One Of Us Speaks – Why Are You So Proud Of Our Dirty Linen?
I don’t want to jinx anything, but I think Robin van Persie will sign a new contract at the end of the season. Especially after reading his latest comments. If you’ve seen that photo of him in his bedroom in the ’96 kit you’ll know his affection for Arsenal stretches back to long before he joined us. And since he’s been at the club he’s had nothing but love from the fans.
But it got me wondering – the two recent players who sing their love for Arsenal from their Hampstead rooftops now were stars from the beginning. There’s something unsettling about that. What if they hadn’t been great from the start?
Thierry Henry had a rubbish debut but was up to speed in a matter of weeks. And when we saw a young Robin van Persie dropping Premier League defenders, humiliating Robbie Savage (admittedly not hard to do) and curling the ball in from the byline in 2005 we knew what he might become.
And even in the seasons that followed, his absence from the team didn’t exactly harm his reputation. We were all thinking how we might have won the title in 2008 and again in 2010, if only van Persie could have stayed fit. Yeah, he’s just one player, but so what?
Right now there’s an affinity between player and support. He’ll tell us he draws confidence from the crowd, and at the risk of extolling something that we can’t really quantify, what if all Arsenal players were treated with the same unequivocal affection? What if we’d taken a couple of players from the team that suddenly came good in 07-08 to our hearts a little sooner? Might they have stayed?
I know it’s not that simple though. According to the papers, on Sunday Walcott was one bad touch away from getting clapped in the stocks and pelted with premium hot dogs and pies. The truth was slightly different of course. There were a couple of morons shouting stuff but really, each time Walcott lost the ball there was just a loud groan. And the thing about that noise is that it’s involuntary, and made by people frustrated at seeing a move break down, but not trying to direct a negative message at anyone.
Sitting in the crowd you barely realise you’ve done anything to express the deflating feeling until you hear the collective grumble echo around the ground and understand that you contributed to it. And even with that knowledge it’s impossible to stop it next time the team loses possession.
You don’t have any hostile intentions, so it’s tough to find out that your reaction led to the manager claiming that the crowd was getting on the player’s back, and gave hacks an invitation to go to town on the Emirates support yet again.
But maybe that’s the point; you might not mean any harm against the club but you contribute to the noise. In the tense, emotional arena of a North London Derby it might be difficult to suppress a frustrated groan, but the rest of the time perhaps maybe it’s easier to defend the club’s image.
Firstly, to what end do concerned Arsenal fans go on TV or radio or pillory the team on blogs? I know you care about the club, but why do you do it? I understand there’s a human desire to be heard, but you don’t need me to remind you that you’re just one person. And as an individual your view will differ from that of the next person by subtle degrees. He or she is worried as well, and wants to make the club aware of a catalogue of troubles.
The various grades of discontent and spectrum of demands result in the distracting noise that Ivan Gazidis spoke about recently. It’s like the static of a detuned radio, with thousands of different, indiscernible voices undermining the club – in the end it’s impossible to know what the collective wants, beyond seeing the team improve somehow.
All the press hears is the background hiss of disapproval, and couldn’t be happier, interviewing these suckers or plucking stories from the ether without having to leave their desks. In pre-match press conferences the manager has to handle accusations from all kinds of unqualified sources. It’s a hindrance we don’t need at the moment.
OK, Arsenal fans are worried about the wage bill. The idea is that there are too many overpaid players and the club rewarded potential that three years later remains unproven. Then I ask you, what is the sense in telling the national media that these players aren’t worth their wages? How does that help solve the problem?
Say you’re worried about the club’s financial situation. Why not think of every player at Arsenal as an asset, whether you like him or not. You’re going to want to make sure he’ll have some sell-on value. Because off the pitch, I can’t think of many better ways to devalue a player than for the people who watch him play every week to tell the world they think he’s paid too much. And that’s before we talk about the impact on the player’s confidence or sense of belonging.
“Counterproductive” doesn’t even cover it.
Maybe you feel you can see where the club’s going wrong? You fancy you know a bit about tactics, or have a head for finance. But anyone who’s ever had to deal a family squabble will know that sometimes being right doesn’t count for anything. In the end it’s often about being loyal to the people who really matter, and that means knowing when to hold your tongue.
A blog like this is going to invite the usual stuff about doublethink, Pravda and blind loyalty. But here’s the thing – and I hope I’m not patronising you again here – Arsenal doesn’t govern people; it’s just a football club and business. It’s grateful to you for buying a ticket, and needs you to support the team, but has no obligation to you beyond making sure your seat is in good shape, the stewards are well trained and that the bogs are clean. Away from the ground, maybe it’s all as simple as the strapline at the top of this page.
Thanks Al. Over at Arsenal On This Day, the club’s first League Cup final.