The Bitterest Pill
This morning’s Jam from Consolsbob,
The decision by Van Persie to leave Arsenal for a ‘more ambitious’ club should finally wake up football fans of a certain age that the game of their youth is gone forever. Sold for the highest price to ridiculously rich men for their edification and bragging rights. We’ve all known this for a while now, but it was still just about possible to live in a world where hope could overcome truth, where dreams could live. Where I could sit, signed picture of Charlie on the wall, eyes half closed and be in a world where Geordie Armstrong was still tearing up and down his wing, striving to cross the ball onto the head of Big John to send a packed North Bank into tumult. And all for a wage that didn’t remove him completely from the lives and sympathies of the crowd. His crowd, who had paid a few shillings to watch their team. Can you imagine RvP running a pub? Radford did and he was responsible for as much of Arsenal’s history as Van Persie. And he scored more goals.
RvP was not the first to tread this path. Fabregas, Adebayor, Hleb, even Clichy, all left Arsenal in poor circumstances to pursue their ‘dreams’. All played a part in the failures of the teams of which they were a part to win’ trophies’. All hid behind Arsenal’s ‘lack of ambition’ to ignore their role in those failures and to move to clubs that showed ‘more ambition’. Yes, I mean Barca and Manchester City. The former hocked to the eyeballs and the later built on an oil states’ bottomless well of money. In other words, ambition equals willing to spend any amount to bring success. It does not mean spending hundreds of millions on a new stadium and state of the art training facilities. Shallow doesn’t begin to describe that definition of ambition, squalid doesn’t do justice to the behaviour of already outrageously rich young men pursuing dreams of avarice.
Nor do history and loyalty have any part to play. RvP, a bad boy, was picked up by Wenger, polished and nurtured, given responsibility and carried through the bad times when injury could, and would at many clubs, have seen him offloaded. Join the pantheon of Arsenal Heroes? A Legend in the making? Show some loyalty to the club that suffered your numerous absences and made you captain? Not interested. Show me the money.
Make no mistake, the excuse of a lack of ambition by Arsenal is a fig leaf to cover both naked greed and the pretence that titles are not being bought by men with more money than some national economies. They might as well put the Premiership title up for sale to the highest bidder every year. What ambition does it take to spend whatever you like, whenever you like, to sign any player you like when you have as much money as Croesus?
Some will argue that RvP first duty is to himself, his career is short. Rainy days may lie ahead. To them I suggest they work out what RvP will earn in the rest of his career on his current salary, never mind what he might get elsewhere, and compare it to what they might expect to earn between now and retirement. Some will swallow the ‘desire to win trophies’ and heap their opprobrium onto Arsenal. For a vision of the shallowness of such people, I point them at Piers Morgan’s recent diatribes and the unashamed opportunism of another ridiculously rich man, Usmanov. Anyway, does anyone really think that he will end up at Borussia Dortmund?
Haven’t Arsenal always done this as well? Taken players from ‘smaller’ clubs in pursuit of titles? Of course we have bought many players from clubs both willing and reluctant to sell. However, the vast majority of such deals have been made between willing parties, not the result of players deliberately setting out to harm the club that fed and nurtured them and being prepared to destroy their own credibility and standing in the process. Transfer deals have always been part and parcel of football. Most clubs survive by discovering and selling on talent. In what sense anyway are Arsenal a ‘small’ club? We don’t need Sheik Mansour’s money to survive.
Certainly, the pass was sold a long time ago. TV money changed the game forever, bringing about the Premiership and the ending of the previous system of income distribution throughout the Football League. The ‘ambition’ and greed of the ‘big clubs’ which curiously included Oldham, (turkeys? Christmas?) at the time of the vote of the First Division clubs, combined with a supine FA, the ‘Guardians of the Game’ meant the end of footballing innocence. We played our part. David Dein was a key mover in that process. We loved Highbury but we are proud of ‘The Emirates’.
Ever since, the story of top class football has been one of rich men, players, owners, Board members, agents and a few bureaucrats getting richer while we, the fans, pay huge ticket prices and satellite TV subscriptions. Have we been guilty of trying to ignore the elephant in the room? Almost certainly. Football is going nowhere you’d recognise as the sport of our youths. There will be no place for romance except that packaged up by the TV companies on the day of the third round of the FA cup. It’s going nowhere I want to be.
For a long time now, I have struggled to justify the cost of watching football on TV, never mind the price of going to a live match, even going to Argyle with a couple of Grandsons sets me back the best part of a £70. The whole tenet of the game is at odds with my lifestyle and beliefs. Can I sustain the dichotomy any more? Probably, for now, but I’m not happy about it and the day will surely arrive, unthinkable a few years ago, when I walk away from it.
No longer will I invest any emotional capital in players who wear the shirt. I will support them and wish them well as long as they are at Arsenal, but I shall expect nothing of them but that they give their all on the pitch and don’t piss in their own well. (Thanks Jonny). As for the whole bloated bureaucracy of the Premiership, FA, EUFA and FIFA, and the rich men who toy with our heritage, they can go hang.
I accept that this will not be the case for younger fans who have grown up with the Premiership as their only experience. For them the soap opera that is Sky and the wider media, with its drama, rumour making, posturing and subterfuge is part and parcel of the game. To be enjoyed and discussed as much as the game itself. They have missed a lot but it’s hardly their fault. It was our generation that witnessed the betrayal of the game.
At the end of it, there’s one man standing. Arsene Wenger. If there remains any justifiable reason to continue supporting the club that is Arsenal, that is not based on our history, then it is him. In him, loyalty, intelligence and decency remains in football. What did he do to deserve the likes of RvP?
‘Jumpers for goalposts, isn’t it‘? No, not any more. The love I gave hangs in sad coloured, mocking shadows.