With Aston Villa’s relegation now confirmed there is a whiff of the end of term about the place. The last rites have been read to Bolton and Dagenham & Redbridge and people are anointing probable winners in each of the divisions except for the fourth where Northampton are already champions. Mrs Black is making noises about airing out the Elddis with a view to dragging the old girl to the seaside for a fortnight and all over the country people are wrestling with big decisions concerning new flip flops and the location of last year’s sun lotion.
Our good friends Mike and Kelly Wood are already on vacation, not waiting for the bell at the end of the last class, and certainly not concerned about the factor 40 after a week freezing their haggises off in bonnie Scotland. They, along I suspect with you and the rest of the PA faithful, are not interested in this end of season ennui – not one bit of it. They’ve braved the howling cold and sleet of Britain in spring time partly to catch up with friends and family but also for the opportunity to cheer Arsenal towards the finish line, both this afternoon and on Thursday evening.
They aren’t buying into refrain that it’s all over now, and not just because Mike prefers the Beatles to the Stones. As long as there are enough points on the buffet table we must hope that Arsène and the boys have the appetite to go and grab them and that Leicester and Spurs can still spectacularly drop their plates and end up with devilled eggs on their faces. Okay, so the food metaphors may be a little stretched, but I’m writing this before breakfast so you’ll have to forgive me.
The realists tell us optimists that third is the best we can hope for and that settling for fourth might be the more probable outcome. I’m less comfortable predicting the future especially in this most unpredictable of seasons, but if we are in a dog fight with the giant spenders of City and United for that third spot, we need to scrap for every point from now until the final final whistle.
I know it feels wrong to be approaching May and not looking forward to an FA Cup final. That’s the price we pay for supporting a club which has been so successful in recent seasons; it seems a let down to ‘only’ be battling it out with super rich clubs for third place. Can you imagine how fans of almost every other team look at the whining hordes who claim to support Arsenal moaning about only getting a top four finish?
Having said that I know that it isn’t only Arsenal has to carry the baggage of malcontents and attention seeking children. Look at Newcastle’s wobs. Their vitriolic campaign to oust Pardew turned out really well didn’t it? In fact just look at society in general never mind football in isolation. The culture of objectifying individuals in dumb imitation of the tabloid press, whether they be football managers, actors, politicians, or whatever, is, and has been for some time now, endemic and lamentable.
From the booing in the stadium to the on-line vilification and abuse there are people out there who treat others not as fellow human beings but as mere objects, playthings for their own corrosive amusement. I thought of players like Aaron Ramsey when I read Jon Ronson’s interview with Monica Lewinsky in the Guardian yesterday. They were discussing another figure of public hate and ridicule, Mike Daisey, who said ‘I’d never had the opportunity to be the object of hate before. The hard part isn’t the hate. It’s the object.’. Lewinsky herself talked about how surprised people were that she didn’t just ‘crawl under a rock and die’ after being hounded and humiliated and becoming just a human butt for the jokes of television’s sarcastic and spiteful.
When Stoke fans boo Aaron their most fervent hope (in as much as they think at all) is to drive him and his talent under that very same rock. To inhibit him and his expression of his art to the detriment of Arsenal and the benefit of their own. When Arsenal fans join in and heap abuse on him too, the thing becomes horribly cannibalistic. Salvador Dali’s painting at the top of the page is symbolic of a nation eating itself alive and all the banner waving, abuse throwing, objectifying of our manager and players from our own fans is much the same.
A self defeating, self loathing, masochistic mess of anti support through which the manager and players must wade every week and somehow still perform at their best. Don’t believe they don’t know about either. As Ronson’s excellent article says “Some people think on-line harassment is no big deal because only idiots read the negative comments, whereas sensible people simply ignore them. It’s even considered somewhat shameful to search your name and seek out the negative comments. The truth is that it may be idiotic, but it’s human.”
Perhaps we have something else to learn from Monica Lewinsky. Maybe we should actually pity the sad attention seeking, self defeating narcissists who seem to fill every waking moment with finding new ways to vilify our most successful manager and some of our players. Maybe they are trying to tear down the thing they love because, quite simply they aren’t very well. Lewinsky’s life is in large part dedicated to combating on-line bullying and her words ring true when seen through the prism of our experience with the agents of abuse among our own support, “Don’t bully the bully. It doesn’t move the conversation forward. I see bullying as similar to cutting. People who cut are trying to localise their pain. I think with bullying, people are suffering for myriad reasons and are projecting it. Instead of cutting themselves, they’re cutting someone else.”
So in the words of PG Wodehouse, perhaps these people are to be pitied and not censured. Certainly I feel sorry for anyone who can’t enjoy the thrilling denouement to what has been a fascinating season. We begin today three points ahead of Man United and one behind their neighbours. Lose ground on those two and we are staring into the abyss that is fifth place. Today’s battle with Crystal Palace is far from an end of term dead rubber. We may not be fighting for our lives at the bottom nor for the main prize at the very top but there is still an enormous amount at stake today, on Thursday, and in the subsequent four matches.
Crystal Palace sit eight points outside the relegation zone and with fifteen points still on the table will not be turning up just to make up the numbers and entertain our transatlantic visitors. We face teams either battling for a European place, fighting to avoid relegation or with the liberating knowledge that it’s all over and every single match will be a tough one, starting today. The players have to contend with the baying of the psychophysically damaged as they enter the fray and so it is vital that the rest of us, you and I included, make as much noise in their defence and in positive support as we possibly can between now and the fifteenth of May. There might not be a trophy waiting for us, we may be a little spoiled by recent success, but we still have plenty to play for. Let’s see if we can’t cheer the boys over the line.