By Tony Attwood
A recent article in the Telegraph sought to evaluate the best run clubs in England.
I found that quite a challenging concept – and what made it all the more difficult to deal with was that the Telegraph produced tiny summaries of the clubs that were nominated for being among the “best run”, leaving the reader utterly unclear as to why and how it had reached its conclusions.
The result, because of this lack of transparency, was quite weird – indeed one was left wondering whether this was simply a quick fill in, as in the sports editor shouting, “For fuck’s sake will someone do me an article, there’s nothing new up here”, or whether it was a case of deliberately trying to avoid discussing the real issues.
What came across in these articles was a lack of detail and a constant short term perspective plus a total oblivion to the thought that if you are going to do a comparative study you first need to set out how things are to be measured.
So, rather interested in the idea, but pissed off by the way the Telegraph dealt with it, I drew up my own little list of what makes Arsenal a well-run club in my eyes. It is in no particular order but it goes like this…
1. Profitability. Without that there is a problem which is either solved by going bust, or by bringing in a wealthy outsider. I’ve no problem with wealthy outsiders per se, just as long as one is not dependent on them. Which leads to…
2. Not being dependent on one outsider. My problem with Chelsea and Man C is that they are both completely dependent on wealthy outsiders. Chelsea will use the Abramovich money to build their new stadium, which means they won’t go through what Arsenal went through when the building of the Emirates occurred. Man City have developed their youth academy etc through outside money – Arsenal paid for theirs through selling Nic Anelka for £25m profit. They were also gifted their ground by the state.
WHU are also getting their mega stadium for a peppercorn rent… I respect clubs that do it all with their own money, in their own way.
3. Taking care of the fans. The Emirates Stadium was not built just to give us a good view and comfortable seats, nor so that more fans could actually see the games, but that was part of the deal. So was the fact that League Cup matches have tickets at £10 each.
Of course I know the tickets are expensive, although not as expensive as the press endlessly suggest, with their wild unsubstantiated claims of “the most expensive in the world”, or even in the country, but that is a side effect of not having a sugar daddy who is going to pay for everything.
But taking care of the fans means listening and noting, which I can tell you from my own experience that is what Arsenal does. I feel that through the personal response I get, through the way the club deals with AISA, RedAction etc, through the treatment and support given to the disabled, and so on.
4. Success within the context of where the club is. Fourth was never a trophy, but the Emirates Stadium is a trophy when compared with Highbury. To start winning trophies again after paying for the stadium is what I call “success within the context”. The context is the economic situation and where the club is. Arsenal did it, stayed in the Champions League, and paid off the debts. That was an absolute triumph.
5. Willingness to work with young players. I love the fact that some players come through the ranks, joining as schoolboys, or at 16 or 18. Of course I welcome stars like Henry and Ozil when they are brought in, but there is something hugely enjoyable about seeing a player develop over time.
6. Short and long term ambitions. Think of the clubs that rose up, and then quickly fell back down. Northampton Town, from fourth to first to fourth division. Portsmouth, from FA Cup triumph to fourth division. This history of football is full of this.
What the truly successful club does is combine success in the short, medium and long term, and this is what Henry Norris, Herbert Chapman and Mr Wenger all have done. Each delivered more than could ever have been imagined – just look at what Mr Wenger did at Highbury, and how he delivered Champions League football year after year at the Emirates to help pay for the stadium, while bringing through players and constantly selling them on at a huge profit.
I feel quite certain that now, with the financial worries behind us, the club is not going hell for leather to win the Champions League or the Premier League, but is going after continuous growth, so that we don’t just rise up, and then slip away again. Which leads on to…
7. Stability. Stability comes out of all that has been mentioned above. No matter what changes will happen at the club in the coming years, we will know it is still Arsenal, being run in the Arsenal way.
8. History. I love the fact that we are a club that has a long cherished and honourable history with multiple achievements to its name, including so many firsts and they can hardly be counted. I love the fact that the club has been innovators over the years – and I expect them still to be. I love the fact that we have been in the top division since 1919. I even love the fact that fans of some other teams try to knock Arsenal’s history with wild stories of corruption and underhand dealings, and can’t be arsed even to check the most basic facts. The fact that those make believe tales exist shows how desperate other clubs are to find some way to knock Arsenal. They wouldn’t bother if we were not that successful.
9. Treating older players or those who have not measured up to the requirements, with decency and respect. We don’t kick players out; as a club Arsenal tries to look after them, nurture them and help them when times are bad. All we have ever heard about Diaby is criticism of Arsenal – I can’t remember any reporter writing about the honour that Arsenal has shown in supporting him. This is why players love to come to Arsenal. They will be well treated.
This goes right the way back to the days of Sir Henry Norris, who, for example, very publicly took up the case of Tom Whittaker, the Arsenal player whose career was ended playing for the FA, and who was offered the most derisory of sums in “compensation”. Norris was so utterly outraged he wrote a damning critique of the FA and published it in the club programme. Now that’s what I call standing up for your staff.
10. Openness. The club doesn’t give away its internal secrets, and sometimes I wish it would be a little more open, but by and large if you want to engage the club in serious discussion you can.
When I started to put forward my ideas to the club about improvements and developments, they didn’t know who I was, Untold was just another tiny blog, and the Arsenal History Society brand new, but they listened politely, and over the years the conversation has grown. I doubt that this happens in many other clubs.
I haven’t finished with this because I would like to compare the thoughts of why I value Arsenal with the comments the Telegraph made about clubs that it sees as doing well. But I will leave that for my next piece.
Anniversary of the day
- 4 August 1971: Arsenal 6 Benfica 1. The ref then reported Benfica for the behaviour of the entire team after he was attacked by several Benfica players.