Hello Gooners. It’s taken me a while to write this article, but I finally want to get this thing out of my mind, for the best part of 2 days, since You Know Who did You Know What at You Know Where.
I started supporting Arsenal in 2004, just in the aftermath of the fantastic unbeaten run. Those were heady days of course. How I wish I had started watching football earlier, and been an Arsenal fan for longer than 8 years. But, that’s how it started.
There have been more frustrating moments, than moments to rejoice, but I have loved Arsenal to absolute bits. I have watched games that go all the way to 3:30 AM in the morning, watched games with my engineering exams the next day, traveled half the city to watch the games because my cable operator decided to cancel the football channel, sneaked past dad to watch games at friends’ places on the pretext of ‘going to study’, and even once jogged a distance of 2 kilometers during festival time, to catch the North London derby at kick-off. Heck, I have even broken college rules to watch a couple of games.
I have watched Arsenal get beaten 3-1 in the midst of over 40 Manchester United fans, most of them glory hunters of course, shed tears post fateful nights in Paris, and at Wembley last year, but also lived great moments like thrashing Spurs, and winning battles against Chelsea, Barcelona, Milan and United over the past years.
I refused to speak for nearly a day when Henry decided to move on to Barcelona in 2007, and was devastated when Fabregas moved in the same direction. But, to be honest, nothing has shook me more than what happened a couple of days back, when Robin van Persie moved to Manchester United.
And no, I harbor no similar attachment to van Persie, as I do with Arsenal, it is what has become of the club that has made me aloof. Has Arsenal changed? Have our ethos changed? Are our values and ideals just for the talking? Are we now a club that’s just intent on making money?
I have read scores of articles, from other bloggers, Goonerholic, Arseblog, Arsenal Arsenal etc etc, and read them narrate their countless experiences of watching games under the North Bank and East Lower at Highbury. Wonderful, simple footballing memories of the years gone by. Where footballers paid for a penury, and loyalty was not just for saying. The players really loved to play for the Arsenal and felt pride on sporting the cannon on their chests. How I wish I was as lucky as the above mentioned fans to have been a part of this bygone era.
At Highbury, it was a small, compounded, family atmosphere, where the fans were so very close to the players themselves. I could feel my hair rise off my back when I watched games like Juventus, Real Madrid, Villarreal, Wigan in the final season at Highbury, and this was when I was watching it on television, half the world away from where the real action was taking place.
There was a real working class feel about the Arsenal. Fans from all strata, and financial backgrounds cramped into the 38,000 capacity stadium to watch games. A defeat, or a win. Didn’t matter. Arsenal was Arsenal, as long as the players gave their everything for the crest.
Did the move from Highbury to the Emirates change us? I would like to think, probably yes. Year after year, we are subject to long drawn transfer sagas of our favorite players. Players who we have come to love and count among our own. Players who we felt knew what it was to be playing for Arsenal. Players who were loyal.
But, loyalty is a two-edged sword these days, isn’t it. Do players really mean it when they tell they are proud to join a club, or they are happy at a club or even the famous “I am never going to leave this club” line. Are footballers genuine or is it just plain stupid of us fans to believe they are.
It has been years today since we moved to the Emirates Stadium, and what have we achieved. And I am not just talking in terms of trophies, (nonetheless we haven’t won anything) because it’s not the most important thing in the game. Loyalty is. It’s dead. We have seen Arsene Wenger stick through thick and thin, as he watched one squad move on after the other. There was constant change. Our present squad is completely different, from what it was 4 years back, when we last mounted a serious challenge for the title.
We find ourselves at the top of the financial charts. I read reports almost everyday, how Arsene Wenger got Anelka for a paltry sum and sold him for nearly 50 times that. How our past captains have been sold in recent years. Vieira, Gilberto, Henry, Gallas, Fabregas and now van Persie. Most coming in for pennies but leaving for stashes of cash.
And, by finding ourselves at the top of the financial charts, I mean constantly. But, at what cost? At the cost of the values of the club. I remember a time, when I started supporting the Arsenal, the club’s finances were massively based on it’s revenues abroad, the massive shirt sales across the world. And this frenzy was caused because of a hugely popular and successful team. Even rival fans I know had us as their second team. What came from the stadium and from winning silverware was paltry, in comparison to the replica sales and the advent of the television age.
But today, when I read Arsenal’s finances, I read what has become the bitter truth of the club. The tables have turned. While we remain hugely popular across the world, and shirt sales continue to fill our kitty, major money comes in from the players we sell, and the revenues generated from matchdays.
The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust have been pretty vocal about it, and it plain disturbs me that working class Arsenal supporters are having to stop going to games because it is just way out of their reach. They have to shell nearly 60 pounds a week, which comes up to about 4800 rupees, in Indian money, and I can safely say I would be able to attend only 3 or 4 games a season, with that kind of pricing.
And in complete contrast to the very morals and values of our club, is the Gold Level Seating, and the Director’s Box, and such member levels which exist at the club today. These have been incorporated into the stadium, to garner the needs of the richer echelons of fans, who can afford to pay big bucks and pay to see the big games. Has our club sold itself? It’s soul?
Coming to the players. Was it a trend started by Patrick Vieira in 2005, when he said he wanted to win major things, and left for Juventus. Since then, Cole, Henry, Hleb, Flamini, Adebayor, Toure, Fabregas, Nasri, Clichy and now van Persie have all left for the riches on offer at the usual suspects Chelsea, Barcelona and Manchester City among others. Seems like we have gotten ourselves some major cash out of these deals.
And this is the plain truth of our club today. It hurts me enough to say, that players whom we grow to be fond of, worship as our idols, and chant their names through games, aren’t the same these days. Of course, there are the odd couple, dare I say Jacky Boy and Thomas and Laurent. I wouldn’t be too surprised, now onwards if they were to cash in on a Manchester City.
Ambition is another word thrown into the mix. What is the ambition of the club? Is it merely to fill the coffers at the club? To neatly pile up stacks of cash, and count them at the end of the day? Mr Nasri says he left because Arsenal were lacking ambition. At the time, it hurt. Still does. He is still a cunt, but behind it, was he just telling us the simple plain truth. A year on, he is a title winner. Robin sang the same song, saying he and the club disagreed on the way the club ought to move forward. And, maybe a year on, he could be finally laying his hands of some silverware, having been one half of what seems to be a devastating frontline of him and Wayne Rooney at Manchester United.
What’s our ambition at the moment. Is it finishing fourth to secure the money that comes in with Champions League qualification, or is it reaping profits from sales of a player we bought in from that small club in eastern Europe at the cost of bread. Rather not, it seems. Supposedly, we have sold major players in the past, and survived. Survived? I want to live, not just survive.
I remember reading these articles about how Arsenal were in the 60’s and 70’s. Frustrating and unsuccessful. We were neither good enough to win the league, but neither were we too bad to get relegated. Yet, the fans connected to the players on a very different level. Stories like travelling on the bus with the centre-forward next to you, and bumping into the left-back at the grocery store.
We found ourselves in the players. And the players found themselves in us. There was an equality, in life and in football. Yet, today the game, and our beloved club stands at the very crossroads. Money from the Middle East and Russian winterlands have changed the scenario of football. Sugar daddies, who have money to burn, invest in football clubs, for their own personal gains, and needs. Spend unreasonable cash in players, and make them into superstars overnight.
And the players are happy too. Huge mansions, swimming pools, sports cars, amazing social and night life, and don’t even get me started on the babes and booze. We no longer see ourselves in players. Young kids may worship them, and hang posters on their walls, but I am pretty sure there will be scores of confused kids asking their dads come the weekend, “Why is Robin playing for Manchester United?” Loyalty Schmoyalty.
That’s all I have to say for the players. The game has changed, so have the riches. But the board. Why have we become a selling club all of a sudden? Why oh why? Aren’t we supposed to be the Arsenal? The Arsenal that everyone fears. Alas, we have become a feeder club, almost a joke in the Premier League today. And, it hurts. Bad. Real Bad.
The Arsenalisation of the stadium was very good. A brilliant idea. To make our new home, well our home. The Emirates has been described as a dull arena in comparison to Highbury. There have been exceptional games and atmospheres, I am not denying that. Manchester United in 2007, Barcelona, Spurs, Newcastle and all of that. But, does it possess the same soul that Highbury had. Guess only time will tell.
The only man who has remained through everything, from Highbury to Emirates, from Adams to van Persie, from the ‘Best team in the league’ to the ‘best feeder club in the league’, from two completely different generations of football. From a time when players played for the badge in the front, to the ones who played for the name at the backs. And that is Arsene Wenger.
He is the most dignified, humble human being I have known, atleast through media, if not in real. He has stood the test of time, maybe not as well as Sir Alex, but he has certainly kept the club at the thereabouts. Year after year, he has been let down by the very individuals, whom he bought in and carefully nurtured into what they are today. He has bought in a philosophy of football that is healthy economically as well entertaining. He has been let down by the board, when it comes to transfer kitties. Yet, he remains. Still willing to give it all for Arsenal Football Club. No matter what. Sticking to his principles. He needs our support, and he well deserves it. After all, everything comes to him who waits and perseveres.
How badly I wish we could yonder into the old days, when football was football. Pure, not diluted by money. The simple days when loyalty meant a Charlie George faking an injury for Derby County to go watch Arsenal play Bristol Rovers. Days when Tony Adams put his body through the line, week in, week out for 2 decades for the Arsenal cause. Days when Dennis Bergkamp mesmerised us with his delicious flicks. Sigh, I am dreaming.
That era has past, hasn’t it. Or maybe our present team will buck the trend. Jack Wilshere, born and bought up with the club. Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny who rejected the advances of Barcelona. Mikel Arteta who took a pay cut to play for Arsenal in the Champions League. I wouldn’t bank on it, but there is hope afterall. Light at the other side of the tunnel, as they say.
At the end of the day, finally, all I can say is, the club is bigger than the individual. Let’s get behind our team, wherever they are from and whatever they represent, in the coming season. It’s just 18 hours to go, and I can’t contain myself. Maybe you are feeling the same, and it is that feeling which makes us feel alive. Heroes come and go, our passion is forever.
Jai Arsenal 🙂
There have been a lot of thoughts that I have poured in here today, and there is no real structuring this article. I never even thought this article would come up to 2400 words, but here we are, it has. I just had to express my caught up feelings. And this blog was the only platform I could do it.
Please let me know if you feel it was a good effort on my part to express my feelings this way. I am always open to your feelings, thoughts and suggestions, about out club.
And, as we speak, news percolates that Alex Song is on the cusp of moving to Barcelona. How wonderful.
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Go ahead you lazy bum, that’s all I ask of you!