It’s not only winning things that counts. It’s the genius of staying there

by Tony Attwood

It is not something you read every day on Untold, but the truth is there was a time when Tottenham could have had it all.

It was in the 1960s.  They did the Double in 1961, and won the Cup in 1962 and 1967, plus the Cup Winners Cup in 1963, the League Cup in 1971 and 1973, and the Uefa Cup in 1972.  Eight trophies between 1961 and 1973.   There was another little burst of Cup victories in the 1980s, (two FA Cups and a Uefa Cup),but then the success trailed away. They have won things since – the last was the league cup in 2008, but leaving aside the league cup and charity shield, the last trophy otherwise was the FA Cup in 1991.

Now you tend not to hear about the number of years since Tottenham won a trophy, as we did (until last May) with Arsenal, and in a sense that reflects the expectations of the clubs. Through the 60s and early 70s Tottenham was expected to compete for and stand a chance of winning all the trophies they entered.  Now the expectation has gone.

Of course all clubs ebb and flow.  Man U were relegated to the second division in 1974, Chelsea in 1975, Tottenham (after coming bottom of the league) in 1977, Chelsea again in 1979, Man City 1983 and again in 1987, Chelsea again in 1988, Man City again in 1996 and 2001, Leeds – another powerhouse in the 1970s, in 2004…

My point here is that in football it is not just an issue of winning stuff, it is about securing a dynasty that keeps winning stuff.  My point is that longevity is as important as trophies.

Arsenal have that longevity having been in the first division far longer than anyone else (since 1919 in fact – Everton who have the second longest run have been there since 1954).  And as a side issue in case you are minded to argue about how Arsenal got into the first division in 1919, you might care to read this, before opening the debate.

But longevity isn’t sexy.  Football in the press, and in many blogs is a debate in which 24 hours is an eternity.  The game is to tell us who has landed at Heathrow ready to sign, this morning – not who landed yesterday afternoon.  (And the fact that neither player actually did land is neither here nor there because look – here’s another player’s agent jetting in to Gatwick, or Luton, or…).

But talk to fans of clubs that were once great and which have lipped away to the lower divisions to such a degree that most younger fans don’t even realise they were once seen as major clubs (Wolverhampton, Leeds, Nottingham Forest), and you will realise at once that keeping the success rolling is harder than getting success for a few years.

The speed at which a club can implode is astonishing.  Just look at Southampton.  A division 3 side until 1960, they came up and held on to first division status for a very long run, before finally slipping back down again in the early part of this century. They were in League One (div 3) finishing 7th in 2010, but have returned, lived through financial crises, ended 8th last season and been praised for the quality of their youth programme.

We know that last point well, having got the Ox and Theo, and they’ve come back as a middle of the road Premier League club with a good ground.

In April Les Reed, the executive director said “No club has been given permission to talk to any of our players and that will remain so,  We want to retain the players we’ve got. Any enquiries will probably be met with a ‘no, not for sale.’ Our intention is to keep this very good team together.”

Mauricio Pochettino, the manager, who seemed to have been doing very well indeed at the club, left to join Tottenham, and all hell broke lose.

And it might get worse.  Morgan Schneiderlin wants to move – maybe to Arsenal.   Jay Rodriguez wants to go to Tottenham.  And so on.

What then happens is that the uncertainty spreads.  Parents who at one time were queuing up to have their sons play in the academy in the hope of first team performances at Southampton, and maybe worldwide stardom later, now look around for other academies to use.  Doubt takes on doubt and grows uncertainty.

Of course Southampton may come through, build a new team out of their academy players, stabilize and march onwards again – and of course I can’t tell what will happen.  But what the Southampton situation reminds me of is the fact that, with the exception of Arsenal’s run in the top division, all clubs have good and bad times.  Indeed, as the History of Arsenal blog has charted, Arsenal themselves had a disastrous through the mid-50s and most of the 1960s.

And we should remember that after the triumph of Bertie Mee in the early 1970s, Arsenal early fell away to mid table mediocrity with even a hint of possible relegation, for a few years.

In short, although we all want to feel good now, those who really care about their club care about the basis being laid for the future, and that is perhaps why I have never worried about the years without a trophy.

BT Sport did get it right at the weekend when they said that keeping Arsenal in the top four for ten years, after investing everything in the stadium, was a work of genius.  That phrase was actually said twice, and I agree with it totally.  What we have seen at Arsenal has been a work of genius.

The Emirates Stadium is not just a nice place to sit and watch football.  It is part of Arsenal’s security into the future because of the money it generates to allow the club to stay near the top.   Building the stadium was a work of genius, staying in the top four while it was paid for was a work of genius.   So was all the work done on the training grounds and building a youth system that is second to none.

Just look at the clubs who have not made that investment and who still need to.  They of course all believe that they won’t suffer the privations and difficulties that Arsenal had to manage as a result of the stadium.  They all believe that somehow they can make it all happen quickly without disruption of any kind.

And maybe they can pull off the miracle.  But they have to do all that, while staying at the top.

That is what Arsenal have done.  That is why we look forward to a new season with such great hope, buying top players (because yes, they really do want to come to Arsenal, and yes we really do have the money), seeing yet more brilliant youngsters come through from the ranks (Gnabry, Zelalem, Bellerin), and knowing that we achieved all this as a club without ever sinking into the second division.

It would be nice if there were trophies for acts of genius, but there aren’t.  Never mind though, because we can enjoy another year at the top table, with the club secure, with no worries about the stadium, huge debts, planning permissions, or anything else.

Yes, I’ll probably go on complaining about the coffee, and express my concerns about crowd control when we play Everton and Liverpool, but that’s not it at all.  It is the fact that Arsenal is still here, and challenging, bringing in stars, developing stars of the future, and all in a super stadium.

No one should be criticised for the past ten years.  They should all get medals.

The books

The complete Arsenal Anniversary series is to be found on the Arsenal History Society site.

34 Replies to “It’s not only winning things that counts. It’s the genius of staying there”

  1. You beat me to it Rantetta.
    I would have said: hear hear hear! 😉

    I really do look forward to the season 2019. When we will be able to say Arsenal has been a century in the top of the English football pyramid. That surely would be an amazing thing to celebrate. Not a real trophy? My ass it is the mark of the best club in England. The most consistent club in England.

    OOOHHHH Arsenal we love you! 🙂

  2. Superb article.when u look at how much praise is bestowed on sir alex ferguson and all his acgievements,i know that all his achievements do not come close to building the emirates stadium and our state of the art training ground.those r just a part of wengers achievements as arsenal manager.he is second to none…

  3. Tony

    I think your article captures perfectly the mind set of your standard ‘Untold’ subscriber.

    A belief in the overall long term aims and goals of the Club with the full understanding that successes is not a God given right, can be fleeting and as we have seen these last few seasons, very elusive at times.

    We are indeed privileged to support a Club that is so well run that even a venture into the bottom half of the table is a very rare, in fact almost extinct occurrence.

    But one glance at your list of big names that have indeed had dalliances with the lower divisions is testament to how easily, should you take your eye off the ball, you can slip through the trap door.

    Yes we should be very grateful and proud of the way our great Club is run.

  4. Don’t worry, the time has come where they will start to recognise Arsenal. We are on the way to building upon that achievement of our staying power.

    Schneiderlin wants to move to Spuds he says. Well if that is his vision, we do not want him again, and good luck.

  5. Brilliant article and captures everything I have been thinking for the past 5 or 6 seasons. Fans of other clubs will not admit to being jealous but you only have to look at comments they make about Arsenal not winning anything for 7 years etc when their own club has won nothing for over 20 years. And that’s what feels me with pride being a Gooner – other clubs are envious of our achievements.

  6. I will always remember hearing a BBC reporter ending his report of a near the end of the season game which we lost saying emphatically. ‘Arsenal wont go down this season but what about next season!!!!’

    The next season we did the Double winning the league at spuds. In fairness to them they came third and won the league cup.

    Since then every club that has played in the top division has had to play Arsenal. That can not be said for any other club. Is it surprising we are first in the 20th century league?

  7. Just wondering why you need Spurs fans need to read it? Found the article on Spurs Media Watch and has nothing to do with them apart from point out moments in their history (by the way you forgot the League Cup in 1999) and other teams fall from grace in their histories.

    The people you really should be aiming for are those Arsenal fans who are so negative towards their own team. You make a good point to convince your own fans that the last ten years should be celebrated and proud of but your never going to change a Spurs fans mind just like Spurs fans will never change a Arsenal’s fans mind and get respect from them.

    Fans will always find weaknesses in other teams and no amount of articles aimed at them will never stop them thinking different. So just accept it, Spurs hate Arsenal and vice versa, doesn’t matter how well you present your evidence you won’t get any respect.

  8. The media always talk down on arsenal at every opportunity, they only see the negative in anything arsenal but they won’t have a choice but to praise the best club in the world. It is our time, up Arsenal

  9. Waow! Wonderful statistics you reeled out in this article. Perhaps better trumped up than the invincible phase of the club. I believe the club should truly put a cautious eye on 2019 and pop some real champagne on this seemingly landmark achievement. Great club, wonderfully run in a manner that others can only dream about. Let’s start placing more trophies on the mantle, though.

  10. Tony I totally applauded this article literally clap my hands and stamped my feet, more Arsenal fans should appreciate those kind of stats and facts and like you said the promotion was strange but so was relegation for certain teams when they reduced the league to 20 teams so it’s swings and roundabouts.
    I must say my favourite stat which you mention in not so many words is that we have never been relegated since the questionable promotion to the top flight nearly a 100 years that’s nearly as good as the 49ers nobody has done that either, but these things would never come up with the AAA imbedded in the media with an agenda that gets a lot of younger supporters that only remember the constant glory years prior to 2004 and they just became spoilt brats hence the way we only sing when we’re winning if we haven’t scored after the 20th minute or it becomes a minority until a antispurs songs rings round

  11. I have said for years that we will not full appreciate Wenger for another 20 years. The man is a genius.

  12. Yes, wenger is a genius Will, and it seems the darling of the AAA, Mr Usmanov agrees according to reports in today’s media

  13. Yeah, noticed it too Mandy, lots of articles on Usmanov in the media today. Wonder why.

  14. According to Usmanov we need not of suffered our trophy drought as he was prepared to splash the cash.

  15. I think Usmanov wants to be as close to the board as possible now we are winning again. Some self service public relation? 😉

    But to be fair to him he did state before that he thought that Wenger was the best manager for Arsenal. Something that the AAA overlooked with ease when they were begging for him to splash the cash. Which he never intended. Another thing overlooked by the AAA…

  16. Jambug he wasn’t really prepared to splash his own cash but get more shares or water down the value of shares by making new shares and so making his stake bigger in the end. Splashing cash to buy shares.
    That is if I remember his words correct from the last 5 years or so

  17. This is why I read untold. Great article, hits the nail in the head. I was at the stadium on Saturday and bellerin looks a frightening prospect, same for Joel Campbell who should have a real impact in the team this season – he was infectious!!! And of course to see alexis’ debut in our great stadium, yaya goalogo banging them in, and I took my nearly 2 year old son for his first match – what a day!!!

  18. Usmanov is a loose cannon not to be trusted.

    We can not be too certain of Kronke but at
    least for the moment he is leaving well alone. What he might if we drop down the league is a factor Iwould very much like to know.

  19. Walter

    Didn’t think it was as straight forward as he was trying to suggest, or should I say, as the media are allowing him to suggest.

    Not that I want his money anyway. I am very happy and proud of the way we have got to where we are.

    I was really just making the point that although, yes, he was being uncharacteristically gracious to Wenger, he still couldn’t help but ‘big’ himself up with these inferences of how much money he was/is prepared to put into the Club, when in actuality, as you point out Walter, it’s not quite as he would like us to believe.

  20. I would be wary of anything the overfed gentleman says – his comment always have a calculated motive & sometimes can be slightly similar to some of the utterings of the AAAA.

  21. With all the recent negative stuff heading Putin’s way, Usmanov may be looking to distance himself ( from his friend ) and be regarded as a nice guy in the UK, where he is ( I believe ) the wealthiest resident.

  22. Good piece, Tony.
    With the “genius” quote coming from BT Sport, it may be that Arsenal decided to court the British press with direct contractual relationship in order to be able to put out their story to the world with a more balanced, sympathetic or even biased slant. I mean, if the mainstream press is already instinctively biased against Arsenal and as entrenched in their ways as SkySports, what better thing is there to do than work on the hungrier new entrant to show more balance? If it will take a contractual relationship to force the obligation, why not? Have you thought of this angle or is it an absolutely insane and totally improbable thought?

  23. Shakabula Gooner

    Lets hope you’re right.

    Although not perfect, compared to last years coverage of the Emirates Cup, this years was positively gushing.

    The thing is I don’t expect perfect. Believe it or not, Arsenal are not actually perfect.

    If a stalwart,loyal ex Man Utd player such as Neville can manage to be balanced and fair to all, why cant everyone?

    The thing about Neville is, even when I think he is wrong, or unjustifiably critical of us, it doesn’t bother me, and the reason it doesn’t bother me is because I know it’s just his honest opinion. I am confident that whatever he is saying is without pre conceived bias or prejudice or said with the intention of ‘towing the line’.

    You don’t have to love all things Arsenal, just give us a fair crack of the whip.

  24. Tony

    Absolutely agree with all you said.

    When I started to go to Highbury in the 1950s Wolverhampton and Billy Wright were the team in the country. Arsenal after 1953 were in slow decline, never in much trouble but also never looking like winning anything apart from a very good season with Tommy Docherty driving the midfield

  25. I will not rest in peace until they named the stadium after the great man’s name. Arsene Wenger Stadium.

  26. Doing it the right way has always been the hallmark of this club .That is why I’ve been a loyal supporter since season 1971- 1972 . Winning trophies along the way were cherries on the cake .

  27. From One Planet, One –

    As the Native Americans reminded us: No tree has branches so foolish as to fight among themselves.

  28. Usmanov say all that because

    1) Arsenal is winning again and the chance to buy at the cheap is over

    2) Russian are being sanctioned. His financial strength is limited. His ability to raise money is reduced. Even his base base of oil doller is suffering. (And one of his Italian web business got shut down.)

    Most of these guy aren’t stupid. He just play the money game but he does not want the club at risk.

    He needs Wenger more than anything because Wenger garantees no.4 or higher. That means he is predictable; thus Wemger is the one with almost ZERO RISK for his investment.

    Now that he cannot undermine Stan’s share, Usmanov might as well join Stan. Afterall, its better for the value to rise if Usmanov do not plan any further purchases in the future. These guys look at holding of the club for 10 years if not 20 or 30. They need to club to stay there unlike a glory hunter or a common fan.

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