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How Tottenham and Arsenal have both tried to save football from itself

By Tony Attwood

There was a commentary posted on the Arsenal History blog this weekend which ended with the author saying something along the lines of, “I don’t know what’s happened to Arsenal but it is not the Arsenal I recognise.”

It is a comment often heard, the most common formulation of it being “Give me my Arsenal back”.

Yet this has always puzzled me, because such statements never identify what “my Arsenal” is or when “my Arsenal” was.  Was it the early years of the Wenger regime when seemingly without breaking breath we took on both the media and the rest of football and won lots of stuff?

Or was it perhaps some mythical age when it cost two shillings and sixpence to enter the ground and we won everything under the guidance of Swindin and Wright?  Or maybe even further back to the days of Chapman, the man who stands tall at the Arsenal end of the South Bridge.   No, that can’t be right, for surely there is no one left who seriously can remember the days of Chapman and Allison.

But what is missing in these various scenarios is not just an identification of when “my Arsenal” existed but who it was who destroyed “my Arsenal”.

In my view it was not the bloated felines in the board room, nor incompetent managers although goodness knows we have seen enough of those through our 126 year history, if trophies are anything to measure by.  (The norm in Arsenal’s history, in case you don’t get my drift, is not to win things, rather than the reverse).

No, mostly we have got into the state we are in by football players whose one and only hymn to the Almighty was written by Lennon and McCartney and has the chorus line “Give me money, that’s what I want”.

It needn’t have been like this, of course.  When the mega-TV-deals from Sky first came through there was a move by one of the chairmen of the time to take what then seemed to be insane sums (but which are now a simple shadow of the income from overseas earnings alone) and put a sizeable amount of the money aside for football development and insurance against future problems.

“Otherwise,” I remember this chairman saying, “we’ll piss it all up against the wall in players’ wages.”

Most of the rest of top league football would have nothing to do with it, and I must admit that I had a knee jerk reaction to dismiss the notion too, although not because it was not a good idea, but because of who said it.

It was in fact proclaimed by Alan Sugar then of Tottenham Hotspur, and yes, I am really ashamed of the fact that my innate bias against our neighbours stopped me evaluating the idea properly.

Now it still pains me to say it, but Sugar was right.  If our problems have come from anywhere, they have come from ever spiralling player wage costs.  It is the insane salaries that clubs are forced to pay to stay competitive in the top division that has destroyed “my Arsenal” wherever and whatever that concept actually is or was.

Of course as Arsenal fans we can stand tall (if we know our history that is) when contemplating the financial history of football because it was our chairman (Lt Col Sir Henry Norris) who campaigned for an end to the maximum wage long before any other chairman would support that notion.

The maximum wage was pernicious and a wholly unreasonable way to reward the men who actually played the football.  Ultimately the retain and transfer system, and the maximum wage, were ruled illegal, and players had the freedom most of us had, to negotiate salaries.

But it was not that which led to the appalling situation of footballers earning £5 million a year or more.  It was the Sky money, and the refusal of other chairmen to follow Alan Sugar’s suggestion which brought about the transfer of RVP to Man U, nothing else.

Now we all suffer.  Had Norris’ early view on abandoning the maximum wage been accepted maybe football would have had a more graceful move into modernity.  Had Sugar’s vision of holding some of the Sky money in a central fund rather than giving it all to the clubs maybe we would have stopped the current post-modern insanity.

As it is, we are now looking around with increasing desperation to find ways to get football finances under control, at least before the Premier League looks like the top division in Russia where increasing numbers of clubs are all run by billionaires (apart from the occasional one bought by a billionaire and given to his son as a plaything).

What we need now is a determined vision.  Not one that says, give me back my mythical past, nor indeed one that says, “Spend some fucking money”, but something that goes much further.

The footballing system might be stable, but if it is, it is only stable in the sense that any billionaire, or any country of zero democracy which is run by a family, can buy a club and take it up the league.

As I have written before, I do welcome the development of FFP by Uefa, and the variant form developed by the Premier League for internal control.   And I shall watch with interest the legal cases that I suspect are inevitable as clubs either claim that the implementation of such rules are illegal or biased, or as the organisations that introduce them sue clubs that they suggest have broken these rules.

It is quite probably going to be bloody, and a right royal cock-up.  It will also be interesting, and in the end will determine exactly how football proceeds for the next fifty years.

At least, like the Chinese, I can say that I live in interesting times.

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The books…

The sites…

 

27 comments to How Tottenham and Arsenal have both tried to save football from itself

  • mendes

    Good article, sensibly written. Oh! I am by the way a Spurs fan. I await with bated breath the inevitable vitriol.

  • YidStylo

    Nice article.

  • Will

    If you read history it is really only the history of the rich and powerful not the common man as no one GUF about him, now or then.
    Now we are still in the merciless grip of the monied and despite the pathetic UEFA attempts to stop money winning everything via English clubs(it was OK when it was only Italian and Spanish clubs who used the money cheat) there are hordes of legally cunning financial advisers whose only role is to find the necessary and always present loopholes so that clubs like Ch/MC/MU/RM/Barca/Inter/ACM/Juve/BM(yes BM & MU) will still continue to flash the cash and hence to rule the roost. (everyday I hear of some new junior from ..say south America, signed by Chelsea)
    The irony is that the most famous club in the world is also the ONE most responsible for this problem a sthey started it all in the 50s although within a decade the Italians had also caught on. Money rules!!! **** honesty!!!!
    Like the game football manager: the infinite money cheat will always win out in the end.

  • Iain

    Good article except that the Beatles didn’t write Money.

  • Ged

    Lennon and McCartney didn’t write that song. It was Barrett Strong.

  • Mikee

    Another Spurs fan here. Good article. Arsenal have suffered in recent years with your high profile players being poached by maga rich clubs who can just throw money at players, and then discard them 6 months later if they don’t work out. Unfortunately, these players are then almost unemployable due to the ridiculous wages they are on. After all, none of us would take a pay cut if the wages were guaranteed for the next 5 years, would we? Now we’vw got Gareth Bale and the only story you see in the gutter press every day is, “which mega club should Bale go to”, “how much is Bale worth”. You never see stories like, ” aren’t Spurs lucky to have a player in such great form”. Hopefully, Bale is looking at Modric and realises that the grass isn’t always greener, however, we at Spurs realise that it’s only a matter of time until he leaves us.
    I really don’t know what can be done because, as ever, money rules.

  • ged

    Tell a lie, it was Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford

  • Essexian76

    ‘Money can’t buy you love’ perhaps? but the sentiments the same. Football fans no longer accept a team being built and then re-built, it’s instant success Chelsea style or bust for many. Our fans (Spurs) for some reason seem to think that we have a divine right to be where we are and not take into account the teams above and directly below us and their respective financial advantages. We moan we need a striker, but not just any striker, but World Class!
    And then the moaning starts about pricing..! We’ve got the game we deserve I’m afraid, it’s the demands of fans that make clubs spend beyond their means and it’s us fans who are to blame for the current state of play!

  • minionas

    Spurs and Arsenal are lucky to have owners who like to keep a firm hand on the financial aspects of our respective clubs. I don’t hate Arsenal. I have a healthy rivalry when we meet. I hate Chelsea (rich owners plaything), MU (running a billion pound debt and still allowed to buy players of Van Persie’s ilk), Real Madrid (bailed out by the Government). And soon but not yet M City, Paris st Germain and Bayern. When the money leaves the EPL, and it will, I hope both our clubs fight it out at the top of the league and the rest drift into insignificance for 20 years.

  • WalterBroeckx

    How can you bring sanity in to an insane world? I fear it isn’t possible any more. I can hope it will one day but I don’t have a clue on how it will be done.

  • Hoddle is better than Rix

    Good article. As a Spurs fan I never really liked Alan Sugar at the time – I always supported Venables when the 2 inevitably fell out.

    I’m all for the new financial fair play rules in principle, but I’m sure they will be impossible to enforce. What’s to stop Manchester City’s owner Sheikh Mansour to get one of his oil-rich cousins companies to sponsor the kit for a crazy amount of money and bypass the rules completely?

  • nicky

    “I don’t know what’s happened to Arsenal but it’s not the Arsenal I recognise” makes me laugh out loud.
    As a firm supporter since the mid 1930’s, let me tell all you impatient and disgruntled fans that the present Arsenal is precisely the Arsenal I recognise.
    Furthermore, IMO, it will be the Arsenal my descendents will surely recognise in the foreseeable future.
    Historians and students of our national game and its participants will soon discover that the blueprint of our great Club is to continually test the loyalty of its supporters by outrageous events.
    Not for us is the certainty of winning on every anticipated occasion. Clubs high and low in the land, visit our ground with real hope of a victory.
    In the glory days of Chapman and Allison, defeat was always tempered by the publicity which accompanied it and so it is today.
    Arsenal FC is synonymous with news and those who support it must accept that whatever the Club does will be publicised in some shape or form, world-wide. The inevitable result will be praise or criticism in equal measure, from all quarters, depending on success or failure….. all fans must simply learn to treat these two “imposters” just the same.

  • dixta

    N17 chap here. My worry is that those clubs bought by zero democracy countries are being used as political playthings to sway the views of the Western masses re such jurisdictions. its all been topped off nicely by FIFAs sensible decision to award WC 2022 to quatar. Beckham & his chariddee at PSG? Emirates to a certain extent chucking in that initial 100m for your stadium. Etihad buying half of Manchester.its all a bit worrying not merely for football but for our lives in general imho.
    anyway on a footballing note see you at the Lane in 2 weeks for arsene’s farewell game ;o)

  • ARSENAL 13

    This bubble will burst, rather a slow puncture one day. AND there will be blood every where.

    AND I believe ARSENAL will play an instrumental role in this.

  • Patspur

    The best thing I’ve read in days, nice one. I sat in the El Tel camp all those years ago and like Neil Ruddock wanted Sugar out. Years later we see that Sir Alan was the best thing that happened to Tottenham, all but saving the club from oblivion. The problem both our clubs have, is having sensible men in charge of the money (sarcasm). Neither club can compete with the spoon fed riches of City and Chelsea and quite rightly we don’t try. If, or hopefully when, the owners of clubs such as City, PSG and Chelsea etc get bored or FFP means something, clubs such as ours will be able to reap the rewards. Wouldn’t it be great to see a team win the league without having spent close to half a small countries national debt.

  • cyril

    more spurs fans than gooners here. well let me ask, is that the norris who was given a life ban from football for corruption? rhetorical qu. of course it is. and the one who earlier had bribed his way over the river and then from 6th in the second div to promotion. many good things about arsenal, but norris aint one of them. ps chapman also got a life ban at one stage, for paying players during world war I, it is what caused leeds city to go belly up and gave all of us leeds utd to suffer through. chapman’s ban was overturned because of the work of some guy, what was his name, that is right the tory counsellor from fuulham, a certain my norris

  • Dave C

    Sorry, just noticed ged’s post. 🙂

  • Stuart

    I bet Alan Sugar wasn’t complaining about it when his company Amstrad won the contract to design and manufacturer the sky boxes that we people have under their TV sets now days.

  • M. Thomas

    And there was me thinking that Spurs and Arsenal must be supporter owned clubs not like Chelsea and Man City who are owned by multi billionaires.

    There is little doubt that we know that the Chelsea and Man City owners have no intention of taking money out of their clubs but tell me what are the intentions of Arsenal and Spurs owners?

    It is a common chant that Chelsea & Man City owners see their clubs as their play things but how do Arseal & Spurs owners view their clubs? You really need to ask yourselves the simple question why are they at our clubs?

    Time will tell but that pot of money Arsenal is going somewhere and I doubt that it will find its way back to the fans and there seems little evidence that you are going to dip both feet into the transfer market. In the case of Spurs if and when the new stadium is built it will enable ENIC to make pretty profit . Neither your owners or Spurs owners are there because of any moral obligation!

    Man Utd are already a cash cow for their owners and look at the backlash from the fans there. Be careful what you wish for!

  • Sav from Australia

    Very nice article Tony, thanks mate. And some polite and sensible comments from Spurs supporters.

    @minionas
    February 18, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    Nice comment.

  • Andrei

    @Walter “How can you bring sanity in to an insane world? I fear it isn’t possible any more. I can hope it will one day but I don’t have a clue on how it will be done.
    ..”

    Yes it will happen one day after the bubble i.e. Skysports mega deal bursts. With EPL reverting back to become local insignificant competition.

  • Florian

    @Hoddle

    Nothing is topping Sheikh Mansour to come up with whatever crazy sponsorship deal he wants. The consequences are visible already, as this thing is happening as we speak – it is Etihad who’re pouring in the ballpark of 300 millions in 10 years (I stand corrected if I’m wrong). Soon after, Liverpool signed the Standard Chartered deal for a comparable amount, MU followed with the Chevrolet saga, Sunderland are receiving some 20 millions an year from Invest in Africa. Arsenal are up next in less than 2 years with the Emirates deal. The name of the game is thus inflation. The next wave of deals promoted by Qatar/Sheikh Mansour/RA/whoever will raise the bar so high that many sponsors will just bail out of the race. That will be really interesting.

  • Andy

    Good article, from a Spurs fan, but the interesting thing is that while in the past both our clubs had ideas to save football, they recently both collaborated, along with Octopool and Man U, to enforce financial fair play onto the league, something that, while seeming noble and in the interests of fair competition, will actually only increase the divide between the big (CL chasing) clubs and the small ones. It’s not all black and white my friends

  • Domhuail

    Nobody in their right mind (and how many are in that state today?)can deny that Mr.Sugar’s ideas were well ahead of its time or that other Club’s people can come up with really smart suggestions as easily as anyone else can.
    That said, it is STILL ahead of its time….the Clubs who have been fed at the trough of Skymoney since the first deals were struck are now addicted to this drug and WILL NEVER refuse their fix. It is a two stage addiction, in that the Sky money is like an addict striking it rich on the Lotto, the second stage is the addict spending those riches on player’s and their dealers who , obviously knowing the addicts weaknesses,milk them for all their worth, regardless of what could happen once the addict cannot pay or won’t or what can happen to the Game we all supposedly love.
    If what is happening in Football today were happening in the commercial and business world on the same scale, we would be facing a financial meltdown and crises like none seen before….but wait, didn’t that already happen and didn’t the authorities and politicians turn a blind eye, just like in Football?

  • Brickfields Gunners

    ‘Bloated felines ‘ , Tony ? Never heard them obese pussies called that ! How very droll !
    @ ESSEXIAN 76 – Nice ,and agree with your comments .
    Not a “Nice One Cyril ” !

  • Stuart

    Florian,

    Maybe one of Usmanovs companies would take over the sponsorship in two years time.

    £100 Million per year stadium, shirt and training ground naming & sponsorship rights anyone? 😉