Success On The Pitch, Unity Off It?
Trying to define what a ‘supporter’ actually is, is practically impossible, on a par with trying to describe what ‘freedom’ is in a liberal democracy. We can sometimes work out what it ISN’T, and, on Monday, celebrity PA contributor Mel O’Reilly did a fair job in isolating the ‘imposters’ by highlighting the extremist nature of their views – the ones that wish short-term harm on the club in the name of long-term gain.
But where does being a ‘good’ supporter begin and where does it end?
For example, it can only surely be ‘right’ to highlight the brilliance of the currently peerless Kos-Per partnership bang in the heart of the Arsenal defence. But to do so as a way of slaughtering the reputation of a less in-form colleague – in this case, Thomas Vermaelen – is surely ‘wrong’? Nonetheless, TV is (currently) not the favoured first choice player in this partnership despite being captain of the club and that is a little awkward for all concerned.
That the support for the club is split is practically self-evident. But even this split is not at all clear-cut. Some want Wenger out regardless of any other consideration. Others want Kronke out but Arsene to stay. Others would just like to see an ambiguous (and ever-changing) list of supposedly ‘deadwood’ players disposed of.
And plenty don’t really know what they want yet ‘feel’ we need some sort of change.
Some of us – and I’m looking at you George – get told off for calling the worst of such people ‘stupid’, get called out for ‘abusing’ those whose opinions are seldom troubled by the need to reference at least some kind of factual basis for their often libellous, poorly thought out remarks. Suddenly, WE’RE the bad guys!
So where, indeed, DOES it all begin and where does it all end?
My guess is – on the pitch.
I was incredibly heartened to read very recently (Friday?) that Arsene is interested in the possibility of signing a new contract with the club. Regardless of anything else it speaks volumes about his confidence – in the club, his colleagues, the club’s finances, the squad and the players coming through. I suspect also he looks at the quality of the opposition and is similarly encouraged even if he does confess to being somewhat daunted by their purchasing power.
The splits on the Arsenal terraces will probably be only healed by ‘success’ on the pitch. But if Arsene is now publicly non-averse to re-signing then I think it can only mean he is supremely confident of the club’s prospects going forward, and in the immediate future, to boot.
About a week ago I wrote a piece for PA which was variously described (and with some justification) as bleak. It was borne out of the tepid nature of the Emirates support for one of the biggest games of the season played a day earlier and a game – against the red Mancs – in which we went undefeated whilst appearing to throw away a largely deserved victory. Wandering around the club the next day on a tour of the place led me to contemplate life apres-Wenger.
Frankly, its a scenario I’ve long dreaded. As in the case of Brian Clough, I have always been of the view that Wenger would only be more fully – and widely – appreciated once he’d gone. And like the great Brian Clough, Arsene is largely unique. and pretty much irreplaceable., at least on a like-for-like basis.
I’ve had but one wish for our current manager these last ten years or so and that is for him to get at least one contract to serve whereby the previously tight fiscal reins gripping the Emirates-era have been loosened. It’s been no coincidence that many if not most of the current ‘great’ managers in world football have also been commanders of vast purchasing budgets. I still hope to see Arsene compete on a more level playing field. If his recent pronouncements on his contract are sincere then maybe we will get to see at least a version of this, after all?
I’ve no doubt the question mark over Arsene’s contract – will he sign or won’t he – will become THE running narrative of the next year or so. If we get a great start to the season then maybe he’ll sign up at Xmas, just to end the distraction of the debate. If the season ends up becoming one of the great battles for the League then maybe he’ll wait until the end to decide. I imagine he will take the nature of the support into consideration given that the loyalty of the Arsenal fan base has been shown to be ephemeral, at best.
My prediction is that either way, the split within the fan base will become less of the open wound than it currently is. A ‘successful’ season will see the majority of followers returning once more to the legions of ‘good’ supporters (which ever way that is defined). A season of disappointment could see Arsene gone and that same support lining up behind the new manager. For a while, at least. The king is dead, long live the king (so long as he wins stuff).
So that’s where it could all start or end. It doesn’t make me feel massively proud of some of our supporters but that aside, in many ways I can’t wait for the new season to start.
Because I truly believe that with Arsene Wenger at the helm, anything and everything is possible. All we have seen so far, as we mark our eighth year without a trophy, and we move beyond the post-Fabregas and post-van Persie eras, is the end of the beginning.
And one of Arsene’s greatest triumphs awaits.
That of him making ‘good’ supporters out of all of us.