By Tony Attwood
In this series I have been looking at the way some fans and much of the media has been at war with Arsenal throughout the club’s history, and how the club’s response to this situation has varied.
The failure to win anything between 1953 and 1970, and the dramatic decline in fortunes after the 1971 Double had led to major disaffection among supporters. By 1985 disaffection was so great that the club’s average attendances at 60,000 capacity Highbury had sunk to 23,813. It is an important fact for it reminds us that Arsenal does not have a natural audience of 60,000. That era showed that fans will stop coming if they don’t like what they see. To my mind complaints today about empty seats in the stadium today should take the historic context into account – for much of Arsenal’s time at Highbury before it became an all-seater stadium, we had a third to a half of the stadium empty.
Indeed it was this low level of support that convinced the board that when the pressure mounted for all-seater stadia, a small stadium was all that was needed. What eventually changed their view was the Wenger revolution. But even in that era, it was quite possible for a silver member to buy a ticket for the final game of the unbeaten season with ease. (I know, because having moved further away from London I gave up my season for a few years and simply bought tickets that season – including the final match which secured the unbeaten record, on my silver).
With plenty of reasons to suggest that maybe, somehow, Arsenal are treated differently or singled out for special negative treatment by blogs and by the national media, Richard Morgan, an Untold Arsenal reader undertook to check if this was the case. He compared articles about Arsenal with articles about Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea over a two day period.
In the report Richard wrote, “I was staggered at what I found: a massive total of 1,073 articles about those clubs online from the two aforementioned sources.
“Now these break down into 256 articles on Manchester United, 215 articles on Arsenal, 193 articles on Manchester City, 198 on Chelsea, 211 on Liverpool. I was surprised because the number of articles jumped for Arsenal in a six hour space when the Per Mertesacker injury story broke and pushed us above Liverpool and closer to Manchester United.
“Manchester United had 14 articles and headlines that were negative about the club, Mourinho and or the clubs’ hierarchy in particular Woodward. The typical blog or story about Manchester Utd concerned the Chinese pre-season tour and the cancelled derby clash. Moaning Mourinho, one such article claimed, wanted the game cancelled because pitch was poor and could lead to his players being injured. The only negative transfer issue was around Pogba and the feeling Woodward could not pull off the highest calibre signings.
“Liverpool with just a few blogs less than us had six negative articles written about them in the same time period. The articles concerning Liverpool were mainly about past transfer strategy and flops such as Benteke, Borini and Carrol. ‘Has club finally sorted out its transfer policy or will we see More Benteke’s or Borini’s come to our club?’ Klopp is seemingly still enjoying a honeymoon period and has not had a negative article about him.
“Chelsea had a similar number of articles that were negative about them, seven in total; most were mundane gripes about the defensive side of the team. Conte had one article that questioned his credentials claiming ‘though winning three titles with Juventus is good on the CV, his time with Italy could be considered a failure, and would he be able to return Chelsea to the top of the English league?’ Now not necessarily a negative story, but could be considered an incisive question just from the way that the article was written, and it seemed more of a negative view on Conte.
“Now we come to Manchester City, who had the most negativity of the other clubs, with 16 articles. That is a lot, and considering the ‘Guardiola a footballing managerial messiah’ message it seems surprising.
“On careful inspection most of those comments and stories relate to the cancelled Derby and point more towards Mourinho than Guardiola. “Guardiola backs Mourinho’s claim that the pitch for upcoming Derby match is unplayable and likely to cause injury to players.” The only real negative Guardiola received was regarding transfers, “Guardiola has brought in Gungodan and speed demon Nolito and these are solid acquisitions. However, he has yet to bring any defensive re-enforcements a mistake that could come back to haunt him.” Of course not surprising as Guardiola is new in his position and just getting used to his new job.
“Now to the Arsenal. With 27 negative headlines and 68 negative stories Arsenal beat every other team researched for negativity. That for the record is over 30% of articles having negative headlines or comments from bloggeta’s or media outlets. With the majority of the stories aimed at Wenger, Gazidis or Kroenke. I will list a few below and you can get the idea.
- Per Mertesacker out injured.
“With the recent injury to Per Mertesacker will Wenger finally loosen the purse strings and buy more players or will he repeat the same mistakes he makes every year.
- Higuain to Juventus.
“Wenger needs to sign Higuain if you want these top players you have to pay for them, Wenger needs to stop treating Arsenal’s money as his own and give Napoli whatever they want to sign Higuain.
- Wojech to Roma .
“Greedy Wenger is putting the deal in jeopardy by asking too much money for the keeper, as such Roma are looking at other candidates.
- Mahrez to Arsenal.
“Wenger has to spend and spend big. His reluctance to pay the big transfer money means Arsenal’s perennial top four trophy will be in jeopardy.
- Higuain, Icardi, Laczette.
“Wenger has to loosen purse strings and buy on these targets to add quality to his squad.
“So the question has to be why there is this hypercritical approach to Arsenal, Wenger and the board? It would be easy to say lack of success or titles is why, but then surely Liverpool would have a greater number of negative blogs or stories about them…”
It was a most interesting analysis in my view.
However here’s the interesting thing: in the years since moving to the Emirates – the long years of not being good enough (or so that nay-sayers would have it) the number of tickets sold at the Emirates has varied from a high of 60,079 to a low of 59,323 – a difference of 756, or around 1%. As for how many of the 59323+ are “no shows” I don’t know since Arsenal don’t tell us. But then I don’t know how many no shows Manchester United had last season – or any other club. And without such knowledge it is difficult to make the case for Arsenal needing to pioneer punishments for no-show people.
Besides, punishing no-shows would probably involve a legal challenge from a number of season ticket holders, and given that this would be heard in relation to consumer law, not business law, I suspect it could be a hard case to win for Arsenal. The club would need to allow reasonable excuses for not turning up (snow, unexpected illness of self or close relative, car breakdown… who is to say what would be permissible.) As a season ticket holder I don’t miss many games, although across the years I have missed a number because of issues at home: children and teenagers can have a real ability to know exactly when to cause problems for the maximum effect! Could someone lose their precious season ticket because their teenage son or daughter threatens to self-harm every time dad is about to go to a game? That may seem extreme and that didn’t happen in my family, but there are huge issues within penalising a person for non-use of a ticket that has been bought and paid for.
Meanwhile, Arsenal, as the above shows, is no stranger to accusations, protests, media hostility, demands for change and so on, nor to supporter indifference. But what history shows us is that since the deposing of Henry Norris, the club directors most of the time don’t really engage with fans. Norris wanted fans as shareholders, and hence he engaged with them, and yes in the early 1970s, the club did criticise the media via the matchday programme. But that was a rare moment.
Supporters have been criticising football clubs for a long time. The media love it, because it makes a simple and easy story and all that publicity can feel good. But does it actually change anything? Probably not.
The media has, since the start of the 20th century, singled out Arsenal for special negative treatment, and that is not going to stop now. For such treatment tends to encourage some supporters to “speak out” against the club and demand change. But it is hard to think of many occasions when this speaking out has had any effect on the club – other than when Henry Norris took the club from Plumstead to Highbury. And even that event could perhaps be better explained by the decline in crowd size, rather than in response to criticism.
Indeed it is hard to conclude anything other than the fact that knocking the club never has a positive effect. It can encourage players to leave, it can result in players losing form, it can encourage players to sign for a rival rather than Arsenal, and it most certainly will result in a huge amount of publicity, because from the media’s point of view, Arsenal is always the club the journalists want to mock.
But does it improve things on the pitch? It is difficult to see when that has happened in the past – and if it has rarely if ever been effective in the past, why is it likely to work now?
Fortunately for Arsenal, many players seem not the read the media (would you read it if you knew it could be containing totally untrue abuse of you and your fellow players?) But that is a tenuous line of hope to hold onto.
No, Arsenal gets more negative stories than other clubs, and the blogs and media feed off each other. The one thing to remember is that the vast majority of transfer stories are untrue (one out of 81 transfer stories so far this season); and given that, why should we believe anything at all the media says about Arsenal?
Worse, even when Arsenal sign a player, that mere act can be met with derision. Remember what happened when Wenger signed Holding in July 2016? There was outrage and calls for Wenger to be sacked at once.
Most of the bloggers and the newspaper journalists who write about Arsenal do have anti-Arsenal agenda in the way that bloggers and journalists don’t have such an agenda against other clubs. They have this agenda because it gets readers, and virtually no one is fighting back.
I would never say that our silly stories about Sir Hardly Anyone catching up with drunken scribblers in the Toppled Bollard public house is making too much difference, but at least it is one little note that says to those who perpetrate this junk journalism, “We know who you are, and we know what you are up to.”
In essence, we need to keep fighting back, and pointing out who the perpetrators of this nonsense are. And maybe one day, some of them will realise how miserable such negativity is.
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