A tube station in north Highbury, south of Finsbury Park
Arsenal football club is far from being a ‘hidden’ feature of London but its early geographical history is not widely known. In 1913 St John’s College of Divinity leased its sports ground at Highbury to Woolwich Arsenal football club, which had been founded in 1886 as the works team of the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich. Tottenham Hotspur and Orient football clubs (the latter then playing at Clapton) objected to the relocation but were overruled.
The club’s achievements were modest until Yorkshireman Herbert Chapman took over as manager in 1925. A strict disciplinarian and canny businessman, Chapman guided Arsenal to FA Cup victory in 1930 and then to three league championships. To honour the club’s successes, Gillespie Road station (shown in the photo above*) was renamed Arsenal in 1932. Highbury stadium was erected during the following few years, to the design of Archibald Leitch, who was responsible for most of the great British stadia of the interwar era.
St John’s College was demolished after a fire in 1946 and the institution subsequently relocated to Northwood (now in the London Borough of Hillingdon) before settling in Bramcote, Nottinghamshire in 1969. St John’s has a website that makes absolutely no mention of the secular detail that one of the world’s best-known football clubs owes its Islington existence to the college.
Arsenal played their last competitive game at Highbury on 7th May 2006, beating Wigan Athletic 4-2. Since the 2006/7 season, Arsenal have played at the Emirates Stadium in nearby Drayton Park.
Highbury’s art deco east and west stands have been converted into apartments, while the former pitch has become a commemorative area and community garden.
Postal district: N5
Station: Piccadilly line (Zone 2)
Further reading: Jon Spurling, Rebels For The Cause: The Alternative History Of Arsenal Football Club, Mainstream Sport, 2004