Sunday was a day to celebrate and a day to reflect as Arsenal said goodbye to Highbury. Arsenal.com reporter Chris Harris was in the North Bank for the Final Salute to the famous old stadium.
My first time? Arsenal v Sunderland, November 1983. Tony Adams' debut no less. My dad took me down to the front of the old North Bank and kept an eye on me while he stood with his mates. I don't remember much about the game, but I do remember the swearing. As a kid surrounded by diehard Arsenal fans, I got to learn some new words that day. You can't blame them - Sunderland won 2-1 and Adams had a bit of a shocker by all accounts. I think it's fair to say he made up for it.
Sunday brought it all back for me and, no doubt, the other 38,000 or so crammed into Highbury. It was a day to remember your Highbury 'firsts' while enjoying your Highbury 'lasts', not to mention the friends you made and the joy you shared.
When I think of Arsenal at Highbury, I think of my dad alongside me. I made my wide-eyed pilgrimage to the stadium in his company and, nearly 23 years on, we took our seats in the North Bank Upper to say goodbye together.
Highbury was a sight to behold as a packed house sported commemorative T-shirts to give a red-and-white 'bar scarf' effect in all four stands. The exception was a block of blue in the away section. It was a nice touch to get the Wigan fans involved and, to their credit, they were generous in their applause during the closing ceremony.
So, plenty of colour off the pitch, and plenty at stake on it. With Tottenham in pole position to finish fourth, events at Highbury were inextricably linked with the London derby at Upton Park. It made for a surreal atmosphere at times. During a lull in play at Highbury, a roar cascaded across the stadium like a Mexican wave as West Ham took an early lead. Almost instantly Wigan equalised to remind us that, whatever the score at Upton Park, Arsenal had to do the business too.
They did. Thierry Henry's hat-trick kept Arsenal's part of the bargain, but Spurs had levelled. Another goal for them would wreck our hopes of fourth place. No wonder the fans peered anxiously at those straining for news on their radio headphones.
Then, with 10 minutes left, a moment to savour. The crowd rose to acclaim Dennis Bergkamp as he prepared for his last competitive appearance on English soil. Simultaneously, news filtered through of West Ham's winner. As Bergkamp jogged onto the Highbury pitch for the final time, the stadium was rocking.
The party began - on and off the pitch - as the final whistle blew at Highbury and, seconds later, at Upton Park. Fourth place was secure. Now to enjoy the final moments at this famous old place. Arsenal pulled out all the stops. On came the marching band, closely followed by Alex Morgan, the police tenor familiar to older fans in the crowd. On came a parade of Arsenal legends, with luminaries from Alf Fields to Wrighty.
But amid the celebratory atmosphere there was time for reflection, time to remember those who came before us, from the fathers who first took us to Highbury to the players who once graced the pitch but are no longer with us.
Famous faces lined up to play their part in proceedings. Roger Daltrey performed 'Highbury Highs', Sir Henry Cooper reflected on his 1966 bout with Muhammad Ali before Peter Hill-Wood and Arsène Wenger addressed the crowd. But perhaps most touching of all was the reception for Ken Friar, a true Arsenal man who first worked at Highbury when George Allison was the manager. Mr Friar was honoured for his immense contribution to the Club, and the respect in which he is held was obvious by the ovation he received.
And that was that. As the Highbury Countdown clock reached zero, a spectacular fireworks display brought 93 years of Highbury to an explosive climax. As the pyrotechnics died down, we glanced over from our North Bank seats at Emirates Stadium, looming large in the distance.
That fleeting glimpse summed up the day. A happy ending on the pitch, a celebration of the past - and one eye on the future.Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 9 May 2006