Today a guest post from Georgaki-Pyrovolitis, and good stuff it is too. Enjoy.
Norman Newson was always a nuisance. His first mistake was to snatch my ice cream one pleasant, warm, late spring evening. He then ran off and climbed a ladder propped up against his house, all the way to the top and sat on the roof next to his dad who was fixing the tiles. I was impressed that he had the balls to do that. I must have been about nine years of age and he about two years my senior, the same age as my older brother. He was either brave or totally stupid. I stood there staring up at his silhouette as the warm glow of the sun descended behind the ridge of tall Victorian terraced houses.
“I like spotted dick” he shouted, but these were still my days of innocence and I was not aware of double entendres.
“You do have to come back down, you know” I shouted, “you bastard”, I added under my breath in deference to his father.
Then I heard the distinctive voice of uncle Andreas, as he shouted up in the direction of Newson senior on the roof, “Hey Newson, I will teachin’ yoo ay lesson so you teachin’ yoor son ay lesson” as he waived his clenched fist at the poor fellow on the roof. Newson senior stopped what he was doing and looked down at uncle Andreas. I remember Mr Newson as a rather decent and gentle man, an ambulance driver. He was apologetic and promised to make amends. He offered to climb all the way down but uncle Andreas, although a hot head, could be reasonable too.
“You stayin’ up there, we talkin’ later. We havin’ no time. We are goin’ to see the Arsenal”
“Get George an ice cream and I will pay you later” said Mr. Newson and he returned to fixing his roof.
And so, uncle Andreas, gathered up two of his four sons, Aggie and Frixus and me and took us to Highbury. That was my first live game. I don’t remember who the opposition were but Arsenal must have won. I was awestruck by the occasion. I became a Gooner.
A few years later my friends and I were old enough to attend home games at Highbury without uncle Andreas. Highbury was three miles from Hornsey – just a ten minute bus ride to Finsbury Park station and a ten minute walk from there to the stadium. We attended most home games and the big one away at White Hart Lane. We were members of a red and white tribe.
My first favourite player was George “Geordie” Armstrong. It seems to me that I have always been attracted to quiet, reliable and effective players. Before Geordie Armstrong I had a great respect for Bobby Charlton over the brilliant but unreliable George Best (my first recollections of football were watching Manchester United vs Benfica in 1968 surrounded by my dad and uncles who all tended to be United fans).
Although a regular at Highbury my overall view of the football was that it was rather boring. A committed Gooner that actually enjoyed watching Liverpool. I looked forward to “Match of the Day” on BBC on Saturday night and “The Big Match” on ITV on Sunday afternoon. In my opinion Liverpool played the most attractive football during the 70s and 80s. Even more than Liverpool, however, I couldn’t wait for the World Cup, because we were guaranteed the champagne football of Brazil. Now that was football.
During my time at university during the early eighties I fell out of the routine of following Arsenal. I was, after all, not in London and was never to return as I followed employment opportunities wherever they happened to be. I did enjoy the victorious team of 1989 and remember throwing myself into the sofa a few times after Michael Thomas scored the most improbable winner at Anfield. Anders Limpar was a fantastic player as was Rocky Rocastle. That team played some really good stuff and I thought George Graham was a great manager. Yet, I was still not overly attracted to the English game and Arsenal were not distinctively better than any other team at that time. I couldn’t wait for the international competitions to come around because I expected to be entertained by Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Italy and Portugal to name a few reliably great footballing nations.
My separation from the English game grew wider as I had moved to the USA in 1990 and remained there for three years. By the time I returned to the UK in 1993 the Premier League was a year old. I began to take a moderate interest in my Arsenal again. Then Georgeous George accepted a few brown envelopes and ended up getting the sack. Bruce Rioch was a dull interregnum as far as I was concerned and I was getting excited by Ruud Gullit’s cosmopolitan Chelsea side. These fantastic foreign footballers were flooding the Premier League. I loved it. It meant that I would get see their sumptuous skills on a weekly basis. No longer would I have to wait for the World or European Cup competitions. Then one day my interest was piqued by the news on BBC Radio 4. They had responded to the Evening Standard’s headline “Arsene Who?” and had a telephone interview with the man whilst he was coming to the end of his tenure with Grampus Eight in Japan. I was intrigued. What was going on? Who, indeed, was this man?
Well, what followed, and has continued unabated for 17 years now, is one of the most remarkable periods of footballing history. One that I feel privileged to have witnessed and all because of one man, Arsene Wenger.
Fundamentally, it is the philosophy of Arsene Wenger and the implications of remaining true to this through thick and thin that has made this period of human history so interesting. I really do mean human history beyond football.
When governments with one too many corrupt politicians, motivated by their own vested interests shamelessly collude with private equity, greedy bankers and arrogant media moguls and abuse their power and influence, everything suffers, including football. Here in the UK the aristocratic elite that dominates the establishment has had a corrosive effect on our country. Some are famous descendents of the slave owning families that benefited from the British Government’s compensation scheme designed to make the abolition of slavery palatable (http://is.gd/pICM6m). They have destroyed our manufacturing industrial base and have encouraged the finance and service industries to try to fill the void. It matters nought where money comes from as long as it is invested here. “Money for nothing and the chicks for free” and we are indeed in dire straits. Russian oligarchs invest the stolen mineral wealth of the Russian people here. They seek highly visible, British assets to protect themselves from the Russian authorities who are coming after them for their role in the rigged elections that lead to the re-election of Boris Yeltsin. This money has been used to ‘dope’ the English Premier League as exemplified by Abramovich in acquiring Chelsea (http://youtu.be/GmCtci6cen8). The Russian secret service runs amok in London poisoning and shooting Russian dissidents, gangsters and money launderers and we watch in amusement whilst Chelsea buys trophies.
Similarly, Arab dictators of the small gulf states do likewise in their practice of ‘soft diplomacy’. They associate themselves with visible, culturally significant, iconographic assets that will protect them if there is any fall out in a conflict between Israel and Iran. So they buy assets like The Shard in London, The Chrysler Building in New York and Manchester City Football Club. With regard to the latter: ‘”English football has been warned it has allowed one of its major clubs to be exploited as a “branding vehicle” by an international regime accused of human rights abuses after a trial in Abu Dhabi, a country ruled by Manchester City’s owner and his brothers, was widely denounced as repressive, involving torture, and “fundamentally unfair”‘ (http://tinyurl.com/mnxvwxs). Do Manchester City fans care about this? No. Most don’t even know where Abu Dhabi is! Does the ‘red top’ Murdoch Press write about this? Hardly. Let’s all do a Poznan-in-our-pants. Do our ‘democratically’ elected representatives care about this? You know the answer. Would anybody have objected had Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi or Robert Mugabe bought an EPL club? This is another example of the betrayal of the people of this country. All of this distortion of the beautiful game has happened in the last ten years. The owners of Chelsea and Manchester City alone have doped the EPL to the tune of £2.5 billion. That is what it has cost them to ‘scrape past’ Arsenal during a period of financial constraint due to the building of the best stadium in Europe.
Arsene has said on numerous occasions that his philosophy is ultimately about entertaining the fans who pay to watch their team. I can write with complete confidence that the best football I have ever seen, on a very frequent basis, has been from Wenger’s Arsenal. I will reinforce this by elaborating and stating that some performances safely eclipse Barcelona or Brazil, even during these last ‘trophy-less’ years. However, it is not just the quality of the football that sets Arsenal apart. It is everything that has happened, on and off, the field during this time. In the face of a concerted media onslaught, deriding everything and everybody at the club, and the financial doping of football, Arsene Wenger and the board have remained steadfast. I would have wilted, conceded and given up completely in the face of such constant and unremitting attack from friends (certain fans?) and foes.
I have posted the following once before and do so again here: we have won trophies these last eight years. We retained our reputation for the most attractive football, we have the best stadium in Europe, we now have financial stability, we have our dignity and class, but most important of all we still have Arsene Wenger.
The Wikipedia entry for Arsene Wenger has a fantastic digest, some of which I reproduce here:
“Arsenal are considered the “great entertainers” of English football; pundit Alan Hansen described the 2004 team as “quite simply the most fluid, devastating team the British Isles has seen.” [Yes, the same Alan Hansen!-GP].
Dein described Wenger as the most important manager in the club’s history: “Arsène’s a miracle worker. He’s revolutionised the club. He’s turned players into world-class players. Since he has been here, we have seen football from another planet.”
Similar sentiments have been expressed by his fellow peers and former players, most notably from Alex Ferguson, Pep Guardiola, Patrick Vieira and Brian Clough, who described Wenger as a “top, top manager” after surpassing his Nottingham Forest side’s record of 42 matches unbeaten.
Former Watford manager Graham Taylor praised Wenger’s contribution in English football: “It is that change of culture, the change of philosophy which I think was the most important … I believe his biggest contribution to football is getting across the idea that players have to prepare right and look after themselves”.
American baseball general manager Billy Beane considers Wenger to be an “idol” of his and has lauded his transfer strategy”.
For those interested all these quotes are referenced in the Wikipedia entry (http://tinyurl.com/pz9eo64).
As far as I’m concerned we have still remained the team that has played the best football during the past eight years too. There are a number of reasons to explain the lack of silverware, I’ll not repeat them here they’ve been discussed many times already. What was important to me was that I had convinced myself that our best 11 could beat any team in Europe. We were never far away from doing this consistently. I had seen enough to have hope. I accepted that we could not spend like the world suggested we needed to spend. I also believed – and still do – that we still don’t need to spend big on ‘four or five’ world class talents to get back to the top. I have posted on here before that we were on a consistent, upward trend, before signing Mesut Ōzil. Those who ascribe our current position entirely to this one player merely confirm their arrogance. They are still trying to justify their lazy and unsympathetic comments towards Arsene Wenger and AFC in general.
I have often wondered why pundits don’t use the same effusive language to describe the quality of the football provided by Man United or Manchester City (Chelsea? Not if Mourinho has his way). At times they do describe it in glowing terms but never in the way they have for Arsenal. Why is this? Through my rose-tinted glasses I see Arsenal play with such elegant simplicity, it is poetry in motion. In my mind’s eye the smiling face of Thomáš Rosickŷ exemplifies this art form. Arsene selects players like Rosickŷ, that are intelligent and require little tactical coaching. He gives them the freedom to play ‘their game’. You have only to read the last interview with Cesc Fabregas where he expresses a nostalgia for the freedom he had at Arsenal, laments the freedom he lost when returning to Guardiola’s Barcelona and gratitude for the freedom he now has again under Tata Martino. He ascribes his better performances to this freedom (http://is.gd/FqPmBW). These intelligent, independent, technically brilliant units of productivity that characterise Arsenal teams euthanize the opposition. In stark contrast Manchester United teams were cold-blooded, ruthless killers – they followed the instructions of their manager to the letter. They never strayed beyond the remit given to each individual player. It is my one complaint about Arsenal. Their desire to dispatch the opposition humanely means that we score fewer goals than we could. Manchester United are humourless, relentless and cruel, they never show mercy, Arsenal do.
So this is my Arsenal. It’s about beautiful football and when they are on song I hear the happy, simple and beautiful rhythms of Santana. This is no accident. The image I have of the Santana band is a fusion of peoples and cultures playing together to produce heavenly sounds – a fusion of Afro Cuban, jazz, blues and rock. I think of “Oye como va” from the Abraxas album: Oye como va, mi ritmo, Bueno pa’ gozar, mulata (Listen to my rhythm, Good for fun, mulata) where a mulata is a woman of mixed race (for me an important symbol). A tune so simple, but executed with such precision, it is just beautiful.
Then I think of Arsene Wenger’s famous quote “When you represent a club, it’s about values and qualities, not about passports” (http://is.gd/kBpKgO). And he let’s his exceptional charges loose on a football pitch where they weave their magic.
Finally, I don’t want to hear talk of a successor for Arsene yet. I know it is inevitable, but it mustn’t happen for as many years to come as the man can give us. I’m bewitched:
Yes, you got your spell on me, baby
Turnin’ my heart into stone
I need you so bad
Magic Woman I can’t leave you alone