Below a post by our very own ZimPaul that I think brilliantly describes the way fans from outside London have different reasons for starting – and continuing – to support Arsenal. It’s better than anything I could write; simply because people never had, or never will have, the opportunity to attend games does not mean they love the club any less than those who do.
Anyway, here it is. George.
I am certain people support a club because of its culture/identity or location/community.
The second has been less ambiguous in history, built around community and family traditions but is torn asunder by a fast-changing “sense of belonging” that is being rapidly deconstructed by the impact of the digital/TV brave new world and corporate power (Shotta’s excellent insights into the Manchester United issues being a good example of the contradictions and tensions arising). Both are obviously and essentially collective, not individualistic, formulations (although our minds tell us the latter, it is usually not, we are “part of”). The first is more interesting for me for many reasons, I am not London born, linked, based nor does it reflect, for me, much sense of community except in its diversity that includes many Africans, but that is all pretty tenuous.
Why do 2 million Africans support Arsenal? It’s a good question. Why do I see Arsenal shirts every single day in Harare? (pirated, not sold under license). There are few if any commercial links driving a support base (as in Asian and American markets for club knick-knacks and other revenue fueled by modern day football branding). There are no obvious short term advantages to supporting Arsenal (as with ManU and Chelsea support, and latterly City), that is the likelihood of perennial entitlement, good fortune and dripping, drooling media coverage which also reaches our distant foggy ears.
In my personal experience, most Africans Arsenal fans support Arsenal for FOOTBALL. The underlying assumption is Arsenal play football, have done, always do, will continue to do, all things being equal, and nobody and nothing can take that away. 95% or more of African support came with the Wenger era, with Kanu, with Henry, with Bergkamp. When an African says Arsenal “play football” it means “the dream of what football is supposed to be, and can be, ah, the beautiful artistry and spontaneity of life, the memories, the fun, the laughter, the inspiration, the skill and possibility of it all”. So, it’s about cultural identity. When Arsenal fail to achieve these lofty intangible (cultural) aspirations, fans are deeply critical, often technically specific about it but it is “about” the dream. Our sense of entitlement is not trophy-based, although we wouldn’t mind a few because we are the best team and our time will come, we know. We are patient.
If Arsenal “became” a Chelsea, generally regarded as spoilt brat team in these parts, 50% of the African support would whither in a year or two, 75% in five years. They have so little sense of culture or cultural identity. They don’t make us smile at all.
What Arsenal under Wenger has built will last a very, very long time, like the stadium, if Arsenal keep their side of the social contract with its fans, that this emerging culture of how football is played remains the Arsenal-way. Play football and all the abundance in the world keeps flowing like a river; play celebrity football, Stoke kick-person, tap-in ball, head-ball, buy-a-trophy ball, shit-ball, or any other kind of game, and the game is over.
It’s about Tomas receiving so fast in the middle after an excellent interception (probably Ramsey), wonderful counter attack, turning, beating, acceleration, three steps, feint that way by Giroud, and then the most extraordinarily weighted outside-footed through-ball that Theo, starting far behind his marker, takes perfectly at a fantastic gallop running 25 metres, he turns slightly inside, the angle opens, desperate lunge by the defender, keeper bristling, arms akimbo, ready to spring, 25 metre diagonal front foot shot, low, hard, on the ground, far post, keeper’s fingers caress the ball, slightest deflection, not enough, inside the far post, by an inch, Theo flying now, arms outstretched, Tomas has that smile, and way over on left corner flag the team drown Theo in team happiness. Back in a music bar in Harare a week later Ish walks past and says “Man, did you see that pass”. And without even knowing which game, I know he means “that pass.”
And here is something that Finsbury said that is worth a special mention:
“‘Loves Arsene, hates Arsenal. Is such a transparent bullshit meme, and worthy of those who repeat it. Some of us have been discussing people being priced out of football for years now, there are records of those threads. I suppose we are fake fans too?
So, we know people are losing interest in the game. We know people are going to watch football in Germany, or down the leagues. Is George wrong to consider such things happening in the game in our time?”
Right, I am off back to Twitter to be called a Jonny-Come-Lately and a Plastic.