Day 8 was a very busy day. With practice cancelled so we could spend more time in London, it was an early start to go see the changing of the Queen’s guards. A very busy area of London, around Buckingham Palace, with thousands of people lining the streets and packing the sidewalks, and all this while the City of London goes about it’s normal business day. In roasting hot heat, not often seen in the UK, the players looked on in amazement at the spectacle of the Beefeaters marching down the street, accompanied by the marching band. We watched from the left of the palace, on the roundabout as suggested by our tour guide, Flying Scotsman, Jack. After the pomp, we headed to the gates for a closer look, working our way through the huge crowds to get a glimpse of the palace gates and guards on duty.
After the morning with the Queen, the group headed to it’s next stadium tour, Frank Lampard’s Chelsea, Stamford Bridge, and breaking up so Eric and Ricardo could visit their beloved, trophy-less Arsenal, a stadium with more empty cabinets than IKEA.
The following is Eric’s account of his boyhood dream of visiting the Emirates –
We took the London underground from Green Park to Holloway Road. From there, it was a short walk to the massive home ground for Arsenal FC. To give a brief history of the club, they were founded in 1886 and had originally played at Highbury until 2006. Their old stadium could hold up to 40,000 spectators, where as the Emirates can hold up to 60,000. The club’s history goes back to over 100 years, but perhaps they’re best known for their teams during the early 2000s Premier League era. Some notable players to have been part of those teams are Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, and Dennis Bergkamp. They’re the only club during the Premier League era to go a whole season undefeated, temporarily gaining the nickname, ‘The Invincibles.’
Emirates Stadium is massive, and there is plenty to see inside and out of it. Just outside of the stadium for the general public to view are several statues and murals. One can find the ‘Celebration Corner,’ which is a photo-mural of players celebrating their goals from a famous moment. Along the walls of the Emirates are enlarged photos of notable players with quotes about them from fans and colleagues. Then they’re statues of some of their most iconic former players. Along the outside perimeter of the Emirates is the statues of Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Tony Adams, and Herbert Chapman. They make great for a photo op.
The stadium tour begins from inside the Armoury Store, Arsenal’s very own fan shop. It’s a self-guided tour in which the attendee receives a tablet-like device with earbuds. The listener can choose who narrates the tour and may go at their own pace. It was an interesting experience because we got to take our time at each part of the tour, however listening to a recording about the stadium wasn’t as interesting as hearing from the tour staff. Although the tablet had interactive features like a camera that would show a behind-the-scenes video of the first team, and video highlights of games, the best part of the tour was about what was physically in front of you. The tour staff are sparse throughout different areas of the stadium. Even though the tablet gives plenty of information, we enjoyed listening to the staff because they’ve been true fans for years. We spoke to a couple staff members, and they shared many of their memories and experiences as Arsenal fans. It felt more genuine and authentic than the tablet because the recordings can get stale.
During the tour we got to see a bust of Arsene Wenger, director’s box view of the pitch, a time capsule of important items from Arsenal’s history, the player’s tunnel, changing rooms with the players’ jerseys, press room, and best of all, go pitch side and sit right where the first team does. Their pitch is fantastic, and we even got to see the grounds men cut the grass. Tour staff told us that it’s a synthetic pitch, quite like at St. George’s Park and Old Trafford. We took our time in that area, as we enjoyed sitting where the players sat. They’ve got some comfy seats.
The tour ended with us right back the Armoury, where we spent a good amount of time gift shopping. However, the overall experience wasn’t quite over, because there was still Arsenal’s Museum. There we saw a visual history of the club. It’s split into two areas: one for their beginning up until around the 60s, and another for their modern era. In each area one can find various objects of importance that represent an iconic moment or player. It’s a nice museum and I felt that it taught more than that tablet.
Overall the tour experience was quite excellent, and we’d love to come back on a gameday. Walking though an empty stadium was nice because we get to take in all the history and learn about the club. After that, we could only imagine what it would be like on a game day. The atmosphere and amount of people would surely make it a complete experience (as well as a win!).