A life long Arsenal fan travels from Australia to London in the hope of witnessing the clubs last ever match at Highbury.
James: I'm James Parkinson and this is By Association, a show about football and the connection we all share with the beautiful game.
And for our debut episode, we thought we’d tell one of our own stories.
Dan: My name’s Dan Gribbon. I’m the founder and designer at 3nilfc.com.
James: Dan has been a huge Arsenal fan from a young age. Born and raised in Australia but coming from a family of European migrants where supporting Arsenal was something passed on through generations.
And having grown up supporting the club from a distance, for Dan and his childhood friend, Andy, the goal was to one day see a game in person.
Dan: The news came out that Arsenal had decided to leave Highbury and you know, 2005/2006 would be the last season there. And we’d just grown up our whole lives looking from afar and having our heroes like Berkhamp, Henry, Viera, Pires, all that kind of stuff.
And we were like “we’ve gotta do it, we’ve just got to go over there”. And yeah, we had to make it happen somehow. We were like 19 and 20 years old.
And I guess the best way to go about that was to find a dodgy website selling tickets to go to the last North London derby and also the final game against Wigan.
Dan: So we found this website which, looking back, my 30 year old self wouldn’t do it but at the time we thought it made sense to buy it through a ticketing website that I wouldn’t trust now. But yeah, basically we paid over the odds, we paid way too much money. But it was kind of like a pilgrimage for us. So we would have paid anything at the time.
It was like, we’re talking well over a thousand dollars at least for the Wigan game. And it probably would have been about $600-700 Australian for the Spurs game. And we knew we were kind of doing it kind of the wrong way, but we were just crossing our fingers and hoping that it’d get us over the line.
James: So, Dan and Andy had paid all this money up front, they’d also booked their flights. And they had a place to stay in London, with Dan’s friend, Graham. But it still wasn’t clear exactly how would get a hold of the tickets - right up until they arrived in the UK….
Dan: We didn’t know how we’d recieve the tickets. We were told that we’d receive them in the post or something like that, the details were a little bit sketchy.
But it got closer and closer to match day and we were like, “okay what’s actually gonna happen here, how are we gonna get these tickets?”. We were emailing the website and you know, we’d travelled pretty far, obvioulsy to go to these games and then it got within 24 hours of kick off and we didn’t have the tickets.
Dan: Somehow we found a phone number and then it was like, “okay go to East London to this address.” And we were like “yeah cool”. We’d do anything, we’ve paid for them as well, right?
So we get to this address in East London and obvioulsy our friend has come with us and he’s looked at the address and we’ve looked at it and it’s a dry cleaners. I mean it doesn’t sound like its legitamate but this is actually how it went down. And he said, “okay, you guys go in. I don’t want to go in there…”.
And we went in, and there was just a lady there. We were told to ask for someone named John. She said, “I’ve got no idea who you’re talking about, never heard of him. What’s all this about then?”
And we looked at eachother and we were like “just here to pick up some football tickets”. We were just a couple of kids, really, but the moment we said “football tickets”, I can imagine in her head, in slow motion some sort of switch triggered and instantly she was on the phone.
And she said, “Hi, John. Got a couple of boys here for you.” And we look at eachother like “okay, what have we got ourselves in here?”. She got off the phone and she said “head on upstairs, John’s there”. And we thought we were at a...something out of ‘Lock Stock’ or ‘Snatch’. You know, it was something out of a Guy Ritchie film.
And we got up there and that’s what we were worried about and that was kind of what it looked like even when we got up there. It looked like there were a couple of blokes that looked like they were a couple of heavies for John. In you know, your kind of leather jackets, kind of arms crossed in front of themselves.
And then a bald, an older bald guy kind of turned his head and that was John. And kinda said “Hello boys”, you know, “you here for some football tickets?” And we’re like “ah, yeah….I guess….” It was, it was pretty dodgy. And he was holding like….many envelopes, which I’m guessing are full of football tickets to various Premier League games.
And he got our names and he’s you know flicking through, you know kind of flicking his thumb across his lips as he’s going through all these envelopes. And he found our names and inside them were the tickets to the Spurs game.
Now, we were gonna ask about the Wigan game but, with the environment, we felt like we were actually in a gangster film. We took the envelope, we said thank you and we kind of ran down the stairs and ran out of there, happy, just knowing we were going to the derby first.
Dan: So we went to the Spurs game and then the Wigan game, we recieved a couple of season tickets, delivered in the post to my mates address. Yeah, it didn’t feel right, it had other people’s names on them. But at the time we’d kind of flown across there, we had no idea.
I’m just hoping actually that it was just someone who couldn’t go and they’ve basically got a bit of money out of it. These days you’ve got like StubHub and stuff in the US where you can get your ticket out there and another fan can take them. I’m hoping it was some sort of early version of that, back in 2006.
James: So, tickets secured for the last ever game at Highbury and the chance to witness history. For Arsenal, the special occasion had an extra layer of importance - they were still competing with Tottenham for Champions League qualification.
Dan: So waking up that day, there was actually genuine nervousness around the game itself. So that was a bit of a worry, first and foremost, where we just needed to finish 4th to make the Champions League.
We had a couple of pints and we felt good about things and walked to the ground and there was definitley a bit of an aura, you know, in the air that day, everyone knew it was pretty serious. And everyone knew it was all kind of winding up for that ground.
Even though strangely for us, we were there for the first time, people had been going there their whole lives. So we could kind of really feel that on the day.
James: But there was still the potential problem of not getting into the stadium.
Dan: Walking to the ground and getting into the ground was all kind of, I guess all to do with that ticket scenario, where we were just kind of in our own little bubble there I guess and we were just worried about getting in.
You know Highbury’s an old ground and you go through some old turnstiles there and you’ve gotta kind of show that you’ve got a ticket to get in and we were a bit worried to be perfectly honest, but it worked. No one batted an eyelid.
James: So they didn’t ask for identification? Anything like that?
Dan: No. Luckily not, because I think if they did we would have been not going. But yeah, luckily no one asked anything and we got in.
We found our seats. We were sitting in the lower side of the East Stand. Right near the Clock End, right in that corner there. So there were people around us in seats, I mean I’m guessing these guys had been going there their whole lives, they’re probably in their fifties or something and they kinda couldn’t beleive that we were there at the last game, you know, how was that? That a couple of guys from Australia were going to their second game, you know, ever at this ground and it was ninety plus years where it had existed.
James: So a bit of an emotional high that day, I guess?
Dan: Definitley. Like, nervous. I was kind of pinching myself. I was still genuinely, kind of in awe of the ground and being there for the second time in, what? Probably a couple of weeks.
So for me I was still just taking in what the ground was all about and making sure that I remembered it. Because I knew I was there because it was going.
Dan: The main theme as the game unfolded was, it was up and down against Wigan. You know we went ahead and then they got back….
They got ahead and we brought it back and ultimately Henry had a hat-trick and that was a bit of a dream for me to see Henry score a hat-trick right in front of me.
Dan: And then at the end there was just celebrations with all the players over the years who’d played there. Which probably added an extra layer for my friend and I, being there and just seeing legends, you know Charlie George and George Graham and Bob Wilson and all that sort of stuff. And just being there, so it really added to everything for us.
And then, fireworks, cue fireworks and all that sort of stuff. And then yeah, and everyone was walking out of the ground and it became empty - not quickly, but probably over the course of an hour, but we just didn’t want to leave. So we just kinda sat there and took it in and took a few photos….
And yeah it was quite strange. It wasn’t like you were at a funeral - I mean if it was a funeral it’d be the most fun funeral ever. But at the same time there was, there was definite sadness there, people crying. I was pretty emotional. But at the same time, we just didn’t have a life long of going there. We were just so happy, genuinley to be there in the first place for that moment.
James: This episode was produced by me, James Parkinson. Music comes from Little Glass Men, Chris Zabriskie, David Hyde, Hyped Figure, Dexter Britain, Chris Collins and Paul Tyan, under creative commons.
You can find me on Twitter @JamesRParkinson. Dan is @3nilfc.
Our website is byassociation.audio. And check out our parent site, 3nilfc.com, where we always love the game.