Arsenal’s past is no blue print for its future.
Like many of you, I am not in a good place with Arsenal at the moment and I guess I haven’t been for 3 to 4 years now.
During this time, I have posted comments on a number of Arsenal blogs and have done so nearly always with a point of view that Tony Attwood and Untold Arsenal would almost certainly regard as negative criticism of the club. And perhaps therefore they would argue that I am one of many who are only fuelling the sour atmosphere that currently surrounds the club. Perhaps Tony would even see me as an unwitting member of the AAA , the Anti-Arsenal Arsenal group that he has recounted the history of on this site and which he believes is still out there undermining the club at every turn.
But in fact, in my hours of greatest depression, I often turn to Untold Arsenal (and other generally more positive Arsenal blogs such as Goonerholic for instance) to seek a balanced perspective of what’s happening to the club. I try and eek from these fine, loyal, diehard fans the strength to hold-on in there, to take on the chin whatever the latest calamity has befallen the team and rediscover the hope that, despite all the current evidence, the good times will return.
And after all, the history of the club suggests they will. Apart from the 1930’s when we ruled the roost pretty much for most of the decade, we are a club that has achieved its successes in pulses and bursts. Certainly since the early 1970’s, we’ve enjoyed victorious trophy winning teams that each competed for honours for about 4 or 5 seasons or so, interspersed with fading or poorer teams that have struggled over another 4 or 5 seasons; a team grows, reaches its peak, fades and then after a few years of struggle, another team grows and the cycle goes on.
So history would suggest, and as Tony puts it in his post, “If you can’t take the ups and downs, don’t bother with Arsenal”. He’s right, especially as he points out that during those down periods (and occasionally, if truth be told, during the up periods too) we have a long established tradition of being “giant-killed” in many a cup match. So welcome to the list Bradford and Blackburn. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last.
But does it have to be so that the young Arsenal fan who my son and I saw crying his eyes out just after the Blackburn game on Saturday has to accept the fate that history suggests will befall him as an Arsenal fan?
If he’s like me, after a few decades, he’ll be counting his blessings that he had the good fortune to have supported England’s third most successful football club of all time and he’ll see them win even more trophies. But does it really have to be quite so inevitable, as Tony Attwood suggested, that he will also have to accept bitter defeats, wilderness seasons and underachievement as if they were somehow just part of the Arsenal Way, like a deeply imbedded DNA flaw that is incurable and inoperable?
OK, our up and down past can be viewed as an indicator of the future but history can also be a lesson about past mistakes, of things to avoid, of things not to repeat.
Like Tony I am proud of my club’s great history but deep down, I don’t believe Arsenal is as great a club as it could have been. What worries me is that part of the club’s DNA is indeed a tendency to allow itself to be overtaken, to settle for what we have and to be a bit superior about what we are. I’m a biased Arsenal fan along with the best of them but I’m not biased enough to notice there is a summit up there and too often we are not on the top of it.
For me Arsenal has always been a big enough club to have achieved more than it actually has.
Our general European record of success for instance is pretty poor; we have won European honours only twice and have never won the European Cup/Champions’ League. Since the 1930’s we have failed to win successive League titles. Whilst we have competed for and won trophies, we’ve not dominated football for a sustained period in the modern game in the way Liverpool did, or Utd do. Although Wenger gave us the Unbeatables and his Henry/Pires/ Bergkamp/ Vieira team were lauded around the world as a great footballing team, even they didn’t really achieve the stature of the great European Cup/Champion’s League teams of the past and present: Ajax, Bayern, Celtic, Liverpool, Utd, Milan, Real and Barca.
The point is, for Arsenal there is much more to achieve and greater things to aspire to. I am ambitious for my club to achieve these greater things. I want them to become a better club than they have been. I am not happy for Arsenal to use the past as a template. It was good, indeed very good, but it could have been better.
So I applauded the extremely ambitious and brave step to move from our traditional home of Highbury Stadium. The new stadium is the stadium of a great, great club. It sets us up for a higher status, for greater things, for dreams to come true.
But that is why I believe Arsenal fans have become so critical.
Did we really build this stadium just to aim for fourth? Did we really build this stadium to see the team play without passion and drive? Did we really build this stadium to see a team barely capable of defending? Did we really build this stadium to allow a team manager to send out teams again and again, year after year with these same fundamental inadequacies unresolved?
Did we leave our beloved Highbury for that; to watch Arsenal decline back into a period of underachievement?
Did we build this stadium to see Arsenal lose to a struggling Blackburn team from a lower division?
No, we didn’t.
With Arsene’s first seven years fresh in the memory and the new stadium built, I felt the club was at last going to step up to the highest level, to be as ambitious as I was. That it was a new, more determined club; a club with its eye on the very summit. Anticipation, hope and pride ensued.
But a series of decisions then took place that seemed to have betrayed the march towards and promise of greater things to come:
-the shareholders sold their shares without ensuring that some of the money paid for the shares went into the club itself, just when it was really needed (they would still have made a significant personal profit on their original investment).
-They sold to a man whose track record of sporting success is extremely average and whose track record for knowing how to create a real championship club is non-existent.
-They sold to a man who, by not declaring in words or actions that he was there to achieve great things, effectively established instead a culture of complacency within the club just when what was needed was the vision and determination to fulfil what had been started by the previous management team.
– This majority shareholder also failed to establish a professional management structure for day-to-day accountability such that the team manager could go on year after year making fundamental coaching mistakes, player purchasing mistakes and budget handling mistakes without being brought to task. Arsenal might like to do things in style, to play attacking football. Buy any club can do that. The real challenge is to do that and win.
– finally, without wanting to belittle the impact that foreign sugar-daddy investment at Chelsea and Man City has had on Arsenal’s financial capability to compete, the final betrayal of the dream has been that it’s pretty clear the club generally, and probably Arsene specifically, have not done all they could have afforded to do in the transfer market to obtain better players (something even clubs like Spurs, Newcastle, Everton and Swansea have been able to do)
The dream to go to a higher level has been receding ever since.
So where does that leave me and those like me who want Arsenal to be an even better club than it has been in the past?
It leaves me with the right not to give up on my dream. I will not accept that Arsenal cannot reach the Summit or that it even has to accept a diminished status just because Chelsea and Man City now exist.
To me, supporting Arsenal is not just about having an affinity with what has been in the past; it has also always been about encouraging and supporting it in its endeavours to attain greater success in the future and to be as great a football club as it’s possible for a football club to be.
And as a shareholder, a season ticket holder and supporter I will shout encouragement to the players, cheer hard work, applaud great skill, encourage the team when the chips are down…
…but when the owners, the manager and the players fail to do everything in their power to strive for the summit and instead settle for less than what we could be, I will criticise and give them a hard time.
Put it another way, I think being a good supporter is about not allowing those who run or play for the club to get away with wasting the opportunity they’ve been given to make history or taking for granted the privilege they enjoy of being able to do so.
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- The Arsenal History Blog from the AISA Arsenal History Society