To say that the line up on Sunday was not what we had initially expected was an undertstatement. Maybe half this team would be expected to be in the side if all were fit. And so to get a win away from home and equal last season’s record of the number of away games without conceding was something.
You’ll have probably seen the game and read other reports, so I won’t go through it all again, but instead focus for a moment on the fact that Ozil and Kolasinac did not play because they were seemingly being targetted by a criminal gang, and the police suggested the players’ safety could not be guaranteed.
Of course it could be a one off, but whether it was or not I suspect it was a first. Two players not playing because their safety before or after the match could not be guaranteed. That’s probably a first.
Those of us who live in England and follow the news will know a fair bit about this sort of thing, and will have seen the reports of how the maintenance of law and order has declined following years of the austerity package from the government.
But in case you don’t follow English politics and economics, the idea was that by cutting the cost of public services by reducing the number of medical staff, teachers, prison officers, social services employees and the like, while not investing in new buildings or building maintenance, was a good thing that would make the country better by reducing the national debt. And more – it was a good idea to do it quickly.
Cause and effect in such matters are always hard to discern because we are looking at whole social situations, but many do seem to agree that as a result of these policies we have not only rising crime figures, and rising numbers of crimes unsolved, but also a growing social problem all round.
The number of police officers in England and Wales has dropped by 19,000 since 2010 according to FullFact, the fact checking charity which really does dig into figures like this and whose figures tend to be very reliable. That is a drop of around 15%.
At the same time as this drop in the number of police officers there was a 13-14% increase in gun and knife crime in 2016 alone, according to the latest police-recorded crime figures as reported in the Guardian.
So England and Wales has become a more violent part of the world than it used to be, so it is perhaps inevitable that it should reach footballers sooner or later.
But the direct impact of a criminal gang upon the ability of a Premier League team to pick the players it wants on the pitch, is something new. One begins to wonder if in fact it will start to spread, with threats to clubs from gangs that Player X will be harmed if a ransom is not handed over. In such cases they don’t have to seize the player and hold him hostage – they just let it be known he is a target.
Of course if that did happen – or if it has already happened – we wouldn’t know because no club is going to publicise what is going on – this event only became public because of the pictures of the car jacking. But it does bring home to us that there is a fundamental change happening in our society, and we cannot escape the fact that the Arsenal team selection was directly influenced by the activities of a criminal gang.
Arsenal has been quite rightly proud of the fact that its own staff “police” matches at the Arsenal Stadium, and that police normally only operate outside the area of the stadium. However what it also means is that certain supporters are given free reign to behave how they wish on their way to and from the match.
This has not particularly bothered me over the years since my friends and I involved in Untold meet at one of the more civilised pubs before the game, and make our way to the ground along streets which are normally perfectly peaceful – and leave by another, but equally peaceful route.
However last year, for reasons I won’t bore you with, my route changed for the Tottenham game, and I took the tube to Arsenal station. I’ve been a supporter for very many a long year, including back in the days when ant-Semitic chants were fairly commonplace, but it was a shock to hear so much chanting of that nature on the train and at the station. It was, for me if for no one else, a reminder just how little progress has been made over the years.
There’s nothing I can do to reverse the decline in the number of police operating in England and Wales other than vote for a party that was not part of the decision to reduce the number of police in the first place. There’s nothing I can do to stop anti-Semitic chanting, since at my age I am not going to remonstrate with a substantial number of Arsenal supporters in an enclosed space.
But at least I can express my views on this page, and hope it maybe rings a bell with you as a reader. We really cannot accept a situation in which a gang of armed thugs threatens players to such a degree that they cannot play. We really should not be allowing anti-Semitism to rage in the name of Arsenal, or indeed in the name of anything else.
I took the decision a little while ago to stop going to Arsenal for Tottenham games, because of the nature of the support. Maybe that’s just me being a little delicate, but really, I don’t want to be part of what it has become. Perhaps I’ll change my mind next year, but for this year, I’ll give it a miss.
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