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.
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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.