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Apathy, frustration and vitriol spread across the league

By Tony Attwood

Hush, don’t say it too loud, but articles have begun to appear saying that there is something wrong with the Premier League.

And this is utterly remarkable.

First off, a few years ago, the English press stopped suggesting that England were going to win international competitions – and indeed would if it were not for those nasty foreign chaps who didn’t know how to play the game properly.

That was a major and quick change in a view held for many many years.   But that left the Premier League sacrosanct.   Just as previously England had been the best team in the world (largely because it was English) so the Premier League was the best League in the world (because it was played in England).

But now the suggestion is that something is wrong.  People are starting to lose interest.  The crowds are not abuzz.

Some years back one hack made up the name “The Highbury Library” not because Highbury was a quieter stadium than any other, but simply because

a) the words rhymed and

b) knocking Arsenal is what editors want.

Then the Anti-Arsenal Arsenal gave the press a good set of stories, suggesting that there was a continuing on-going story about Arsenal discontent.

But then shock horror, discontent emerged elsewhere.  Sometimes it could be ignored or sidelined because the clubs involved were deemed to be “little” by the press.  The insanity at Blackburn could be laughed at because they were never a big team really.   The bizarre behaviour at Sunderland was not really a threat to anyone much because it was caused by an Italian, and what have Italian’s ever done for us?   (That’s irony by the way).

So there was no crisis because the crisis was ignored.   Grounds were still full, and whenever there was a noisy buzzying local derby, the press could say, “There can’t be much wrong with football when you get an atmosphere like that…”

Even Sir Alex F Word’s attack on his club’s own supporters with the issue of what was in their bread and butter was laughed off as “Just Sir Alex”.  He was always right, it was never his fault.

So the papers continued the theme – knock the Arsenal, all is ok.   Man City fans didn’t buy all their seats in the Ems, shock horror, awful Arsenal, charging too much.  Forget that the regs say that the club must charge the same for home and away support, and forget too that when Man City handed their tickets back Arsenal fans bought them up within minutes.   No, let’s not even consider that Man City fans didn’t want to travel on uncertain transport systems for a game that was on TV anyway.

But eventually even the most blinkered ill informed press must realise that something is wrong – and it took the criticism of  André Villas-Boas of the support down the Lane in the Hull City game to make the editors and scribblers sit up and take note.    “We didn’t have the support we should have done. There was so much anxiety from the stands, the players had to do it alone,” he said.

Hardly dramatic stuff but it was seized upon.   José Mourinho, never one to be left off the cart when the bandwagon rolls along, instantly joined in.    “We know Stamford Bridge is not a very hot atmosphere, not a very strong atmosphere normally, and we accept that,” he said.

There have also been pictures from German stadia of massed support on terraces, and the news that growing numbers of English based fans are preferring to travel to Germany to watch games, rather than go for tickets in England.

Of course there is some truth in the discontent story.  At the league cup match against Chelsea at the Ems there were fans around who, having rarely made it to a match before, were complaining from the off.  They’d only paid £10 for their seats (a fact that I think only the Daily Mail covered) and so they had the right to moan, in their view.  And moan they did.

Then there were comments about a decline in the level of rabidity at the  Britannia Stadium, in Stoke, following the slow and delicate move away from rugby league to association football.   There are protests at Newcastle about the ownership, worry at Sunderland, concern even in Cornwall about Man U.

Of course if there is now a decline in interest in the Premier League, or at least a feeling among fans that at these prices, it is up to the clubs to entertain us, rather than up to us to support the clubs no matter what, it will take a long while to permeate through.   And there will always be the big games which will get the big local crowd.

But there are signs that the fans are not content both to be the people who pay, and the people who themselves are responsible for making the show happen.

Arsenal’s crowd (and perhaps that elsewhere) is getting older – although Arsenal staunchly remains the only Premier League (as far as I know) to offer no discount to Seniors – which is fairly insulting to a supporter who has been going to the ground for 40 to 50  years and now exists on a reduced income.

On the other hand Arsenal are trying to get more children into the ground.  The family areas have been expanded and are a lot cheaper than anything else on offer – but there again it was noticeable that long after the Southampton match this weekend sold out, there were still family enclosure tickets available.  There were some even yesterday (Tuesday) – which is something in instead given Southampton’s position in the league.

Even the sacrosanct zone of support at away matches has felt the brunt.  As I noted, Man City fans wouldn’t take up their tickets, and last season the “spend some fucking money” group did show up at away games, and they were not always supporting the team.

We’ve watched the away support at Euro games where you have highly organised choreographed activity which is led by guys with megaphones who don’t even watch the match.  We’ve seen the press denigrate the Red Action section at Arsenal, and instead turn to the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust every time they want a comment… and that makes me think it is just this week’s story.

But… maybe something is happening to the crowds.

I think there is – it is the level of vitriol which is different and which can make people turn away.  The continuation of the Man U chanting obscenities against Mr Wenger is disgraceful – not just because of what it is, but because of the club’s failure over 15 years to deal with it.   When the issue of the use of the word “Yiddo” came up, Arsenal dealt with it, and it is hardly heard these days at the Ems.  But Man U will not deal with their support in the same way.

Of course Arsenal fans have a nasty commentary on RVP, and I know that.  I don’t excuse that or say, “it is not us” at all.  But I do think that the long-term failure of Man U and others to deal with the obscene and slanderous anti-Wenger chanting is a cause of a change in attitude among other fans.

For me, the turning point was the way Tottenham fans sang about Campbell when he was at Portsmouth – and the refusal of the police to deal with the issue in any way other than making a dozen or so arrests after the game.

There is something going wrong when the level of commentary gets to this point, and if it is not sorted soon, the Premier League will start to decline.

26 comments to Apathy, frustration and vitriol spread across the league

  • MO11

    I strongly believe the problem has and always will be the media, because 90% or more believe what they read which 90% or more of the time is baseless yet the Journo’s are never taken to task on any of it. Then the idiots that read the papers believing what they are writing as Gospel then transit that on the terraces and even our own so called “fans” mop it up, and the press do seem to have a hard on for Arsenal and Wenger and pounce on anything that they can. The point you highlight about the anti Wenger chanting isn’t only a problem at Old Trafford its a problem up and down the country and you no that when video like lets do the Wenger dance go viral on YouTube but the clubs just turn and blind eye and the Media join in remember Liniker of MOTD.

  • Pete

    Man City fans complained about £62 tickets last season at Arsenal. They are charging us £56 or £58 up there. I am unsure about strict price comparisons – but I do know a casual fan wanting to take his family managed to buy 4 together in the home section for this game just a few days ago. That is very hard to do for any Arsenal home match!

    I also read yesterday that the percentage of MU’s income arising from “normal” fans (i.e. non-corporate) is now as little as 10%! Therefore there is a push at MU (by the fans at least) to go much easier on prices and make a serious effort to improve the atmosphere. Reminds me of the comment a while back from someone that, in a dystopian future, fans would be PAID to attend matches in order to create an atmosphere for the TV “event”.

  • MO11

    Pete I can believe that could happen in the future prices for matches are high but then again so is everything these days at least with your club and Arsenal especially work to do something about it but that is very rarely mentioned, the only thing that is mentioned is fans are unhappy

  • Rupert Cook

    Really, knocking Arsenal is what editors want? Have you any proof that editors live by this rule? There are some positive stories about Arsenal and some negative ones; maybe not having won anything for so long provides fuel to denigrate the club especially when we have a manager who was certainly capable of delivering a trophy or two in the past.

    Yes the press love to remind us we’ve won nothing for eight years but would you rather have them not remind us? Once they stop doing that then they obviously no longer regard us as potential winners of anything. How long is it since Everton won anything yet we never hear about that? Maybe because they’re perceived as also rans; I hope we never achieve that sort of status.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Interesting article. Maybe fans just get the impression, in common with many on this site that there are things that are just not right with football…..enough to make many into hardened cynics. It is not in all cases the fault of the players, or indeed all of the clubs, but the constant press bias, ref bias, let along MOTD, the realisation that Eufa will bottle FFP, Chelsea, the help Utd get, negative Internet forums, combined with a negative , cynical age exacerbated by huge volumes of info available at the click of a mouse….whether true or not….
    I could never be apathetic about Arsenal, but all the meaningless inter lulls….three in three months now, FIFA, Dean ! Riley, Taylor, Halsey, Poll, FIFA, Fergie, Arry’s court case, John Terry, EPL clubs owned by gambling firms and if you firmly believe something is unpleasant in our league, making myself cynical just thinking about it. Still, there is always Arsenal, or non league / lower divisions

  • OMGArsenal

    Here’s a good example of what’s wrong with the world:

    A store that sells new husbands has opened in Manchester , just off Deansgate where a woman may go to choose a husband. Among the instructions at the entrance is a description of how the store operates:

    You may visit this store ONLY ONCE! There are six floors and the value of the products increase as the shopper ascends the flights. The shopper may choose any item from a particular floor, or may choose to go up to the next floor, but you cannot go back down except to exit the building!

    So, a woman goes to the Husband Store to find a husband. On the first floor the sign on the door reads:

    Floor 1 – These men Have Jobs

    She is intrigued, but continues to the second floor, where the sign reads:

    Floor 2 – These men Have Jobs and Love Kids.
    ‘That’s nice,’ she thinks, ‘but I want more.’

    So she continues upward. The third floor sign reads:

    Floor 3 – These men Have Jobs, Love Kids, and are Extremely Good Looking.

    ‘Wow,’ she thinks, but feels compelled to keep going.

    She goes to the fourth floor and the sign reads:

    Floor 4 – These men Have Jobs, Love Kids, are Drop-dead Good Looking and Help With Housework…

    ‘Oh, mercy me!’ she exclaims, ‘I can hardly stand it!’
    Still, she goes to the fifth floor and the sign reads:

    Floor 5 – These men Have Jobs, Love Kids, are Drop-dead Gorgeous, Help with Housework, and Have a Strong Romantic Streak.

    She is so tempted to stay, but she goes to the sixth floor, where the sign reads:

    Floor 6 – You are visitor 31,456,012 to this floor. There are no men on this floor.. This floor exists solely as proof that women are impossible to please. Thank you for shopping at the Husband Store.

    PLEASE NOTE:
    To avoid gender bias charges, the store’s owner opened a New Wives store just across the street with the same rules.

    The first floor has wives that love sex.

    The second floor has wives that love sex and have money and like beer

    The third, fourth, fifth and sixth floors have never been visited.

  • ARSENAL 13

    Fans have become ‘boo’ friendly these days. All they support is the right to ‘boo’. I wonder what was achieved by booing the German national anthem????….

  • OMGArsenal

    Interesting take on some issues affecting Football globally. Here is what,imho, seems to be the core of such malaise:

    1)Participation in Football has declines by 11% in Britain. Fewer kids are playing the game…therefore fewer fans,family involvement etc.
    2)The tickets (and other costs) are too expensive for the ordinary supporter whose average salary barely allows them to make ends meet. As prices keep increasing, the available audience begins to drop.
    3)Access to ¨live¨ TV and internet games reduces the need to actually go through the ¨trouble¨of showing up for games. While the experiences aren’t comparable, the cheapest option is definitely home viewing.
    4)Quite a few games are boring as hell and quite a few teams play rather unattractive Football…so it is like seeing a bad movie, at today’s prices…very discouraging indeed.
    5)The apparent corruption, greed, cynicism, overt manipulation and narcissism displayed by the superstars, management/owners and authorities has left the average supporter disillusioned and disinterested in the Game, to some extent.

    Happily for the future of the Game, the trend we see in Britain is not evident worldwide. There are more and more people playing the game both male and especially female. What is really disturbing is the declining numbers of coaches, managers and especially referees willing to assume these essential roles. In Germany for example, if a Sportsverein (sports Club) wants to field a Football team or other sports team in a league, they must also provide the name(s) of those willing to complete a referee course and actually officiate, before the Club will be registered in the league. As well, the coach or manager must take a training course before he or she can be certified to supervise their team(s).

  • MO11

    OMG Arsenal has won best comment by a mile quality

  • nicky

    Well said Tony.
    The main problem today, throughout our land, is that the professional game is no longer merely a game of football between two teams of paid sportsmen.
    It is big business needing a constant injection of money in order to survive and prosper.
    That is why a club like Manchester United, currently in suspicious financial straits will do next to nothing to curb the more moronic of its supporters.
    The sad response of the weak and feeble FA in the matter gives no confidence that things will improve.

  • Rupert Cook,

    I struggle to but I cannot find how being reminded that we’ve won nothing in X years helps Arsenal or any football club for that matter. On the other hand, the repetition is a downer for fans that is partly responsible for the gloomy atmosphere at the stadium and indeed many Arsenal blogs and forums.

    The last thing you need when trying to succeed at any venture is a reminder of how often you have failed in the past.

  • Rupert Cook

    @Bootoome, I think the fans are well aware of how long it’s been since the team won anything and the downer is seeing the team always fall close to the final hurdle. Actually knowing how often you’ve failed in the past can spur you on. Andy Murray’s win at Wimbledon owed a lot to his determination not to experience the disappointment of the previous year. Frank McClintock, great Arsenal captain of yesteryear, was spurred on by the fact he was always on the losing side in finals. He was mighty sick of it and wanted to rectify it. Failure can work both ways.

    @OMG Arsenal, summed up the malaise of modern football very well.

  • Rupert Cook,

    Gotta disagree with you on Andy Murray. The whole of Britain was behind him in the quest and while we all know that he hadn’t won any grand slam before the US Open, that fact was not being used to beat him up in every article about his chances. Once he had won a grand slam, winning another (Wimbledon) was less mentally challenging.

    Look for an article on the state of Arsenal’s kitchen and you’ll find in there somewhere that Arsenal haven’t won anything in X years. It wasn’t the same with Andy Murray.

    Talking about Frank McClintock, how was spurred on by losing so many finals? Come on, how many finals did he lose before deciding to rectify it? And what took him so long? Maybe he just carried on playing because that was his job and eventually his luck turned. I think it’s the last bit but we can agree to disagree.

    Finally, if all the fans and indeed the players know how long ago we last won a trophy, why the mindless repetition of the same? In my opinion, it was always meant as a dig and never with any positive intention. I challenge you to get into a football debate with other teams’ fans and I can assure you that once they start losing the argument (if the wait that long), they’d bring up “no trophies in X years”. Ironically, they might be supporting teams that are much less successful than Arsenal.

  • blacksheep63

    @Rupert and @Bootoomee

    first you can compare Andy Murray (holding the hopes of a nation/s) with Arsenal (who represent a relatively small section of the football supporting public)

    second the press have adopted the X years since Arsenal won anything line because its easy. They could say the same about Newcastle, or Liverpool (never won the PL) or Sp*rs (never won the PL and not won the league since 1961) but they don’t. Because they are lazy.

    thirdly, the state of football is the state of football in this country and how its been for some time. There probably was no golden age just a time when grounds were filled to overflowing by men in flat caps who smoked through the game and watched a very different sort of game. Standing was killed by Hillsborough (which was the fault of the police and the related issues – NOT the Liverpool fans – of hooliganism in the British game). All seater stadium helped raise prices and reduce the atmosphere (by splitting friendship groups up)

    This is history, we can’t change that. If we want to change the future we need to support grass roots football, join fan groups (like AISA) and get involved. Not just carp about it on the internet.

    Fifth, there is no fifth 🙂

  • Rupert Cook

    @blacksheep63, which nation? Plenty of English people hate Murray. I’d say that the press adopt that X years since Arsenal won anything because winning things was almost expected under Wenger. No one cares about Newcastle because they haven’t been a major club, that is one that can win major trophies, for nigh on fifty years. As for Pool, well they’ve won the CL which is something we’ve never done despite our annual appearance in it. As for Spurs, when was the last time anyone thought they’d win the league? Arsenal have had a glut of trophies since 1987 compared to most teams. We were also rans in the 70’s and most of the 80’s. George Graham changed that and then Wenger followed doing the same. We raised expectation and recently we’ve not quite lived up to it. If we weren’t contenders the press wouldn’t harp on about our eight years of no trophies. Rather that than the indifference they award to Everton and Newcastle.

    @Bootoome, since when has every article about Arsenal been about diminishing our potential? It’s just not so. It’s rather like that stupid politician Theresa May claiming that health tourism was rife and when asked for proof she claimed it was a feeling that people had. No proof because in fact there wasn’t any evidence whatsoever, just what the general public believed, as if that was a fact.

    McLintock lost about three finals, possibly more, for Leicester and Arsenal. He has said that the memory of those defeats made him more determined than ever. I don’t know why that’s a difficult concept to understand. The Arsenal team which lost to Ipswich in 1978 FA Cup final vowed they’d win next year and they did. Defeat can be a very positive spur.

    I’m sure some of the press love to remind us of the eight tropyhless years. That would inspire me to play harder.

  • Gord

    It seems an addition to the tactics is being made. I seen a report on Kim Little’s move from Arsenal to Seattle, as just the first of many members of the Arsenal Women’s team leaving Arsenal for better places. I guess the atmosphere at Arsenal must be poisonous or something.

  • Shard

    Rupert

    Maybe if the same team had stuck around we could have won. A lot of them didn’t. They walked out. McLintock actually might have done the same if it were as easy an option back then, especially if the money on offer was proportionally huge.

    But what constitutes a trophy drought? We’re not reminded of 8 years without trophies. We’ve been reminded for around 5 years now, that Arsenal haven’t win a trophy for x(+1+1+1….) years. No one mentions the stadium in that context.

    You don’t have to believe that Arsenal are generally treated worse than other clubs by the press, but the difference in coverage over the years (peaking sometime 2 or 3 seasons ago) has been quite clearly anti-Arsenal. However, that has reduced over the past few months. Even before the new season started actually (although Taylor’s performance against us got carte blanche) I haven’t seen pervasive mention of 8 years now. Which could be interpreted in many ways. But changing the narrative around Arsenal hasn’t happened because of trophies. We haven’t won yet. Which suggests it was never about the trophies in the first place. Hostile takeover mean anything to you? That is one possibility, which doesn’t exclude other factors either.

  • AL

    If anyone can’t see the obvious anti-Arsenal bias in the media then they need to find someone to guide them to specsavers, quick.

    Good read by the way, Tony.

  • AL

    Off topic, but had to post the below, as quoted from a German paper on yesterday’s match.

    “A clash between England and Germany is one of those duels where sports reporters like to use the word “calculated”.

    Ironically, the man who earned Germany a 1-0 lead was Per Mertesacker – ‘The Big F****** German’ as he is lovingly called by the Arsenal fans.

    He was on a mission to show the English how important he is in this German national team.”

  • GoingGoingGooner

    I wonder if the vitriol that was mentioned in this article is not related to what I would perceive as the need for instant gratification. Advances in communications technology and the growth of the internet has allowed us to access more of the information we want, faster than ever before and in quantities never thought of before. This growth of markets and marketing has ratcheted up the hyperbole making each game SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than the last game. Who amongst us doesn’t cringe when we hear of yet another SUPER SATURDAY on Sky? It is no wonder that football fans react with over the top emotions after each game…including vitriol.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    While not in any way trying to dilute the above arguments nor to deflect from them , have a look at these quotes from ..

    http://www.ba-bamail.com/content.aspx?emailid=5442&source=viral_box#.Uo2HdSfyQTE

    To those who do not want to venture there , here’s the first one .. ” Good things come to those who wait .
    Better things come to those don’t give up.
    And the best things come to those who believe .”

  • colario

    Chinese

    Learn Chinese in 5 minutes…(You MUST read them out loud)

    1) That’s not right …………………. ………Sum Ting Wong
    2)Are you harbouring a fugitive?……….Hu Yu Hai Ding
    3)See me ASAP………………………….. Kum Hia Nao
    4) Small Horse …………………………….. Tai Ni Po Ni
    5) Did you go to the beach? ……………..Wai Yu So Tan ?
    6) I think you need a face lift …………….Chin Tu Fat
    7) It’s very dark in here ……………………Wai So Dim
    8) I thought you were on a diet ………..Wai Yu Mun Ching?
    9) This is a tow away zone ………………No Pah King
    10) Our meeting is scheduled for next week … Wai Yu Kum Nao?
    11) Staying out of sight ……………………..Lei Ying Lo
    12) He’s cleaning his automobile …………Wa Shing Ka
    13) Your body odour is offensive ……….Yu Stin Ki Pu

  • Double canister

    Rupert 10:59am
    I take it you don’t read the papers,
    Or are you just looking for attention today?

    Taking the piss out of arsenal is a national past time in the English media.

  • Rupert Cook

    @Double canister, really, let’s have some proof rather than what you think.

    @Shard, different times. You can’t project the present onto the past and suggest McLintock would have left if someone had offered him loads of money. I don’t think he was viewed as a marquee player anyway. I’m not sure a lot of those individuals in that side were but as a team they worked well for a couple of seasons at least. Leeds and Manu had the star players of that era and Chelsea had one or two too. We had the fabulous Charlie George of course, my childhood hero.

    @Al, no you only see the anti-Arsenal stance because you pick it out, even the slightest fact that can be regarded as a tad derogatory you magnify a hundred times. You only have one eye, the other is shut permanently. You have even admitted your bias anyway as you claimed that’s what fans should be. I understand this point of view but with all due respect I find it a little adolescent. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen you say we were beaten by the better side, it’s always us who were better. When we were thrashed 8-2 by Manu you probably believed we were the better team.

    You’ll probably claim I’ve never praised us but believe it or not I have. As someone once said “Objectivity is the preserve of adults, subjectivity is how one preserves oneself.”

  • Shard

    Rupert

    Different times was exactly my point. So your comparison shouldn’t hold either. Losing might not have motivated him the same way if the option to move existed for him as a realistic one.

    Besides, motivation is a strange thing. Not even the person at the centre of it can necessarily identify a factor that urges him on. It’s all post facto rationalisation. Sometimes it makes sense, but that same reasoning doesn’t hold every time. I don’t think it’s fair to just make it a case of being sick of losing being the reason for winning. He won, so he says it. What about the guy who never won, no matter how sick he was of losing? What about the guy who never lost but won a lot? YEs, different people react differently. But there are also different circumstances in each case, and no one can say what exactly they are reacting to. It’s subconscious mostly. In fact, too conscious a focus on ‘winning’ can lead to the opposite result, because the best performances come when instinct takes over.

    And, even though it wasn’t addressed to me, your last line made me smile. Who decides a person’s objectivity? A person subjectively defines himself as an objective adult. That one is a never ending mine of contradictions 🙂