Winners, losers and broken promises

Arsenal FC have more than last night’s defeat to mull over. Their move to a new stadium has short-changed the local community

Published in the Evening Standard 18 May 2006

There’s a cloud over Highbury today. The whole of N5 was readying itself for a victory parade; instead it will be a day for stoicism and graceful acceptance of defeat. The talk in Gunner-land will not be of Thierry’s glory or Arsene’s magic, but of a Champions League final marred by a red card, missed opportunities and heavy disappointment.

Now, I don?t want to add to their woes, but there’s another, different competition which Arsenal deserve to lose. In the contest to be a good corporate citizen, the club – not the team – have let themselves and their supporters down badly. Their conduct shames them more than the defeat last night ? and it tells a story that goes way beyond both Arsenal and football. It?s a story about the power big companies wield in cities like London – and the failure of our elected representatives to stop them.

I?m talking about the new Emirates stadium where Arsenal will kick off the next season. It?s widely seen as a success story, built on time and to budget: a shining, steel-and-glass contrast with the fiasco of Wembley. But the Emirates tale is not all cheers and laps of honour. For Arsenal and the developers it hired have angered local people by breaking one promise after another.

When they were granted planning permission in 2002, Arsenal said that coaches carrying supporters would park underneath the stadium. Now that plan?s been dropped on grounds of ?security.? Instead up to 40 coaches will park on surrounding streets, choking those areas to all who live on them.

That?s not all. Arsenal promised they would rebuild a sports centre demolished as part of the new development. There was great excitement, especially among Highbury?s young people; the club said its players and coaches would be involved in the new site. But that plan quietly disappeared too: instead Arsenal have promised to give