By Tony Attwood
OK so you don’t want Mr Wenger to continue in his job. Maybe you want Ivan Gazidis to go as well. Perhaps you want Silent Stan to sell – he’s got Mr Usmanov always waiting in the wings so why not.
Which raises the question, what are you going to do about it? Or put another way, what is the most effective way of influencing the club so that it changes, as you want it to?
It is a question that has been faced by many supporters in many different clubs, but it is interesting that although we must all have seen protests at numerous clubs in recent years, we have not seen many debates about what is the most effective method of achieving change. Nor indeed what approaches to achieving change that might be adopted can have unexpected consequences.
There are, as far as I can see, three approaches that are being used at the moment: by protesting at matches, by creating blogs that point out the perceived failures of the club, and by supporting the national media which has an agenda (for their own benefit) of giving publicity to those who are against the current regime.
Given that these have been going on for quite a while one might say that they have not been very successful. The first criticisms of Arsene Wenger from the media and the supporters that followw them, came in his first couple of seasons with attacks on the number of yellow and red cards the club got. The numbers turned out to be completely false, as well as meaningless (since no comparisons were ever made with the number of cards gained by other clubs) but the attack was a unifying feature for the media and those who didn’t want a foreign manager for a while.
The first “x years since a trophy” occurred I think, around 2010, and built up slowly after that. After Arsenal won the FA Cup in 2014 it was changed to “x years since we won the league”. It, like the discipline commentary before it, started in the mass media and was soon picked up by disaffected fans.
But the fact that this commentary has been going on for about seven years suggests that by itself it is not very successful in bringing about change. This is, of course, completely fine by the media, because the longer the issue remains the more they will get an audience when they highlight it, and it is a message that can be delivered without any cost in terms of research and without the need to think of any new stories to run.
However Mr Wenger and his team are still there, after maybe seven years of protest – which again suggests the approach of chanting, banners, blogs and readily going onto phone-ins isn’t actually very effective.
Now we often have people who write in and claim that Einstein said that the definition of madness is doing something that fails and then doing it again and again. I got fed up with asking writers to justify the notion that Einstein ever said that (although I must admit I only asked because I am fairly familiar with the great man’s pronouncements of a non-mathematical nature so I was always fairly certain he never did say such a thing) so now I just don’t publish them.
But irrespective of whoever did create the saying, it does seem that those who are against Mr Wenger and other senior staff at the club, are tending to use the same methodology over and over again – and yet he is still there. Why are they just doing something that fails?
About five or six years ago there was much talk of the fact that the waiting list for season tickets, silver membership and travel club membership had vanished, and the Telegraph has been a great exponent of the notion that the numbers attending matches has fallen. Unfortunately speaking to those on the waiting lists for such memberships confirms that the waiting lists appear to be there, and I can say from experience that something as simple as seeking to change where I sit in the ground took years to achieve.
Equally unfortunately for those who seek a media message that will help bring down Mr Wenger and his colleagues within the club, the Telegraph’s campaign showing an apparently empty stadium during a match was taken at a game in which Arsenal were not even playing, and the one picture they had where the crowd was low was taken shortly after kick off on an evening when there was disruption of the underground system. Fifteen minutes later the ground was as full as normal.
And yet given the failure of the protests within and without the ground and the vast amount of articles on blogs and commentaries within the mass media to the effect that Mr Wenger must go, nothing has changed. Is continuing the campaign in its current form, truly a sign of madness, as so many correspondents have said?
The media love the approach because it makes for cheap copy that gets big audiences – that is always their motive. But in terms of change, there is an approach that would probably stand a much better chance of achieving its aim of removing Mr Wenger, and it is interesting that it is seemingly not being adopted.
That approach is, of course, not going to games and not watching the club on TV. It is often claimed (both by correspondents to Untold and on other forums) that huge numbers of Arsenal supporters are against Mr Wenger. If that is so, if they simply banded together and refused to use their red, silver or gold memberships, and then at the end of the season did not renew, while writing to the club to say why, I am sure the effect would be rapid.
As I have noted above I am often told this is about to happen, and I am sure we will get the same message this year, but so far none of these promises of action has ever happened. Instead all we get are the protests and the moaning from the anti-Wengerians, and the usual arrogance, amnesia and assumptions as the mainstream fare from the media who find this a wonderful space filler to keep running over and over.
As long as the only approach is to claim that most fans want Mr Wenger out, while we see the number of tickets sold remaining high and there still be a waiting list for silver and gold membership, the only real conclusion that we can reach is not that this is a sign of madness (one would need some other factors within the equation to make this a valid judgement) but rather that people protest as they do, even though they know their protest has had no effect for years, because it makes them feel good.
And that is probably what it is all about. The regular protesters who are now being picked up by the mass media get the publicity, and love it. The rest… well social psychologists will tell you that feeling that you are part of a movement can be very reassuring. Even if the movement is an absolute failure in terms of achieving its aims.
So that’s it in the end. The protests at the moment are mostly about seeking reassurance and feeling good. If they were not, then at some stage over the last seven or so years the protesters would have said, “hang on, this isn’t working – maybe we should stop coming to games and stop watching Arsenal on TV.”
There is one other point however: protesting against the Arsenal is part of a grand tradition that goes way back – at least to the time of Herbert Chapman, who called the protesters the “boo-boys”. So I guess the protesters could say they are part of a tradition over 85 years long. If that is so, I look forward to reading a book on the History of Moaning about Arsenal. Could be an interesting read.
If no one else writes it, I might have a go myself.
Arsenal History Books on Kindle
The novel “Making the Arsenal” by Tony Attwood which describes the events of 1910, which created the modern Arsenal FC, is now available for the first time on Kindle. Full details are here.
Also available on Kindle, “Woolwich Arsenal: the club that changed football” the only comprehensive history of the rise of Arsenal as a league club, and the attempts to destroy the club, from within and without. For full details please see here.
Both books are also available as paperbacks. Please see here.