By Tony Attwood
One of the many fascinating things about publishing Untold is that even after 6,400 articles (honest, that’s how many we have published) I can still be surprised at which ones get lots of comments and which don’t. Do other clubs get the same level of constant sniping and negative reporting or is it just Arsenal? was one that got more than I expected. Nothing like a record or anything like that, but just more than I thought.
My plea for a reader to undertake the mindblowingly awful task of finding out if other clubs suffer the same level of negativity and abuse as Arsenal has met with a positive response and that article will follow shortly.
But meanwhile reading through the comments I was struck by a number of them, but this one stood out…
But other big clubs do not stand by a manager that hasn’t won the league in 12 years. In fact Arsenal have never done this before. I suppose it depends if you perceive Arsenal as a big club.
It was an interesting negative response, and it made me think of alternative ways of putting this.
- No club has had a manager who has had his transfer budget cut so much in order to fund a stadium rebuild.
- No other club has ever had a manager who has kept them in the Champions League so long, despite having his budget cut so much.
- No other club has had a manager who has taken the team through an Unbeaten Season.
And that’s really the point. The 12 years of “standing by” Wenger is only an issue if you believe changing the manager would be certain to make a difference. But as we saw in the various analyses undertaken earlier, changing the manager more often than not ends in a greater failure than you had in the first place.
Indeed if you want an example of what changing a manager does for a club, take a look at the Tottenham managers while Arsenal have had Wenger, and compare where they have got to in the league.
- 1997 Chris Hughton
- 1997 Christian Gross
- 1998 David Pleat
- 1998 George Graham
- 2001 David Pleat
- 2001 Glenn Hoddle
- 2003 David Pleat
- 2004 Jacques Santini
- 2004 Martin Jol
- 2007 Clive Allen
- 2007 Juande Ramos
- 2008 Harry Redknapp
- 2012 Andre Villas Boas
- 2013 Tim Sherwood
- 2014 Maurico Pochettino
Now you would think that since our club sits next door to Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal supporters would remember that bringing in a new manager appears, at least in this context, more likely to bring humiliation than winning the league. And yet they keep on asking us to act like Tottenham!!!
It is a bit like the issue of buying a new centre forward. Arsenal were only a handful of goals off being higher scorers than the champions, and a few more off being the top scorers in the league, and yet we seem desperately (according to some) to need a new centre forward – as if in the modern game centre forwards are the only people who score.
All these points of view only work if everything is reduced to one particular issue at a time, with one solution only. All the evidence shows that buying a new centre forward for a lot of money only works some of the time – mostly it doesn’t. Just as mostly the champions don’t have the top scorer in the land playing for them. All the evidence shows that changing managers works far, far less often than it fails.
Thus the correspondent is right: other big clubs do not stand by a manager that hasn’t won the league in 12 years. But their decision-making most of the time does not lead to winning the league – it leads to… changing the manager again and again. While I know that you don’t get a trophy for being in the Champs League and winning the FA Cup twice running, and having the most successful FA Cup manager through the current and last century is not the same as winning the league, having the same manager and being constantly in the top four, while financing the stadium, is better than constantly changing managers in most cases. There are exceptions, but stability wins through most of the time.
But even an observation about the stadium can of course be lifted out of the overall article’s context and paraded on its own. Here is what one correspondent said in reply
Tony – so, the Premier League is about “building and paying for your own stadium”? This is a criterion fully comparable with what goes on in the field, with winning the league? Really?
This really said so much about Untold!
And of course the overall context was not about that at all – it was about moving out of Highbury to much better facilities, and allowing more people to come to the game. As well as, for the years to come, upping the level of money the club has (from ticket revenue and sponsorship deals) to compete with those who raise their money through other means. Means such as being given a stadium by the state (WHU, Man C), having a long term, well-established world-wide marketing facility and very large stadium (Man U), or being backed by seemingly unlimited finances (Chelsea, Man C). It was about doing the same as Henry Norris did in 1913 by building Highbury – which provided the basis for a club that could go forwards.
Indeed it is fair to say that had Highbury not been built, Woolwich Arsenal FC would most likely have died on its feet rather than transmute into The Arsenal. And I’d like to ponder this history for a moment because I think it offers some insights into the issues of progress.
In 1911/12 Arsenal had an average home attendance of 11,630, the 22nd lowest in the Football League. The following season it dropped even lower as Arsenal prepared to move to Highbury – but I’ll leave that out of the equation since it was a very unusual season. In fact a unique season since it was the season Arsenal got relegated.
We also have to be careful with the figures for the two following seasons, as the club was not only in the second division of course but by the 1914/15 season the country was at war.
So let us move on to the postwar era. After 1919/20 as the servicemen were brought home and the country started to re-cover there were two years of very high attendances before the first division average attendance settled down. (A similar event happened after the second world war).
And over time, by having moved to Highbuty Arsenal gradually moved to the top of the attendance list.
Now this is important, because the only way the club could really finance itself was by gate money and transfers. (There was no alcohol sold in the ground, as part of the lease arrangements, at this stage).
Here’s the chart of what happened.
|Arsenal||AFC||Best attended||Top club avg||1st division|
|Season||avg crowd||Pos||club||attendance||avg attendance|
As you can see, the average 1st division crowd (in the final column) went down from 29,252 to 22,647.
But Arsenal bucked this trend, held steady most of the time, and then went up. Indeed from this point on until 1938 Arsenal had the biggest crowds, every single season, and this funded the great success of the 1930s (starting with winning the league in 1931).
Had Norris not built the new stadium, there would have been no Arsenal FC. But we still had to play 12 seasons at Highbury before winning a trophy and 13 before winning the League.
Now 12 is rather a familiar number – the 12 years of “standing by” Wenger. In the face of which we can ask what the most likely scenarios would have been if we had not built Highbury, and then not built the Emirates, as well as the most likely scenario if we had not stood by Wenger. In terms of the Emirates era, quite possibly dropping out of the Champions League, being abused for boring play, and then changing manager again and basically “doing at Tottenham”.
So part of the reason why people are critical of Arsenal is this habit of focusing on one single point of one issue – and even then, when reducing everything to simplicity, ignoring important historical points relating to the issue. 12 years at Highbury without a trophy. 12 years at the Emirates. A coincidence? Maybe.
But building a new stadium was essential if Arsenal was going to cope with the future – which is why Tottenham, Chelsea, West Ham, Everton, Liverpool and Man City to name but a few have been so keen to upgrade. But it costs money, and if the money doesn’t come from the state (as per Man C and WHU) or from the owner (Man C again, Liverpool and Chelsea) it has to come from revenue.
If we had still been at Highbury now, we’d be mid-table, at best, simply because the money to buy and pay for the likes of Alexis, Ozil and so forth would not be there.
Now in dealing with this point about the stadium I’ve diverted from the main thrust of the issue: why are people so antagonistic towards Arsenal – but I think it answers part of the question. By defining the issue as simply “winning the league now”, failure is also easy to define. But it is hardly informative, and it doesn’t lead to any ideas as to why people do get so angry.
In the next few days we’ll continue looking at this from time to time, hopefully building up a bigger picture of what makes people so angry about their club, and what makes so many so angry about Arsenal. What these forthcoming pieces will show, is, I think, something of a revelation.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Paperback edition
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Kindle edition