I only have two things to say, both of them from 2008. First, here’s what I said in just my 10th month as an Arsenal blogger.
We’re all guilty, even me. 99.9% of the time I give this club 100% of my support — I’ll even call out my readers for their lack of support — but even for me, the doe eyed optimist, it is difficult to see Alex Song take the field in the center of defense and get excited. And what am I supposed to do when I see Almunia flapping around, turn off my brain? Mindlessly “get behind the team” and cheer?
No, I think it needs to be a decent balance of optimism and skepticism; 99-1 sounds about right to me. But that’s me, I get to see just one game a year (if the world economy doesn’t collapse!) and I have a blog that only reaches a few insane fans a day. The real people who need to get behind the team are the season ticket holders and match day supporters who’s cheers and groans can lift or push down the club at a critical moment on the pitch.
The problem is, in my experience, Arsenal fans are some of the most demanding, haughty, and sour pussed people I have ever met. The author Nick Hornby blogged about the phenomenon last April when Arsenal crashed out of the Champions League. In his brief illustration the Arsenal fan won’t be happy unless we win every game, for all eternity. Maybe there’s a certain personality that chooses a certain team, I don’t know, but it’s uncanny how demanding Arsenal supporters are.
Imagine for a moment being an Everton fan? They haven’t won anything for a hundred years (Ok, since 1995) and worse, they are a perennial mid-table team. It takes a hardy soul to sit through some of the stuff that Everton field, and it takes a real supporter to sit there and cheer.
I suspect that’s what Arsene Wenger wanted when he said “I feel that this team does not get the support it deserves” at the AGM yesterday. If it’s true (I don’t get to many games) it’s Wenger’s own fault, he’s the one who made Arsenal into a top club in the top league in the world. He’s the one who’s raised our expectations!
For doing that, for raising our expectations, I say we should fire him. Because what Arsenal supporters need is a period of, say, 10 years of Evertonian mediocrity in order to shake our hubris. Either that or we could try to look at what we’ve got and appreciate it, as Wenger says:
Last year we were close to winning the championship, finishing just four points behind Manchester United. Instead of showing resentment, we have to believe in our team more than ever because this team will deliver.
I WANT TO BELIEVE!
And here’s what Nick Hornby said in April of that year, a quote that sticks with me to this very day:
“I’ll tell you where it all went wrong for Arsene Wenger,” said a friend after the first leg of the Champions’ League quarter-final against Liverpool, a game that Arsenal were unlucky not to win. “That two-all draw against Bolton, when we threw away a two-goal lead.” Like many Arsenal fans, I remember the game well – it was a decisive moment in the race for the Premier League, and those two dropped points meant that Arsenal would not win the title…in 2003. According to my friend, we have been on a sad, slow but steady decline ever since.
“What about 2004? When we won the League without losing a match? You don’t think he temporarily stopped the rot that year?”
“That was a disappointing season,” he said. (My italics.) “We should have won the Champions’ League, and he chucked the FA Cup away.”
This is the mindset of a certain kind of football fan. Becoming champions of your country in an unbeaten season is no use if there aren’t a couple of cups to go with it; and the championship is not an end in itself, but only a stepping-stone that allows you to climb towards more championships and cups. This is the mindset, in other words, of a fan who will be disappointed every year. If he were a Manchester United fan, he might have allowed himself a brief smile at the end of the treble-winning ’99 season; but other than that, it’s hard to imagine where the joy of following a team might come from.
All Arsenal fans are disappointed this week. A season that had begun to promise so much has ended in calamity and despair. If I were Arsene Wenger, though, I would console myself with the thought that, had Arsenal held on for five minutes at Anfield on Tuesday night, seen off Chelsea in the semi-finals, and trounced Manchester United or Barcelona in the final in Moscow, some fan somewhere would still be complaining about his failure to shore up the defence in the 2003 run-in. In other words – what’s the point of winning anything, ever? Unless, of course, you’re going to win every game, for all eternity.
You can complain all you want, you can moan about players and the manager getting things wrong, and you can cry over the spilled milk of this and every season since 2003. All I ask is that you’re respectful, you use data and not gut instincts, and you bring logic.
For example, are you sure you want to make the “consumerist” argument about the supposed “value” you are getting for the money you don’t pay to see the team play? If you’re not a season ticket holder and you go to one or two games a year but watch the team on illegal streams on your computer, you are getting plenty of “value” for your money.
But ultimately, the consumer argument falls apart unless you really are threatening to take your “money” elsewhere. Are you really going to go and support 5th place Tottenham? 4th place Chelsea? 3rd place Man City?
Maybe some of you will be perfect little consumers and go off and cheer on the better value, as if the club were a box of Corn Flakes and you’re just choosing between two brands. But if you’re going to switch to Frosted Flakes — then do it. Quit sitting around in my kitchen complaining about the Corn Flakes.
I like them. In fact, I’m digging around in the box right now looking for my toy surprise. It’s a little plastic Premier League Trophy and I’ll proudly put it on the shelf next to the one from 2004.