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Untold Arsenal Report on the End of Season supporters event 2017 and the commentary of Ivan Gazidis

By Blacksheep

Untold Arsenal Report on the End of Season supporters event 2017

Every year members of the variousf supporters groups get invited to an event at the Emirates in June.  I have been along with Tony in the past but he was otherwise engaged this time, so Untold was represented by Andrew and myself.

We belong to AISA (The Arsenal Independent Supporters Association) and I would recommend all Gooners joining as they lay on several talks and events over the year, often featuring past players. I’ve met Alan Smith and Bob Wilson this way, and had a tour of the Houses of Parliament from Jeremy Corbyn (before he was canonized).

This year’s do was held in the Royal Oak bar at the stadium, which is very swish and quite unlike the cheap seat section I ‘sit’ in on match days. We all got a voucher for a pie and a pint (or a glass of wine)* – the pie was apparently very good (with ‘actual chunks of beef’) according to Andrew. I refrained from pie having already eaten, but they were being gobbled down ferociously all around me.

The wine was pretty rough (and no, that isn’t simply a misspelling of ‘rouge’.)

Anyway, next up I had my photo taken handling the FA Cup. It was set up on a stand with a backdrop of Arsenal cutouts. If you wish to draw conclusions from the lineup of Monreal, Özil, Alexis, Ramsey, BJG, Ospina, and Hector Bellerin be my guest. One fellow supporter in the queue  asked if they were our new signings, I quipped it was our ‘flat back four’. How we laughed, what japes.

The security guard was chummy but suggested it wouldn’t be a good idea if I picked up the cup and started running around with it, indicating the even larger guard stationed nearby. We did both wonder at how the top of the cup got bent out of shape, and he said he didn’t think it was one of ‘our lot’ that had done it. Andrew and I did accept that given that we have been in possession of the trophy for three of the past four years Arsenal might have serious questions to answer.

So then it was on the serious part of the evening, a Q and A with Ivan Gazidis. We speculated whether he might turn up sporting a tin helmet given the criticism leveled at the club recently but he was, as ever, dressed simply in a sharp suit. He was interviewed by Mark Gonnella, the club’s communications director. Now I don’t wish to point fingers at anyone but given the rather poor comms performance of the club in recent years I suspect Mark was happy to be on the other side of the microphone, and it was brave of him (and IG) to take unprepared questions on this occasion.

We had a short recap of the season with a video of the ‘best bits’ before the interview and Q&A got underway. I thought Gazidis was a consummate professional as he always is, revealing little and striking the right notes in terms of the message he wanted us to hear. He started by noting that about 6 weeks had been left out of the season review we’d just watched; that awful six weeks when the team were, well awful.

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The FA Cup (which now sat on the table between them) was ‘an iconic trophy’ and he was proud that we had won for a record 13th time but it ‘was not the trophy we wanted’. The club had spent ‘an unprecedented’ £100,000,000 in the previous summer because we wanted to challenge for the title.

That challenge, Liverpool apart, had been going well he thought (although without us really playing very well), until we met Everton and things fell apart. We had a 20 game unbeaten run and I got the impression that the club were still digesting what had gone wrong.

The season was then, despite the cup win, ‘disappointing’ in Ivan’s words.

When asked by Mark Gonnella what we doing about this going forward Gazidis had plenty of positive stuff to say. We had already been primed that asking about transfers was not likely to be met with any new information. The transfer window had not opened, it opens the first of July, but we are ‘busy’. Ivan did say that we are looking for ‘starters’, for first team players that can slot straight in and make a difference; there is enough squad depth the manager and staff feel.

He spoke of changes to the non-playing staff, mentioning that we have already brought in someone to support the ‘world class’ Shad Forsythe. Our sports analytics package (bought a few years ago and explained by Tony on this site) is bearing fruit and he believes it is now taking us ahead of our rivals. We have also got three times as many scouts as we had a few years ago, in fact in all areas we are improving and increasing the number of non-playing staff. He stressed that this was part and parcel of what Arsenal do and how we become and remain a top club.

We have to be ‘world class off the pitch to be world class on it’.

The decision to extend the manager’s contract was mutual and ‘not sentimental’ and this came up later.

So, after a short chat Gonnella opened it up to the floor and given the season and the protests we have had I thought this was pretty brave and commendable. Arsenal could easily have manipulated the Q&A by asking for questions to be sent in and then selected. Gazidis chose to meet the fans head on and listen. Say what you like about him but I give him credit for that. Unlike our ‘strong and stable’ Prime Minister he faced his public.

He was asked about that poor six weeks and, using the Palace away game as the nadir of this, why the team seemed not to try or to care and only picked up after the abuse they got from the away end.  Ivan batted this back gently. He accepted that it was a difficult period when we woefully under-performed but denied a lack of effort or desire on behalf of the players.

‘This is not a group of poor characters’ he said, this team wants to win. But he acknowledged confidence was fragile and perhaps changing the tactics was as much about getting the players to focus on a new formation (to take their minds off their individual performance) as it was designed to improve their collective play. Interesting psychology there I thought (and I could see Andrew nodding).

One fan, who said his father had scored two goals in the 1950 FA Cup final  (so that must have been Reg Lewis Tony?) declared that in all his 50 years following the Arsenal the atmosphere on match days had never been so awful. I suspect he must have slept through most of the 1970s then.

Instead of ignoring this Gazidis dealt with it pretty well I thought. He acknowledged the frustrations of many many supporters and said he and the board care what we feel. It is important to uphold Arsenal’s values he added, to be a club that plays good football, that wins trophies, but also that isn’t reliant on billionaire owners, but pays its own way.

He said he felt most fans were proud of the way the club operates but accepted that some (many even) may be worried that in the modern world  of oligarchs, sheiks and the like, we may not be able to compete. He thinks we can succeed if we pull together.

This was a core message I thought, asking for fans to rally around and be united behind the team. There was no mention of banners or marches or planes but while he accepts the rights of people to be angry, worried or upset the way forward, in his view, is unity.

This prompted the next question. From someone who was unhappy that Stan Kroenke had not allowed Usmanov to take over. He thought Usmanov’s offer was ‘exciting’. Well, Gazidis was not very impressed. He defended ‘silent’ Stan as a man who had put no debt on the club, and who had taken little out. He let the club run and was supportive. He dismissed the idea that it was simply a money pot for Kroenke, pointing out that there are easier ways to make money.

Ivan also defended the annual payment of £1m (others argue it is £3m) to KSC for their services. He said Stan didn’t want paying but Sir Chips insisted, after all we have used their (excellent) services. Gazidis prefers our model of ownership to an oligarch. Kroenke could have got rid of all the existing board members, all of them Arsenal fans, but he hasn’t.

A later question opened this up again and while Gazidis stopped short of saying he would place fans on the board he did say he wanted to listen more, and perhaps we need to push him on this.

We then had a AKB question to counter the previous WOB one (although it wasn’t really a question, more of a supporting statement). This speaker decried the abuse Arsene Wenger had got and received as much applause as the son of Reg Lewis had got for his point. I think this reflected the fact that the Arsenal support remains divided on the manager, he has as many supporters as he has detractors but now he is in place until 2019 I think we need to back him.

The final question turned on the reserves and the set up at Boreham Wood. IG explained that we have invested heavily here, with a pitch that replicates the one at the Ems and all sorts of new facilities being developed or built. Andrew is much better placed to comment on this and perhaps he can do so here or later.

That ended the Q&A which was much more friendly than I thought it might have been. Perhaps it was the quality of the pies.

We were then entertained by a Q&A with Ray Parlour, punctuated by grown men who should know better shouting ‘Ooh Ahh Ray Par-La’ at every opportunity. Ray looked suitably embarrassed. I also noted that at the end while we watched a ‘best bits’ compilation of his career he looked rather sad, wistful perhaps. It can’t be easy to give up doing something you love quite as much as football, even if his new career (which includes working for the Arsenal Foundation) must be interesting and rewarding.

My favourite other moment from Parlour’s discussion of his career was him reflecting on a pre-season tour in 1997/8. Once the team had finished their training and matches Wenger told them they could do as they liked. For Parlour and a few others this meant go out for a few drinks.

Steve Bould and he and few other English lads headed for a bar and Gilles Grimandi joined them. He hadn’t wanted to hang out with the French lads (Vieira, Henry and Petit) because they didn’t drink. Ray said he’d have more fun with the Brits.

So they went to the bar and Bould asked Gilles want he was having. ‘A small glass of red wine’ came the reply. Bould promptly ordered 35 pints of beer and a glass of red! Later Parlour saw the French boys, not drinking but smoking and reflected to himself, ‘how the hell are we going to win anything if half the team are smokers and the other half boozers’?

In the season 1997/8 they won the league and FA Cup double.

*soft drinks were available

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10 comments to Untold Arsenal Report on the End of Season supporters event 2017 and the commentary of Ivan Gazidis

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    The Q&A session with Mr Gazidis, wasn’t all plain sailing for the club – both pro and anti Wenger sentiments were expressed from the floor of the meeting but I would take exception to the views expressed in the Telegraph this morning where Jeremy Wilson described the mood of the meeting as “one of the more hostile of recent years”. For the most part the supporters were polite and respectful.

    I suspect that the divide in the supporters will remain for some time. I just hope that we can quickly establish a positive feedback spiral at the start of next season with our players starting matches in the same manner as they did in the cup final. That will certainly get the supporters behind the team which should in turn boost the players to a higher level etc.

    The one thing that Mr Gazidis did say was that we weren’t going to be buying any squad players, only players who will be at the top end of the spectrum and would be immediately challenging for starting positions. My reading of that would be if the player is reputed to cost less than £40m plus then we aren’t going to be signing them (but I could of course be wrong).

  • Leon

    Not too surprising that Jeremy Wilson thought it was hostile. I think he was probably being protective of his patron as it’s an open secret that Ivan feeds him some juicy info and most of Wilson’s stuff about Arsenal is usually reliable.

  • Menace

    Surprising that no one brought up the question of transparency of officiating & FA.

  • para


  • arse_or_brain

    The comment by Reg Lewis’s boy wasn’t just about atmosphere he also talked about stagnation of the club which makes you think he didn’t only sllep through the 70’s but also wasn’t anywhere near the club for large periods in his life. This goes along with the myth we have always been sucessful, we have always had a load large and vocal support for those of us that have been at Highbury for years or just read the history books know that is just not the case.
    I asked the last question and my point was to keep the youth football free and accesable to
    keep new young supporters and for old supporters linked with the club.

  • Nitram

    1)”One fan, who said his father had scored two goals in the 1950 FA Cup final (so that must have been Reg Lewis Tony?) declared that in all his 50 years following the Arsenal the atmosphere on match days had never been so awful”.

    As I don’t go very often I have to take this at face value, but given everything I’ve heard this is probably true.

    In which case this is why so many of our fans are an embarrassment. We had nothing but whinging for 10 years with demands such as:

    -Spend the f***ing money

    -All we want to be is competitive.

    -All we want is to win a real trophy, not that 4th place nonsense.

    Well isn’t that exactly what we’ve done these last 4 or 5 years?

    -We’ve spent record amounts of money, both on individuals and in total.

    -We’ve finished 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 5th over the last 4 years. Hardly totally UN competitive, even if not the title we all desire.

    -We’ve won 3 FA Cups and 2 Community Shields in 4 years. I’m sure they qualify as trophies in all but the medias eyes.

    But non of that has been enough. They’re still whinging. Not just whinging, but whinging even more. Spurs and Liverpool have 2 League cups in the last 10 years but I don’t see there fans turning on them as ours do on us.

    Of course we all want to win the PL and CL, and we haven’t done so, but given what we have done these last 4 years, for the Club, the manager, and the team to suffer the level of abuse they have, is shameful.

    2) “He said he felt most fans were proud of the way the club operates but accepted that some (many even) may be worried that in the modern world of oligarchs, sheiks and the like, we may not be able to compete.”

    Even if this is true, is it reason enough for the abuse? It is reason enough to turn on your own team?

    Arsenal FC have always stated that following the move to the Emirates it was the intention of the board that the Club would be run on a self sustaining basis. At the time this was roundly applauded.

    Enter the Oligarchs. The goal posts have moved.

    The question is should we move with them. The board have obviously decided to stay on the self sustaining course, and I for one applaud that.

    If you want to disagree with that, that’s fine. But just because people disagree with the fact Arsenal have chosen to maintain a business plan they always said they was going to follow, does that give them the right to constantly amuse the club like they do?

    Personally I don’t think so, but hey, if you think abusing your own players, team, manager and Club is the way to go, who am I to argue?

  • Brickfields Gunners

    I do hope that in the next two seasons , those who don’t like or support AW do take a break and either refrain from booing and abusing the team and manager , or don’t go to the stadium at all.
    They could always resell their tickets or pass it on to some charitable organisation or cause.

    In this way only people who really ,truly and whole heartedly support the manager and the team will be
    inside ; and who I believe will sing their hearts out and lift the team to greater heights .

    And success . Which the club will then reward by giving AW another 5 year contract .
    And those prissy , shitty **** will
    stay away from the club. A Win win win situation for me !

    WOO HOO, HOO !

  • Brickfields Gunners

    And always be thankful and count your blessings !

    (Author Unknown)

    Today, upon a bus, I saw a very beautiful woman
    and wished I were as beautiful.
    When suddenly she rose to leave,
    I saw her hobble down the aisle.
    She had one leg and used a crutch.
    But as she passed, she passed a smile.
    Oh, God, forgive me when I whine.
    I have two legs; the world is mine.

    I stopped to buy some candy.
    The lad who sold it had such charm.
    I talked with him, he seemed so glad.
    If I were late, it’d do no harm.
    And as I left, he said to me,
    “I thank you, you’ve been so kind.
    It’s nice to talk with folks like you.
    You see,” he said, “I’m blind.”
    Oh, God, forgive me when I whine.
    I have two eyes; the world is mine.

    Later while walking down the street,
    I saw a child I knew.
    He stood and watched the others play,
    but he did not know what to do.
    I stopped a moment and then I said,
    Why don’t you join them dear?”
    He looked ahead without a word.
    I forgot, he couldn’t hear.
    Oh, God, forgive me when I whine.
    I have two ears; the world is mine.

    With feet to take me where I’d go,
    With eyes to see the sunset’s glow,
    With ears to hear what I’d know,
    Oh, God, forgive me when I whine.
    I’ve been blessed indeed, the world is mine.

  • Pat

    Very entertaining report! I didn’t go this year because the last time I went the moaners upset me so much. I wish I’d gone now – Ray Parlour is up there with the best and funniest former players. I read his autobiography recently and it was very enjoyable.

  • Ben

    I always wanted to turn up to these meetings but kind of put off by any black scarves or AAA turning up and souring the meeting.

    Actually one of the reason i joined the support group was to counter or be against any AAA that might be there.