By Tony Attwood
Last night an Arsenal event happened. Not one that you will read about from journalists with their endless tittle and tattle; it was far more important than that. Also not one with shouting about why Arsenal are not buying players, how they’ve got everything wrong financially, where the money has gone or even (as the Mail is reporting today) that Kroenke’s wealth has increased of late (although noticeably they don’t tell us why, how, or the source of their information).
No, last night was about real support. The event was a Zoom based meeting of the Arsenal Supporters Forum. Among the attendees was the chair of Arsenal Independent Supporters Association (AISA), the group which works hard to bring to the club the view of rational, reasonable everyday supporters – rather than those whose prime vision in that supporting a club means attacking it and accusing it at every turn.
In the chair of this meeting was Mark Gonnella Arsenal’s director of communications. Both Vinai Venkatesham (Arsenal’s managing director) and Raul Sanllehí (Arsenal’s head of football) were also there, along with several other representatives from the club. It was a meeting of reports on what Arsenal were doing, how the club was coping with the crisis, and then of course a Q and A.
So we got the information about the club from the horse’s mouth, rather than the journalist’s typewriter, as it were, and it was good to hear. For example…
All of the 500 permanent staff are being kept in the picture with regular video meetings and communications; all 1500 of Arsenal’s casual workers have been and will be paid to the end of May, despite not being able to do any work since March.
Moreover, Arsenal are doing ‘their bit’ in the community having delivered 45 tonnes of essential supplies, provided lifts for hundreds of NHS staff, made large donations to local charities, made phone calls to vulnerable Arsenal supporters, continued to support community work overseas.
In fact, that is business as usual. While some supporters’ groups have their endless agenda of knocking the club and the “We care do you” approach and the fanatasy accountants with their allegations, which I personally find impossible to balance with actual support, Arsenal just get on the real task of running the club.
But, as Vinai pointed out, this is really just ‘business as usual’: Arsenal has been doing this sort of thing for the last 30 years but we should recognise what is really going on, and feel rightly proud of the way the club is reacting to the crisis.
While the players are now just returning to training Vinai was at pains to says that this is a step-by-step process. No risks will be taken with them or any of our staff. No emergency services will be impacted by Arsenal if and when football resumes. No PPE or tests will be taken away from the NHS or vital front line industries to service Arsenal or football.
All of the Arsenal squad have agreed to take a real pay cut – not to defer part of their salaries like some clubs have. (Not something any football journalist will tell you).
Meanwhile the players use London Colney for limited training sessions, arriving in their own vehicles, going home to shower – not even using the loos!
On contracts, it was said that the next transfer window is simply not on the agenda right now, but FIFA have agreed a three-month extension to all contracts that are expiring (including loans). Players will not be able to play for a new club within that period so there is no advantage to them walking at the end of June just because their contract is up. That gives clubs some stability as they seek to finish the season (however that happens).
In response to AISA questions, Vina and Ivan Worsell said that season ticket holders will get credits (as is normal) for games that don’t take place. Ticket holders will be refunded and the club is working at how quickly it can do this, and looking at software solutions to speed it up. Simply put, this is a massive exercise so will take some handling, but no one will lose out. They are still working out what happens for next season but there will be no increase on ST prices despite the loss if income the club has sustained. They are undertaking a full review of the ticket situation in the light of the pandemic’s impact and that includes looking at the ongoing access problems faced by vulnerable and disabled supporters.
For me, as I have oft said before, this is what a supporters group should be doing – listening to the club, putting questions, taking note of what is said, and giving credit where credit is due, criticising where the facts are clear and where something is wrong. Arsenal don’t have to hold meetings like this, and given the way some “supporters” used last summers’ meeting at the club openly to attack those running the club with their wild accusations of no transfer money etc, it says a lot that the club keeps on working to find ways to liaise with supporters.
Maybe all supporters’ meetings should be held by video link in future, then at least those who attend just to jeer and disrupt, can simply be switched off.
As I have always declared, I’m a member of AISA (I run the Arsenal History section of the organisation) and If you would like to show support for Arsenal through a supporters’ group that is positive and genuinely supportive of the club, you might care to consider Arsenal Independent Supporters Association.
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