Its Happened Again!
by Tim Charlesworth
What a day. The joy, the sunshine, the happiness, a fond farewell to loyal players, it was almost perfect. Nobody will put this season down as a great success, but at least it has given us one very happy memory. This season will always have a little place in our hearts now. It is another legendarily improbable way of extending the run of St Totteringham’s Days. The fact this one gets us to 21 is extra special.
Robbie Savage described our joy as ‘pathetic’. This was an interesting comment, because it rather missed the point, and highlighted a difference between professional footballers and fans. If you look at it objectively our joy was ‘pathetic’. The rivalry with Tottenham is a bit silly, and in our hearts, we all know that. However, football supporting is a leisure activity, the rivalry with Tottenham is a bit of fun, and is part of our identity as Arsenal fans.
Pochettino made the point before the Newcastle game that Tottenham’s ambitions should be higher than just beating Arsenal. Apart from being very funny in hindsight, this is also true. Similarly, St Totteringham’s day is not a suitable target for the professionals who are employed by Arsenal FC to win football matches, but that doesn’t mean that supporters can’t enjoy it.
Part of the joy of being an Arsenal fan is that wherever I go in the world, I can strike up a conversation with an Arsenal fan that I have never met before. The reason we can do that is that we have shared experiences, whether its Micheal Thomas’ goal, the Invincibles or Lasagnegate. We are part of a community. It’s a worldwide community, and I love it. If that’s pathetic, then I’m guilty.
We have been treated to a number of special ‘last day’ St Totteringhams in the last 21 years, and this was one of the very best. What made Sunday truly wonderful, is that our differences were forgotten. Its been a difficult season in many ways. One of the most distressing things for me this season has been the discord amongst the Arsenal fan community. Our collective happiness gives me an excuse to write a piece that I have wanted to write all season, but lacked the opportunity to do so.
This has felt like the most divided season I can remember amongst Arsenal supporters. It has perhaps lacked some of the bitterness of recent years, the ‘spend some f**king money’ chant of August 2013, or the shock of the Wenger confrontation at Stoke station in December 2014. What this season has had though, is a depth of division that I haven’t seen before. In the second half of the season, particularly following the Man U defeat, we split into two apparently irreconcilable factions, the AKB and the WOB, and fans are really starting to identify strongly as one or another (I should declare myself an AKB in the interests of integrity).
I’d like to make an observation about the WOB, which I know can cause offence, so I will try to do it politely. I think it is generally true that the WOB tends to be younger, and perhaps more recent fans, whilst the AKB tend to be the older fans, who remember the pre-Arsene period. This is not universally true, some very long-standing fans are in the WOB and some younger fans are AKBs, but as a generalisation, I think it is valid. This has led to some fairly unpleasant accusations that the WOB are ‘plastic fans’. This is obviously highly offensive, as many in the WOB camp are devoted fans who believe that their position is in the best interests of our great club.
We would do well to remember that we were all new fans at some point. If you became a fan because your father was a fan, of course he would have been a new fan at some point (or perhaps his father was). I don’t think we can claim any special status if we support Arsenal because we were, or are, Islington residents. The club was originally based in Woolwich, and the fans from Woolwich may have had negative feelings about the Jonny-come-lately Islington people who started following the club after the 1913 move.
Personally speaking, I am a first generation fan, converted when I watched Alan Sunderland score the winner in the 1979 cup final as six-year-old. My father was not a supporter and I have never lived in North London. Many will have joined us during other successes, such as the double team of ’71. Probably the largest section of our support descends from people who started following Arsenal during the astonishingly successful 1930s era.
The truth is that success attracts supporters. That is why we have more supporters than Barnet, or Tottenham. We were all ‘glory hunters’ at some point, and it is not fair to criticise people for this.
I have lost count of the number of current professionals who say that they want to play for Arsenal. The main reason for this is that people who are professional footballers tend to be in their mid-20s and therefore grew up watching Arsenal teams with Viera, Bergkamp, Pires and Henry in them. Children, in particular, are influenced by success. Lots of the children of 15 years ago are, not surprisingly, now adult Arsenal supporters.
The arguments and insinuations about who is a ‘proper fan’ remind me of the immigration debate in Britain. I always think that prejudice against immigrants is particularly daft, because we are all immigrants. 10,000 years ago, no humans lived in Britain, so we are all descended from immigrants. Britain was populated and repopulated in successive waves. Below is a list of those waves, highlighting only the most significant:
- The original hunter gatherer immigrants who populated Britain 10,000 years ago (actually Britain was populated and then abandoned by a series of such immigrants over a period of 40,000 years
- Around 4,500 BC, farmers came to Britain and the population increased substantially. The resulting Neolithic population built Stonehenge amongst other things.
- The Beaker people arrived around 2,500BC. They bought metal working with them
- The Celts. This mysterious language group seems to have arrived in Britain about 800BC. They brought iron working with them.
- The Romans (43AD). Very few actual Romans came to Britain. But Britain became part of the Roman Empire and people became more mobile than ever before. This ‘mobility’ was probably not replicated until the twentieth century. People came to Britain from all over the Roman world in this period. Some stayed.
- The Anglo-Saxons. The details of this immigration (c .410-550AD) are murky, but it was obviously significant, as our language, English – a corruption of ‘Angle-ish’ – is the descendant of the languages spoken by these people from northern Germany and Denmark
- The Vikings – the legendary warriors from Scandinavia settled mostly in Northern England in the late Anglo-Saxon period.
- The Normans – this warrior people were descended from Viking invaders of Normandy (Normandy means ‘land of the North Man’). They only came in small numbers, but their descendants were the aristocracy that ruled Britain for most of the 800 years after 1066.
- The Huguenots – These were French protestants, prosecuted in France and finally expelled by catholic Louis XIV in 1685. Most of those that weren’t killed in France, came to England.
- The Jews – Britain’s Jewish community came with the Normans, but was expelled in 1290. It gradually came back from 1650 onwards. Most modern British Jews are descended from the early twentieth century immigrants that came to Britain fleeing persecution and genocide in Eastern and Central Europe.
- People of the Empire – In the nineteenth century, Britain became part of a global empire again. People came in from all over the empire, particularly when the empire dissolved after World War Two. The largest groups came from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Caribbean. They mostly fled prosecution, came because of family ties, or were economic migrants.
- The Eastern Europeans – the new Millennium has seen major immigration from Eastern Europe. They mostly came seeking work, taking advantage of the freedom of movement offered by the European Union. Poles are the largest single group.
People from all of these groups (and many who have mixed heritages from two or more of these groups) are Arsenal supporters. I can guarantee you that, however ‘pure British’ you might feel, you are not exclusively descended from the very small group of hunter gatherers who originally populated Britain 10,000 years ago, and indeed were not even the first humans to populate Britain.
In the same way, I don’t believe that any Arsenal fan is descended from a pure line of people who attended the first Dial Square match in Woolwich in 1883, and haven’t missed a match since. So whilst some of us have longer Arsenal heritages than others, let’s please not use this as a weapon to fight each other with. We are all immigrants, and we are all ‘newcomer’ Arsenal fans, we are just at different stages in our journey.
In particular we should note that the Invincibles era will have attracted a lot of new fans. These fans are experiencing an Arsenal fallow period for the first time, and are finding it hard to take. This is a particularly cruel fallow period because it has been characterised by a lot of false hope and misinformation. 2012-13 and 2007-8 were both characterised by long periods of leading the premiership. The incredible achievement of staying in the top four has also misled fans about the ability of the club to compete.
On top of this, Arsenal was quite dishonest with us about the financial restrictions that it was working under between 2005 and 2013. It is only in the last three years or so, with the restrictions easing, that the club has started talking openly about its problems. At the time, with large cash surpluses in the accounts, it was not at all clear that the club was struggling financially. Now, just when the fallow period looked like it may be coming to an end, we have had another disappointing season. People are naturally frustrated.
The fact that we have all these relatively new fans is a great thing. It is a result of our success. We have an unusually high number of these fans in the stadium as well. The opening of the Emirates allowed an extra 20,000 people to become regular matchgoers. Most of them will turn out to be lifelong fans. Even the tiny number that really do tear up their season tickets in protest, will continue to be fans and may return to the stadium at some point in the future. They will probably have children who will also be fans. And it is the depth of the fan base, more than anything, that will determine our long-term success.
So let’s welcome all our fans, whoever they are and however they came to us. We can have legitimate disagreements about whether or not Arsenal needs a new manager, but when we are tempted to lapse into insults about who is a ‘real’ fan, let’s try to remember the spirit of St Totteringham Day, 2016.
- Why changing Arsenal’s shirt in 2005/6 was not such a terrible idea. Maybe.
- A step back or a great leap forwards? What exactly happened in 2015/16.
- Celebrating St. Totteringhamsday in the Clock End
- Arsenal 2015/16: A Faltering Season with a Flattering Finish.
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