By Tony Attwood
OK sweet and serene might be a bit much, but even so, I am fairly calm, I smile quite a lot and enjoy my life, including Arsenal. Here’s why. And to some degree how.
1: I didn’t come here to win things.
As you might have realised I’m old. My dad took me to Highbury in 1956 or 7, not sure which, and so I’ve watched football under Swindin, Wright, Mee, Neill, Howe, Burtenshaw, Graham, Houston, Rioch, Rice and Wenger. And nothing before Wenger has ever been this good.
Arsenal’s in my blood, as they say. My father was taken to the Arsenal by his father in the 1930s and kept going. My grandfather, living in Stoke Newington (the borderlands between East and North London) went to Arsenal in 1913 when the club moved to Highbury. It is my heritage.
So I am a season ticket holder and a blogger because Arsenal is my birthright, my heritage, a significant but not all-consuming part of my life. And I don’t go to Arsenal because I expect to win things. In the 38 years of my supporting Arsenal before Wenger came along, including of course some years as a child, I “saw” (not that I was always there) Arsenal win ten trophies. Three League titles, three FA Cups, one Fairs Cup, two League Cups and one Cup Winners Cup.
Ten in 38. One every 3.8. Or since these days only the League matters, three in 38. One every 12.66 years. Got that? One every 12 years.
In the Wenger years I have watched 9 trophies gathered in 19 years. One in every 2.1 years. One league title every 6.3 years. A considerable improvement. Double the previous rate in fact. Plus instead of sitting in a scrunched up seat in a small out of date stadium where everything was a crush and the big screen was invisible unless I bent down, I sit in a totally modern comfortable new stadium.
2. The football is sensational
In terms of performance Wenger is so much by far the best, I can’t find comparisons. But let me say that I remember the season under Graham when we were the lowest scoring club in the first division. And 1975 and 1976 when we came 16th and 17th in the league. Under Wenger I have seen brilliant football played by brilliant players.
Of course I remember 1970 and winning the Fairs Cup, but mostly because I had been supporting Arsenal since 1956 and had never once in my life up to that point seen Arsenal win any trophy of any importance. Not even the bloody league cup. Fourteen years of support and not even a sniff of a trophy.
How does that go down with people who today expect and demand a trophy regularly? I doubt that they could conceive of 14 years with no trophy at all.
And in those days we didn’t have any of your “fourth is not a trophy” stuff. In six of those years we were tenth or lower.
3: We win more games than ever before.
Just look at the table of managers (to cut down on space this table only includes managers who have managed over 100 games for Arsenal but if you want the whole table including the shorter term managers that is on the Arsenal History Society web site) Check the win percentage column – the number of league games won. And don’t tell me it is easier to win games these days in the top league – you know the opposite is true.
|1.||Arsène Wenger||October 1996||1066||57.50||18||3 League
6 FA Cup
|2.||Harry Bradshaw||August 1899||May 1904||189||50.79||3*|
|3.||Herbert Chapman||June 1925||Jan 1934||403||49.88||4||2 League
1 FA Cup
|4||George Graham||May 1986||Feb 1995||460||48.91||6||2 League
1 FA Cup
2 Lg Cup
|5.||Tom Whittaker||June 1947||October 1956||429||47.09||3||2 League
1 FA Cup
|6||George Allison||May 1934||May 1947||279||46.24||3||2 League
1 FA Cup
|7||Don Howe||Dec 1983||Mar 1986||117||46.15|
|8||Terry Neill||July 1976||Dec 1983||416||44.95||2||1 FA Cup|
|9||The Committee||August 1893||May 1897||118||44.92|
|10||Bertie Mee||June 1966||May 1976||539||44.71||3||1 League
1 FA Cup1 Fairs C.
|11||Phil Kelso||July 1904||Feb 1908||152||41.45|
|12||George Swindin||June 1958||1 May 1962||179||39.11||1|
|13||Billy Wright||May 1962||June 1966||182||38.46|
|14||George Morrell||Feb 1908||April 1915||292||35.27||1*|
|15||Leslie Knighton||April 1919||May 1925||268||34.33||.|
People tell me Graham was better, I can tell you he wasn’t. When he left we had played 28 games scored 31 goals and were 12th in the league, and it was awful. The top team had scored twice as many as and the only place we were going was down.
So my point is that Arsene Wenger has given us triumphs in terms of nine trophies, without the downsides. And by keeping us in the Champions League he earned the club the money to build the stadium and move forwards – and thus be able to buy Ozil and Alexis.
4: I like football
I don’t just like watching my team winning, I actually enjoy football, and for this I think I am a dying breed. I support Torquay, because after my parents retired they moved to the south west, and our last games together were at Plainmoor. I support Poole Town because they were the team my dad and I went to see when, for a while, the family moved to Dorset. Of course at my age my father is no longer with us, but it is part of my connect with the past. Part of my honouring of where I come from.
When there’s no Arsenal match on and I’m not visiting the grandchildren I go and watch my local team Corby Town – indeed I’m hoping I might start taking the grandchildren to the occasional game in a year or two.
So I like football. Yes I like to see Arsenal win, but that is not the stop and start of everything. I like football.
5: I am not fixated on the league.
Yes I want us to win the league, but if I could be at Wembley for the third year running this May and watch Arsenal win again, that would be alongside my equal greatest memory. Of course I was at the final match of the unbeaten season to see something that only 38,500 people could ever see. And of course I have seen individual matches that won the league title.
But at the moment the Unbeaten Season is a unique experience – seeing Arsenal do something no one has done before, and that last game against Leicester stands in my memory and will do forever. To add to that, to see something that has not happened since 1886, before Arsenal was formed – the winning of three FA Cups in a row, and to be there for all three games – that would be a dream and a half. Two different “being there” events. One unique in football, one that only happened in the earliest days when football was quite different.
6: The football of the Wenger years is so much better than anything before.
I wish I had videos of complete games from the Billy Wright days when ending up in 7th was the highest achievement, and twice in the final season crowds sank below 10,000 at Highbury. Or videos of 1975 with crowds in the low 20 thousands.
I don’t have such films of course, I only have tiny highlights; but I have memories. And I do have films of the Rioch year. Just go and watch that. Not the last game or two but the mid season. Or maybe that run in 1987 of ten games when we drew three and lost seven, and scored, wait for it, two goals. Two goals in ten games. Under George Graham. I adore the football of Wenger because although he can’t protect us from bad runs (no one can, so don’t fool yourself) we never, ever get that bad.
7: Life’s too short to be upset by football.
Of course I am deflated by football when we lose, although in reality my biggest concern sometimes is how to make an interesting article out of a poor performance for Untold. But that’s my fault – I chose to start Untold, and I choose to run it at a level of three articles a day. If none of my friends who run this site with me wants to cough up a few words, I fill in the gap.
I have been upset in my life – desperately upset in ways that I am not going to go into here, so I really do know what the bad times are like. And maybe that is one reason why I can love my football but not get so angry about it. I do know what the really dark days of misery can be like, and football never takes me near that.
When we score I jump up and cheer and wave my arms around a lot. When we let a bad goal in I am deflated. But unlike the man behind me in the East I don’t leap up and hurl foul abuse at Wenger or a player for a cock-up. Maybe that is because I can remember some of my cock-ups either as a writer or in my work as a company director or as a guy just going about my life. Maybe I just know that whatever Arsenal do it is never going to be as bad as the day that…
8: I have a way out
I’m lucky. I have in my life four things that I really like doing. One is going to football matches with my friend Blacksheep and meeting up occasionally with Andrew and Walter and other guys I know who come to matches.
But there is more. If for some reason that currently escapes me you are an avid reader of my ramblings you might have noticed me mentioning dancing – Blacksheep usually throws in a few jibes about it in his articles too. The dance form is “modern jive” – it is skillful, (not one of those where you just do your own thing) in that your partner has to get what you are doing by hand movements alone. Throw the lady the wrong way and fail to catch her and you don’t get many more dances and possibly face a lawsuit.
The point is that dance is one of those things that clears the mind. When I go to a dance as I do several times a week, there is no football in my head. There is nothing in my head except the dance. And I suspect that might be a difference between me and many of the people who get so worked up they feel the need to scream abuse at Wenger or print up a whole banner saying time to go, or stand alone wearing a t-shirt saying “enough is enough”. I don’t get like that because I have another life, besides work and family.
Also I have the fact that I love writing. I love writing Untold – and the Arsenal History Society blog, and (for yes, there is a third) Untold Dylan, which like Untold Arsenal, has quite a dedicated following, although perhaps not as excitable. And the books too. I do enjoy doing it and the sense of achievement when I can put a book I’ve written on my shelf.
9. I love exposing newspaper fantasies like the injuries tale, the transfer makebelieve, the referee nonsense, the corruption in football…
Untold has always been a place where we try to be different (hence the name) and work towards evidence based football reporting rather than a place where people just mouth off an opinion. It is the one thing a lot of anti-Wengerians don’t get, and one of the things I’m rather pleased with here.
I honestly get a lot of pleasure out of revealing the real reason why England do so badly in internationals, or just how often transfers don’t produce improvement, or that the “Arsenal get more injuries than others and it’s all Wenger’s fault” story is untrue not because of the “Wenger’s fault” bit but because Arsenal don’t get more injuries than others.
And I have been honoured to be the guy who has published Walter’s articles that have clearly put PGMO into the dock. The expose of what PGMO is and how it works is down to Walter, and I get a little reflected glory by being the publisher.
10. I don’t believe that a new manager will automatically be better
That is what lies underneath everything about wanting change. That the new man might be better. But it is not a given. Perhaps there are three or four managers around who are better than Wenger, but the notion that a) they are available b) they want to come to Arsenal c) Arsenal could afford them and the transfer money they require and d) that then they would be a success here, is not automatic.
Men who have won great things in the past don’t automatically do it again. Why do you think Real Madrid changed managers mid-stream? Why did Chelsea? Why is Chelsea, the club with obscene amounts of money at its disposal still unable to appoint a full time manager, or announce who it will be in the summer, as Man C has done? Why has Man C been having as hard a time of it of late as us. Why can’t Man U, who have all that wealth through their worldwide marketing, rise rapidly back to the place they were under Ferguson?
No, I am not at all sure that whoever follows Mr Wenger, whenever he leaves, will be as good as he has been. And if I do have a worry at all, among all my serenity, my dancing, my relaxation techniques, the fun I get from writing, the enjoyment I have of being with my family and friends – it is that the next guy might not be that good.
Not because the board is stupid and make the wrong appointment, but because he simply isn’t out there, or doesn’t want to leave his current club or doesn’t want to come to Arsenal. That’s my one worry.
10 March 1906: Manchester United 2 Woolwich Arsenal 3. Arsenal’s first ever appearance in fourth round (quarter final) of FA Cup
10 March 1919: At a Special General meeting of the Football League Arsenal were elected to the first division, where they have stayed ever since. Although there have been allegations of irregularity a review of press coverage of the election show that everything was not only above board but also not at all unusual. See here and also here The History Society offered a £100 reward for anyone who could produce any evidence of anything underhand about the affair – it has never been claimed.
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The Untold Books
The latest Untold book is Arsenal: The Long Sleep 1953-1970 with a Foreword by Bob Wilson, available both as a paperback and as a Kindle book from Amazon. Details of this and our previous and forthcoming titles can be found at Arsenal Books on this site.