By Tony Attwood
This is the third part of our exploration of the history of the relationship between Arsenal, the media and Arsenal supporters.
Our two previous articles on the relationship between the club, the media and its supporters has taken us to the end of the glorious 1930s era of four league titles and two FA Cups.
The return of troops after the war took football attendances up – in 1948 Arsenal had an average crowd of 54,982 – the highest average Highbury ever saw, and each year from here on there were individual matches with over 60,000 squeezed in.
But along with these successes the attacks on Arsenal and the players really got going. One player who later suffered significantly was Jimmy Logie who came under attack for being seen drunk in the streets. He was in fact a teetotaller and the stories in the media were totally invented. Fortunately, in this case Arsenal went on the offensive against the fans and newspapers that spread the stories threatening to sue each and every paper that ran the story again.
Tom Whittaker (who as we have seen above) had seen the value of fighting for what was right when he and Norris took on the FA to get him proper compensation for an injury playing for England, and who after the war became Arsenal’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 and got a promise the piece would not be run again.
But Arsenal’s image was badly tainted post-war by the publication of the appalling Leslie Knighton autobiography in which he painted Arsenal in the most awful light. The book was serialised in the sunday press, and Arsenal’s name was blackened, and things weren’t helped by Bernard Joy’s autobiography which not only repeated many falsehoods from the past, added a few new one’s of his own.
And out of this a new alliance of the media and anti-Arsenal campaigners was formed and this marked a new development – for now the rumour mongers had wholesale publicity for their inventions. Very quickly the situation got totally out of control, as fans started to believe the crazy tales in the media, and the club after Whittaker found itself without a strong man at the helm who could handle the press as Chapman had done, and indeed as Allison had done.
This is in fact a most important point, because between 1910 and 1946 Arsenal had Allison (who was a journalist by trade, but who became a national institution for his radio work), looking after media affairs. All the time he was there, from being programme editor at first until finally as Arsenal manager) the media was to some degree controlled. But he retired in 1947, and from that moment Arsenal’s media handling looked very shaky.
Indeed 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.
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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 for the first time that some players simply didn’t want to play for Arsenal.
And who could blame them with Jon Sammels – a fine player for the club – being sold to Leicester in 1971 not because he was not good enough (far from it) but because a group of “fans” at Highbury booed him every time he touched the ball.
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, not the greatest star but a decent player who scored 19 in 31 starts in the league in 1986/7. He 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 what counts for “facts” in their make-believe world. When the blogs are added in, and the re-writing of history starts to occur (as with the recently comment for example on Untold Arsenal that unlike Wenger, Mee had the good grace to know when to leave, ignoring his last three seasons in which the club ended up 10th, 16th and 17th and suffered a home league cup defeat to Tranmere) you can see where the process goes.