Arsenal And The Ever Shifting Sands

I lost my innocence in the summer of ‘77, the year that Elvis died. It wasn’t Elvis’s fault and it wasn’t that sort of innocence either. For that I’d have to take you to a seedy back-street in Singapore a few years earlier, but the less remembered about that the better, and it isn’t that sort of a blog anyhow: I’m told there are better sites that cater for those sorts of tastes anyhow. It rained a lot in ‘77, and there was a big storm in London on the 16th August, the night the self-styled King of Rock and Roll passed away. I remember that because we were en-route from Chelmsford to West Drayton: we’d just played Essex, and were about to take on Middlesex. Oh the giddy heights of the County Second XI circuit, but we stopped to pay homage at the Hard Rock Café anyway, although as we were young we didn’t properly understand why grown men cried that night, the late summer storm mimicking their desperate tears as the last relic of teenage years washed away.

But it was some storm, and although the next day dawned fresh and clear, the ground we were playing at was almost underwater: no chance of play on the first day (and little chance for all three days, to be honest, but we persuaded the umpires that there might be) and so we turned to what we normally turned to, which that summer was Three-card Brag. We’d played for matchsticks and pennies most of the season, but that day one of our players Dad’s had turned up to watch, and rather than go straight home again he joined our card school. Brag’s a kind of boiled-down Poker, relying heavily on bluff and nerve: we’d had a lot of fun with it on rainy days, but it was never the same again after Barry joined in. He watched our small-stakes bravado for a few hands, and then suddenly went a Pound blind, dramatically raising the stakes and putting the game out of most of our reach. We couldn’t double our stakes to see him for long, and despite sitting on good hands, we knew it was time to fold. Self-made man that he was he couldn’t see the point of playing for fun or skill, even against us kids: winning was everything to him, and as with so much in his life, he bragged and bought his way to the prize. I remember thinking that there was another sort of game going on, not one that I understood or cared for, but somehow important to those that played it. It wasn’t cards, and it certainly wasn’t cricket, but it was money – and that playing the game of money seemed to trump everything for those that played it.

I saw the same thing happen with wine and horses too. Racing had always been a rich man’s pastime, but first Robert Sangster, then the Arabs and latterly the Coolmore gang soon saw that it didn’t need to be a game at all. Invest heavily enough in the right blood lines, and the glittering prizes would inevitably follow: what splutterings of righteous indignation there were as the former aristocrats of the Turf found themselves priced out of their own favourite game, reduced to mere bit-players and onlookers at Ascot, Epsom and Longchamp. They couldn’t even drown their sorrows properly either: heavy investment in Bordeaux and Burgundy had now left Fine Wine the preserve of the Far-Eastern super-rich, seduced by the glamour of the famous name labels. Only the best will do for them, apparently, which is why Chateau Petrus retails at over a Grand a bottle in the Hong Kong restaurants: that it is then openly diluted with Coca-Cola somehow only adding insult to injury, and causing my mate in the Wine Trade serious problems as he smiles through gritted teeth while all the time laughing on his way to the bank.

And it was only a matter of time before cricket and football went the same way down the money road. Kerry Packer and Tony Greig saw that a long time before the cricket establishment ever did, and their World Series altered the face of cricket and the way it was played once and for all. All changed, changed utterly, the terrible beauty of the T20 game and its offshoot leagues born the moment Channel 9 saw that stay at home Aussie punters would pay to watch great sport from the comfort of their sprawling suburban homes. Sky and the bookies followed hot on their heels, just as they did when they saw that football was ripe for a rebrand, and it is essentially the TV money that explains why a few gifted lads, barely out of their teens, boast Hampstead homes and toothsome cars. But something else and more exciting happened with football as it moved away from its working-class origins and lost its automatic association with violent thuggery. The clubs themselves became the latest must have fashion accessory for the uber-rich and what better way to parade your success than to own one. The likes of Jack Walker showed what could happen when you suddenly take over and throw money at an under-achieving club: the Leeds and Portsmouths of the world showing the dangers of such an approach.

Because that is the danger for the high-rollers: you might raise the stakes, but you can never be quite sure if someone with more money might one day join the game and trump you by going “an oil-well blind”. Abramovich saw the possibilities, and for a while his spending made all the difference: indeed, he turned the game on its head for a while, partly to posture, but also perhaps to launder a reputation. But what a transformation in no time at all for that club: the greatest players in the world flocked to his side, and it seemed as if his dominance would be absolute. Except for three reasons, and they are worth looking at for a moment. Sport is unpredictable, and although friendly officials might influence a game, results can never be guaranteed: luck will play its part, and that capricious madam can never be wholly owned. Players, though dearly bought, still need to play, to be organised, to be motivated – and sometimes if they have already had great success elsewhere, their new huge salaries can take the edge of their hunger. It is not every manager that can cope with the combination of ego and slight lethargy, nor perhaps with the potential for interference from the wealthy owner. How irritating it would be if you felt obliged to play an out of form striker in a vital tie, for instance. And thirdly, and Arsene Wenger noted this many months ago now, there is an increasing pool of high quality players due partly to the success of new European coaching initiatives and partly to the shrinking of the world, leading to African and South American players more readily available. However many players you might buy to send out on loan, you can’t own them all, and the properly competitive nature of this year’s Premiership is proof of that.

There will be few who didn’t enjoy the delicious irony of Chelsea moaning about PSG’s expenditure earlier this week, and even fewer true Arsenal supporters who didn’t see the home draw against the City oil-slickers (achieved by our virtual second team) as a cause for due rejoicing. Make no mistake, the events of the last week show the footballing landscape shifting yet again. For a while, it did seem that the game was indeed all about the money, and that like those poor cricketers back in the 70s, there would be little point in trying to compete against brash new cash. But Barry had a heart attack not long after, and I suspect Jose is already uncomfortably aware of his owner’s displeasure. Barca are in trouble, and it’s a china orange to the whole of Lombard Street that a legion irregularities will be exposed elsewhere. More bankruptcies will follow as owners withdraw their support (you’d worry about Cardiff, Fulham and QPR right now), and as night follows day well run clubs like The Arsenal will continue to thrive as the post-cash injection football world becomes all shook-up. They say that cynics know the price of everything but the value of nothing – but Arsene knows that without holding on to proper values everyone will have to pay a terrible price. We were lucky to have him at the helm for the first few years of his managership – but truly blessed to have had him steer the ship for the last few when it got really difficult. And as Elvis might have said to him, our success, our stadium and our future prospects are all down to the wonder of you


Today’s post came from The Gnabster @foreverheady, give him a follow, you wont regret it.

48 comments on “Arsenal And The Ever Shifting Sands

  1. Now that’s what I call a well written blog.


  2. Actually agree with the premise of the article and concur that in due course being a well run club will reap rewards but:
    “even fewer true Arsenal supporters who didn’t see the home draw against the City oil-slickers (achieved by our virtual second team) as a cause for due rejoicing”

    No. Very few should ever ‘rejoice’ at a home draw against a team who by all intensive measures with the debt paid off we should now be coming up to speed with.


  3. What a brilliant read! Excellent stuff……


  4. nshaughnessy,City were quiet in the market and still spent £100 million. It is ridiculous to think we should be catching them yet.


  5. Indeed a very well written article. wenger mixes modern financial pragmatism with the romance of how the game shoudl be played. Legend is too small a word.


  6. Great, great piece foreverheady…pity most of it will be lost in the minds of the dimwits.
    “They say that cynics know the price ofeverything but the value of nothing”


  7. That was great foreverheady, I enjoyed it immensely.

    We should be coming up to speed to Man City? The same Man City who has spent £700m on transfers since 2008 and had a £233m wage bill last season?


  8. As far as I’m concerned we are up to speed with Man City….the table says so….and until it is demonstrated to me that our terrible injury record is not bad luck then I am sure we would still be sitting on top of the table…..


  9. A thoroughly enjoyable read FH and some great points about the injection of massive funds into football, as well as other sports.

    Abramovich really did break the pattern.

    I did not really ‘get’ Roman in his first season, having spent around the £100 million on some good players my assumption as that he would stick. I’d seen it before. Jack Walker put his cash into Rovers, a club with a lot more emotional attachment to its owner than Chelsea and Roman. But having spent his cash Jack was content with a trophy and to have built up Rovers into a force again. Jack Hayward had tried a similar trick at Wolves and lost the lot.

    After all who has £100 million to spend season after season

    And that is the bit I missed


  10. I really loved that Post!

    PG is right in his assessment.

    The thought that has gone into this article is self evident, and gently but surely Gnabster guides us to the inevitable conclusion that the investing of external money to achieve trophies only works until someone wealthier turns up, or until the owner gets bored with his toy coming 2nd, 3rd or 4th in the success stakes, and buggers off.

    Much better the Arsenal mode,l which ensures the club will survive and prosper, now and into the future, irrespective of who the current owners are, all of whom are only transient at best.

    Kudos, Gnabster!


  11. Anicoll,

    It seems to me that difference between Jack Walker and Jack Hayden, whom you mentioned, when compared with the current oligarch and Foreign state owned clubslike Chelsea, Man Citeh and PSG etc, is that the two Jacks were both self made multi-millionaires, as well as being lifelong supporters of the clubs they came to own, and there was a limit as to what they could afford or perhaps wanted to invest — the current oligarch and state owners are multi-billionaires and can afford limitless amounts of money to ‘invest’ in anything, and without any personal feelings for the investment — a case of ‘zeros’ perhaps.

    Multi-millionaires = £500,000,000 (8 zeros – maybe)

    Multi-billionaires = £12,000,000,000 (9 zeros – maybe — and more)

    Depressing that it has come down to this. Hopefully FFP will reign in some of the excesses we have seen todate.


  12. henryb .. i trust in platini to sort things out. he has the strong character to put an end to the romans and the sheiks …

    remeber how his juve fans had died on the pitch and all eh was concerend about was the penalty which he celebrated even, …which was a dive … despicable

    a great 10 in his times no doubt but what a toothless uefa president….


  13. FFP if properly applied consistently is the only solution to EU football implosion. Illicit money has little regard for rules until you devalue its consequence.
    Football is the ultimate PEOPLE’S SPORT. Its the last stand in the fight between the classes.
    Its a struggle that must be won with or without shiny silver things.

    Who would have thought that the “ultimate footballing nation BRASIL would be having such a hard time getting their infrastructure together for their world cup?
    Things are out of hand, the people are recallibrating!
    Viva Arsenal!
    Viva Arsene Wenger!
    A man who knows a thing or two about REALITY!


  14. Beautifully written and absolutely on point, foreverheady. It should also be noted that Chelsea and Abramovich are right behind the FFP measures because they are no longer the richest club in Europe. Ha. (banned ironically laughing face).

    @ nshaughnessy
    We are catching up with Man City and their ilk but I think we need another couple of transfer windows and two or three more players of Ozil’s stature to give us the depth we need. Or more icing on the cake, as I like to think of it. And we need reform of the loan rules – it’s still too easy for big clubs to hoard players, don’t you think?


  15. Splendid piece Foreverheady, a really excellent and original read.

    I’ve been told for some years now by those who are more clever than me that FFP will have no impact on anything as the big clubs will drive a horse and cart through the regs. Which is why the unexpected ruling and somewhat draconian punishment of Barcelona this week for transfer irregularities is of especial interest.

    Maybe the biggest clubs aren’t quite so immune to the Fair Play machinations after all?

    When the likes of Chelsea start to talk of embracing FFP (and was it them complaining about cheating this week in the CL or am I confusing them with that lot resident at The Home Of Diving, Manchester United?), then we know the wheel is starting to turn.


  16. Quite right Henry about the sea change – Roman, and since him Mansour, now the Qataris at PSG, do not operate under any financial constraint. Unlike the Walkers and the Haywards, or clubs who rely on their income to fund the purchase and payment of players like us and the Mancs they have literally bottomless pockets.

    If you bid £40 million for a player that we are interested in we will bid £45 million, even if we leave him on the bench after his arrival.

    If you offer a player £150k a week, we will offer £200K etc

    As the football authorities are finding it is extraordinarily difficult to stop people with unlimited funds spending it. FFP was not designed with the specific intention of detering Roman and Mansour from participating in football but to stop clubs with finite resources bankrupting themselves through by running up totally unsustainable debts.


  17. The attached is a condensed booklet of the UEFA FFP Scheme. ( the real rules are a massive book)

    Click to access FFP%20Press%20Kit%20EN_FINAL_en%20_1_.pdf

    If you look on page four you will see what are the aims of the FFP scheme.

    It is difficult to see which of those aims relates to the forced reduction of spending of the super wealthy


  18. Excellent article.

    “Which is why the unexpected ruling and somewhat draconian punishment of Barcelona this week for transfer irregularities is of especial interest. ”

    They have a 2 window transfer embargo. Which means they will appeal to the arbitration courts and get the embargo delayed until after the next 2 windows. By which time they will have signed the needed players to cover for the embargo.

    Rich man’s game.


  19. What I should have added is that if you are faced with no hope of out-bidding a rival then you need to adopt different tactics. Wine lovers who can’t afford the top labels have discovered real quality in unfashionable regions which if decanted fools nearly everybody (first you taste the wine, then you ask where it comes from, as someone wiser than me memorably said). However, idiotic wine snobs can’t see past the label, any more than the Twitter brigade can see past the big name wonder strikers. Fortunately, many rich owners have the same mentality and are often no better than the Youtube managers, so although they spend the most money they don’t always get the best players, or those who are best suited to playing in the Premiership. It is for these reasons that I rejoice when I hear of Sanogos, Monreals and Campbells: not all of them will prove to be top, top quality, but you only need one to hit the jackpot and you are in business.


  20. FOREVER EXCELLENT. way to lay it out for the youts and for those who have conveniently forgotten the past.
    If you don’t know where you came from it is a good bet you don’t know where you are going too. Maybe, just maybe this post will wake a few so that they don’t live in the moment and just for today. As Leeds and Portsmouth and a few other clubs have demonstrated you can live fast and reckless but you won’t live long and the crash will be something to behold.
    I wonder if we will ever see some clubs back in the premiership.
    In my honest opinion the tide has not yet begun to change but we are sure to see more malagas , fulhams and anzi makalachakalas in the future. Samuel might be laughing all the way to the bank but he spent a good part of his most productive year playing for a unknown team in a meaningless league in the middle of nowhere. One aspect of this trend that really bothersome is seeing some very good talent going to waste and the players and the fans of the game are the real losers in it.
    Look forward to your post on Singapore. Maybe during the summer. I bet it’s an interesting story.


  21. Thanks for the link Andrew. I guess these are the three clauses relating to the aims of FFP that apply to the super-funded clubs:

    • to encourage clubs to operate on the basis of their own revenues;
    • to encourage responsible spending for the long-term benefit of football;
    • to protect the long-term viability and sustainability of European club football

    They are all sentiments sufficiently vague to enable most clubs/owners to wriggle out of them one way or another.

    On the other hand, an alternative interpretation would suggest that a football authority hell-bent on reining in the whole ciircus would have more than enough to use as charges against those failing to fall into line. Some of the most effective UK laws are vague, general and non-specific and ‘work’ by being sufficiently open to interpretation so that any sympathetic court has plenty to go along with.

    So far, however, it seems only smaller clubs have attracted attention in respect of the FFP regs, so as Andrew says, the absence of criteria explicitly targeting the financially doped could prove telling – and not necessarily in ‘our’ favour.


  22. FH, you really hit the head of the nail. Kerry Packer in the 70’s, was rich. He bluffed his way to greater riches.

    Kerry Packer was a comparative pauper, to the Premier League super-duper owners.

    County cricket did provide a way-of-life, for over a century.

    PG, Muppet wrote a couple of good articles back in August 2011. Reading the comments of some, your alias at the time was there!

    Just a thought.



  23. “Reading the comments of some, your alias at the time was there!”
    Sorry , I don’t understand . Can you be clearer?


  24. Absolutely excellent article FH and so well written. I cannot disagree with anything.


  25. PG , I think he probably means GR.


  26. Or your avatar the famous merkrat. Maybe.


  27. Watched the second half against Swansea again. Bloody hell, Podolski gave away a stone wall penalty….how we escaped……


  28. That was the dogs bollocks of a post, the premier league brought money and the money brought corruption. It is more than fortunate that to penetrate the corruption we have not an invincible but our very own “untouchable”. We know that chelski,city and manure without money are nothing more than yo-yo clubs visiting the lower divisions as often as they visit the top,the fact they have taken the place of the likes of wolves and not us is undoubtedly down to our prudence and football prowess.


  29. Fabulous piece.


  30. Excellent stuff Gnabster.
    I suspect the lack of comments is because your arguments are so compelling, they don’t need us to elaborate on them too much.


  31. It used to be said
    Q: ‘How do you become a millionaire?’
    A: ‘Be a billionaire and buy a football club’

    I’ll be interested in seeing which banks are funding the the totts spudbowl, after watching them spunk £110 million of one-off windfall money from selling Bale and few others for a bunch of unproven randomers and just for another shot at Europa League.

    If Arsenal do go on to win the FA Cup, who gets the Europa cup place? The cup runner up or 6th place in the League?


  32. What a star you are, foreveready. Excellent article. I too am quite fond of batteries.


  33. @ foreverheady April 4, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    “What I should have added is that if you are faced with no hope of out-bidding a rival then you need to adopt different tactics.”

    Exactly. Hence bidding on Cavani in Jan 2013 to steal a march on competitors, using personal relationships at RM to get intel on Ozil, the general secrecy around targets. And as you say, picking up prospects.


  34. the premier league brought money and the money brought corruption

    murdoch, zahavi, blair and gordon ……


  35. Excellent piece @foreverheady. Your reference to Kerry Packer is just a painful reminder of how that windfall was the highwater mark for West Indies cricket when Clive Lloyd/Vivian Richards and company were the toast of the world. Yet those riches never benefited the domestic game in long-term as there were no institutional structures to leverage the advantages we had at the time. For a variety of socio-economic reasons, cricket is no longer the sport of the masses in in the Caribbean, despite the cultural traditions. Your fears that the same may happen with football in England is not unfounded. Odds though, that being a developed country, with well developed institutional structures that support football at all levels, the sport will survive the ravages of the money men.


  36. I much preferred the old style home grown corruption to be fair, chaps like Bob Maxwell, Ken Bates, El Tel and the whiskery Mr Sugar at the Lane, those dishonest municipal butchers the Edwards family.

    My particular favourite chairman from the dark side, by the name of Ken Richardson,sadly comes from outside the top tier, though the man lacked no ambition. Having taken over at Division 4 Doncaster Rovers in the early 90’s Ken formulated a unique business strategy that involved hiring two arsonists to burn the club’s Belle Vue stadium to the ground, and thereby give the club the chance to raise funds by flogging the bare site to developers, leaving a comfortable margin for a new ground and some decent players. The going rate to torch a Northern football stadium in the mid 90s you ask ? Just £10k. (A very fair price imo)

    The first phase of the plan worked like clockwork and the home of Donny for 110 years was reduced to cinders in the wee small hours.

    A small hitch cropped up when police attending the scene picked up a mobile phone dropped by one of the arsonists. Even South Yorkshire Police did not drop the ball on that one.

    Ken was sentenced to 4 years – now THAT is corruption.

    I’m welling up I really am.


  37. I particularly was struck by a description of Ken given by a detective in the case “the type that would trample a two-year-old child to pick up a 2p bit”.

    And what has this to do with Arsenal ?

    Fortunately nothing


  38. Anyone fancy doing the match preview?


  39. Great stuff. Shotta describes what I was struggling to articulate.

    In spite of the evolution of the Packer vision into T20 cricket in the Windies, and some other places, has gone backwards. All that glitters is not gold.

    The ingredients required for composing great teams is not so different to what it was in the past (don’t ask me!), and there’s absolutely no doubt unless you are a proven disingenuous Groaning Twit that AW is one of the greatest team builders of the modern era, in any sport.

    Best sports documentary on a modern team? I think so. Class of ’92? Meh. Pat Rice’s graduates of london lads and others broke far more boundaries then the Manc teams: they challenged Liverpool, not Slurgus. The appeal in the early nineties of the Arsenal support, tye diversity, the extra appeal of the club to Henry (on top of AW) and others came from that source.

    AW simply is not a chequebook manager who Specialises in signing players from certain agents. I appreciate that this upsets the Experts, but in the words of the great man ‘Appy ‘Arry himself, they can “fark orf”.
    When I was a kid in primary school a teacher who happened to be a junior gunners coach nominated poor little me to read some speech before the Xmas panto to an audience of adults that I coul not see, making jokes I did not understand about someone called El Tel and the Costa Del Sol. This was before what was for El Tel a redemptive Euro ’96. To be fair unlike ‘Arry he did seem to have the ability to coach, and stuff. The adults laughed at the puns and references to Bunga Bunga Barcelona that I did not understand, that some adults still refuse to understand in spite of the latest news and undeniable evidence.
    Here’s a guess: there were very few if no Groaning Twits who were silmultaneously Experts in medicine and athletics in that audience.


  40. finsbury at 1:54 pm – Excellent vid. It is a stark reminder to me of how success can be so fleeting.
    You have always had a way of reminding us of the lessons of history, that long-term success does not originate from loosely splashing someone’s cash. It comes through blood, sweat and tears (listen to Lloyd, Richards, Holding, Roberts and Greenidge in that vid). No wonder the Groaning Twits elsewhere found your message so hard to fathom.

    PS: Which of Pat Rice’s graduates are you alluding to? You have a musch longer grasp of Arsenal’s history than I have.


  41. Shotta, only slightly longer!

    Hillier, Campbell (& Rufus Brevett!) were in the ’87 youth cup winning squad but it was the slightly earlier graduates who didn’t win any youth cups of Adams, O’Leary, Rocastle, Thomas, the Chelski loving Mersin & Davis that captured the hearts and minds of Londoners (the type that don’t go Paris and make Nazi salutes).


    “I first saw David Rocastle play in 1983 for the youth team. I remember coming home excitedly from the match and telling my family, “I’ve just watched the nearest thing to a Brazilian footballer you are ever likely to see – and he comes from Lewisham.” – David Dein on Rocky Rocastle.


  42. Pat Rice took over the youth team in ’84. So some but not all of the ’89 squad, and more of GG’s second title winning team were coached as nippers by Pat Rice.


    Makes interesting reading, the list of graduates who have become full internationals.
    The over-rated skill of counting which can be useful when looking at tables or results can easily tell us that since 1998 more graduates are playing at a higher level then ever before. I won’t tell the disingenuous Groaning Twits if you won’t.


  43. Thank Fins. Didn’t know Pat was such a successful youth coach. But the Groaning Twits said he was useless.


  44. Well, blow me down! Speaking of Groaning Twits, the current meme is Arsene is at the root of our injuries. The theory is by refusing to spend he creates a weak squad and thus has no alternative but to overplay his best players. Funny that, cause in September Wenger was accused of being over-stocked in midfield with the ability to infinitely rotate. Oh well, I suppose if you are wedded to the end-of-an era narrative, any convenient theory will do.


  45. Anicoll-1pm laughing my head of here mate,great write up FH by the way.


  46. You have persuaded me George

    The muse shall emerge though she slumbers yet

    Do not expect it before 10


  47. Good stuff Andrew. I shall be waiting.


  48. in the vein of misinterpreting what people say I will expect Andrews piece in ten minutes……..no pressure


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