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September 30, 2009

Home advantage: how the famous old Arsenal stadium became a new London square.

I sat high in the North Stand for one of Arsenal’s last football matches – a patrician dismissal of Everton – at its old Highbury stadium in North London. The vastly bigger and blingier new Emirates Stadium was about to open nearby. What was going to happen to the old place, I asked as we queued for burgers and beer? They’re going to convert it into housing, they said. The pitch is going to become a new London square. Oh sure, I thought. Like that’s ever going to work.

And now here I am, in a new flat high up in a block where the North Stand used to be, looking across the old Highbury pitch. The last Gunners game was played there in May 2006, and the completed development is now officially complete. Instead of the almost extra-terrestrial lushness of the football surface (Arsenal’s groundsman was legendary) I’m looking at what appears at first glance to be market-gardening allotments. At second and subsequent glances, however, it turns out to be a series of different gardens – some wild, some manicured, some high, some low – arranged in a grid pattern with paths and places to sit. It’s all rather Alice Through the Looking Glass, a chessboard landscape. For all that it is indeed a new London Square, 2.5 acres of open space, surrounded by apartments on all four sides. But it still feels like an old-fashioned football ground.

Hughpearman.com</em>