Revealed: the psychological condition behind the anti-arsenal-arsenal

By Tony Attwood

If you feel that the commentary columns of Untold have been rather quiet of late it has been largely because of the fact that (for reasons that are not yet clear) we have dropped off the pages of NewsNow.   I have written to the publishers several times telling them about it and asking for an explanation, but without anything beyond an automatic reply.

Although it is frustrating in one way, because like most blogs, we want to reach the widest possible audience, it certainly makes my life a lot easier, because when NewsNow doesn’t publish links to our stories what also drops is the number of comments from the anti-arsenal-arsenal gang.

Mind you when Arsenal are winning (eight without defeat, and five consecutive victories by my reckoning) they tend to be less active anyway.  Maybe they felt that if they couldn’t beat us with an argument they’d try another route, as they have done before.

However the mindset of the people who are part of the aaa has always fascinated me, and I have recently been doing a little research into what can make a person apparently be a “supporter” of a club but at the same time be very critical of every aspect of the club and its performance.  And this has taken me of late into the realm of the concept we know as “nostalgia”.  Or seeing the past through the famous rose coloured specs.

We all know about the way the media attack Arsenal day after day after… and we’ve looked quite a lot at why and how they do it.   (The article Why so much hate and angst about Arsenal? offered one set of answers).

However the “supporters” whom we have called the aaa and who position themselves as genuine supporters but who wish for Arsenal to fail, seem to be arguing from an utterly different point of view, and I’ve been wondering for a while what makes them tick.

My starting point is the observation that it seems from their commentaries many aaa camp followers look back to a past in which Arsenal were dominant, (their comments are often prefaced by a note about how long they have been supporting the club as a way of proving their credentials) and this fits exactly with the psychological concept of “nostalgia”.

This “nostalgia” generally gives people a vague feeling that people have about the past, and as such it is in fact an emotional condition that can be studied by psychologists.  

Most writers on the subject consider it to be an antidote to loneliness and alienation.  It springs up when people are feeling low, and makes them feel better, by way of suggesting that life doesn’t always have to be like it is now.  It was better in the past, and if only we could recreate the reality of those days, life would be better again in the future.

This simple (if generally false) insight gives us an idea who many of the aaa are – they are the people who are lonely, and a bit low, but who also, through having a belief that things were better in the past, make themselves feel a bit better in their negativity.  Because, not only does their subconscious tell them that if only they could get back to this past then everything would be all right, social media also tells them that they are not alone.  Twitter for example tells them that they can create a little hashtag campaign, and get a few others to join in and get a newspaper to report that their hashtag is trending (a suitably vague concept which is sometimes backed up the reprinting of as few as four other tweets) and the nostalgic aaa camp follower can feel both that life could be better again, and that he/she is part of a “movement.”

Research by Tim Wildschut at the University of Southampton has shown how this type of thinking can make such individuals develop their own self-esteem.   What’s more, such thinking becomes the glue that keeps the group together, according to Krystine Batcho of Le Moyne College and it thus performs another valuable function – telling the nostalgic and perhaps isolated person that he/she really isn’t that different from many other people, even if he/she doesn’t know them all personally.

Psychologists have long appreciated that most of the memories we have are inaccurate reflections of what actually happened, and indeed they get further from past realities, the further we get in time from the memories we are remembering.  So if we think about something (for example the state of Arsenal FC) a lot we can get to the stage of having “memories” that become more and more removed from what the past was really like.  And because we develop more and more rose tinted memories as we go we begin to see the past more and more as a better place to be.

In footballing terms the George Graham era is seen as a time of huge success and Arsenal dominance.  To back this up, the trophy winning moments are recalled, while the numerous goalless and low scoring games, and the low league positions at other times (when the club was regularly cited for having the meanest defence and most impotent attack) are ignored.  Likewise the long barren periods before the Wenger era when the club was often to be found languishing in mid-table, are equally forgotten.

It is interesting in this regard that in an edition of the fanzine One Nil Down published after winning the league at the very last gasp at Liverpool, contained articles on alternative realities in which Thomas did not score his most famous goal just as many reporters emphasised how close Arsenal had come to defeat in several games, when summing up the Invincibles season.

Over time, however, memories change and because these selective memories can now be shared in a sort of short hand on social media this develops into a form of collective nostalgia which binds people with such views together and leads to a thorough dislike of those who suggest that actually the good old days were not that good at all.  (None of us likes being told we have simply “got it wrong”).

But there is actually a lot of danger in collective nostalgia, because when it reaches a certain level it invariably spills over into intolerance, and the longing for a past which didn’t exist but is now imagined.  A bit like Donald Trump’s “We’re going to make America great again,” in fact.   There is no real explanation of how this is going to happen, nor indeed when the period referred to in the word “again” actually was, or what happened then.  But this is detail, because historic nostalgics know that sweeping away the current regime is all that matters.

Thus in the end this type of thought constantly involves looking back to a mythical past rather than being involved in and supporting the building of a new future.

However we should not think of people who have this backward looking view of the world as being a tiny minority of nutters.  Psychologists measure the development of nostalgia through regular samples of the population in which people are asked, via a variety of questions, how much they miss various things from the past.

The resultant number of people who do have a strong feeling that the past was better has been going up constantly in recent years – which explains why it has started to grow so dramatically in the world of football support – and indeed in the case of Arsenal grown so much as to be given its own name.

The main thing that needs to be remembered is that people who have historical nostalgia are simply suffering from a particular form of memory trick, which they hold on to because it makes them feel a bit better about their lives, by creating an imaginary past that they can believe in.  It doesn’t mean that what they look back to is a valid version of reality.

These people can be annoying but they are relatively harmless – until their number grows to a certain size.

Recent stories from Untold Arsenal

Wenger ponders whether Yaya Sanogo will ever really be good enough for Arsenal. 

Referee Appointments and Results Matchweek 06 – with video evidence

The handball discussion

How WHU changed from being the darlings of the media to being the most toxic of brands in the space of two months.

Style and Steel: the rise of the polyvalent player

Ref Review Burnley – Arsenal: at least he got that one right

It’s not Arsenal who failed in the summer transfer market. We discover who really cocked it up.

The Untold Banner on TV, continuing the tradition of the club and our blog


14 Replies to “Revealed: the psychological condition behind the anti-arsenal-arsenal”

  1. To bestow that third “a” on the gruesome aaa is a form of respect which is totally undeserved. It vaguely implies a considerable following of dissatisfied but knowledgeable football supporters, when in fact they are few in number, full of mindless criticism and of little worth.
    They should not be given the gift of publicity… least not on this prestigious site. 😉

  2. It’s very easy to get trapped by the past.

    Whether it’s fretting over past mistakes, guilt over perceived misdeeds, lovers lost, or indeed the nostalgia for the “good times”.

    And the future is uncertain. Unknown. Risky.

    The past is known. Not risky. Safe.

  3. Tony,

    in german there has been a new word appearing at the turn of the century I believe : Ostalgie
    Which is derived from : Ost (east) and Nostalgie (nostalgia).
    Basically, quite a few East germans started being nostalgic of the days befor the iron curtain came down. Thinking of how many things were better before that.

    I know, because of contacts I’ve had in the past years with people from these countries, that there is nostalgia for Sadamm Hussein’s Irak or Khadafi’s Lybia or even Syria pre-war.

    In this I believe football is just another example of the phenomenon.

    Interestingly, this kind of nostalgia mostly points to times were life was less chaotic, less unpredictable.
    The funny thing about the aaa, is that they are nostalgic for the time when it was unpredictable. Since AW took charge, it was always at least a top 4 spot and a CL qualification.

    Guess the aaa cannot even make it right in their nostalgia…. ;=) And if by (bad) chance the successor of AW does not make it into top 4, the aaa will all start becoming nostalgic of these golden AW years. Probably they are a breed that cannot ever be satisfied, maybe because they do not want to be part of the ‘big’ happy family, but strive to be heard and thus take the dissenting attitude to get to their Andy Warhol 15 minutes of fame.

  4. Interesting article, Tony. My own theory, unprovable to be honest, is that the aaa mentality is similar to the Brexit mentality, or at least a certain type of Brexit voter. They seem to share a dislike and distrust of foreigners and hearken back to the ” good old days ”, when in Arsenal’s case we generally had British players,a British manager and British owners. The fact that the players were less skilful, the football was pretty boring, the club was less solvent and the manager defrauded the club, all seems immaterial.

  5. @Stuart, 10:18 am:

    It’s an interestingly dangerous ground you are treading :). Are you saying that some proud and noble English people love thieves and mediocrity?

  6. Gideone :- If you are asking whether some of our most esteemed politicians , Lords and ambassadors have a few skeletons hidden then you are most definitely right.

  7. Stuart,
    I think there comes a point when such comparisons display more about the point of view of the person making them than the persons about whom they’re being made. I think you have reached that point. This is football we’re talking about. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s just not that important.

  8. Some of these aaa types are very difficult to understand, some were outraged that Koscielny’s good goal was allowed to stand. Yet barely mentioned the two handballs by the Burnley player that should have been penalties. That ain’t normal behaviour, from someone who claims to support said club.

  9. Sorry, post above from ‘Arsenal’ (which has gone into moderation) should be from Al, autocorrect gave me that new name 🙂 And also it shouldn’t be not “barely mentioned” but no mention at all…

  10. The love of “British players” always makes me laugh, very often An English fan will express this feeling but also hating the Scots,N Irish & Welsh national sides and even including southern Irish players in this expression. they are basically saying we hate all other countries from the UK but not as much as we hate the rest of the world.
    The other thing to remember is the aaa are guided by the media and their leader morgan, when you then add the media motto “never let facts get in the way of a good story” you understand the falsehood their life is based upon

  11. Tony, you have other interests such as work, dancing, non-league football, etc. I would suggest that most balanced people do. Could it be that some people are TOO dedicated to the Arsenal and can’t put the club’s successes and failures into perspective?

  12. I will always believe that ‘them’ are all total idiots and their mindless sheep following . No amount of cockamamie research presented will ever change my mind .
    But that will never stop me from laughing at ‘them’ . That is the very least that they deserve !

  13. PROGRESS ?

    When TV came to my house. I forgot how to read books.
    When the car came to my doorstep, I forgot how to walk.
    When I got the mobile in my hand, I forgot how to write letters.
    When the computer came to my house, I forgot spellings.
    When the AC came to my house, I stopped going under the tree for cool breezes
    When I stayed in the city, I forgot the smell of mud.
    By dealing with banks and cards, I forgot the value of money.
    With the smell of perfume, I forgot the fragrance of fresh flowers.
    With the coming of fast food, I forgot to cook traditional cuisines .
    Always running around, I forgot how to stop.
    And lastly when I got whatsapp, I forgot how to talk.

    (But reading Untold Arsenal ,and the contributions of the awesome AKBs here , while at the same time totally ignoring the media , so called experts and ‘them’ , made me think , sane and happy ! CHEERS !)
    WOO HOO , HOO !

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