Doing ‘a Likely Lads’; as tough today as it’s always been …
Arsenal in recent years has been subjected to levels of abuse from sections of its own supporters way in excess of what might be expected for a club routinely competing in all of England’s – and Europe’s – biggest competitions. Indeed, there are clubs that have been relegated with considerably less acrimony than the routine nastiness regularly dished out by a small minority of ‘our own’.
Working out what could possibly be behind the worst of the vitriolic verbal assaults on the club is confused by the presence of a good number of what we might also describe as ‘glory-hunters’ – those casual critics who spend much of the time moaning about anything and everything, often on the flimsiest of pretexts with little supporting evidence to back up their banal, negative claims. These more casual critics of course come from all walks of life and are not unique to any age group or background.
But the hardcore club basher – the perpetrator who is often aggressive and abusive to anyone opposing him rarely permits rational debate for any real length of time before the inevitable vitriol starts up again. These are individuals who appear to be anything but Arsenal fans, such is their disaffection from the club. Like a prisoner removed from society and denied the vote, they couldn’t feel less ‘apart’ from the club if they tried.
Surprisingly, I actually have a certain amount of sympathy for the genuinely disenfranchised fan.
Imagine, when the cost of doing so was just about still affordable, that you had been a season-ticket holder and a home (and maybe an away) game regular all your supporting life. And that your Dad had been, also. As was his Dad, your brothers and your dad’s brothers. Maybe your old mum used to go, before her leg or hip got too bad? Imagine you were related to one of the more than 500 now deceased fans whose ashes are scattered over the much loved – indeed, the venerated – Highbury pitch. And imagine being of modest means, gradually priced out of regular attendance as your mates were also side-lined and dispersed by a game and an institution that was undergoing a revolution right in front of your disbelieving eyes.
Imagine watching Highbury being partially demolished for flats and replaced by a new but very alien space, rapidly filling with a new generation of fans and visitors. Imagine that the long-held dream of taking your own children to games had effectively been supplanted by that new generation of fans and visitors.
The ‘gentrification’ of the club has not come without a cost, for some.
For a time, I was once able to take my place alongside the old guard fans who used to go to Highbury, just like my Dad before me.
But for me, the Emirates project spoke of opportunity and excitement – the possibility of being able at last to properly compete with Man u, Barcelona and Real Madrid. To finally go up a level and join the top table of clubs for whom success was a byword. I was one of the lucky ones able to afford the move. But my Dad, after that first Emirates’ season, being retired, was unable to repeat the season-ticket owning experience and has, like so many others, simply faded away.
Highbury held 38,000 by the end of its working life.
My guess is that a proportion of those have, like Dad, been unable to join in the fun at the Emirates but, unlike Dad, refuse to go away and have in recent years found, in Twitter in particular, a vehicle through which they can attack the club at will. Radio phone-ins, blogs, you name it, are all fair game, and all are legitimate weapons of war to the dispossessed.
Not everyone, by any means, who criticizes the club are former season-ticket holders from the Highbury era but many are carried along by those for whom no amount of success will ever compensate for the loss of their match day experience spent alongside friends and family; an experience that stretched back generations. Dressed up as concern for an absence of trophies in recent years, this particular red herring is as relevant to their real complaint as their attacks on Ozil and Giroud for being ineffective, Wenger for not spending ‘the money’ or for not replacing RvP, and the Board for raising prices.
So whilst I don’t agree with them, their actions or their views, yes, I do have some sympathy.
Imagine in ten years’ time someone decided to move the Arsenal ‘franchise’ abroad somewhere, say Spain, France or Germany (as unlikely as that now seems).
Would I be likely to hold back in my criticism of the club? Would I care about the impact of my words?
Would I even care if they won anything, anymore?
So what about the future – are we destined to always have this hideous split amongst our own supporters? Will the price of joining the ‘top table’ of Europe’s footballing elite be a prolonged near-civil war fought online and elsewhere by the very fans who once found camaraderie and common purpose in supporting, unconditionally, the club we all loved?
My own view is that the areas behind the goals should be made standing and should be available at a fraction of the current price. I believe that some of those spaces should be made available to season ticket holders but also there should be many tickets available on the day. I think the season tickets should have the option to cover just league matches or include cup games also, to enable the price to be even more affordable for those who might otherwise struggle to pay.
My view of the pitch when I’m sitting down, in the North End, with the goal on the left just out of shot …
… and my view of the pitch standing up.
That there are presently no standing areas in the English game is hardly AFC’s fault but the potential for change could certainly work in all the clubs’ favour as much as the fans. Whether there is stomach within our own club to provide the necessary leadership on this issue at FA and government level is not known to me and in any case, the club acting in isolation, could hardly expect too much success.
But the benefits, not just to Arsenal, are such that this kind of development should, in my view, be everyone’s number one priority.
Well, once they’ve sorted out introducing video technology and improving the ref’s, obviously …
* ‘Doing a Likely Lads’ has lived on as a phrase used in England to describe the predicament of anyone trying to avoid the results of a game before getting to watch a recording later. The show first aired in 1973.