By Tony Attwood
When Arsenal moved to the new Arsenal Stadium and increased their capacity from around 38,000 to over 60,000 they also doubled their match day revenue overnight. And it has continued to rise thereafter.
But of course the stadium had to be paid for, and that drain on the club’s finances was managed by Arsene Wenger, who despite the expectations and lack of money available for transfers, kept the club in the top four, and took Arsenal on to become the most successful team in the history of the FA Cup.
Now that the stadium is more or less paid for there has been an expectation among some that the successes of the early Wenger years can be revisited with a click of the fingers, but of course other clubs have caught up, with new stadia of their own (such as that at Manchester City paid for by the tax payers and rented a ludicrously low rates by the City of Manchester council to the club) or by a copy of Arsenal’s approach (as in the case of Tottenham Hotspur.
But undoubtedly the club that got the biggest gift of all was West Ham United who were awarded the London Olympic stadium at such a low rent that it is losing London money for the term of the entire lease (which is getting on for 100 years).
When Arsenal left Highbury I don’t think there was any talk of taking the club to the next level, because that is what Mr Wenger had already done: taken Arsenal to a place that none of us watching the club play had seen in our lifetimes.
Here’s what happened…
Arsenal sold out the naming rights to its stadium to an airline representing a country without most of the human rights that we take for granted, and although we did refer to it by its official new name for a while, and even used the airline once, in dismay Untold ultimately went across to the name that Uefa use for the ground: Arsenal Stadium.
Comparing this with West Ham we see an interesting comparison. They gave themselves a ground name as pretentious as it was possible to find: the London Stadium, but the reality was that London tax payers were left footing the bill for the next 99 years as WHU negotiated a deal so ludicrous for London tax payers that the “TaxPayers Stadium” was the only name that could be given to the place.
Leaving aside Arsenal’s FA Cup successes neither club has flourished in its new home and this year looks like being the year of decline for both clubs – although of course there is still time for either club to pull itself around.
But the fact is that for neither club has the stadium proved itself to be the magic success tree. Other factors have come into play, such as the debt Arsenal had to pay off, and the fact that the one way to take a team up to the top has changed and seems to be to have vast amounts of money which can then be thrown at the club in terms of buying players for ever and ever until it works, or the owner is debarred from doing business in the UK.
There are some similarities between Arsenal and WHU now. For example, both clubs have supporters who moan about others who don’t turn up for the games – although West Ham also seem to have a problem in that their board forgot to engage with the fans to create a singing section, which was a bit dumb really. At least Arsenal engaged with Red Action – and still recognise them as an entity even when Red Action turned on Arsenal and joined the WeCareDoYou movement.
Of course one of the big problems WHU have is that there is a huge distance from the stands to the pitch – it is the old Soviet-style running track problem. They also tried a very cheeky trick of setting up their own officially recognised supporters’ club, and not recognising the long-standing groups. I might criticise what the AST says about Arsenal and its directors – the allegations about the directors illegally removing money from the club for their own purposes could have resulted in a court case, but even then the club held back and continued to recognise AST – although the club is pulling back now from all the fans groups.
So West Ham fans protest: the golden age has not come. And for Arsenal to: we should have had the next golden age by now, now the stadium is paid for, but it hasn’t come either. During the Era of Debt we did win the FA Cup three times and stayed in the top four. Now, almost certain this will be our fourth season outside the top four.
Ah, new stadia! I turns out they can be a bit of a bugger really. What you really need is a country. Or a billionaire who doesn’t get banned from doing business in the UK and who likes sloshing money around.
If only there was one of those who also had a positive feeling for human rights. Then we’d have everything.
- The home and away scandal: ignorance, or cover up?
- The reason why Liverpool and Man C are ahead of Arsenal.
- How which referee a club gets has a major impact on the result of each game
- The statistical evidence that shows PGMO are biased against Arsenal
- How European football has taken up the fight against clubs breaking FFP