We care do you part 3: A club that gives as sense of belonging?

By Tony Attwood

Continuing my little saunter around the WeCareDoYou docment which was put out by a couple of Arsenal fan groups and some blogs… I was interested in the phrase “…make Arsenal a place where fans have a real sense of belonging”.

No indication was given in the document as to when Arsenal had been a place where fans had a sense of belonging, and how that was achieved in the past.   And certainly many of the reports I’ve dug up during my travails of writing about the history of Arsenal, there has been little of a sense of belonging since 1910, when the torpedo boys left the club as their factory was moved to Scotland.

Being a gent of the older variety I’ve got memories of Arsenal going back a very long way – not least because my father and grandfather were both Arsenal men, and my first home was just a few miles from the ground, so I was Arsenal from my earliest memories – which were of going to watch reserve games at Highbury with my dad.  If my mate and I wanted to go without the adults then Wood Green Town (very sadly no longer with us) was our venue, just a few hundred yards away.

So I was Arsenal from the very start – long before I knew what Arsenal meant or what it was really all about.  But now, looking back, I am not sure I have ever related to the club, except at those moments of supreme triumph.  My relationship is primarioy to my friends with whom I go to the club. Let me try and explain.

I guess what my mates and I did, both at Highbury when going to into the north bank before it was all seated, and later at the away games, was form a little group that travelled together and stood together.    The togetherness was an issue of being with my pals and that we all supported Arsenal.  But it was nothing much to do with the club in terms of what we did and how we did it.  It was us.

The exception has come with the triumphs.   Being with my friends to see Arsenal win the match that clinches the league; it is the “with my friends” bit that is all important.   Occasionally I have attended all-important matches without my mates, not least because as we get older family duties call, and tickets for things like the FA Cup final get harder to find.   I recall the final against Villa – a supreme triumph, and going on my own because my friends didn’t have the number of credits to get a ticket.   I loved the match of course, but after, walking from the ground without anyone to talk it through with, it was a real let down.

Indeed even the last game of the unbeaten season against Leicester was limited in its togetherness because, due to a variety of factors I won’t bore you with, I went on my own rather than with friends.

Then again, think of Mr Wenger’s last match.  Obviously I felt affection for the guy; he’d written the intro for a book I published, and I had worked with friends of this site to produce the “Football is an art” banner which the BBC used as a focal point for the last Wenger home game – and which of course is still in the stadium.  And we were all there at the end to cheer him around the pitch.

But “belonging”?   My belonging again was to the little group of friends that I have who I travel with or meet up with, have a drink with before the game, debate the team with, have a laugh with…

Of course there have been moments when I have felt connected – but they are not moments that can be replicated on a broader basis.  For example, the first time I met Mr Gazidis when he was looking for ideas for Arsenalisation, in the early days of the new stadium.  I went to a small meeting to put forward the notion of statues around the ground as a way of commemorating past heros and as a set of places which fans could use as a meeting point – as some do indeed do.  “I’ll meet you Tony Adams,” has more power than “Outside Entrance D”, and so I think the idea has worked.     In particular we discussed the statue of Chapman – my suggestion was one of the manager looking up at the new stadium as if to say, “I did this.”

Getting that idea accepted and getting the statues built did indeed give me a sense of belonging to the club, and that feeling in terms of the suggestions made was far stronger than anything I got from (for example) being a regular columnist for the programme for a while.

I suppose if, one day, someone really did take notice about how awful the catering facilities in the ground are and invited me to work with them to put things right, and that made a difference, I really would feel a sense of belonging, but that is a bit of an extreme position.   I still don’t see how the feeling is generated by any club other than through a) groups of friends being together and b) the moment of supreme triumph, which most of us remember for ever.

So all things considered I am not too sure what this sense of belonging is all about.  I am one of about 45,000 season ticket holders.  I have an association with Arsenal all my life, and I’ve had a bit of involvement beyond the norm.  But what could be done beyond that?

When we have won the League or Cup and I’m with friends then that is fantastic – I feel part of a big happy family.  But otherwise, yes it is my club, it has always been my club, but “belonging…”?   I am not sure and I’d love to find out what people of other Premier League clubs that are not currently having a run of constant success feel.   I suspect “belonging” primarily works in terms of being with your friends while the club wins something.  Otherwise, for a major club with support all over the world… I would like someone to tell me.

4 Replies to “We care do you part 3: A club that gives as sense of belonging?”

  1. Tony. How different our experience of belonging is. More often than not, down the days, I have attended matches on my own. I will exchange the odd pleasantry, but generally keep myself to myself. However, I feel an immense positive energy, which is pooled with all the other positive energy flowing round the ground, only occasionally marred by the black hole brigade. Obviously this highly-charged tide ebbs and flows with the fortunes on the pitch, collapsing completely when a misfiring team is losing.

    But nothing in any other arena of my long life compares to the mass joy when Micky ran PST the Liverpool defence, Sunderland reached Brady’s cross in the Cup Final, or Danny scored the winning goal against Leicester, at which point I was a part of one giant all-belonging bubble.

  2. Sense of belonging? I am a registered digital member of Arsenal supporters who is living in Zaria town in Kaduna State Nigeria. And since Arsenal FC has accepted to register me officially as one of the club’s registered member of supporters, but shouldn’t I feel a sense of belonging to Arsenal FC?

    And talking of a top quality centreback signing by Arsenal before this summer window closes which has generated a lot of interest on it. I’ve just finished watching live the German SIEGER SUPERCUP match played between Dortmund and 8ayern Munchen this evening today in which Dortmund beat Bayern 2 nil to clinch the Cup. And I must say am impressed with the defensive performance job of top quality kind that Manuel Akanji, the Dortmund centreback put out in the match for Dortmund throughout the entire duration of the match as he defended stoutly playing at the heart of the Dortmund defense-line stopping Bayern from breaching the Dortmund defense-line to score. But would Arsenal like to submit a late transfer bid to Dortmund to sign their Swiss centreback Akanji this summer window that has only 5 days left to close? Well, I wouldn’t know. But peradventure Arsenal happen to sign him, they can use him as replacement to one of the two of Koscielny and Mustafi who could all leave Arsenal on transfer this summer. And if both Koscielny and Mustafi happen to leave Arsenal this summer, the numbers of the specialist centrebacks at Arsenal will be down from 6 in number to 4 in number if no new centreback is signed. But with Holding who has just played for the Arsenal U23 team still going through his rehabilitation period to recover from the injury he had to become fully fit to play before he can return for Arsenal, and as Mavropanous is still down nursing an injury, Arsenal in actual sense will be down to only the duo of Chambers and Sokratis at the club as the only 2 fit to play centrebacks on the opening weekend matches in the Premier League that begins in 6 days time from today. And I believe Emery has sensed the danger the shortage of centreback options could pose to Arsenal if Koscielny and Mustafi leave the club on transfer this summer and a new centreback signing by the club is not done as replacement to one of the duo centrebacks. But Emery could still keep Mustafi at the club this summer if the problem to sign 2 centrebacks with only 5 days to the close of the summer transfer window can not be surmounted.

    Emery in his last press conference sounded desperate wanting to hold on to Koscielny at least for this summer. But should he hold on to the Koscielny who has revolted against the club asking to leave this summer? And why keeping a player who no longer wants to play for you? Emery should therefore allow Koscielny his leaving the club on transfer this summer. But ask the club hierarchy to urgently sign a top quality centreback that he’ll identify for signing for Arsenal to replace Koscielny with him immediately. So that the club can have the minimum number of fit to play centreback options at the club for the club opening match in the PL if Koscielny leaves.

  3. Good to hear that our banner is still up. It is the only banner with Wenger on it (at least from where I sit). Looking forward to a good 100th season in the top despite the doom mongers in the media.

    I’m hoping the club celebrate with an appropriate set of replicas -100 years and the only unbeaten team in the top level of English Football.

    The Arsenal Invincible Centurians.

  4. Tony

    I’m not sure the club gives a sense of belonging especially since supporters no longer hold any shares. For me it’s the supporters that give a sense of community, from the ground, to the watering holes and supporters groups. I was in Wash. D.C. for the Real Madrid match and met a multitude of supporters from all over the States and some Brits on holiday. The local area supporters groups hosted a large tailgate party, a U.S. tradition, in a parking area adjacent to the stadium. All Arsenal supporters were welcomed. If you sported any Arsenal gear, you were treated to food, drink and games at no charge. There were literally hundreds of Arsenal supporters celebrating together their love for the club. We all swapped stories of how and when we came to be Gooners. I got a bit of attention being one of the older folks and looks of amazement that I had first gone to Highbury in 1972! Tony, it would have done your heart good to be a part of it. People of all ages, races, genders, orientations proclaiming their love for the club. They know the history, the traditions and were (mostly) proud of the self-sustaining model. It was a very positive experience for everyone. That’s how it feels to support this great club. Some of my daughter’s friends are Madrid supporters and their pre-game celebrating was nothing near ours. They were envious. My support of the club is reinvigorated and I look forward to an exciting season to come.

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