By Tony Attwood
1. My father was an Arsenal fan in the 1930s and he saw the greatest team the country had ever produced. I grew up supporting Arsenal during one of their lean spells when year after year we not only won nothing, we never once looked like winning anything.
As a teenager I wondered why I was cursed with supporting Arsenal during a dead time. OK we had been in the First Division since 1919, longer than anyone, but that really wasn’t the same thing.
I didn’t resent my father having had the privilege of being at Highbury during the 30s, but I just wished I could experience something along those lines.
Of course I didn’t have to wait for Arsène Wenger because Bertie Mee got there first (except I chose to live in Algiers during the first double year) and then we had some cup wins and finally George Graham, but none of these were anything remotely like Arsène Wenger.
Sadly my father passed away during the George Graham era, so he never got to see Wenger’s approach, but I am there carrying on the family tradition, and at last I have my share of the glory.
We had a comment on this site recently which said something like, “how much longer will the fans keep coming to watch, without a trophy?” and my answer is “forever”. This is Arsenal, we always turn up. But oh my, how wonderful is the taste of success.
2. Having spent a lifetime watching football, not only with Arsenal, but at all levels, (Bournemouth, Torquay, Poole Town, Corby Town, Halifax, Rangers, Aberdeen, Holland during the Total Football era…) I know that the football up to and during the Invincibles era, was the greatest football ever.
No one has to convince me, I was there. And on the final day of the unbeaten season I stood there, unable to use the camera I’d brought along, because of the tears of sheer and total joy pouring down my face. We had gone unbeaten all season – the impossible dream – and I had been there. Enough of a reason to love the guy, without anything else.
3. Wenger is the first ever football manager to propose and then execute a total economic theory of football. The theory says, the current system cannot continue, and will eventually implode on itself. Therefore we need to do things differently. This is why football will fail, and this is what we do about it.
Even if we hadn’t won a single title, that would be enough for me, because up to this point I have had to support Arsenal while knowing that the managers hadn’t got a clue how the club worked financially. (In fact most of them didn’t seem to have a clue about anything).
Now we have a situation in which the excellence of Wenger’s thinking is being shown to have a value way beyond getting a league title, because it means that while the other big clubs slip down as they try to work out how to cope with economic reality, and as we see the flexing of muscles by Uefa, we are there, in position and ready to roll.
4. My life has been spent in the creative arts. First half of my working life I was a musician, second half, a writer. And in both areas of work I have experimented, trying to find new things to do, new ways of working, new approaches. That’s just how I am, and what I do, that’s what I value. (That’s why “Making the Arsenal” is a novel, not a straight history book. I like to do things differently).
When I saw Total Football for the first time I thought, “At last – original thinking.” And then lo and behold, no one else tried to develop it.
Original thinking (which as I say, I value extremely highly) is extraordinarily rare in football. Maybe Henry Norris had it (I am still not sure after researching his life from start to end), Herbert Chapman had it, and then… I am not sure who else I would put in the original thinking zone at Arsenal, other than Arsène Wenger. Elsewhere I suppose the invention of rotational fouling could be called original thinking – but on the positive side, look around the footballing world, what is original in football? What is original and positive in the world cup? I’m not sure I’ve seen anything much.
Of course you might not value original thinking for itself, and that’s fair enough. For me, it is how civilisation keeps going. Without it, we sink backwards. Wenger is the past master – I love him for it.
5. The incredible success of the youth system.
It always amuses me when people write that the Youth Project has failed, when it fact it is just starting to happen. A bunch of 11/12 year olds were brought together, and seven years later, with most of them still in place we won the Youth Double. This year we were the first team ever to retain the Youth League title.
Even if not a single player from that squad made it for Arsenal I’d still say it was something special – giving something remarkable to the game. (You see I value the youth team, just as I value the women’s team. It is all part of Arsenal). But in fact when you look at the players coming through from that group, you know this is going to be incredible.
“So why has Arsène Wenger started to buy in established players?” sneer those who like to sneer at everything Arsène Wenger does. The answer is simple: it is because as this amazing group of players comes through, they are going to need good support around them, and that’s what is being put in place.
6. Arsène Wenger was instrumental not only in rebuilding Arsenal’s training regime, and in transforming the British game through world-wide scouting, and in establishing the youth project, he was also instrumental in pushing for and setting out the plans of the Ems.
Highbury was cramped, the gangways for overcrowded, the views in some places blocked by posts, the toilets a health hazard, the food minimal, the income poor. OK the north bank was better after the rebuilding, and the bond-holder’s bar was acceptable, but really! It was not a 21st century stadium.
David Dein wanted us to play at Wembley. Arsène Wenger resisted and eventually gave us a stadium I love. I feel really proud every time I go in there. I know of no other stadium to rival it.
7. Arsène Wenger is the ultimate media man. The childish half-drunk semi-baked, reporters who are still trying to work out what happens when you rub two sticks together, misquote him and misrepresent him, but he still comes back and talks to them. He says, “we could go unbeaten this year” and we lose the next match. They snigger. Does he then hide away? No, he comes out and does it next year.
More than anything Arsène Wenger takes risks with the media – knowing he will be misquoted and laughed at. Knowing that childish commentators will say, “he said we’d do this and he didn’t.” Yes, he says it all, and opens himself up to abuse, because he believes in being open and honest.
I still have my t-shirt in which Arsène Wenger is shown as a dolt saying, “I believe we can go the whole season unbeaten,” and I still wear it. That symbolises the man. The man who will stand up to all the idiots, and never be afraid of criticism.
8. As I said at the start, apart from watching Arsenal, I watch other football, and compare it with what I get at Arsenal. I sometimes watch DVDs of Arsenal in the year or two before Arsène Wenger came to power. I just don’t ever want to have to go back. It is possible that if Mourinho had been our manager last year we would have won the league. I would have still supported Arsenal, because that’s what I do. But I would have had less fun because that victory would have been built on defence, defence and then, oh, well, you know, defence.
Arsène Wenger gives me football the way I want it to be played.
9. Arsène Wenger has a plan, a theory, a vision. And it is sustainable. When he finally leaves Arsenal, he will leave not just a club with money in the bank and a wonderful stadium. He will leave it with the greatest world-wide scouting network the world has ever seen, and the greatest youth system the world has ever seen. He will leave us a future.
10. I remember Charlton. Charlton, the quintessential second division club. Nice little ground, club that came back from the dead, no great history save once having a ground so big that it took the whole of half time to walk to the top of the terrace and back down again.
Then they got their own philosopher-sportsman. OK not quite at the level of Plato and Wenger, but still, a man who could do stuff: Alan Curbishley. He turned the club round. Amazingly he got them into the top league and kept them there.
Eventually in 2006 he left Charlton. Not just because he wanted to, but because the supporters were getting at him. Utterly amazingly, given the success he had had, the supporters starting saying, “Curbishley has done well, but he’s taken us as far as he can. Now we need a new man to take us up to the next level.”
To the next level? This is diddly Charlton we are talking about – a team playing several leagues above their natural position. That guy had got the team walking on water. For Charlton, where they were was the next level, and the one after that.
So Curbishley left, and the club sank down to their natural level, and have shown little ability to get out of it.
And what do those supporters do now? Blame the owners. All the Zoilismists with all their carping criticism should take note.
For me, Arsène Wenger is the greatest thing ever to have happened to Arsenal. He came in and gave us instant success. Now he is building us the base of an Empire that will last until way past my lifetime. With luck my grandchildren will be watching the Arsenal win the league in years to come while Man IOU still try and clear their debts, and Liverpool struggle to get out of Conference North, and while Tottenham play on Hackney Marshes wondering how it all could have gone so wrong.
I love the man, and I will always do everything and anything within my power (which admittedly is pathetically little) to keep him at the club.
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