Liam Harding, great grandson of Arsenal Legend Ted Drake, took part in The Arsenal Togetherness project which has resulted in new artwork being displayed on the external walls of the Emirates Stadium. Liam contacted us and asked if we would publish a blog that he had written about the project.
We consider it an honour to do so.
Before going to bed in early April 2022, I noticed I had an email in my inbox from The Arsenal team, which took me by complete surprise!
I have devoured the pleasure of being a lifelong Arsenal fan and being related to one of the all-time greats of not just Arsenal but of the game of football itself. My Great Grandfather is and will forever be striker Ted Drake who on the 14th of December 1935, whilst injured with the World’s biggest bandage attached to his leg, scored the most goals (seven) in a top-flight game of English football. During that same year, he scored the most goals in a season for Arsenal, with 44 goals to his name. Neither of his two records has been broken and probably won’t be.
In 2009, the Legend reemerged on Arsenal’s horizon during the Emirates Stadium 32 glorious Legends together display uncovering. After 13 years of weathering, Arsenal decided that the display needed to be redesigned and replaced, a process which I and my Granddad (son of Ted Drake) were a part of and were informed about after reading the email on that late April night.
In that exact email, I and my Granddad were asked to meet up on the evening of the 19th of April at the Tollington Arms alongside several Arsenal fans and the families of the legends whose backs had graced the Emirates Stadium. The pub is situated just up the road from the Emirates Stadium and after I walked in, the exceptionally warm and welcoming vibe completely took me aback from those who worked for the club and were there like me attending.
Before the event began, we were all given two free drink tickets which I gladly used for two delicious Kopparbergs whilst socially getting myself involved with the other fans there too. At the start of the event, the artists who would lay the ground for the new design, including Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller, ReubenDangoor and graphic designer David Rudnick, gave a speech about what they were planning to do to revolutionise the Emirates Stadium. Another important person who gave a speech was Arsenal CEO Vinai Venkkatesham, who also talked about why we were there and what our purpose was in the construction process, as well as what the club was aiming to do. Both speeches were very strong and made me feel quite emotional inside as I realized exactly what Arsenal has and will always be about, as everyone there felt instantly connected to one greater community.
We were all given different A4 cards with questions for us to answer. For example, a couple of the questions were what does Arsenal mean to you? What are Arsenal’s biggest achievements? Before I forget, the pub handed out free meals too for everyone there, which was a much-appreciated delight too.
After the event came to a close me and my Granddad safely made our way home after saying goodbye to 1930s Arsenal captain Eddie Hapgood’s daughter Lynn, who most recently published a book about her father’s life, and talking to her son Jake who’s grandson of the ex-England captain too. I must admit there was a slight stumble in our tracks home as the pub sits on the corner of a crossroad, and we weren’t too sure for a minute which road we had come up and were meant to go down to get back to Arsenal tube station.
On the 8th of June, I rocked up at Arsenal tube station once again after having switched at Waterloo for the underground after setting off from Basingstoke with not my Granddad but my brother-in-arms George. Unfortunately, my Granddad could not go as he was busy with my Nan celebrating their 54th wedding anniversary. That was not a problem, though. I had been to watch The Arsenal multiple times with George, who is also an Arsenal fan since birth and whose dad is a season ticket holder at the club. He was as excited as me to go along to the Arsenal Togetherness event. As we arrived early I said to him, “do you fancy going to look at Highbury Gardens and the Stadium as we haven’t seen it together before?” My friend accepted the request, and we went and had a walk round the gardens, which was lovely on a sunny summer’s day. After we’d completed our walk and marveled at the ground, I went inside and asked one man at reception if we could have a tour around the now Highbury flat corridors, leading up from the Marbles hall stairs. While the bust of Herbert Chapman who put Arsenal on the global stage of football stared at me, the man declined my asking, but was in awe when I said who my great granddad was. Once we’d finished at Highbury, we moved on to the Emirates Stadium, where the second meeting would take place in the Diamond Club. I’d only ever been there before when I was on a stadium tour dating back to nearly a decade ago when I was 11. There was food and drink for everyone as me and my friend helped ourselves to a couple of beers and burgers whilst we sat down at one table and spoke to a couple of fans of similar age who help with the club behind the scenes.
When we sat down, we were told not to take pictures of the designs which the artists had created, which were displayed on a large screen in front of us. During the meeting, they showed us the first designs for the stadium banners and asked what we thought of them, which I was over the moon with. It was great to see that the banner ideas were simply revolutionary as they differed completely from any other Premier League stadium ones. I was glad that the new banners weren’t just going to include the backs of Arsenal greats, as I felt we needed something different for the club and Emirates Stadium to stand out once again. I’d seen that West Ham’s ground has adorned with the backs of previous legends too and I thought it was most definitely time for a change that would be revolutionary.
The final meeting occurred on the 13th of October when we saw the final designs in print at the Emirates Stadium Diamond Club again. We were awarded free drinks and food again whilst also being able to watch the Arsenal and Bodo Glimt Europa League game too before the meeting started. Whilst I was watching the game, a couple of camera flashes distracted me in the background as people were having their photos taken for one banner, which includes 720 Arsenal fans. I went along to join the fun as I had my picture taken for the banner and my Granddad. During the meeting, they introduced us to the complete designs for the all-new eight Emirates Stadium banners. A couple of my favorites were of course the “Remember who you are” banner with legends on it including Ted Drake hanging out of one window of Arsenal Stadium, and the “come to see the Arsenal” banner imprinted with “Welcome to North London home of The Arsenal”.
On Wednesday the 11th of January 2023, the unveiling of the Emirates Stadium banner artwork was launched at Candids Art Trust. It would be one of the greatest nights of my life as I finally met the legends who have graced the club throughout the years which I have read about. I was completely surprised by seeing the likes of George Graham, Ian Wright, Charlie George, Alan Smith, David Seaman, Jack Wilshere, Bob Wilson, and current captain Martin Odegaard. I just wasn’t expecting it at all, especially within the first few minutes, when I noticed the appearance of Pat Rice. I thought maybe he would be the only one there, but I was wrong-very wrong!
It was an immense joy to be a part of such a special Arsenal Togetherness project, which means the world to me as a man of literally Arsenal blood!