By Tony Attwood
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I’d particularly like to thank Christophe Jost for his help in researching this article.
In England there is little debate going on about the effect of constant negativity and abuse of a team by the media and/or the fans. And because that debate is so lacking, there is now no debate on how teams that are abused or at least booed by their own fans could and should fight back. The club is silent on the Arsenal – although Arsenal did supply a new range of flags for the match yesterday.
Such club silence is far from the case in the rest of Europe where the negative attutude of fans can be a major issue discussed by much of the media from a more informed and informative position than we could ever hope for in England.
Naturally the media in England can’t discuss the matter much since they are a central part of the abuse and invention of stories. But as with last summer’s crazy £45m transfer budget limit last summer the refusal to deal with invention of stories and abuse of players leaves board members helpless.
If we look overseas we can see where such silence can lead to, as for example is the case with Lyon where abuse of the players by “fans” is commonplace, with Memphis Depay (captain of Lyon FC and of the Netherlands national team) saying last week after he was abused:
“Look in my eyes. I’m upset, angry. I don’t know what to say. You know how hard it is for the team when we know that somebody on our team has troubles with the supporters? What do you expect from us?
“You go to the supporters and thank them and they say crazy, crazy things about somebody’s family, somebody’s kids. I have no words. It doesn’t make sense.”
He then urged people “higher up in the club” to take appropriate decisions. “It’s very, very difficult to keep myself calm,” Depay added. “You can see on the camera, [some of the fans] spit on us. What can I say?”
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What’s more Marcello’s wife Tatiane Guedes posted a message on Twitter (now deleted) pointing to another Lyon player Anthony Lopes being very closely linked to the group that is the prime source of the harassment of the Lyon players. As she said, “A real captain must have character, respect and love for your neighbour, and not be a prisoner of ego and vanity.”
Meanwhile the club’s only response has been to fine Marcello for making an abusive gesture to the fans who were abusing him.
As a result of all this, the targeted players want to leave the club, some stating that they are fearing for their safety.
The start of the latest round of trouble between fans and crowd came when, after a match the team trooped off, but did not come over to their fans to thank them for their support. In another complaint it was said that the players had not met the fans in the car park after the game for a few moments.
(Apparently that car park farewell after a game is a tradition within the club).
From this point we get Marcello being called a donkey and the fans demanding that the player be removed from the squad and the club.
And the outcome is a fine for the player and a ban for one of the fans. Rudy Garcia, Lyon’s coach added that Marcello would be sanctioned for his gesture (showing his finger to the kop), but he will not be removed from the first team group.
Reports in France reveal that the club does have a department that is there to handle abusive behaviour That would be hard for Arsenal to set up now, given that most of the abuse comes from anonymous sources online. But they certainly could deal with some of the journalists who make their money out of lying.
Certainly there has been no serious attempt over the years by the club to defend Arsene Wenger, Unai Emery, Aaron Ramsey or Granit Xhaka from booing.
The defence of such actions as booing your own team is “freedom of expression” but there is no doubt now that this freedom of expression is harming the club.
What is also noteworthy is the lack of defence of the club and its players by Arsenal.com which remains as bland as ever. Rather the club seems to be engaged in a laissez-faire attitude in which everything is just allowed to drift along while negative attitudes swarm around the club.
What Arsenal could do instead is to encourage fans to be positive and counter the rampant negativity of the mass media and the blogs.
Personally I would start with public statements by Arsenal to fans in the ground asking for support in the ground. Then I’d say to journalists, where a seat in the press box is used to generate personal attacks on Arsenal players, or spread false information about the club the press ticket will be removed.
Arsenal can’t of course refuse to have TV and radio commentators in the ground because that is part of the Premier League contract, but they can refuse co-operation. And where they are obliged to put up someone for interview, they could put forward a person who is trained in dealing with the media who delivers the message, “stop being inventive in your reporting, or we will criticise you back in the interviews.”
It would surely make for a much more interesting exchange between an Arsenal player or official and the interviewer if the Arsenal man started to ask questions of the interviewer.