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The modern day football fan

February 11, 2012

Gooners! Gooners! Lend me your eyes… Here we are just coming up to the business end of 2011-2012 season. I would imagine any Gooner who happens to read this blog would agree that the last few seasons have not been the best under Arsene Wenger’s reign as manager. The facts bear it out we have not won a trophy since beating Manchester United in the 2005 FA Cup Final on penalties. During these Wenger years 2006-2012 we have:-

  • 2006 reached the Champions League final losing to Barcelona.
  • 2007 & 2011 Arsenal reached the League Cup Finals losing to Chelsea and Birmingham respectively.
  • 2006-2007 season up to the 2009-2010 season we did make a challenge for a couple of seasons during this period for the title but fell away towards the end.
  • We have qualified for the Champions League in each season

There are many of us older supporters that have seen longer periods without trophies. The failure to mount a serious challenge for the honours in the past two seasons though has created a fractured fan base. Everyday on social networking sites, Arsenal forums, phone in shows and comments pages in national newspaper websites you will see Arsenal fans debating about what is going on at the club. This fractured fan base has now been categorised into groups known as the AKB’s (Arsene Knows Brigade) and the WOB’s (Wenger Out Brigade). There are mixed feelings amongst these groups who on the one hand feel  a strong loyalty to Arsene Wenger, grateful for all he has done for the club and willing still to give him time to get it right and on other hand the fans who say their loyalty is to Arsenal FC, not Arsene FC and would like to see change, maybe not just the manager leaving, but the manager changing his ways.

There are of course supporters who fall in-between but whatever way I look at it, the Arsenal fan base is fractured. This argument and debate of course does have many good points from both sides.

The Wenger years! One could say that if a child has to reach 10 years of age to fully understand football passion and support, then that child would be around 26 years old today to remember pre-Arsene Wenger Arsenal Football Club. Back in 1996, just after Bruce Rioch had got Arsenal into 4th spot and qualify for the UEFA Cup, he was unceremoniously shoved out of the door, when Mr. Dein, Vice-Chairman of the club at the time brought his good friend Arsene Wenger from Grampus 8 to take over the hot seat at Arsenal.

Whooooooooooooooooooo!!! People asked…

Apparently David Dein saw Arsene Wenger as visionary and man who could change Arsenal, a man who may even change the face of English football. Arsene Wenger did not get the kindest of starts at the club, due to scurrilous rumours about him (I won’t go into them here). Well over the next 10 years Arsene Wenger was about to take Arsenal to a different football planet. This planet was one I used to dream of as a young lad in the streets of Islington, fed up with Northern teams winning almost everything. Around the back of Hilldrop Crescent in Holloway where I live,  I used to kick a ball about and pretended I was John Radford, Alan Ball, Liam Brady and Arsenal won everything, but sadly in the real world Arsenal just got the odd success. 70-71-79… However, it was success and when success came along boy did we enjoy it. 1979! A sunny Saturday, we beat Man Utd 3-2 in the FA Cup Final. 2-0 up and then dragged back to 2-2, I was in tears one minute and then joy a minute later as Liam Brady played the ball out to Graham Rix. Graham Rix crossed from the left and there was Alan Sunderland to stick the ball in the net for 3-2.

If you want to know the feeling of Highs and lows in football, that one minute summer them up.  This is the world of football and welcome to it. You have to experience the lows to fully appreciate the highs. Would this be the start of something special? I must admit that when Arsenal chose Arsene Wenger as manager he did not like the sort of man who was about to bring a revolution to Arsenal. Arsene’s first game in charge was away at Borussia Mönchengladbach in the UEFA Cup though he went more as an observer for that match, where Arsenal lost and went out over two legs.

Wenger took Arsenal to third in the league that season, same points as the all exciting Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United and seven points behind title winners Man Utd. The next season he brought Arsenal the double. Players like Patrick Vieira and Nicholas Anelka were introduced and the famous back five were given a new lease of life. Petit was a super foil for Vieira and could you have two better Dutch players than Dennis Bergkamp and Mark Overmar’s. Ray “Romford Pele” Parlour how he improved under Wenger. The football was played with power and style; diets were introduced to take players like the Famous Back five to longer careers.

Attending Islington Town Hall for the victory parade at the end of the season. Arsene Wenger stood on the balcony of Islington Town Hall and seeing the masses of fans below and all those that lined the streets all the way from Highbury (estimates 750k – 1m were mentioned) Arsene said “I can see why Arsenal need a bigger stadium”. Success continued and a top two finish was nigh on a guarantee each season and what with Cup Finals (domestic & European) another double in 2002 and finishing 2004 as CHAMPIONS with an unbeaten season, a new stadium was now a must.

I still miss Highbury where I grew up on the terraces and will always have fond memories of the great matches I saw there over the years. There were many times where I stood on the terraces with around 25k in the stadium and huge empty spaces. The North Bank and the refreshments bar right at the back of the Stand. The bundles on the terraces (yes bundles). I think back to the two matches we had against Man Utd FA Cup 5th Round on Sat 20 Feb 1988 and v Everton on 24 Feb 1988 in League Cup Semi-Final 2nd leg winning both. Two games with Highbury packed to the rafters and the atmosphere was electric. When Brian McClair stepped up to take a penalty in the United game, it was as if the whole North Bank, breathed in and then blew and the ball sailed over the bar, that ball was not going into the net. Brilliant!! 2006

  • The club came out and told its fan base (some today say customers) that to compete with the biggest clubs in Europe; Arsenal needed a stadium with a larger capacity. Funds were found and the Emirates Stadium was built. The move into the state of the art 60000 stadium was completed for the start of the 2006-2007 season. After the success of 10 years under manager Arsene Wenger at Highbury it was said all that was lacking to take the club to the very top and become a world player was the money to compete.

The first match at the Emirates was Dennis Bergkamp’s testimonial and could there be a more fitting match to open the new stadium?  I am not sure the club/board would never had sanctioned the build of the Emirates Stadium if it were not for Arsene’s brand of football and the success he brought The move to Emirates would mean the 150 executive boxes, Diamond Club’s 186 members and the club level, between them some 7000 excusive types seats that between them make much revenue for the club as the 38k seats at Highbury made and on top of that you still had 53k terrace seats at the Emirates.

The club was looking at up to £3m per match in gate receipts this would bring in around £80m per season. Taking into account the cost of the project it would be clear for a while that spending huge sums of money on top rated players in transfer fees and salaries would not be an option. Arsenal would have to try to build a team for the future by bringing youngsters through the youth system and mixing them with more experienced players. This was called the “AWP” Arsene Wenger Project. I think for the first few seasons, the fan base went along with this. However, it became clear after a few seasons that the (AWP) was not working and success was beginning to look a distant dream for many fans. The question was being asked

  • “what was the point of moving to a bigger stadium having all that extra income if the club was going to stick with a self-sustaining policy that was taking the club in the opposite direction to what the move to Emirates was meant for?”

It could be argued that at the time the club were looking towards financing and getting the right site to build the stadium, then going through with the build, through to its opening in 2006 the club could not have foreseen the rise of Chelsea under the ownership of Roman Abramovich. David Dein was quoted as saying

  • “Roman Abramovich has parked his Russian tanks on our lawn and is firing £50 notes at us.”

Chelsea had now entered what was a two-horse race between Arsenal and Manchester United for dominance of English football. A few years on and Manchester City would join the big money league under the ownership of Sheikh Mansour. Even though Chelsea and Man City had entered the race, many were saying they were just buying success. The thing is Arsenal did have money to spend and they kept telling the fan base this.

  • The club said “Arsene has money to spend”.
  • Arsene Wenger said “I would pay big money £30m for a big player”.

The money was either not there or Arsene Wenger simply did not want to spend it. You could not blame fans for being confused as to what was actually going on. Arsene had his project and he would not be swayed. The conflicting views regarding the amount of money or even lack of it, coming out of the club on what there was to spend on new players (and still are today) are not helping the situation with the fractured fan base. To some fans the board seem to be talking a lot spin. The communication with the fan base is not good. Arsenal is now owned by American billionaire (Stan Kroenke) a business man who runs a number of sports clubs in the USA. What does he want with Arsenal? The smarts would be to make money. The Question is how do you make money from a football club?

  • Success, the more success the club get the larger the fan base the more global it goes and there becomes a massive market for the club in sales. You could even be fattening the club up ready to sell on for a huge profit, but this would still need success on the football field.

The board has Ivan Gazidis, Ken Friar and a couple of others but it does seem they talk a good game but when push comes to shove the fan base just gets more spin. A number of other people were brought in to raise the clubs profile world-wide and start to look for the best possible commercial deals. The ties with Emirates are long-term and I understand are not renewable until 2014. The shirt sponsorship is also due in 2014. You would like to think that the people who run Arsenal are smart men, smart business men. I am only a supporter, but as I said above success of the team is surely paramount to anyway of making money out of football.

This brings me onto the modern day football supporter?

Being a football fan of 50 years, it would be wrong of me to say to you that back in the 60’s – 70’s – 80’s and 90’s football supporters did not moan about their clubs. They did. The classic scene in the great Arsenal movie Fever Pitch in the Arsenal Fish Bar, where the bloke was complaining about Jon Sammel’s comes to mind. During this early period of my going over the Arsenal fans would scream and shout at matches and if the team lost then many would have a good old moan about it. Supporters debated and moaned on the way out of the ground on the way back home. They did this with their families, down the pub, to work colleagues or if younger, like me had a whinge at school or college. Supporters when they moaned did it in the company of other people.

There was no internet to log on to, moan and debate globally and become abusive to anyone and everyone in sight if they did not agree with your point of view. It’s so easy being five feet nothing, not able to pinch your way out of a wet paper bag and yet acting like Chuck Norris sitting at your keyboard. There were no 606 or 505 shows. The sort of shows that have morphed from good debating phone-in shows into good cop, bad cop shows, where the presenters are looking to wind up the callers into phoning in. (For my own sanity I stopped listening to these show years ago) The internet now makes It is a lot easier to get rid of your frustrations, when surely it is better tosay something positive or give constructive criticism but maybe this is just the social lives many people live today. Failure is NOT an option. Positive thoughts do not make good reading or TV. I also think the media play a huge role in the mind of many football fans, where supporters take every word journalists and experts say as GOSPEL. For me most journalists today are rubbish and simply look for sensationalism. How many of them actually do any research? It’s like the negative fans and the media are feeding off each other and taking themselves into a downward spiral. First this year it was Arsene Wenger and Arsenal for the media and experts. Then suddenly things picked up at Arsenal, so they switched to André Villas-Boas at Chelsea who were having problems. This is how it goes with today’s media, find something and attack it. They are like a bad computer virus. Thankfully there are still some good journalists out there. Football fans of today (not all) want success.

  • Football supporters of the big clubs it is the simple matter of seeing any of the five trophies up for grabs being lifted in February of May.
  • Supporters of some middle ranking clubs in the Premiership it may be getting into Champions League, top four or Europa Cup
  • Others clubs in the Premiership it may be all about finishing as high as possible or just staying in the Premiership and so on and so on.

Fans will say “how we get success we don’t care?” just go and get. Success calls for money to be invested. Players needed. Clubs then go out and get the squads for the success that is required, yet not all teams can win though and those that spent and did not get the success often find themselves in financial trouble that can have a bad affect on the club for years, maybe decades. You give each team in the Championship £1b each, three will get promoted to Premiership and three will go down, that’s the way it is, but I bet none of them will have made any money.

God forbid the team supporters down the road might be able to have the moral high ground for 5 minutes out of the last 20 years. Ok! So you have to take a bit of stick at the office, school, college, university, that’s the name of game, you dish it out, you take it back. This is the football I grew up with, it’s tribal. We “hate” the mob down the road; by God do we “Hate” them and no way can we Gooners stand them winning, yet put yourself in their shoes from 1986 – 2006 and even since Arsenal have stopped winning trophies that mob down the road have not been pulling up any trees.

2011-2012 suddenly the mob down road has the Gaul to actually have a wide boy manager who has put a half decent side together witch a nice few offshore bank accounts together and they are having a good season, the very same season that happens to coincide with Arsenal having their worst season for 16 years and yet Arsenal are still in the FA Cup, Champions League and still an outside chance for top four. I mean would we be really surprised if Spurs went and blew it due to a night out at an Italian restaurant? Is expectation that through the roof in today’s modern football world? Not just Arsenal, but most clubs and if expectation is not being met, there you will find the some supporters ready with their fingers to type out and vent their feeling and start the abuse. I see plenty mentioning WENGER OUT!!! BOARD OUT!!! Football fans of today know it all.

  • Who the club should get rid of
  • Who the club should buy
  • How much money the club has
  • What tactics should be used
  • The people in charge know nothing
  • and of course everyone can run a club and be a better manager.

Supporters play FIFA12 and Football Manager this qualifies them to run a football club, it’s simple.

Arsenal has a number of supporter groups

Maybe these groups would be better off becoming one large group. I’m a member of AST and Fanshare (just signed up) and also AISA.  Fans groups are created for a reason by supporters to get the best for supporters and interact with the club on behalf of the supporters, the idea being that, in numbers the club will listen and things can get done. These fans groups have been doing some good work interacting with the club; though while they do a good job, publicity is king today and I ask the question, do they sometimes complain to keep themselves in the public eye? I have seen complaints about:-

  • The crest
  • The move from Highbury
  • The kits
  • Ticket prices
  • Food
  • The manager
  • The players
  • The board
  • Much more

It looks like once they get the exposure they cannot stop. One thing that does get me though is high-profile members of these groups that take the piss out the club. Ok! Some may have their own accounts on Twitter and they take the piss through that account, but still, these people are meant to be engaging with the club on behalf of the fans and the members they represent. Even on their own accounts these people should be more respectful of the club. Surely if they, on behalf of their members are looking to be sitting around a table to discuss changes with the club, is this really the sort of people the club will end up taking seriously.

I also wonder what people expect to achieve when they abuse players on Twitter. It is clear Arsenal have a number of high-profile players who have Twitter accounts and it cannot be nice for them to read some of the abuse either aimed at them or their team mates. I hear some shout “well if they don’t like it, they should not have twitter accounts” Surely that is not the point. Things can be said when aimed at players in a constructive way on their accounts and without the need to resort to abuse, which sadly seems to come so easy to many people. Who knows if you give constructive criticismthese players might even reply.

I hear the cry “We want our Arsenal back?” Being someone from supporting Arsenal since the 60’s what Arsenal it is they want back? I wonder how far back some of these supporters want to go? If they go back a short way, then surely they only know Wenger success, so the success they want back is basically the early Wenger years, and yet some want the manager who gave this success OUT!!. If they go back a long way, then surely they know what real bad times are. Arsene Wenger changed the club for the modern era.

  • 60000 all seated super stadium.
  • European football, at the highest level for 15 years.
  • More top 4 finishes in 16 years than club had in previous 109 years.
  • Top quality players
  • Football like we had never seen played before

I could say now that a bit of perspective would be in order, but I’m not sure some supporters do perspective. Ok! Arsenal do charge the highest ticket prices in world football and the supporters were led to believe that the club were moving to become a major player, but football changed. The club started a search for the ground and finally settled on a site at Ashburton Grove. Work began and in 2006 the new stadium, named the Emirates was opened to Dennis Bergkamp’s testimonial, a fitting way of opening the stadium. The Emirates is the new modern Arsenal, the Arsenal my son will have history with when he is 55.

I dislike seeing Arsenal fans at each other like I see on social networking sites and would imagine at the end of the day we all want the same thing. How we get it though is where the divide starts. You’re never going to keep all the people happy all the time but there are as well mitigating factors in football today that sometimes fall outside the influence of the clubs. I also feel today supporters who put their strong opinions out there on the internet do not like to be seen as wrong and maybe dig big holes for themselves and then it becomes a battle in their heads. If Arsenal suddenly turn it around, will that make them look stupid? After all people read these opinions. Maybe it’s best to keep on digging that hole in the hope Arsenal fail and these opinions are proved right I could only imagine that if the same scenario was played out in pub, the Police would be very busy.

Time I feel for the supporters to get right behind the club for the remainder of the season and take up arms on the keyboard in May when all will be much clearer as to what change is needed. What do you think? Please leave your comments below.

Cheers

@harlowgooner

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Geoff Platt permalink
    February 11, 2012 15:25

    Another top post, I was saying something very similar to my old man a few days ago. We need to be united in support of our great club. I have stopped posting on certain forums as its all doom and gloom and if your thoughts are any diffrent to certain posters all you do is get abused! At the end of day we are all Gooners and should love our club!

    • February 12, 2012 10:14

      Thanks again Geoff. Just me feeling that their is a distinct lack of loyalty (not blinded loyalty) from fans who expect the same form the club and players. You can’t have it both ways, can you?… While the fighting chance is there, I feel it’s the supporters who should do their bit as well and rally round. There is a time and place for everything, but in-fighting should not be done in middle of battle.

      Stay lucky mate.

  2. Phil Togwell permalink
    February 11, 2012 19:53

    Great stuff Mr M. As someone who shared a lot of those memories with you 70s & 80s the thing that I remember most is that it was much more fun back in the day. The team was mostly useless (with the occasional spectacular highlight) but we wouldn’t have missed a game for the world. With the added benefit of being able to stand where you wanted and meet the same people every week, even though you didn’t really know them, you were part of a little crowd within a crowd – you belonged to something. Then suddenly those spectacular highlights became more regular until suddenly…….anfield 89 happened. That didn’t make us the best team around but we could stand toe-to-toe with anyone and that success was repeated in 91 – a few cup successes followed but our feet were firmly still on the ground.

    Arsene Wenger changed everything as you pointed out and took us into a different universe. We had a great team (by far the greatest team……..) great players playing great football and we won more trophies than we could ever imagine – and then the fantastic stadium. But that came at a cost………the old working class fans were priced out (me included) and replaced with customers, who spent lots of money but became more demanding. Now those demands are not being met and the customers are not happy – unlike us they can take their business elsewhere.

    It seems that t*tts fans are much more vocal than us, is this because they are sill at the stage we were in the mid 70s? They don’t know any better, they are still the same people who have been going for years – they don’t have success and don’t miss it when it doesn’t happen………a bit like I don’t miss having a Ferrari, but if I had one and you took it away from me I would scream blue murder.

    Anyway, enjoying the blog, and I KNOW you enjoy writing it

    until next time

    PT

    • February 12, 2012 10:10

      Nice one Mr Togwell… We both being from almost same times and where we lived and played footie together and you making a good summing up there.

      Just trying to give the world a feel of what it was like to grow up in Islington a few minutes for Highbury and our Arsenal journey.

  3. February 11, 2012 20:53

    That is a message I have been trying to send to people for weeks now. At all times, more so in times of difficulty unity and sticking together is something supporters need to do. The 12th player rule has always worked. Don’t expect your team to be all inspired when the fans are at civil war, coming up with ridiculous banters and protests. It’s time to show the boys we’re all behind them for better or for worse. Only together we’ll be able to see the light. Loved the post Steve. Absolutely spot on!

  4. Gary Prince permalink
    February 12, 2012 09:09

    Brilliant mate. Spot on from someone from my generation

  5. Cannon Balls permalink
    February 12, 2012 09:54

    What a boring article.

  6. Julian permalink
    February 24, 2012 14:58

    Great article, it makes you think “like reading my mind” .Even though I am a fan of the Wenger era (new one, from ’97), like most of you old supporters might say, I still know somethings about football and Arsenal. I think that Wenger’s vision must still have a chance. I dont understand those fans that want Wenger out, who do they expect to do a better job than Wenger? Guardiola who is coaching a team that was ready made, Mourinho who could not win something with the galacticos, or somebody else who needs at least 1 season to get something going. I dont want to be an Arsene Knows or Wenger Out groups, i just love Arsenal, and i will support whoever or whatever happens.

  7. March 4, 2012 13:48

    This is the first time i’ve read an article of yours mate, and this has left me spellbound. A brilliant post.
    It’s so easy for some to point out the limitations in AW, while they nearly always choose to ignore the technicalities that comes with being a football manager at one of the biggest clubs in the world. Yes, it hasnt been all hail and hearty in these times, but even i in my 7 years of watching the Arsenal have learned that you can’t ever be perfect in a footballing world. And AW has already brought us this far, and even though i was unfortunate not to witness his reign from the start, i’ve developed a deep respect for the man and everything he stands for. Sometimes, it’s not just about one man weighing down a club, it could be the board weighing down that one man and letting him take the blame for it.
    Arsenal’s in my blood, and my blood will always flow pure with its love.
    And again, a top, top post mate.

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