They say that you become more resistant to change the older you get, so in my 45th year it’s probably inevitable that any tinkering with my favourite sport will be less palatable as the years pass.
Sunday April 18 2021 was just about a perfect storm in terms of how the game has changed beyond recognition in the years I’ve been lucky enough to support our great club.
First we had a late-season London derby at home to those nice chaps from Fulham, who needed the points far more than us – and nearly got them. Gooners at home were denied the opportunity to celebrate two ‘goals’ – one given and one disallowed.
Then had the minutiae of a penalty against us over-analysed. In times without VAR we probably win that match 2-0 or 2-1, but we win that match. We didn’t and the less said about the whole game the better, but…
The players didn’t look interested from the off and I can’t see how some of them failed to be motivated with places in a continental semi-final up for grabs.
I certainly don’t mind the squad being tinkered with in the remaining league matches, as our priority is definitely the route to the Champions League via Europa League success – or maybe the players just knew that something was afoot on that front later in the day? Anyway, about VAR…
Is the problem with VAR or in the way it’s being implemented? Who cares? We’ve tried it three different ways now – monitor checks, on-field recommendations, quicker decisions – and none of it has enhanced enjoyment of our game.
I use the word ‘our’ specifically in that sentence. Because after all it’s not a twee statement to say that essentially the game belongs to the fans. I don’t particularly agree with those that class it as entertainment rather than sport – personally I’d cheer a well thought out 1-0 George Graham win as much as an Arsene Wenger free-flowing 4-2 win – but it is about our enjoyment.
It’s why rants about half and half scarves, weakened cup line-ups, people supporting players not teams and even playing Sweet Caroline at full-time all look curmudgeonly and moaning for the sake of it in isolation, but collectively they represent keeping football wholesome and maintaining what we fell in love with in the first place.
So then later in the day when we’ve come to terms with a 1-1 draw against relegation fodder doing more damage to our home record, the club double-down on our disappointment.
‘Arsenal to become founding members of new European Super League’ screamed the Twitter headlines…
Later in the day and earlier on Monday we saw more details come through about what those headlines mean. Everyone will have their own interpretations as to whether this is a threat or a genuine plan by the big clubs (and Tottenham) that came out with this statement as founders, but those who believe the root and cause of this is money won’t be far wrong.
A lot of people have pointed to the formation of the Premier League as a marker in history to allow things like this to come to fruition. Yes the Premier League was certainly about revenue first, but nobody could argue that it didn’t improve the game in this country.
That’s because compromises were reached on those ideals. Initially the founder clubs said they didn’t want promotion or relegation, then they argued for just one promotion spot each season. Eventually the right decision was made for 3-up and 3-down and the integrity of the famous English football pyramid was maintained.
That pyramid is vitally important and allows every single club in this country to have a dream. The FA Cup is an obvious way that those worlds collide, but even those small clubs dreaming of one-off ties against the big boys also know that progression through the leagues at any pace is also rewarded in more than a one-off game.
The pyramid is that solid and so fundamentally based on merit that even wrongs of previous football regimes can be corrected with hard work – note AFC Wimbledon’s remarkable story.
If you still don’t think fans can make a difference with this then you’re mistaken. If anyone was present at our first televised Premier League match versus Manchester City at Highbury on a Monday night in September 1992 you’ll definitely recall the reception that the cheerleaders and half-time entertainment – The Shamen – received. Sky got a very quick lesson that top-flight football in this country was about the game itself and quickly dispensed with the pre-match fireworks and those forms of entertainment.
You’d hope a similar message is sent by fans to the clubs that have done this and some kind of compromise is achieved to allow proper relegation and promotion and earning the right to play at this elite level. Earning something is far better than being handed something. It’s also far more interesting.
I don’t doubt the ownership structure at the club would prefer customers rather than fans at the Emirates. I also don’t doubt that as long as a seat is sold for a game they don’t care who is filling it.
I know some perfectly nice high-worth individuals from North London who have no real cause to support the club or even check in on results of Arsenal games they don’t attend, but they have their season tickets and turn up to matches as and when they fancy a day out.
Some might say it’s already happened, but as soon as those people outweigh proper supporters at games then it’s probably beyond recovery as to reclaiming the club we once knew.
Ask yourselves this, beating Villarreal over two legs and then possibly Manchester United in the final to earn elite European football next season, or just saying ‘nope, we’re taking our ball over there now because it’s all a bit too hard to earn these things’.
I can’t be part of that, but let’s not kid ourselves that there’s plenty of people that will lap up tickets for many years to come.
Personally I’ll drop down the leagues just like my Dad did when the team he supported from childhood, Chelsea (the whole family are from Holloway and are Arsenal through and through but as the youngest child he wanted to be different), changed beyond recognition with the investment of Abramovich. He decided to give his time to his local non-league club and now wouldn’t swap it for the world.
Hadley FC on a Saturday anyone?