I've always wanted to go to Highbury Park. Maybe because of Fever Pitch, or just because it was the stereotype of a real English football ground. Four straight stands, very close to to the pitch filled by supporters eager to make their voice heard.
I never had the chance. Today I went to see Arsenal, but at the new Emirates Stadium. A nice experience, I must say: five goals in a packed modern and comfortable stadium and some very, very good football played by the young gunners.
But this was not Highbury Park. What remains of it, is now converted into apartments. They have managed to do so without changing much from the outside and you can actually feel what it must have been like. The huge number of fans that still go there to take pictures show that it was indeed a special ground.
But back to the present. The Emirates Stadium seemed a smaller version of the new Wembley stadium which I had the chance to visit some weeks ago during the Wembley Cup, which in turn seemed a bigger version of Benfica's new Stadium of Light.
As a Benfica fan I could but feel at home. As a football fan, I could but feel awkward.
More than the stadium, I was astonished by the similarity of the EPL experience, independently of being Stamford Bridge or the Emirates Stadium. Every seat had a nice red and white scarf for which we were given specific instructions on how to use when the players came in. The same, exactly the same (but blue and white) with Chelsea during a Champions League match last season.
A few moments later an Arsenal song started to play, with the screen showing the lyrics in karaoke format. Maybe this was for the occasional fan/tourist (like me). Not sure true fans need karaoke help.
And then the match started. For 90 minutes everything was done to what football is really about. 90 minutes for me, but not for everybody, as it seems increasingly popular to just watch 85, 86, or 87 minutes of the match and then leave in order to avoid the crowd after the final whistle.
The general feeling I got was that going to a football match is an increasingly standardized experience, in which fans are treated as mere customers going to their favourite cinema in their favourite shopping mall which is exactly the same as the cinema and the shopping mall on the other side of the city.
But isn't football supposed to be more than this?