While Arsenal are rushing to the top of the Premier League table, ultras have recently been drumming and singing in the stands at the Emirates Stadium. That’s pretty unusual for English football.
But who can blame the onlookers for capturing these scenes forever? After all, that kind of thing is rarely seen on the island, unless some continental European club is visiting the European Cup. Only very few English clubs have active Ultras, for example Crystal Palace or the second division teams Huddersfield Town and FC Middlesbrough.
And now Arsenal too: The Ashburton Army have taken the Emirates by storm after a difficult start this season. With coordinated continuous singing and drumming, the Ultras provide the accompanying music for Arsenal’s successful run, with choreos and pyros for the colorful background.
Mikel Arteta’s team is hurrying away from the competition at the top of the Premier League table: after 17 games there is only one bankruptcy and the lead over pursuers Manchester City is five points. Arsenal are enjoying their most exciting period by any measure, probably since Arsene Wenger’s marriage in the mid-noughties.
Arsenal FC and the mood problem: “Highbury Library”
In 2004, the Invincibles won Arsenal’s last championship title to date, and in 2006 they made it into the Champions League final, which they ultimately lost to FC Barcelona. After that season, Arsenal moved from their almost 100-year-old home of Highbury to the newly built Emirates not far away.
Old Highbury, now converted into a residential complex, had plenty of charm but wasn’t one of the country’s most atmospheric stadiums. “Highbury Library,” opposing fans liked to sneer. Quiet as in a library. In the Emirates, the charm was gone and the atmosphere was even worse: the few fans who loved to sing were spread across the stadium – or could no longer afford the tickets at all, hardly any Premier League club charges as high admission prices as Arsenal.
Added to these annoyances was the sporting downward trend of the team, also due to the lack of investment in the squad due to the high costs of building the new stadium. In Wenger’s late phase, it was mostly just about the Champions League qualification, since his departure in 2018 the former subscription participant has always been missing in the premier class.
Ashburton Army: A touch of fanaticism for Arsenal
“One-dimensional, soulless and considering the size of the club just terrible” felt Jack Griffin the atmosphere at the time, as he the portal
Pain in the Arsenal reported. Griffin wanted to fight the misery with some buddies, so in 2019 they created the Ashburton Army. Named after the Ashburton Grove neighborhood, inspired by continental European ultras. “The group was formed to add atmosphere and bring a touch of that fanatical lifestyle to Arsenal.”
In the middle of the last century, England was still the world leader when it came to stadium atmosphere. There was no permanent support, but there were game-related and often humorous chants. Always loud, always lively. Usually not only the back goal stand participated, but the whole stadium. In the course of the 1970s and 1980s, however, a hooligan culture developed, characterized by violent clashes between fan camps.
As a consequence of the Heysel and Hillsborough stadium disasters, standing room was abolished and ticket prices increased. With that, the hooligan problem disappeared, but with it the mood in many places. Ordinary workers could no longer afford tickets, and vacant seats were taken by well-heeled tourists. Since then, the once famous English atmosphere has only come up very occasionally in special games.
Those looking for an electrifying atmosphere are currently more likely to find it in continental Europe. Although Ultras are occasionally violent, they primarily stand for continuous singing, choreographies and pyrotechnics. That’s the kind of support Griffin and his comrades wanted to bring to the Emirates.
Boxing Day choreography: Arsenal’s Ultras Ashburton Army at home against West Ham United. Arsenal FC: “The atmosphere is better than ever”
However, there were a few problems: the pandemic prevented stadium visits at times, the positioning of the new group in Emirates coordinated support. Members of the Ashburton Army initially had seats scattered somewhere high in the stands. “We contacted the club and set out our ideas,” Griffin recalled. Your wish for contiguous squares has actually been fulfilled. Clock End, Block 25. This is where the heart of the mood is.
The atmosphere at the Emirates has improved noticeably over the past season, says Akhil Vyas from the Arsenal Supporters Trust
SPOX and GOAL: “The atmosphere has been fantastic since the last games of the pre-season, better than ever. The Ashburton Army are doing a very good job. I’m glad that the club is supporting them.”
The Ashburton Army now has around 200 members. “We’re still growing,” says Griffin. “And fans outside of our group are also more active than they used to be.” According to Vyas, other factors also play a role in the mood swing in the ranks of the emirate: such as the popular new anthem “The Angel”, the work of a fan association called Red Action and the club’s action against season ticket holders who do not follow their subscription consistently enough to use.
Ashburton Army: Charity Drives and Choreo Crowdfunding
The most atmospheric game of the season so far was the North London derby against Tottenham Hotspur in October, everyone agrees. When the teams arrived, the Ashburton Army showed a small choreography, financed by a crowdfunding campaign. Banners read “We Came, We Saw, We Conquered” and “North London Is Red Since 1913,” a nod to Arsenal’s controversial move to traditional Tottenham country in north London over 100 years ago.
Arsenal confidently beat their rivals 3-1, Arteta then spoke of “probably the best atmosphere since I’ve been at the club” – and he has been as a player and coach for over a decade. According to Vyas, the emergence of the ultras has only had positive feedback so far: “I haven’t heard anything bad about the group.”
Like many continental European ultras, the Ashburton Army is committed to charitable causes. Shortly before Christmas, for example, she organized a charity campaign for the benefit of mentally ill people. At the same time, money is constantly being collected for choreographies. At the West Ham game on Boxing Day it was that time again: after the much-filmed Pyro parade in front of the stadium, red and white ribbons ran through the clock end as the team entered.
In preparation for the choreography, the club allowed the Ultras access to the stadium, an unusual practice in England. The next step to improve the mood at the Emirates is the introduction of a standing area behind the goal – just as Chelsea, Tottenham and the two Manchester clubs City and United have done since legalization last year. Currently, the Ashburton Army still has to sing, drum and clap in front of seat shells.
Premier League: The top half of the table
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