If I didn’t know better, I’d think that the God of Football was trying to tell me something. At exactly the same time as my involvement with Dulwich Hamlet is giving me so much pleasure, Arsenal are pushing me away, it seems.
That’s the obvious concern. I loved going to Arsenal when times were good but I haven’t got the stomach for the fight when the pickings are slim and with Dulwich winning the league against all the odds, I’ve switched clubs in the most embarrassing way possible. I’m the worst kind of modern football fan.
But there’s more to it than that.
I’ve been going to see Arsenal for more than 30 years. Only a small proportion of that time could legitimately be described as “good times” if you define good times as playing good football, winning matches and holding up trophies. I go because I like football and because I like Arsenal. I go because I have friends there and because it’s fun. Yesterday was not fun.
One of the most infuriating aspects of the game was the unbelievable refereeing. Anthony Taylor may well have secured the award for most inept performance of the season before some of the contenders have even had a chance to stake their claim. Despite his efforts, we can only blame ourselves for throwing the game away in the same pathetic way that we have done many times in recent years. There wasn’t much to like. Then the final whistle blew and an unhappy, frustrating day turned ugly.
Arsenal Football Club is in disarray. For years, the way that the club is run has been a great source of pride to me. When so many clubs were making rash decisions to throw huge fees and salaries at mediocre players, only to regret their cavalier attitude when reality hit, Arsenal stood firm. We have always been run as an institution and it has stood us in good stead. Now, it is the one thing holding us back.
Like the FA itself, there is a feeling of stale, old-fashioned intransigence at the club these days. I’m certainly not one of those that favours huge investment from morally suspect benefactors but any business has to adapt to the changing market conditions in which it finds itself and Arsenal is stuck in a rut. It is very clear that, whilst some of the clubs around us have altered the way they do business in order to remain competitive, Arsenal’s views on how a football club should be run have become more and more entrenched.
Our Chief Executive, Ivan Gazidis, epitomises the attitude of so many people that hold that position in major companies.
The feeling that, above all else, his job is to make money for the company, coupled with the desire to be seen by his peers as someone who is very successful, thereby earning him the next big payout, gives rise to a self-confidence, bordering on arrogance. He knows he is doing the right thing. And who would argue? Under his tenure, the company’s coffers have swollen and continue to grow. If he were to leave the club now, he would do so with a glowing CV stuffed full of accolades for bringing great riches to his employers. He’s not in it to be remembered as a great man – he wants to make money. He wants to be paid more the next time he takes up a new post as a Chief Executive and if he was to seek new employment any time now, he would not fail to attract wealthy companies willing to pay him what he wants. He will leave the club a lot wealthier than he when he arrived. The man is a success.
But his short term success is our long term failure.
It is clear to anyone that knows anything about football that Arsenal as a football team is going backwards. It has been doing so for the last 5 years and there is no sign of a change of direction. Where we were 1 or 2 players short of a great team in 2008, we are now 8 or 9. The gap between us and the teams above us is continually growing and failure to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 14 years is a distinct possibility. Furthermore, the upward curve of income from supporters does not appear to be sustainable. With the team performing badly on the pitch and failing to challenge for any trophy, the fans will soon lose their faith and relinquish their season tickets. Last night I was told of a fan who was informed, only 3 years ago, that he was number 48,000th in line for a season ticket. This season, he reached the front of the queue. Clearly, this pot is not bottomless and the rate of withdrawal appears fairly rapid. If the money that is being made is not invested wisely – not just on good players, but on good coaches and good back room staff – then the future is bleak.
It won’t stop me from supporting Arsenal. We’re not the first group of fans to find ourselves having to rail against self-serving individuals that are eroding the future success of our football club.
What may drive me away is the poisonous atmosphere amongst the fans. I can understand people being angry. I am angry. But do I really want to support a club whose fans hold up little placards displaying messages for the board or the manager? Do I really want to support a club whose fans boo at the slightest mistake from an obviously unfit player?
Arsène Wenger has brought great success, on and off the pitch, to this football club in the last 17 years. In that time, the core support at the club has gradually been eroded. The fans that once stood on the North Bank are long gone. Given the current rate of season ticket renewals, the entire crowd is replaced every 4 years. Replaced by angry people. People who feel that they are entitled to support a perpetually successful football team. People who refuse to stop and think before fully accepting the popular view that 8 years without winning a major trophy is a disaster on an epic scale.
Football is not, and should not be like that. I’m not condoning the behaviour of some of the executives at the club. I don’t believe that every single one of the manager’s decisions in the last 5 years has been spot on. But if there’s one thing guaranteed to make me feel more depressed about an abject home defeat on the opening day of the season, an appalling refereeing display and the feeling that my club is being run into the ground, it’s realising that I have almost nothing in common with the people that support the same team as me.