By Tony Attwood
Last night, in a most magnificent setting by London Bridge, overlooking the Thames, ex-Arsenal player, Arsenal scout and Untold columnist Danny Karbassiyoon spoke to members of the Arsenal Independent Supporters Association about his life in football – from being a wonderkid with the Gunners to making a faux pas at Burnley by mentioning Blackburn in a blog.
Obviously I’m biased because as I said, Danny writes for Untold, and I’m the publisher of his book “The Arsenal Yankee”, but I’ve heard enough authors speak about their work to know that just being able to write does not guarantee the ability to hold an audience. Danny can do both. and it was a great evening.
But there was one part of the story Danny relayed to the audience last night that really struck me – and it relates to the way clubs look after young footballers. Or perhaps I ought to say, “don’t always look after their footballers.”
Danny answered questions about what it is like to be a scout, whether all the scouts get on together, how a scout is treated by the clubs he visits, and even a point about leaving the match early to miss the rush… and this was all fascinating stuff.
But I did get the impression from last night, that far from being cosseted in a bubble, removed from the real world, the young players of top clubs – the superstars of tomorrow – are pretty much left to get on with life once training for the day was over at 2pm.
As a result we heard about one player of enormous talent (and I won’t mention his name here, but those at the meeting last night were told exactly who he was) who had what Danny described as the most incredible natural talent of any of the men he was at Arsenal with. He was clearly the most talented player among the whole group that he worked with at Arsenal – and who could not or would not adjust his lifestyle.
So over time his enormous talent went to waste. Yes he has had a life as a footballer, and played for his country, and indeed he is still playing, but from what Danny said, he could have been much more. But he preferred the high life.
Now I appreciate that a club can’t physically control a player – if he wants to go out and have a good time when he should be getting an early night ahead of a game then ultimately locking him up is going to do no good.
But I wondered about how much more a club could do for the youngsters, and indeed some of the newly recruited adults, they have on their books.
I am not talking here about the youth team, but of players who are over 16. Technically they are adults, and indeed at 18 they are totally adults in English law. But many of them are in a foreign country, they are there without friends and often without family, they have a fair amount of money, and living in London where every temptation is in their way and they have no background on how and what the city offers – and how to cope with it.
The impression I have gained, and this comes not just from Danny’s commentary last night but from other footballers I have listened to, is that these guys are adults and they have to get on with their own lives. The club can’t nanny them, I have been told.
But just helping look after a player in a strange city doesn’t have to be nannying – there is a huge amount that can be done to help a player settle in, in a strange town.
Of course this isn’t just a problem for youngsters. If you ever take a glance at the Arsenal History Society website you may have seen that earlier this year I published a history of Arsenal in the 1970s on the site in a series of articles (they are indexed from the home page of the site if you want to take a peek) – and I recall in researching that series something that Malcolm Macdonald said in relation to his erratic form early in his time at Arsenal.
He was commenting about how long it took him to find somewhere to live on moving to London, and what a pain living in a hotel was. He noted particularly that he couldn’t even have breakfast without someone coming up to him and wanting to discuss the last game.
Now we might think it rather self-centred of Macdonald to take such a view – after all, we, the paying public, ultimately pay his wages – and we certainly did that in the 70s before all the sponsorship kicked in. But I remember thinking, as I dug up that particular interview, “why didn’t Arsenal have a house for him, maybe with a cleaner and cook thrown in? Why didn’t they have a mentor who was on hand to look after his psychological needs as much as there was a full medical staff to look after his physical shape.”
The house could be rented to Macdonald until he found somewhere to buy, he would have somewhere that was his own, away from the crowds, he could have invited friends down to stay… in fact he could have done all the things that a regular person in his own home might do.
As I say, this is not just an Arsenal thing – I’ve come across it from all clubs. But I wonder, why don’t clubs think more about the psychological well being of the young men they sign? Why don’t they think more about what young men get up to after clocking off at 2pm in a city where they have no friends?
Maybe I’ve got it wrong, and the clubs do more than I have said, and more than Danny suggested last night, but I think if I was employing a great talent with an enormous future I’d go the extra mile.
Danny fell out with Burnley – his final club – because he wrote a comment on his blog about the joys, or lack of them, of living in Accrington. At the time his blog was read by a few hundred people back in the US who were following Danny’s career. But a local journalist picked up the piece, and all hell broke loose because of one phrase which Danny had no idea would cause offence.
Danny suffered, obviously, but so did his club. If they had had someone who had just spent a week getting to know Danny (who had obviously not lived in a place like Accrington before) and talking with him about the do’s and don’ts, while helping him find friends, places to relax etc etc, all that bother could have been avoided, and Burnley could have made a lot more out of Danny.
Of course ultimately it was the injury that ended his career – but I was still left pondering, as Blacksheep and I made our way home from a truly enjoyable evening – why don’t clubs take a bit more care of their prized assets? It seems a bit strange to me.
Untold Arsenal has published five books on Arsenal – all are available as paperback and three are now available on Kindle. The books are
- The Arsenal Yankee by Danny Karbassiyoon with a foreword by Arsene Wenger.
- Arsenal: the long sleep 1953 – 1970; a view from the terrace. By John Sowman with an introduction by Bob Wilson.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football. By Tony Attwood, Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews.
- Making the Arsenal: a novel by Tony Attwood.
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal by Mark Andrews.
You can find details of all five on our new Arsenal Books page