By Chris Harris
Arsenal fans have been enjoying the state-of-the-art facilities at Emirates Stadium since its doors opened for Dennis Bergkamp's testimonial last July. But how does the Club's new home actually work?
Moving from Highbury to the Emirates was one thing, but making sure everything is operational is quite another, particularly when you bear in mind the sheer size of Arsenal's 60,000-capacity venue.
As Emirates Stadium Week continues on Arsenal.com, we spoke to Stadium Manager John Beattie for an insight into his role at Arsenal and the slick operation which ensures home games go without a hitch.
John, tell us about your role and responsibilities
The Stadium Management department is responsible for two major things - the facilities and the safety requirements. We have to make sure, in a nutshell, that the supporters go home in the same condition that they arrived. If we can do that we've managed the event quite safely and successfully.
How much input did you have during the stadium's construction?
In the initial stages and design, not very much. It was only when we knew the project was going to take place that I started getting involved. Basically from the day we started digging in the ground I was then involved and was responsible for making sure that things put down on paper could work in practice.
What's your verdict on the first season at Emirates Stadium?
It has been a success. The last 10 months since we opened have been extremely busy but on the whole we would certainly take where we are. There are some teething problems which will require some tweaking but no more than that. We had three 'ramp-up' events last summer and we had no major problems. On the whole, it has worked just as we hoped it would.
Were you nervous before the first game, Dennis Bergkamp's testimonial?
Not really, we were far too tired to be nervous by that stage! Two weeks out we thought we were ready to open the stadium. We got the stadium the following Friday, we trained the stewards on the Saturday and Sunday because we hadn't been able to get the stewards into the stadium before then. We had been promised that but we took the view that to get the stewards in would mean the builders stop building. Did we want a building which was ready and staff which needed training quickly or fully-trained staff in a building which couldn't operate? It wasn't a hard decision. We had the first 'ramp-up' event on the following Tuesday, the second on the Thursday and the third - Bergkamp's testimonial - on the Saturday. We were just living it. My wife seems to think it was the best week of the year - I wasn't home!
Why was the facade of the stadium still bare for the first few matches?
It was a case of 'Arsenal-ising' the stadium afterwards, firstly because we wanted to see what needed doing and secondly because there were little changes being given to the contractors up until the last minute. So to throw in things to make the stadium look pretty and nice really couldn't be done that early. I don't think we would have opened had we done that.
What teething problems did you experience?
It's difficult to put your finger on too many, they were just small operational things. For example, the general availability of keys to open the place up on was a problem because what was supplied was not of a particularly high quality. We had to change every lock in the building so that took time to get done. The signage wasn't as good as it could be, it looked good on paper but you can never be certain until you actually put it on the wall. Some of the signage was in the wrong place too. It was just little things like that. Everything that was essential worked fine.
What is your agenda for a typical Saturday 3pm kick-off?
We start about two days before with the pre-match checks. We do our first stadium inspection on a Thursday, we walk round and issue worksheets for things that are missing. We have briefings during the last couple of days just to get things right. We're all in at 8am on the matchday to do another inspection of the ground. Then the personnel will start turning up between 11am and 11.30am, the stewards report for duty at 12pm, the police briefing takes place about 11. The ground opens in corporate areas at 12.30pm, the General Admission opens at 1pm. Hopefully it all goes swimmingly well. Then at the final whistle most people go home but some stay because we are open for two hours after the game. During event we are there just in case. We all get away around 8pm in the evening.
How does your role differ from the same job at Highbury?
It is more stressful now. I won't say Highbury was easy because if you think something is easy in a safety role then you shouldn't be doing it anymore. But Highbury was comfortable because we had been doing it for so many years, everybody knew what they were doing and it happened like clockwork. Here it is far more technologically advanced, so we had to learn all the technology and we are still learning some of it. There are a lot more communication systems because there are a lot more people. At Highbury we had 400 stewards and now we have 900, so just to communicate with those is a complex task in itself. The whole place is just so much bigger. At Highbury you could get anywhere in about five minutes, here you just about get to the next block in that time. We had to look at different ways of operating to make sure we still had the same response times that we had before, even though we have a far greater distance to cover now.
What is your highlight from the first year at Emirates?
Probably opening for the first game - Bergkamp's testimonial. There was so much relief and we could see the fruits of our labour.
And what is your favourite feature at the stadium?
In the first few months I didn't like the place because it was so much hard work! There was no fun involved because you have so many problems to react to. But gradually that has changed and now you can think about what you want to do. The best feature for me is the seats. We're the only outdoor stadium in the world, I believe, which has fully upholstered seats for everybody.