By Tony Attwood
Leicester City winning the League in 2016 didn’t make enormous waves in football in a marketing sense. It was their first top three finish since 1929 and was followed by a drop to 12th – which is pretty much the position they were in, the season before they won the league. There was no breakthrough – it was in fact more akin to the sort of thing Tottenham occasionally did in the early 1950s and early 1960s.
But it is this drive by the clubs that are not part of the elite ranks of historic winners, to break into the top level, that keeps football spiralling upward.
Indeed if George Graham had been manager now, with his more defensive approach, and his much more dour position on the bench and in the stands (where he generally sat for the first half of most matches) marketing Arsenal would be an infinitely harder job. What makes Arsenal just so marketable at the moment is Arteta and Albert Stuivenberg pointing things out to each other, studying the computer screens and then leaping into each other’s arms in a way that we have never seen before at Arsenal matches.
That is theatre; that is what many football fans enjoy; that is what the club is now serving up with phenomenal success. And yet the media is constantly critical of Arteta and Stuivenberg and their show of emotions. And that is part of the big challenge for football. It has to admit that emotion is at its heart; it has to learn to celebrate emotion, not criticise it.
We see those two men on the touchline embrace after yet another goal, and no one thinks “this is a money-making machine”. We are caught up in the emotion. This is pure entertainment. This is what is making Arsenal unique. But the media complain and complain about the two not keeping to their technical area! What is wrong with these journalists that they so hate positive emotion?
Meanwhile at Tottenham you get ceaseless bitching and arguing and discontent. At Manchester City you get the tedious expectation of spending money, getting your own way while always being ready to send in the lawyers. Compare and contrast with absolute unabated joy this season at Arsenal.
I don’t have to feel close to Arsenal and its players to support them. But when I watch the Arsenal and see all the joy and fun there, I feel, this is part of me in a way that I rarely could when the likes of Mee or Graham were in charge.
Thus there is one sort of joy in terms of the way Arsenal are playing at the moment, and another at getting one over your hated local rivals. Arsenal are delivering both – and that makes them ever more marketable.
When Arsenal won the league after having had two points deducted by the League itself because its players dared to defend themselves, we didn’t sing “We are the champions”, but rather, endlessly through the final game of the season “You can stick your fucking two points up your arse”. We were Arsenal against everyone else.
Now we see Arsenal as playing the most spectacular football imaginable, with a bunch of young players out on the pitch – without having spent a fraction of the money that Manchester City spend, and without the club being charged with 100+ offences by the League.
But we have to admit, Arsenal is still achieving all this on the basis of spending in a way that only a few clubs can do. So our joy in part comes because Arsenal’s owners have got the financial model right while Tottenham’s owners have got it wrong, Man City are facing charges of dodgy accounting, and Chelsea’s new owners don’t seem to be able to pull the strings that their Russian man could.
These are funny things to get excited about, so instead we focus on the football. But underneath we are still actually getting excited about the club having lots of money, spending it in a way that works, and having a manager and his right-hand man, who share our emotional reactions to the game.
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