There was a time when being an Arsenal fan was easy.
You just showed up at the ground on a Saturday afternoon, got in a semi-orderly queue at the gate you always used, stood where you alway stood, bought a bag of roasted peanuts, spoke to the same people and went home happy or sad.
Football was largely a working-class sport, admittance fees were reasonable and the jostling was all part of the experience. Even when we played Spurs at home it was not unusual to be standing next to groups of their fans on the North Bank. The chanting was fairly good-natured and despite the occasional alcohol-fuelled shouting match, lives were seldom at risk.
I am told that, back in the 50′s and 60′s, there were plenty of north London supporters who, having a First Division match as part of their regular Saturday routine, along with a few beers and perhaps a plate of pie and mash, would go to watch Arsenal and Spurs on alternate weekends.
Given the overtly tribal nature of supporters these days this seems a total impossibility now. Completely out of the question. But these guys were mates who often worked together and might even be operating the same machines or sitting next to each other the following Monday morning.
Hillsborough changed a lot of things of course. The introduction of all-seater grounds was something that I welcomed, but others did not. Being a football fan then had never had such negative connotations. Then, later, the Premier League and Sky came along, football got a huge injection of cash and all of a sudden there was really serious money in the game and Jean-Marc Bosman later ensured that it would be the players who got most of it?
I can remember listening to a radio program talking about how a rich man by the name of Jack Walker was looking to recruit none other than Kenny Dalglish as manager of Blackburn Rovers who, at the time, were a team in another division, in some far-off part of the land oop north. But he did and they won the Premier League. Blackburn fans couldn’t quite believe what had happened I am sure. It was to be the first time that new money had shouted quite so loudly, but it wouldn’t be the last by any means.
Transfer fees spiraled and admittance prices rose and we paid. In George Graham’s last year at Arsenal my season ticket was £348 (I think) although the football on offer wasn’t even worth that. George was dishonorably discharged for financial irregularities but by then both his lustre and fan’s support had worn thin and the phrase “George Knows” had a very hollow ring to it.
Where next for the Gunners and their supporters?
Then Arsenal did the completely unthinkable and if you weren’t a full-time fan at the time then I cannot impress upon you just what a bombshell of a surprise it was.
We signed Dennis Bergkamp for £7.5 million. I almost have to read that again to remind myself that it happened. Oh and we also signed a fading and increasingly chinless David Platt for much too much money at the same time.
After the punishment of the previous season I had decided to let my season ticket go but the allure of seeing a genuine class player like Dennis added to the thought of hopefully not seeing Hillier or McGoldrick again, changed my mind. The architect of this was David Dein.
It was a sure sign of how much difference quality signings could make to the financial enthusiasm of a club’s fanbase and Dennis’ contributions to the re-birth of Arsenal Football Club should never be underestimated, although I have often asked myself if Wenger himself would have sanctioned that transfer.
After a season treading water under a traditional, but unadventurous manager in Bruce Rioch, Dein was at it again. Through him Arsenal recruited a complete unknown in Arsene Wenger and this became arguably the biggest turning point in the club’s history. I can remember the Arsene Who? headlines well.
I can also remember Alan Sugar, who had been acting like a complete pillock down the other end of Seven Sisters Road for some time, giving it large about the Bergkamp signing. In his footballing wisdom he was saying it was stupid and a complete waste of money. He was mouthing off to anyone who would listen about Carlos Kickaball, seething about wages and washing his car with Klinnsman’s shirt, begrudging every penny that the players earned while, at the same time, trying to sell the public products bearing the name Amstrad, a word which has since become synonymous with quality in the world of electronics.
Just how has that bloke become a millionaire? It is a complete mystery, like most things to do with Spurs’ finances.
So, great things began to happen on the pitch. Wenger seriously did change English football and in doing so made a lot of friends and admirers but, because he was not an Englishman like Bobby Robson, or a Scot like Ferguson and was an intelligent and erudite man, he also made a bunch of enemies too, especially in the rabidly xenophobic press. But, who cared, because, while all this stuff was going on, Arsenal were getting stronger and it was a truly great time to be a Gooner.
Dein and Wenger made a formidable pair and Danny Fiszman was bright enough to provide them with the money they needed while Peter Hill-Wood lapped up the hospitality and vintage Port at grounds throughout the country seeing the world through a cloud of cigar smoke while uttering a string of irrelevancies.
For us, the fans, it was all very positive. Dein told us he looked the mirror every morning and asked himself how he could get a better team. This was music to our ears. This is what we would do – right? We were dumbstruck at just how good Wenger was, although season ticket prices had begun to rise and the people we were used to sitting next to we’re changing every year. Now I had lawyers, actors and journalists where before I had office workers, plumbers and plasterers.
A generalisation, yes, but believe me, it was happening.
The Internet was rising in popularity and as everyone was getting a computer at home we began dialing into the increasing number of websites devoted to our club. A post would be followed by the opportunity to respond so that everyone could see your opinion and give their own.
Now, most Arsenal fans that I know are fairly level-headed people. They have their own opinions, based largely on what they see, on all things Arsenal. They will talk to you all day about Wenger, the team, the players, tactics, transfers etc and you will have heard and considered most of the arguments and perhaps have a view yourself. But what started happening on some of the sites was unusual and in some ways, quite disturbing.
There was a new breed of lone nutter appearing and their currency was hate and they needed no excuse to spread it like manure on a field. No insult was too base or disgusting and emboldened by the lack of responsibility shown by those who moderated the posts on these sites, they plumbed new depths of hatred and their utter contempt for Wenger and the team was spewed out layer by layer and drenched in the kind of language that made you feel like you needed a wash. To their everlasting credit, most sites understood what was actually happening here and banned their filth through strict moderation.
So, if there are inevitably a small minority of weirdos, the Internet has also given a welcome voice to thousands and thousands of others who can commiserate and disagree with each other openly and with minimal rancour and have a bit of fun doing so, as we do on Highbury House.
In many ways the internet has made supporting Arsenal more democratic and inclusive as I am sure that the mood of the fans is picked up at the club who monitor the net and the fan’s feelings. But, to maintain the Arsenal Universe’s sense of balance, it has also helped to spread high levels of negative posturing too and given hosts of people the chance to claim inside knowledge of what is happening at our club. Because with Arsenal there is always the chance that disappointment is just round the corner and we have all been here so many times before haven’t we?
The arrival of Abramovich and the Sheikh of Manchester City will, in time I believe, be looked back on as very bad things for English football as will the mega TV deal that has just been struck. This is because we all know that, despite the insane amounts of cash swilling around in the game, somehow it will mean more outlay for us and more money in the player’s pockets and let’s face it, they can never have enough can they? Even in times of savage recession with people losing their jobs and struggling to keep afloat amidst great hardship, they seem to want even more.
With the competition becoming what Wenger aptly described as “financially doped”, Arsenal, in one of the dumbest moves in their history, decided that David Dein, one half of the most successful partnership the club had ever known and a man seemingly essential to us remaining competitive in a changing footballing landscape, was shown the door.
Some boardroom disagreements and falling outs were considered by Danny and Hill-Wood to be more important than all the good things that Dein was accomplishing. We, the fans, scratched our collective heads and will never know what really went on, but let us not forget that Stan Kroenke had been introduced to the club by DD and PHW didn’t like that at all. He told us as much in one of his famous foot-in-mouth proclamations.
Cutting off your nose to spite your face is a dubious tactic at the best of times and is hardly likely to find favour with your paying supporters who crave success on the field and don’t care if the board members like each other or not.
The fact that Arsenal have won precisely zero since Dein left might be thought of as a pure coincidence, but then again it might not.
Written by Adam
Most of Fleet Street finest report that Fergie is ahead in the race to sign our captain, old red nose wants him to join up with Wayne Rooney is a move that he believes will bring the Premier League back to Old Trafford. Funny though, if you read some of the Manchester United fans comments, not all of them want him…
After Steven N’Zonzi handed in a transfer request yesterday, if was inevitable that the red tops would link him to us and The Sun have done just that. According to them, we watched the player last year, as did Chelsea and Sunderland so watch this space with that story.
Have a good day all…