Why are the media so critical of Arsenal? How the habit developed over time.

By Tony Attwood

We have been running a series of articles asking first if, and then if so why, Arsenal are treated differently in the media from other teams.  Here are the pieces so far.

  1. Why the media is so critical of Arsenal: it all goes back to the two Arsenal men who were banned from football for life
  2.  Do other clubs get the same level of constant sniping and negative reporting or is it just Arsenal?
  3. Why are people so negative about Arsenal? The first answers
  4. Are Arsenal treated differently from other clubs by the national media and the bloggettas? An analysis of reports.

Articles 1 and 3 added a bit of historical perspective, pointing out that the aaa is not a new phenomenon – and that problems with “supporters” go back to the earliest days of Woolwich Arsenal.

I mentioned in my last piece that part of the problem for Arsenal was that two of its great revolutionary spirits – Sir Henry Norris and Herbert Chapman were both banned from football activities for life – something that galvanised the press into false shock horror statements about Arsenal’s involvement with such dubious people.  Sir Henry walked away from football when he was banned, although remained a shareholder in Arsenal.  Herbert Chapman appealed the decision a few years later and was allowed back.

But long after Norris and Chapman the attacks on Arsenal players by the people on the terraces continued – and in the 1950s a new dimension was added, when it became clear that the sniping at Arsenal, aided and abetted by the press, was being conducted by people who claimed to be Arsenal fans, and yet who never went to matches.

At this time, although Arsenal could get big crowds, the games were rarely full, and the all-ticket matches were very much few and far between.  If you wanted to watch the Arsenal at Highbury, you could.  And yet some people didn’t, and instead took up sniping.

One player who later suffered significantly was Jimmy Logie who came under attack in probably the most outrageous campaign of all in 1953.  Jimmy was a teetotaller but that didn’t stop a bunch of people starting to write to the London evening newspapers (of which at the time there were five) stating that he had been seen out late at night, (usually on a night before a game) completely drunk.

Quite what made people do this, is not clear.   The writers, like today’s anti-arsenal movement with its blogs, claimed to be Arsenal fans.  But their allegations were all quite untrue.  What made the press publish all these letters day after day after day is however quite clear.  They loved every opportunity to have a go against Arsenal.  The tradition of putting Arsenal down was certainly well established, and the press would do everything they could to aid and abet.

Tom Whittaker, Logie’s manager took up the fight, publishing a long rebuttal in the programme, pointing out how on some of the occasions when Logie was “seen drunk in London” he was actually 200 miles away with the team preparing for a game.  The club also arranged for a rebuttal article to appear in The People newspaper.

But although defeated by Whittaker’s resilience on this occasion a new alliance of the media and anti-Arsenal campaigners had formed through this campaign, and this marked a new development – for now the rumour mongers had wholesale publicity machines ready for their inventions.  Very quickly the situation got totally out of control and after the 1953 championship victory many players openly expressed their dismay at the Arsenal crowd and the way it dealt with the players of the club they were supposedly there to support.

Arsenal historian Jon Spurling recounts the story that Peter Goring was abused after the Sunderland defeat in 1953 by a fan who said that he’d seen the Arsenal team of the 1930s and the current team wasn’t fit to lick their boots.  Peter commented on this as saying, “I wasn’t the only player to be confronted in such a way.  Some of the other boys also got hassle from fans which wasn’t nice,… some of those fans were very hard to please…”

Spurling also says that on one occasion, “One of Goring’s team mates snapped and told the Daily Mail journalist… that he was “ashamed of the crowd and considered them to most unsporting collection in the country.”

Partially as a result of this, the team broke up and the dark ages of the club began – there were no more trophies until 1969.  As the club tried to buy new players they found it increasingly hard as players simply didn’t want to play in front of an Arsenal crowd that had become notorious.

Since then the process has remained, with the crowd at Highbury and later the Emirates able to reduce seriously good players into wrecks.  One only needs to think of Martin Hayes who scored 19 in 31 starts in the league in 1986/7 but who was jeered so much in the end the manager started playing him only away from home.  He lost his nerve, the goals dried up.  Or we may think of Gervinho who suffered a similar fate in home games.

And of course the press have loved it, and have joined in at every opportunity turning observation and opinion into facts.  When the blogs are added in, and the re-writing of history starts to occur (as with the comment that was sent in to Untold Arsenal, that unlike Wenger, Bertie Mee had the good grace to know when to leave.  The clear point was that Mr Wenger doesn’t know – but it ignores the fact that Mee’s last three seasons were years in which the club ended up 10th, 16th and 17th and suffered a home league cup defeat to Tranmere) and were twice thought to be looking very likely to go into the second division for the first time since 1919.

What we have tried to bring to this debate is evidence.  Evidence that shows, for example, that sacking the manager won’t help.  Something like 80% of  managerial replacements are complete failures, and people like Arsene Wenger who come in and make a success of a club from the off are very rare.  It took Herbert Chapman five years to do it.  (The Arsenal History Society published a piece  How long does it take a new manager to win the league at Arsenal?   analysing every Arsenal manager’s first years in the club.  It doesn’t make very exciting reading most of the time).

What would rescue the club of course would be a return to the ownership style of Sir Henry Norris who never once was afraid to put his point and stand up for the club, and truly could make the supporters feel they were part of a club that would stand up to the establishment.   At the same time Sir Henry always gave backing to his managers.  We might say he stood by Knighton (Chapman’s predecessor at Arsenal) for too long, but more importantly, when Chapman offered his resignation in 1929, having failed to deliver any trophies to Arsenal since his appointment in 1925, Sir Henry turned him down flat and told him to get on with it.

We need more people like that who will stand up for the club no matter what, rather than endlessly coming to the aid of the press in its ceaseless attacks on Arsenal.  Perhaps not the board any more, as they see their role as utterly different from role perceived 100 years ago, but someone needs to stand up for Arsenal.    The team of us who run Untold Arsenal do our level best to be endlessly pro-Arsenal, but sometimes it feels we are a bit on our own.

It is interesting that the media endlessly and remorselessly attacked Sir Henry Norris constantly ignoring his unpaid, unstinting patriotic work in the war (for which he got his knighthood and military rank) and his very progressive views on women’s liberation, his demand for work for every man returning from the conflict in 1918, cheap transport services for all, and so forth.   And that’s before we talk of what he did for football in general, and Arsenal in particular.

Henry Norris did after all pay all the club’s debts in 1910 when the club was bankrupt (not just the “football debts” people do today – he even paid off debts that emerged AFTER he had taken over and inspected the accounts.  He built Highbury and he brought in Chapman.  His reward was the most libellous commentary on his career you could ever imagine (from which all of the myths about him have grown) written by Leslie Knighton, the manager whom he sacked.  It was written years after Norris’ death for Sunday newspaper serialisation, by an old man who had no access to any documents relating to Arsenal.  If you have ever heard anything about Henry Norris (refusal to pay transfer fees, laying down crazy rules, running the club as a dictatorship etc) it all comes from Knighton, and Knighton alone.  An alternative account, written by George Allison a few months early, written we might add by a man who knew Norris from 1910 until his death, and which notes and praises Norris’ work for the club and his selfless patriotic and public work, is never quoted.  Yet even without investigation we can see it is likely to be a much more reliable source.

No, we have a negative story of Sir Henry for one reason only – Henry Norris stood up for Arsenal, as he stood up for everything he believed in, and he took on the press wholesale.  True, in the end it was his downfall, as he lost the libel case he brought against the Mail, and one might well say that taking newspapers to court over their wild rants is always a lottery.

But that doesn’t change the fact that we need this sort of person as much today as ever.

You can probably tell, I feel quite strongly about this issue, which is why from the very start of Untold, it has been an issue I’ve come back to time and time again.  It is an issue Untold will always publicise, because the activity of the media in this regard is thoroughly pernicious.

In the next article I want to take a different route, and focus on just one article which appeared in the Guardian a day or two back.  It is a very short and simple piece and illustrates the point I am trying to make very clearly.

Thank you for reading.


Recent Posts

Untold Arsenal has published five books on Arsenal – all are available as paperback and three are now available on Kindle.  The books are

  • The Arsenal Yankee by Danny Karbassiyoon with a foreword by Arsene Wenger.
  • Arsenal: the long sleep 1953 – 1970; a view from the terrace.  By John Sowman with an introduction by Bob Wilson.
  • Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football.  By Tony Attwood, Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews.
  • Making the Arsenal: a novel by Tony Attwood.
  • The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal by Mark Andrews.

You can find details of all five on our new Arsenal Books page

28 Replies to “Why are the media so critical of Arsenal? How the habit developed over time.”

  1. This has been an excellent series of articles Tony. A must read for every Arsenal fan.

  2. Thanks for writing it Tony,a great article, and as Usama says an excellent series.
    I wonder if Theo is next in line to be hustled out?That’s been brewing for years though.Hope it doesnt happen.Mind you there’s a few sadly on that list now,at least from what Im reading.And the visiting teams now know they can wind up the crowd to go against the lads,which isnt good…
    But UA isnt on its own, at least PA is out there, good folks on that site and good writers like Stew Black and the others that write in a good blog(A5 FH,AA,PG,SG and eddy does a stack of great posts etc)also standing up for Arsenal.

  3. i TOTALLY AGREE espn fc IS THE WORST CURRENT EXAMPLE AS espn DOMINATES FOOTBALL AT LEAST =IN THE US they talk about liverpool as a great team but Liverpool hasn’t won in more than twenty years that is never mentioned . Arsene and Arsenal are never given praise for their consistent philosophy of keeping the highest in transfer fees and creating harmony and not inflating the fees and playing the beautiful game. The venezuelan and the scottish guy are the worst. Geberally I believe that the media is owned by the majoe=r monopoly capitalist and hence they must continue to advertise this profilgate capitalism.

  4. What a load of paranoid conspiracy theory nonsense. People are critical of Arsenal because the same issues and problems are evident year after year and nothing is ever done about them. They are a big club with the most expensive tickets around and they show no ambition. That is why they are criticised. In wengers early years when he got the balance right he was rightly praised and lauded in the media and by the fans but he has been getting it wrong for so long now particularly with regard to transfers that he is now rightly criticised.

  5. IMO the extreme negative tone of certain people talking about AFC comes from the fact that Wenger’s philosophy is deeply dividing. Some deeply embrace it, just like I do, and some think this philosophy leads to collapse. The early success of Wenger was seen as luck in some way, the generation of players was luckily excellent, but some expected us to collapse soon after, just like some expect Leicester to collapse now. But Wenger never collapsed, and netheir did he manage to reach the very top level again, and that’s to me the reason why some want him to finally collapse for so long, and why some people still trully believe in him. Sorry for the poor english.

  6. You wrote:

    “Henry Norris did after all pay all the club’s debts in 1910”

    I can’t imagine for one moment Mr Kronke doing this, can you?

  7. The media are writing negative things about us because we as Arsenal Fans are divided.
    Some group(AOB) feel Mr wenger is holding us back with his policy and therefore he should go, while some(AKB) feel that Mr wenger has done enough to merit his place as an arsenal manager for how he wishes to.
    There’s a conflict among us we need to resolve first before we talk about the media for they have cashed-in on the dissatisfaction of many fans.

  8. Colario

    Norris did what he did because that is what was needed. Does Kroenke have to do the same thing? Has he done nothing right?

    I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, and I have some reason to dislike the Walmart family.

    I see in Google News, that Mertesacker is humourously saying that he will take up the goal scoring when he returns. Could he be like Peter Crouch? Perhaps Wenger should give him a chance up front?

    Remember Kim Kallstrom?

    Recently Kim Kallstrom had an interview with a Swedish radio station. Someone translated the interview to English, and Pundit Arena is reporting on that translation. Apparently Arseblog and Joe have also reported on this.

  9. I also remember that Jon Sammels, a talented member of the 1971 squad was targetted by some abusive fans, (just like Gervinho, Denilson, and even Ramsey more recently, together with Almunia and Fabianski, Eboue, to name just a few.)

  10. You are not alone in these views.. One doesn’t need to go that far back into Arsenal history to spot the same observations… but of course overseas sofa fans that are not ticket holders’ voices don’t matter as much as Piers Morgans’.. are brushed aside and mocked for conspiracy tales…
    Not at all surprised by the insight… I’ve lost my voice in discussions over the past decade being critical of the ‘fans’ only to be called all sorts of things..

    Great Article

  11. Tony, if I may be so bold!

    According to Andy Kelly,the Arsenal History Society, Sir Henry Norris was no longer Chairman of the Arsenal, in 1929?

    Herbert Chapman, was in total control of the Arsenal in 1929!

  12. Gord
    July 29, 2016 at 7:57 pm

    You wrote:

    “Norris did what he did because that is what was needed.”


    If it is needed in 2016 or later I can not see Mr Kronke doing what Norris did when in his day it was needed. That is use his own money to save the club.

    As a shareholder he has already taken £6 million out of the club.

    The only openess about this is the claim “for services to the club.”

    The club doesn’t say what services nor has Mr Kronke said what he has charged the club for. Do you know?

  13. Gord
    July 29, 2016 at 7:57 pm

    Just read your link. What a great piece.
    Thanks for that

  14. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks that what you have written is so so true.I’m only an occasional supporter to the Emirates but, I can never understand those ‘supporters’ who do nothing but slag off the players & manager throughout the game. Great post. Thanks

  15. Excellent article.
    But, yes, Arsenal , or perhaps their manager are treated differently by the media. We are not in the financial league of city Utd, Chelsea,……more in the league of Liverpool or Tottenham ……..compare how the media treat us compared to those two.
    In terms of finance, arsenal are closest to Spurs and Liverpool, but those two massively outnumber us in terms of media allies.
    The truth, the media have had it in for Wenger from day 1…..yes, we have an absentee owner, and yes, fairly sensible comments from Ivan can be misconstrued but ultimately, the media do not like our manager, and they have willing allies amongst our fanbase and ex players desperate for a fast buck, and that’s all they need.
    After all…..second place…..a huge, unmitigated disaster

  16. NickW…glad you liked your post and nobody else will! Here is a point by point dissection of your aaa rant:

    1)What a load of paranoid conspiracy theory nonsense…..Where is YOUR proof that this media inspired bias does not exist?

    2)People are critical of Arsenal because the same issues and problems are evident year after year and nothing is ever done about them.,,,,what issues and problems exactly and where is your proof?

    3)They are a big club with the most expensive tickets around and they show no ambition…..wrong again…we are average when all factors are taken into account and one can analyze the cost….but why bother when you can bash AFC without any research!

    4)That is why they are criticised. In wengers early years when he got the balance right he was rightly praised and lauded in the media and by the fans but he has been getting it wrong for so long now particularly with regard to transfers that he is now rightly criticized…..Oh you must mean Ozil and Sanchez and Cech and Xhaka and El-Neny and those poor transfers?

    Just accept that you are an idiot who has been force¨-fed this offal you come on UA to spout by the media and aaa like verbal diarrhea and find another team tö support because YOU are definitely NOT a Gooner.

  17. Another nice article , Tony . Good job. Looking forward to the next in the series . Let us all get behind the club and cheer and support the team on . Good tidings are just around the corner .

    Gord -July 29, 2016 at 7:57 pm – Thanks for that link .A lovely read . Kim Kallstrom will always be one of ‘us ‘!

    WOO HOO , HOO !
    Up the Gunners !

  18. Mandy, we most definitely are in the same financial league as the Manchester clubs and Chelsea. Liverpool are well behind and Tottenham are much, much further behind. Our revenues for 2014/15 were €178m more than Tottenham’s, who should be looking over their shoulder at West Ham now they’ve been gifted a stadium.

    Here are some facts for you:
    1. Our 2014/15 matchday revenues were the highest in the world.
    2. We have more cash in the bank than any club in the world.
    3. Our 2015/16 domestic TV revenues were the highest in the PL.
    4. Our 2014/15 total revenues were more than Chelsea’s. We rank 7th in the world.
    5. In the Forbes list of the most valuable clubs we rank above Chelsea and Man City – and 5th in the world.

  19. @Mandy,

    You forget that the stadium will be fully paid one of these days.
    Once this is done, the financial capacity of the club will be much better.
    Yes, as @Robert points out, we are already in a good position.

    And considering the rise of salaries in recent years, this is something that will make the club more appealing as paying galactic transfer sums is of no use if you cannot pay huge salaries to the players you transfered to the club. Financing the running cost of a 25 player team is the huge challenge, much moe so then the transfer sums.

    Apart from that, @Tony, I agree with you that the club needs someone to defend it. A Uli Hoeness figure like Bayern has had for decades. A figure that on the other hand can represent the club and make it “lovable” as well. A figurehead person.

    The fact tha we don’t have such a person is a mystery to me.

  20. Guys,

    just read this phrase taken form an ‘article’ on the web

    “There seems to be a conflict on his transfer fee. Sky Germany believe Arsenal could offer €30m + €10m in bonuses, whilst Valencia Extra reckon La Liga club want €25m for Mustafi.”

    Full article here http://sportwitness.co.uk/wenger-target-flies-london-sunday-arsenal-willing-make-good-deal-sign-him%e2%80%8f/

    So they come up with 2 sources, and in this case the conflict is like Valencia saying “no, no, we don’t want that much money…..”

    If these guys were reporting in 1914, no wonder the whole world went to war…

    Yeah there seems to be a conflict…..

    AW would get Messi, Ronaldo, Mueller for free, there’d be some of them screaming how he did wrong.

  21. In the past week, I know of 4 managers who have spoken of their worries about the inflated transfer market- Klopp, Conte, Wenger and Sean Dyche.

    I’d be amazed if any of the others came in for the Wenger treatment, where a few of their words- ‘I’m scared’- are placed out of context in a negative back page article designed to induce scorn and ridicule.

    I find it remarkable that after all these years he still talks openly and as though he is not dealing with a pack of degenerates.

  22. Overnight (UK timecycle) the Daily Mail produced a couple of articles. One I read, the other one I just looked at the headline. Arsenal STILL Can’t Handle Didier Drogba …

    If Any team consistently plays within the rules and a particular opponent plays outside the rules, an observation similar to the headline is likely to result. I am not saying that the Arsenal players are always playing within the rules, or that Drogba always plays outside the rules. I was just presenting one circumstance where the headline would be expected.

    It is possible that the one opponent player could have extraordinary skill. But, in this instance the career of Didier Drogba is probably close to over and in all that time he has only scored 16 times against us. 16 is still a small number, and it is entirely possible that this is still just some random run of luck, that there is no special skill required.

    The other article was about Arsenal flying from San Jose/SFBay to Los Angeles, and stopping to use the facilities of LAGalaxy with Steven Gerrard and Nigel de Jong of the LAGalaxy being present to receive them.

    I though by and large this was a good article. Some of the commentary, especially on photographs was dumb. I really don’t think any of the players were looking to get stronger, which was a common theme of the dumbness.

    Getting stronger happens over timescales like 6 weeks, it does not happen over time scales of 1 day. Can we put the muscle through its capabilities without anything being out of place? That is closer to what a trip to the weight room in this instance means.

    Let’s look at a particular exercise, the press. Nominally this exercise is a straightening of the elbow (extension at the elbow), accompanied by a rotation at the shoulder. The should is a lousy ball and socket joint and has lots of muscles around it to try and lend some stability to a joint that is not designed to be stable.

    If we are doing a press as an arm (triceps) and chest (pectoralis) exercise, the wrist is moving in a plane perpendicular to the backbone.

    If we do this exercise on a machine, there is almost no recruitment of stabilizer muscles, and we should observe maximum strength.

    If we instead use a barbell, the distance between the 2 wrists is constrained (we are holding the bar, and it doesn’t stretch). But we do recruit stabilizer muscles because we have to balance the bar above our 2 shoulder joints. We expect our indicated strength to decrease.

    We can “cheat” in doing the barbell press, and have our feet on the ground. This provides stability to the body, and hence increases the stability of the two shoulder joints. Often, with feet planted we arch the back, lifting the waist line off he bench, turning the lift into a “decline” press, and we will see increased strength (more of pectoralis can join in).

    We can _not_ cheat, and keep our feet in the air above our hips. Less stability, less strength.

    Next, we could the press with dumbbells on the bench. Same feet issues. Nothing tying the two wrists together, so a less stable exercise and hence less strength.

    We can move to doing the dumbbell press “on the ball”, where our shoulder blades are being supported by the ball. This makes the exercise even more unstable for the shoulders, with lower strength observed.

    And near the bottom of shoulder stability, we can do the dumbbell press with only a single dumbbell on the ball. When our arm has reached full extension, we rotate the body so as to lift the weight even higher, still requiring that we balance the dumbbell above the shoulder joint.

    All of the above press exercises are to be done at a speed where momentum (of the weight) does not become an issue, such as to a count of four (one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand four) said out loud.

    Done slowly and deliberately, the above exercise the prime movers of the exercise and activate stabilizers to different degrees. But sport is also about power and accelerations.

    The easiest power exercise that is like a press, is the pushup. And I have helped one guy do pushups, where he had 3 45 pound plates on his shoulder blades, so there are people who do the pushup with extra weight. Quite similar to a barbell bench press.

    Next, the easy version of a wrestler’s pushup. Push yourself off the ground hard enough, that you can clap your hands before you need to reposition your hands to keep from doing a faceplant into the floor.

    The two next harder versions have you clap your hands either behind your back or behind your head.

    If we (largely) remove pectoralis from this, we can see the most difficult of the clapping power exercises, which I have only seen gymnasts do. You do the exercise in a handstand position.

    All exercises for the triceps, most are exercises for pectoralis major.

    And going back to Arsenal lads stopping at the LAGalaxy facilities, I would think they would be doing most of these with dumbbells. We aren’t looking to test maximum strength, it is more useful to maximize recruitment of the stabilizers.

  23. Very good Tony the whole series of articles has been interesting and eye opening. But that’s no surprise as the majority of your posts are refreshing to read and informative. What saddens me is when you see some of those idiots that call themselves fans brag on Arsenal tv or other medium that they single out different players for abuse in every match. These in my opinion are not true supporters of the club. I am first to point out Wenger has made mistakes but regardless of those mistakes from what I see he still has the desire and ability to bring trophies to the club.

  24. It is quite simple – the media are more critical of Arsenal because the same mistakes are made in the transfer market season after season.How else to explain why we have not been able to compete for the title for over a decade?

    It is not a question of financial resources- Leicester City shot that myth to pieces last season.

    For those that consider it a success for Arsenal to finish in the top 4 each season please consider this: between 1931 and 1991 Arsenal WON the title 10 times. Arsene Wenger has won the title 3 times in his twenty years at the club. Is his record now starting to look a little diminished?

  25. @Top Guns. How easy is it for you to ignore the other things he has done far better than his predecessors? Since Arsenal came into existence, the FA Cup has been won six times (in 110 years). WENGER HAS WON IT SIX TIMES (IN 20 YEARS). I guess the oldest trophy contested for in football is thrash since Wenger could win it ever so often.
    Also why did you pick 1931 as your starting point for comparison and not 1886 that the club was founded? Mischief suspected

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