The biggest two weeks in Arsenal’s history



By Myles Palmer

Islington Council last night approved plans for Ashburton Grove and Highbury.

Mayor Ken Livingstone has 14 days to consider the decision.

He has already written to Islington supporting the stadium plans.

Secretary of State Stephen Byers could order a public enquiry. But he didn’t do that on the Fulham plans, which gave no benefit to the community : no housing, no jobs.

What a result to cap the biggest two weeks in Arsenal’s history!

On November 25th Arsenal gave Paul Scholes an early goal and still stuffed Man United 3-1.

They cranked up the tempo and beat the mighty Juventus 3-1.

Arsene Wenger signed as manager till 2005 last Wednesday.

The club launched a massive charm-offensive last Thursday, a masterpiece of news management which created favourable publicity over the weekend.

Then Wenger produced his most radical substitutions on Sunday.

Aston Villa were 2-0 up at half-time. Upson and Ljungberg were having nightmares.

So he took them off and put on Keown and Wiltord at half-time. And Wiltord made it 2-1 within two minutes.

After that Arsenal just blew Villa way.

They were elemental, a force of nature, like a whirlwind,a hurricane, blasting all before them as they attacked with energy, passion, width, power and pace.

Vieira was colossal in his best game as captain. He robbed young right back Samuel to give Henry a fabulous pass for 2-2.

After 90 minutes the board went up : four minutes of stoppage time.

When Arsenal are in this mood four minutes is a long time. It is an eternity and it was obvious that they would win the game.

A weak goalkick by Enckelman, Cole scuffed his pass to Boateng, Pires beat Boateng, put Henry in for a one-on-one and it was 3-1.

Vieira is Wenger’s main man, but Henry is his favourite son.

When Thierry scored his 15th Premiership goal of the season the manager threw his head back and raised his fists in celebration. An unusually extrovert reaction from The Professor.

Most of us felt the stadium decision was in the bag. It was done and dusted. It had to be. We thought it was tied to Wenger signing his new contract.

We knew that there were 52 councillors and two were Arsenal season-ticket holders so they would not be allowed to vote.

So 50 councillors would vote, we were told. And a simple majority of 26 votes in favour would mean Arsenal’s plans were approved .

Yesterday I went into town and did my Xmas shopping and then caught the Victoria line up to Highbury & Islington.

I walked up to the Union Chapel, where the council meeting was being held.

I had never been to the Union Chapel before, except to see Laura Nyro,an American singer,on Friday 11th November 1994.

It was dark and cold and damp and wintry as I stood outside talking to reporters Bill Pierce and Steve Tongue.

There were police in day-glo yellow bibs, a white television van, barriers,stewards, and a group of 200 Gooners in red woolly hats and Arsenal shirts and specially printed red T-shirts.

The cops kept them separate from a smaller group of residents and protesters who held up their Islington Stadium Communities Alliance banner. They chanted, “Dump the Dump!” and, “Down With Dein!”

At one point the Gooners started to chant: “Sit in your front room, we’re gonna sit in your front room! Sit in your front room, we’re gonna sit in your front room.”

The meeting was due to start at 7.30 p.m. and the door would open at 7.10.

Our names were on a press list and there would be two benches for reporters near the front.

Then David Dein, Danny Fiszman and David Miles arrived with an entourage of aides.Loud cheers from the fans, jeers and boos from the residents.

Inside, a large old church with wooden pews and electric fires glowing high on the walls.

A table with eight councillors, seven facing us, one on the end.

Above their heads, a large computer screen.

Mayor Joe Trotter wore an emerald green sweater, a navy blue bodywarmer and a big gold chain. He is fiftysomething and talks like a geezer.

It was interesting to hear the arguments.

Each speaker was given three minutes and their time was counted down on the computer screen.

The screen said :You have three minutes.

Then : You have two minutes.

Then : One minute.

And then it was : Thank you for your comments.

And the stewards would wrestle the portable hand-mikes from their grasp.

The arguments were far too complex to describe here.

The whole meeting went on until 12.30 a.m.

But I left at 9.30. I enjoyed it but two hours was enough.

As soon as I got home I was told that planning permission for Ashburton Grove had been approved by 37 votes to seven with one abstention.

Later, after midnight, Arsenal also secured compulsory purchase orders for nine properties on the Ashburton Grove industrial estate.

Today the team flies up to Blackburn for the Worthington Cup.

Bill Pierce had been at the training ground at lunchtime and said the side would be similar to the one that beat Grimsby.

So that’s that.

A mega-moment in Arsenal’s history.

Ashburton Grove is a gigantic project.It’s taken a huge amount of money and energy and stamina and imagination to get this far.

It’s brave. It’s ambitious. At £400 million it’s very expensive. It’s challenging. It’s exciting and historic.

11th December 2001.