On Tuesday night, Arsenal Football Club only managed to entice a mere 46,000 people into their stadium to watch their reserve team play against a team from 3 divisions below them. Despite lowering their prices, it seems football’s appeal is dying and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. You can’t force people to like football.
Or can you?
You’d be forgiven for thinking that, given such a tiny crowd, those that were there must have been the real hard core fans, unable to let their team play without their vocal and passionate support. Not so.
I absolutely love the Carling Cup – since Arsene Wenger began playing the youngsters a few years ago, there has been a spring in the step of the team on these nights and some scintillating performances have resulted. I’d much rather watch the Carling Cup than the early rounds of the Champions League. But from my point of view, most people who go to these games have hardly ever been to a football match before and, it seems to me, aren’t really that interested in it anyway.
There is nothing wrong with trying to attract new fans but if people don’t like football then why do they pay money to go and watch it? The last 10 years has seen all sorts of odd behaviour creep into the way that fans watch football matches and I can’t help but think it is ruining the game that I love.
Let’s start with booing. I don’t mind admitting that I have booed people before. I hate Spurs, I hate most players that have ever played for them and there are a few others (referees mainly) who have caused me to voice my displeasure in this way in the past. But what is the justification for the fact that, when the Shrewsbury team came out of their dressing room and walked down to our end for the second half on Tuesday, a large proportion of the Arsenal fans in our corner booed them? We have only played them three times in history – beating them in an FA Cup replay in 1968 and again in 1991 -so there’s no past to get angry about. They’d nearly outplayed us in the first half but that’s hardly a reason to be so negative. It’s simply the case that the new breed of football fan – the type that’s only interested in the game because the telly told them to be – labours under the misconception that everyone hates any team that isn’t their own.
Why would anyone go to football without knowing who the players are? Astonishing though it may be, there are “Arsenal fans” that are more than willing to pay to go and see Arsenal play without having the faintest clue who plays for them. Now whilst I realise that the team we put out on Tuesday are not exactly household names, the presence of a few youngsters in the Carling Cup is not exactly a new concept at Highbury. In this day and age, obtaining information about players, however young, who play for Arsenal is not very difficult. Five minutes of anyone’s time could have prevented the chorus of “I’ve never heard of him” that I heard when Chuks Aneke came on as a substitute. This surprise and confusion also occurs at Premier League games when fans shout “Who?” when the opposition make a change – not directed at a world class superstar as a joke but as a genuine request for further information on the identity of the new player.
Now, photographs (he asked him knowingly). I can understand that a lot of people don’t get to go to many matches at a stadium like ours. I’m lucky. So when you do go, it’s understandable that you might want to take some photos. On Tuesday night, the man sitting next to me asked me to snap him DURING THE MATCH! He’d sat there for the whole of the half time break without saying a word and then felt the uncontrollable urge to have his photo taken 5 minutes into the second half. Inevitably, my heart wasn’t really in the task and I evidently performed badly as he asked me to take several more before I was allowed to continue watching the game that I’d paid to see. This sort of thing seems to happen quite regularly but I think the crowning moment came back at Highbury when I turned around to the people sat behind me whilst celebrating a goal to find that they were taking photographs of me jumping around.
Finally, as if to sum up this bizarre concept of paying to go to something you aren’t really that interested in, we come to the most staggering of all – voluntarily missing the football. On Tuesday, I witnessed 3 people arrive with 7 minutes left to play in the first half – not necessarily that bad given the state of public transport in this country I suppose – we’ve all done it. But if anyone knows the father and son sat in front of me that left the match with 21 minutes left to play, please ask them why they bothered to go in the first place as I’m genuinely interested.
If anyone thinks that a crowd of 46,000 people for a Carling Cup match against a League Two side is some sort of portent of doom for our club, fear not. It seems there are quite a lot of people who can be “convinced” to do something they don’t really want to do and pay money for the privilege.