By Walter Broeckx
Every now and then I get some interesting things sent to me from other Arsenal supporters. So with the death of Howard Kendall I got send a copy of a letter that someone sent to a newspaper. It was an Everton fan who expressed his gratitude towards Howard Kendall and thanked him for not only being a great player in the seventies but also for being the most successful manager in the history of Everton. Everton who happen to be our opponent next Saturday.
In short this person was there when Kendall won the league in 1970 with Everton. But when later Kendall returned to Everton as a manager the writer of the piece wasn’t that happy at first. Because in the first years Everton wasn’t that good and finished below the expectation level of this Everton supporter. He then wrote a letter to Kendall. A not too friendly letter. He just didn’t write “Kendall Out!” literally but that was the feeling he had being a young man in his early twenties.
Howard Kendall reacted to the letter by inviting that young man to the club and gave him a trial. A trial that he failed as he was just a pub footballer. But the way Kendall acted in response to him without ever blaming him for the letter and his feelings was extraordinary. He even offered him tickets for a next home match but as the young man was a season ticket holder he declined and so got offered tickets for the next away match….against Arsenal.
Now I must admit that I never have known Howard Kendall in person, only from the images I saw on TV in Match of the Day or any other football show. But it looked as if he was a rather classy person. And when we use the word class we come to our manager.
Because that is one of the attributes Wenger has shown over the years a lot. Class when handling journalists (who are not worth it in my opinion). And also lots of class towards our own supporters.
I don’t know any manager that would have stayed at our club or at any other club after getting so much abuse from his own fans. Fans I write, not supporters. Let the difference be clear.
The way the media and that small but noisy part of our fans have behaved over the last years was terrible. But Wenger always stayed the same polite person to no matter who. I probably would have kicked a few reporters had I received the abuse he had to stick up with.
Did Wenger make mistakes in this long period of time as an Arsenal manager? Of course he made them. If he hadn’t he would be god-like, not a normal person. Now he is for me only a half-god person. An idol. Yes even older people have idols, that I admire. Admire a lot.
The writer of the letter I mentioned said in his final words that he thanked Howard Kendall for having taught him the value of humility. And I think that is why I love Wenger so much. Because when you look at him and what he does and how that he does it, you can learn a lot from him.
The hate he gets from the media and that noisy part of our fans is terrible. But yet he never shows it. In fact he even talks about understanding them. That is even more than I can do to be honest. Because I cannot understand them when they attacked him at the train station last season and called him names.
He has survived all the other managers in the game by now and is the most senior managers of all the managers in the PL. And today he is celebrating his birthday. He is now 66 years old or can I say, 66 years young? Wenger will one day leave our great club. And I dread the day he will do it. Not because there are no other good managers around but will we ever have a manager who is so one with the club than Wenger?
Arsène has become Arsenal over the years and Arsenal has become a bit Arsène FC. They sometimes blame us for supporting Arsène FC and not Arsenal FC. Well if you don’t understand by now that those two names are somehow melded together you probably never will.
Arsène is not just a manager of Arsenal. NO, Arsène is so much more to Arsenal than his job. His loyalty to this club in the days when we had nothing to offer him and other clubs came banging at his door to offer him piles of money is something that we never should forget. He could have walked out in the barren years and nobody would have blamed him for walking away.
But as he is a man of honour he wanted to fulfil the task he had taken upon him when we first started planning and building the Emirates. A daring plan. A risky plan. Wenger knew what was expected of him and knew what he would have to face. And he did it. Against all odds and fighting against money teams that came above water during those years he kept us near and close to the top. We lost a few trophies, or had a few taken away by strange events on the field. It would have made it much easier on him and on the noisy part of our fans.
But he never gave up on Arsenal. I know some fans did. But us real supporters of Arsenal never gave up. And because of Wenger also not giving up I consider him to be one of our greatest supporters. I think any defeat hurt him as much as it hurts you and me.
What I have personally learned from Wenger is not only a big belief in the future of our club. But Wenger has also given me something else. The attitude of never giving up. In football terms of course but a lesson I have learned to put in practice in my personal life. Never give up hope. Always keep on fighting. Always believing in better things ahead of us even in the darkest moments we face. Both in football and in our daily life.
Wenger is more than a manager to this club. He is a beacon of light for this club and for all who want to see it. So on this day when he celebrates his 66th birthday I not only want to congratulate him but also want to thank him. Thank him for the lessons of life he has given those who want to see it.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Wenger. May you stay with us for many, many years.
Hope to see you (from a distance) next Saturday when we will try to move in to the 1st position in the league when I come over with the rest of the Arsenal Belgium supporters for our match against…. Everton.