Dan Gribbon is a huge Arsenal fan and has been from a young age. He was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia but comes from a family of European migrants where supporting Arsenal was something passed on through generations. Having grown up following the club from the other side of the world, for Dan and his childhood friend, Andy, it was always a dream to one day see a game in person.
In February, 2004 Arsenal announced they had finally secured the funds to build a new stadium at Ashburton Grove and the 2005/06 season would be their last at Highbury. Dan knew he had to get there before the historic stadium was gone forever.
Ambitiously, or perhaps naively at 19 and 20 years old, the guys weren’t content with just any fixture. Their hearts were set on attending the last North London derby at Arsenal Stadium on April 22 and the final game against Wigan on May 7, 2006. But securing tickets for such important matches wouldn’t be easy.
These days there are all sorts of ticket exchange services for football fans, but in 2006 they weren’t as common. However, Dan did manage to find one website selling tickets to these very fixtures – the legitimacy of which was certainly in question – but they wouldn’t come cheap. Desperate to live out their childhood dreams, the guys were willing to take the risk, paying the full amount up front. Around $700 AUD for the derby against Tottenham and over $1000 AUD for the Wigan game.
Dan and Andy departed Australia for the UK, still unsure if their purchase would be honoured, as the information provided by the website was vague. Several emails returned little results and the day of the derby was fast approaching. Twenty-four hours before kickoff, Dan found a phone number and they were informed that they needed to pick up their tickets from a particular address in East London.
Arriving at the location, they discovered it was a dry cleaners. Uncertain at what this could mean, they proceeded inside where they were greeted by a woman. Initially she didn’t understand why they were there, but once they mentioned football tickets she sprang into action. The woman got on the phone, spoke to someone named John, before hanging up and telling the guys to head upstairs where John would be waiting for them.
Dan likens this experience to an English gangster film. Indeed, John was waiting for them with a couple of burly men standing arms crossed either side of him. He welcomed them in, asked for their names and pulled out a thick envelope full of football tickets, before producing a pair for the North London derby. Given the uneasy situation, Dan decided not to ask about the Wigan match and they left feeling relieved, knowing they were finally going to a game at Highbury.
While in London, the guys were staying at a friends place and when a pair of season tickets arrived in the mail they couldn’t believe their luck. They were about to be a part of Arsenal history.
Match day arrived and for Arsenal, the special occasion had an extra layer of importance. They were still competing with Tottenham for Champions League qualification. This only added to the sense of anticipation and nervousness for Dan and Andy. Getting into the ground with someone else’s season ticket could pose a potential problem.
The guys downed a couple of pints before walking to the ground, still unsure if they would actually be granted entry. But surprisingly, passing through the old turnstiles was a breeze. They showed their tickets and before they knew it, they were in.
They found their seats in the lower side of the East Stand, right near the Clock End, surrounded by supporters who had probably been attending their whole lives. And here were two kids from Australia witnessing just their second Arsenal match ever in the span of a couple of weeks.
But the importance of the occasion was not lost on Dan and Andy. Arsenal too were ready to see Highbury off in style. A 4-2 victory, including a Thierry Henry hat trick made sure that May 7, 2006 would go down in history.