By Tony Attwood
An Arsenal match is, for journalists, a moment for making stuff up… or if not that then a moment for exaggerating and giving undue emphasis to some events while ignoring others. I’m wondering what we can do to stop it.
For example the David Hytner Guardian piece today says: “An Arsenal supporter was arrested at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday after red wine was thrown at the Manchester United bench.”
Now I don’t sit near the bench at the Emirates – and although I can see the bench clearly at the time of the alleged incident I wasn’t looking that way.
But I can ask a few questions. If it did happen, how on earth did anyone get alcohol into the seating area behind the bench? Was this yet more lackadaisical activity from stewards, as is shown in the allowing of flares in? How do we know it was red wine and not Ribena?
OK, that is a story and it reflects badly on whichever Arsenal fan did it, and on the club itself. But right by me there was a much more serious breach of the rules as a bunch of Man U fans had got seats in among the Arsenal end.
In one sense I don’t condemn this – I have done it myself at a few grounds when the only seat I could get was with the home fans. Other writers on Untold have done it too and I suspect many fans who have followed the club across a lifetime have ended up at some stage being in the wrong place.
However when you do that there is an absolute rule. You sit still and shut up. If your team scores you sit there and look. If the home side scores you stand up with everyone and then sit down with everyone. You don’t have to cheer but you have to keep a very low profile.
What these Man U fans did however was celebrate. It caused an enormous amount of annoyance and tension around the area, and it was only the remarkable restraint by Arsenal season ticket holders, that stopped there being a fight. Worse, it took minutes to get a steward to come over and take the matter seriously. Then the single steward who did turn up stood there texting something on his mobile and grinning like an extraordinary grinning thing that grins a lot. He was utterly totally out of his depth.
Eventually the Man U fans, realising that they had already chanced their luck enough and that at any moment they were going to be in real trouble, decided to leave. No one accompanied them out, no one checked how they got their tickets.
Now this story, which is akin to the “red wine at the bench” story got no coverage. Yet it was just as serious.
Which makes the basic point: if you want to get your story in the press, do it where they can see. So that silly chappie who stands around all the time near Wenger with his “Wenger out” scrawled message can always be guaranteed a place in the press. Idiots going out of their way to try and start a serious disturbance on the north bank don’t.
But of course the Guardian won’t ever leave it at that. No, we have to go back to “Sir Alex Ferguson, the club’s former manager, complained in 2008 about the abuse that he received from supporters close to him, describing it as “nasty”. “It is too open for my liking,” he once said. “It should not happen when you build a modern stadium. You need tin helmets. It is a weakness in the planning that you don’t provide safety for the visiting substitutes and staff.”
And did the Guardian also mention the most disgusting and appalling abuse that Mr Wenger has received from the Man U fans, and still receives from them, from across the whole stadium, every time we play there? Abuse which the press stoked by their action when he first arrived?
No, they don’t. If you want to read about it now you have to go to the Arsenal Anniversaries section of the Arsenal History Society site and look at 1 October 1996
But of course for newspapers today, one article is never enough. The attitude seems to be, “throw as many bits in as you can, and hopefully no one will notice the absence of facts, let alone investigative reporting, So we have Sean Ingle also writing in the Guardian saying. “As abuse daggered from the stands – as it does with uncomfortable regularity nowadays – it was if he was wearing noise-cancelling headphones.”
Except that where I was sitting, although there was a shocked silence after the second goal, and a numb shaking of heads when we found all our outfielders up field and two Man U attackers running half the pitch free for what looked like it was going to be a third, when Giroud’s goal went in there was substantial noise, and a real outpouring of encouragement for the players to play on to the last second of the game. .No mention of that then.
So Ingle says, “One friend [unnamed, unidentified, and we are not sure if he/she ever attends] reckons Wenger’s relationship with supporters resembles a fantastic marriage gone bad.”
Assuming this unnamed source of Ingle’s is a season ticket holder and so attends almost all matches, that gives us a sample of 0.000016% of the people in the stadium. Hmmm… not a very big sample is it?
Ingle says later, “Supporters appear more impatient these days,” and that is where we can see that his grasp of footballing reality is sadly lacking. If he had ever bothered to read up on his football history) and as a journalist for a paper which has a brilliant track record of investigative journalism, such a basic level of competence really ought to be part of the deal, he would know that a number of Arsenal fans booed and jeered Chapman’s teams – Chapman famously called them, the “boo boys” and railed against them in his newspaper column.
The same treatment was handed out to Tom Whittaker and his brilliant sides, and members of the title winning team of 1952/3 spoke publicly of how some Arsenal fans were the worst in the country for the way they treated their own team.
Mr Ingle: a little awareness of the history of your subject matter might not go amiss. The fact is that that AAA (you might want to check the link Mr Ingle if you have no idea what that is) at least since around 1908, and quite possibly before then – there was certainly a lot of disturbance at the Manor Ground in earlier years (see The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal by Mark Andrews for more information).
What is different Mr Ingle is not the level of abuse from a minority, but a thing called the in-ter-net. You might have heard of it. It allows trolls to post abusive and negative commens under a vast variety of names and fake email addresses to try and make it look as if there are a lot of them.
The fact is that yes, as you say, managers are sacked a lot more often than they used to be, but the reason is because a storm is whipped up by people like you and your troll allies, and the chairman (simple souls at the best of times) react. They know it doesn’t help – goodness us Arsenal fans only have to take a peek along Seven Sisters to see a prime example of how sacking managers doesn’t help. Maybe you could write an article comparing and contrasting the effectiveness of Tottenham’s revolving door policy with Arsenal’s consistency policy. We do a list of them each time another manager moves on – I don’t know why, it’s just something we do. There’s one such here, in case you are not familiar with Tottenham Hotspur (an ex-Middlesex club that has attempted in recent years to move east).
Arsene Wenger is by far the most successful manager in Arsenal’s history, in terms of win percentage in league matches – and it is a win percentage that has gone up year by year. There’s a complete analysis of every Arsenal manager from that and other perspectives here if you are interested
But I will give you one thing, Mr Ingle. You did pick up on Professor John Goddard’s analysis. He analysed the working life of all the league managers from 1972 onwards and found that less than a third won more games than they lost.
Clearly you know Mr Wenger’s figures, given the way you write your piece, but for anyone who doesn’t here they are…
- Played 1010 matches
- Won 57.23% of games
- 8 trophies and 17 top four finishes
Now you do seem to know some of this because you quote managers who have had better win ratios – but then fail to mention the number games – another bit of partial information giving. If you do that you could also bring in a few other Arsenal managers who have don’t better than Mr Wenger – but the number of games they managed was a lot smaller. It is all in our table.
And that takes me back to where this started. It is all partial information in the Guardian these days. Red wine from one Arsenal fan and a Sir F Word comment, put it in. Stupid behaviour by two (that is a 100% increase) Man U supporters and appalling behaviour by around 100 journalists when Mr Wenger arrived, no best leave that out.
Balance? Investigative journalism? No, why worry about such things.