By Tony Attwood
Sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s my dad took me to see Cardiff City vs Arsenal. He had an old friend there – maybe even a pal from the war, I am not sure, and we went and the old friend’s house, before walking on to the match. I don’t have much by the way of recollection of this game, but I do recall talk about how we had to leave early, because there would be a big crowd – because it was “The Arsenal”.
I thought of this for a multiplicity of reasons. One is because I am in Cardiff this weekend. Another is because next thursday I am going to the launch of Arsenal Til I Die – the new book published in co-operation with Arsenal in the Community. And within that book is an article that I wrote last summer about my father. It also includes some pictures of my dad although sadly none at the ground.
As far as I know it is the first time he has been commemorated in print, and I’m very proud to have achieved it in an official Arsenal book. (I believe it is officially out from next thursday, so if you want to read some memories of fans, and indeed see half a dozen or so pages of my father’s connection with Arsenal, then you can buy a copy – and support the Arsenal in the Community effort. All the authors have given their articles for free – I didn’t even get an author’s free copy! But I will put a link up to the book’s web site shortly.)
But less you are ready to switch off, let me reassure you, there is a point to all this Cardiff, Arsenal, my dad stuff.
My dad’s pal saw Arsenal as being of repute, no matter what they had been up to in the past few years (which wasn’t much – I started supporting them in the late 50s just when they decided to stop winning things and give the others a go).
Over time the notion that there were big clubs that always got a big crowd dissipated and ultimately football clubs were only as good as the last year or two. And when we moved into that period of the Liverpudlian penalty in the last few seconds at the Kop End (named as Ian reminded me recently, after the heavy mob end at Woolwich Arsenal) our reputation was not up to much. We had had our moments, most notably with the Double, (“What a Year for London” screamed the Standard) but mostly it was picking up the bits and pieces in the Cups. And yes that was worth a bit of reputation but not that much – especially when we lost to Swindon and Luton.
Repute time got shorter and memories got shorter. When Arsenal came second three years running to Man U the anti-Arsenal gangs started calling for Wenger’s head, saying that he had lost it. The double had gone from the memory (“we were lucky”) and every year the media punditery (I just made that word up – don’t adjust your spell checker) said, “I can’t see anyone beating Manchester United this season”. Our reputation had gone. (In fact have you noticed how the papers and TV stations pay all these people every year to give their opinion in the summer on next season’s champions, and they always say the same as the previous year – unless it was Arsenal.)
Time passes, and memories decline. Now I know that my memory declines, and I have an excuse – age. But collective memories are even worse. How many journalists remember saying, after week five of the season, “Quite honestly this is going to be the most boring Premier League ever. Chelsea are so far ahead of everyone else that we might as well give them the trophy now.”
Then Chelsea fell apart, and no one thinks of those early comments now, unless it is to say “Of course some commentators announced that the season was over after three weeks, but as we’ve seen this was not so.” Rule one of journalism – blame your cock ups in print on everyone else.
It is the same in the stands. Theo was brilliant, our top scorer, and then got mangled playing for the mob that hobnob with the crooks at Fifa. Out for weeks the call was for him to be off-loaded (“he’s always injured”). A couple of poor sub appearances have reinforced that, except that on Wednesday (at least from where I was sitting directly in line with the shot) he scored one hell of a goal. Back to Hero.
Just like Nasri. The new Zidane, don’t make me laugh! The new Zidane, he’s so much better than that!
There are people who visit this site who proclaim that we must be rubbish because we lose to WBA at home. Presumably just like Chapman was rubbish because he and Allison could never win the double, or couldn’t beat Walsall away. Theo is rubbish because of two poor appearances as a sub. Fabianski makes one mistake and he’s rubbish…
And it is that final thought that gives me what seems at this moment to be an insight. Watch every second of every game Arsenal play and you see every mistake, every misplaced pass, every quick back flick that gives the ball away. You see it all – and quite probably twice, once at the game, and once on TV. Mistake, mistake, mistake.
But what you don’t see are what all the other teams do. They are as prone to cock-ups as we are. They can defend badly and miss open goals. It is there for all to see, except most of us don’t go and watch their games and only see them sometimes on TV.
From that I get this notion: Arsenal have such a promising present, and such a glorious past, we ought to remember our historic context now and then – especially since virtually no other team can do this. In fact the only team that could claim to rival us in terms of a great and glorious past, as well as a promising present is Man U. Chelsea, a team invented to fill a stadium in 1905 with nothing happening until the Russian Mafia took them over. Liverpool, a great period after a very modest past, and now back into mid-table nothingness. Tottenham: neither past nor present. Man City, occasional success, not much though but did manage to con a stadium out of the council for nothing.
Arsenal were the team of the 1930s, bounced back with post-war and early 50s success, had two mini-revivals in the 70s and under George Graham, and now have a third great period. By giving into the notion that a player and a club is only as good as it is today, is to play into the hands of the likes of Tottenham and Chelsea, with their extraordinarily modest achievements (given the number of years they have been in existence).
As I sit here in Cardiff, wondering if I am going to face the crowds in the city centre to do, a spot more Xmas shopping, I refuse to give into this Now Now Now culture. I want us to win everything this season, and I will be deeply saddened if we don’t, but I refuse to base everything on the last five minutes, the last five weeks, the last five months, or the last five years. We are Arsenal, we are better than that.
I’m really chuffed that I was asked to contribute to Arsenal Til I Die. It expresses for me the continuity of Arsenal in my family – my grandfather at the club in 1913, my father there in the 30s, me there from the 50s, and twin grandsons who are members of Junior Gunners.
Like I said, we are Arsenal. We don’t do five seconds of fame.
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