but senior players sought their trophies elsewhere.

I spoke to Arsenal friends when I compiled this gallery and asked them for their take on being Arsenal.

One said: “Imagine you find this little coffee shop tucked away. It’s run by a French bloke who is cool as f*** and the coffee is bangin’. You feel good that you support him and that you are part of his success. You keep going back.

“Then one day the coffee shop sells out to Starbucks and they take on bigger premises down the road. The same French bloke is running it and coffee is still pretty good. It feels kind of familiar, but it’s just not the same.”

The modern Arsenal was born. Here goes….

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(1) Tube

We should probably stop this gallery right here. We have a winner. Is anything cooler than having your own tube stop?

The font, the red circle on blue bar, the pea green background, it’s effortlessly London.

I reckon this sign is the first and last thing that most fans see when they visit Arsenal. It isn’t even a place name, but who cares (Spurs, probably). It sets the tone for the whole experience. This is London royalty you are doorstepping.

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(2) Arsenal, Paris

So we come off the tube and ask, “Are we still in London?” Look at where Arsenal live! I can assure you that you can’t take this picture outside Anfield or Old Trafford. Stamford Bridge and Craven Cottage at a push. Soak it up.

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(3) On the corner of Gillespie and Avenell

This is Nick Hornby territory. When I first visited Highbury I walked from the tube and found myself saying “Oh, there’s the Avenell Road”, I only knew of it from reading Fever Pitch, but it had a mystical quality.

It was never my home ground, but to have seen these narrow streets full of your own must have felt darn good. The chippy on the corner was no doubt wonderful come quarter to five.

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(4) Art Deco East Stand

Is this the window that Ian Wright used to hang out of? I hope so or else I have no excuse for staring into some poor bloke’s flat for 20 minutes.

You can still walk up through the main doors of the grand old East Stand and into the marble halls. It may now only be for a flat-warming at your mates, but imagine those who have walked before you.

Unlike almost every other club, Arsenal’s past is living and breathing next door to their future. As long as that is the case, the Emirates will always look like a temporary home to me. It’s like visiting the museum and then seeing the team play in the gift shop.

Thank god this old stand was listed. It may be trendy flats now, but its façade is protected forever more.

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(5) Suburbia

They just don’t build them like this anymore. Tucked away, blink and you’ll miss it. A little haven among the packed streets. Walk in off the pavement, through the bright red gates and on to the most perfect green rectangle you’ll ever see.

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(6) Call Dave

Dave is your man for Norwich away. You can have the biggest fanbase you want. You may be followed by millions on Twitter and sell shirts galore, but who will be singing for you at Carrow Road? Dave and the coachload he’s taking there.

You might be live on TV in 17 different countries, but you should never forget Dave.

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(7) Red round here

Those gates. Wonderful aren’t they? This is Arsenal. Red, traditional and just a little bit fancy. A plain old metal square would just never do for the supporters of the Bank of England club.

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(8) 25 Years

I was once told to avoid eating in any establishment that has pictures of its food on its menu. Twenty-five years can’t be a fluke, though. We are a long way from the gourmet burgers and artisan chips that you get inside the Emirates now.

That is no bad thing in my book.

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(9) Walking in a Bergkamp wonderland

And the winner for most appropriately placed fan sticker goes to….this one.

There is a pretentious comment about waiting for the green man when walking in Bergkamp Wonderland hidden somewhere. For now I’ll just remind you that this guy was the catalyst. The first big name foreign player to come in at Arsenal.

Don’t forget it was Bruce Rioch who signed him, pre-Wenger. He provided the swagger, the easy going brilliance that others followed. He also brought continental professionalism. Arsene had a kindred spirit on arrival. If only he would have got on a plane for the bloody Champions League nights.

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(10) Filling the window

There she blows. Just by the East Coast mainline. The future is here and it’s massive. 60,000 seats, shiny and new. It fills the windows no trouble at all. No hiding places now.

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(11) Health and Safety gone mad

The Emirates has been built on a pedestrianised island. The perfect photo opportunity can be had from the roundabout where the real world stops and Arsenal Land begins. There are two cannons just crying to be danced upon and fallen off, Stuart McCall style.

I decided the little sign to the side of them made for the better photo. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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(12) Clock End at ten to three

The Emirates is a feat of engineering and design. 60,000 people with perfect views of the action. It’s a good looking thing. Imposing and welcoming at the same time. Sometimes the light captures it just right.

Arsenal knew their home needed to be iconic if it was to ever do justice to their Highbury heritage. They haven’t just built a functional facility, they have built a monument. Generations of fans wouldn’t have it any other way.

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(13) Sanchez

That coffee is indeed still bangin’ and our French mate is working up a lovely blend. Alexis Sanchez is one of the first post-Highbury superstars. A player who only exists in an Emirates world. A true fan favourite and their talisman. The show will go on. I love this photo of him, pure focus.

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(14) Henry

I’m a lucky boy. I’ve seen my heroes play with my own eyes: Zidane, Giggs, Scholes, Messi, Glen Little (who laughed at the back?).

Yet for all my heroes there is only one shirt hanging on the wall at This Is My Love HQ and it belonged to this guy. When I saw the Thierry Henry statue I had a crisis of mortality. He is the first player I consider to be my contemporary that has been immortalised in bronze.

At first I thought it was a sign that I’d got old. It wasn’t, it was simply a sign of how good this bloke actually was. He made breaking Arsenal records look easy because he was absolutely unplayable. The permanent place in the club’s furniture is richly deserved.

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(15) Born red

Just a lovely photo and completely accidental. This little one really doesn’t have a choice of football club. Mummy, if you see this and want a print, get in touch. You can get it out if the little ‘un ever asks for a Harry Kane shirt.

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(16) Bearing down

Most Arsenal fans I spoke to said that they take great pride in how their club have developed young players so I promised I would include something of that here.

I don’t normally do action shots. I much prefer being in among the crowd than in the first few rows. That said, I’ve always been mighty chuffed to have captured this photo of young Kieran Gibbs. He’s an Englishman too, you know?

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(17) Bourgeois Pies 

Ah modern football. “I’ll have a Dennis Bergkamp with chips.” That’s a Chicken Ham and Leek Pie to you and me. Maybe the Non-flying Dutchman was partial to a bit of stodge?

I’m not sure what they thought of me asking, “Does tha do meat en tater?” but it takes all sorts.

This is where old and new Arsenals collide, and it creates a real sense of where the modern club finds itself. This may only be a few feet away from the Gillespie Road Chippy that has seen it all, but it is a million miles away in so many ways. Don’t get me started on the Vieira-tarian range.

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(18) Upon this field

I’ve seen so many wonderful things happen on this rectangle of earth. It remains a little haven for those lucky enough to have access. North London feels a long way away when you are having a picnic in the North Bank’s goal mouth.

All credit to Arsenal for leaving a clear view of where the pitch once was and not filling it with more flats. I have been one of those lucky enough to enjoy the pitch garden from time to time. I can’t help but recreate, Phoenix from the Flames style, the great moments that happened here.

While it would be easy to mourn the loss of one of the world’s most charismatic football venues it’s better to be thankful it’s still there for future generations to enjoy. It doesn’t look better or worse now, just different.

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(19) Highbury Hill House 

Quietly away down a side street. Subtle, understated. Who played here again?

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(20) Laying down a marker 

I called it this because it’s a real statement. It may look like a piece of modern art, but it’s functional too. This is where the side streets end and you enter the Emirates Island.

This photo shows the barrier, the line you cross, past which everything is new Arsenal. It is symbolic. You leave the old Highbury era behind when you cross that white line. New corporate font of course.

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(21) Islington night

This was my last photo on my last visit. Walking away from Highbury and the Emirates for the train back north. Make no mistake, Arsenal are winning at blending modern and traditional.

While I may pine for another trip to Highbury under the lights, the Emirates is a stunning ground, making its own history, one game at a time. Oh, and they’ve paid off the mortgage now too. That gallic swagger will be back before you know.

By This Is My Love


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