By Tony Attwood
Last week I was doing some research on an Arsenal player from the 19th century – Stanley Briggs. It turned out he was an amateur player who played for Tottenham, then for Woolwich Arsenal in the League, then for Tottenham.
Several Tottenham web sites mention the player and speak of him as one of the leading amateur players in the country, and a man of such dedication to the amateur cause that when the club debated a possible move to professionalism, the player refused even to attend the meeting.
Which is all very well and very believable until one asks why, if he so abhorred professionalism, did he go to Arsenal, just about the most famous professional team in the south of England at the time? And why did he leave again after just four games (two in the league, two friendlies).
The most obvious logical answer is that he liked being an amateur (Arsenal employed amateur players right up until 1947 so we can assume it is likely he was an amateur at Arsenal) but had no objection to playing as an amateur for a professional club. Looking at the record of his games for Arsenal one can easily conclude that actually he wasn’t up to the standard of a League team and so went back to Tottenham, where the club, at that time, was without a league and played only friendlies.
Thus the facts are hard to equate with the notion that this man was of such standards that he wouldn’t even attend a meeting at Tottenham to debate professionalism. And yet this is the position that is taken up.
My point is that a little bit of digging reveals facts that are difficult to explain within a thesis put forward, so another line of argument is needed.
And this is what happens all the time – there is a dominant view which is passed on from writer to writer (particularly via cut and paste) – and it becomes the norm. Everyone copies the headline and few people bother with the detail.
But detail is all important. Because only when you consider the detail do you get an answer that actually makes sense upon investigation.
After much debate with Blacksheep we’ve agreed that this process of analysis is best called “logical deduction” – and it is a fairly commonplace approach among those trying to understand the truth. Instead of just asserting things or doing stuff, you use logical deduction to see what makes sense in understanding the past, and what help us choose the best course of events in the future.
However as you may have noticed, logical deduction is not the everyday meat and drink of football analysis where instant opinion rules the day.
For a start logical deduction is calm and measured, and to a certain degree scientific, rather than emotional. And although logical deduction is applied in analysis after an event it can also be helpful with plans for the future for it forces a person who uses it to answer certain questions such as:
a) If I take this action what is likely to happen?
b) Are there likely to be any untoward or unexpected consequences of this action?
c) How will I follow up this action?
These are cool, calm questions that are out of the reach of many who want to act now. The lynch mob was a perfect example of a group of people acting in a wholly emotional way without even an ounce of logical deduction and planning in their collective brains.
And this takes us to the heart of the problem of logical deduction about what to do regarding the future – it requires thinking – whether we are talking about law and order in mediaeval society or in terms of planning the future of a contemporary football team.
If you are an occasional reader of Untold you will know that I’ve regularly lambasted football journalists and editors for the way that they focus on issues normally with little (if any) evidence considered. They are the contemporary version of the witch hunters, seeing inhuman creatures on every corner, putting a very large number of totally innocent women to death on bonfires. OK we haven’t got to the bonfires yet but emotion has become the response to events and is all that is needed to write a newspaper (or come to that bloggetta) article today.
The press in fact acts like a lynch mob all the time – and it is not surprising that the current round of proposed protests have the lynch mob feel. They are planning events to protest against Arsenal not winning things (two domestic trophies in the last three seasons not being enough for them) without thinking, “what will this protest achieve”?
As with the lynch mob there is always a chance that they might string up the right man, but if the murders or other crimes continue after the poor man’s death, there’s no going back. All you can do is lynch someone else.
Thinking fans of Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool! should surely feel this way. They go on sacking manager after manager, and still end up without reaching their holy grail. Of course Tottenham have had a good run at it this year, and it is still mathematically possible that they could win the league – but the price for Tottenham of using this lynch mob approach to sacking the manager has been year after year after year of Arsenal supporters singing “It’s happened again”. They won’t hear it this year, but they also probably won’t win anything either. It seems a strange approach to want to adopt.
Sacking a manager can work – but no matter which way I look at the evidence (that most uncomfortable thing so rarely if ever seen by lynch mobs) – it only seems to work rarely. You need to find a brilliant manager (a Brian Clough say) who can transform a moderate team into a winning team. A man who will agree to come to the club the lynch mob have been declaring to be an absolute shambles. A man who can turn the disaster (for so it has been declared by the lynch mob) into success, and quickly.
Such men are very hard to find. There are some out there, but often they don’t want to move, or they don’t want to move to a club in turmoil – which is how the lynch mob portray the club they claim to support. Since there are 20 odd top clubs in Europe on the prowl for a new manager at any time, they cast their eyes elsewhere.
In short, just as the lynch mob generally get the wrong guy, because they don’t consider the evidence, they also do something else. They affect the entire environment. They make people feel better – for a while – until the murder and robbery starts up again. The lynch mob then reassembles and runs through the process again only with more vigour. “The problem,” they declare, “is that we didn’t kill the last man fast enough.” In football terms it is like looking at Tottenham Hotspur’s 24 managers from 1984 to 2014 and see it as a blueprint rather than a dire warning, because in 2014 they finally got a good ‘un (even though he hasn’t won anything yet).
Ah, but maybe we could find a brilliant manager who was so strong in his own personality he would do what he wanted to do, and not be pushed around by annoying owners, and win stuff etc. Brian Clough. He won the league with Nottingham Forest (a club whom he had just brought up from the second division) and then the European cup two years running.
And then… he won nothing. The club sank lower and lower until it was relegated. So maybe not a Brian Clough.
The protesters at Arsenal want to win trophies. But nothing in what I have heard or read suggests to me that any of the groups protesting have been explaining what they think the protest will achieve, and why this will be achieved and how it will give them what they want.
(If of course they are thinking that it will achieve nothing, then the question becomes, “why are they doing it?” – but that’s too weird so let’s leave that for a moment.)
In fact reading all their protests I guess the answer might be that they think they can get the club to
a) sack the manager
b) bring in a new brilliant manager
c) bring in lots of new players
d) win stuff.
I often get a bit worked up when people use the phrase “it is not rocket science” to mean “it’s not that hard”. I get worked up because rocket science is not hard – it is about the simplest science there is. You put a load of flammable gas in a fire-proof container with a valve at one end. Then you set fire to the gas, and open the valve and the container goes in the direction opposite to the position of the valve.
By contrast finding a manager who can win things is incredibly difficult – it is more like quantum mechanics. Only about 1 in 40 managerial transfers in the league actually makes the club better. Which is actually worse than the number of high value player transfers that actually make a difference to a team straight away – that is about one in four.
And there’s another problem. Mr Kronke has made it clear that he is not going to pour money into the club like Abramovich, and is not going to sell bits of it to the Chinese like Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Personally I rather like that.
So what is plan? To get Kronke to sell to a multi-billionaire who then acts like Man City and Chelsea act?
Maybe it is, although the little protest groups around have never quite made it clear what they want. But it is a question worth asking. Is that what it is all about? Be like Chelsea, only more so?
If so, it doesn’t really seem to me to be much of an analysis of Arsenal’s situation or much of a proposal for the future. In the last three years Arsenal have won two trophies, and Chelsea have won two trophies. Logical deduction would suggest there might be a better way forwards rather that copying a club that has done much the same as us.
- Why don’t clubs take care of their prize assets?
- Don’t shoot the messenger but we’re in a funk
- The endless assault on Arsenal. Now it is started I doubt it will ever end.
From the Arsenal History Society
The Society is currently developing a series on every Arsenal player who played for the club’s first team in a league match in the 1893/4 season – and it is a series that is certainly re-writing some established versions of what happened.
The latest articles are
- Stanley Briggs; from Tottenham to Arsenal to Tottenham. But is the tale all it seems?
- Joseph Cooper: the most mysterious of all the mysterious Arsenal players