Saturday 15 November 2014

Why Do We Do It? On Football, Arsenal, Wenger, Fans & Journalists

It is amazing the effect football has on us. Grown men, women and children alike. People of different background, class, social standing and by whatever demographics you choose to classify the human race. 

The outcome of football matches has resulted in death by heart attack (, murder (, wars ( martial splits and relationship breakdown (  

You get a sense of these things by staying close to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook on a typical English Premier League Weekend. In a 90 minute period and in the hours before and after a match, you can see fans of different clubs experiencing extremes of emotion going from one end of the pain spectrum to the delirium that extreme joy brings depending on the fortune of the team they support. Over the space of a few weeks, fans (*cough cough* not saying anything about the Toon Army) go from asking that their manager be strung up at the Tower of London to shamelessly enjoying the results conjured up by the same manager. The latest one I heard was a fan justifying this extreme by claiming that the pressure they placed on the manager led to the turnaround in the fortunes of the team. I fervently disagree with this point and in the words of David Runciman ( I choose to see such improvements as a "reversion to the mean" especially where there is no obvious change of personnel or tactics.  

I speak from personal experience and I remember my teams' UEFA Champion League Quarter final 2nd leg match at Highbury in 2004 versus Chelsea. Win by one goal and we were through to the semi final. Did we get that one goal. You bet we did. Then we gave it away twice - first to Fat Frank off maybe Jens Lehman's nervousness and then to flipping Wayne Bridge (not Maradona or Pele). Wayne Bridge scored against us. In the words of The Guardian reporter "he ghosted past 4 static Arsenal bystanders". Lord help me. We were out. 

In my opinion and I have spoken with a lot of passionate Arsenal fans since then, that was the year Arsenal should have / could have won the Champions league. Monaco managed by Didier Deschamps in the semi final and Porto managed by Mr Motormouth himself played in the final. I believe if Arsenal had defeated Chelsea we could have won by a huge margin versus Porto that condemned Motormouth to the dustbin of football history. No we didn't. We threw it away. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. Me, the dad of a lovely young boy. A young man with diagnosed high blood pressure and a highly pressured job. I was upset. Left the house. Went for a walk for what must have seemed like eternity. Came back home and still couldn't sleep. I guess I fell asleep at last but said never again. Footballers and their managers earn bucket loads of money win or lose. What is it with me killing myself for my love of the team?

I buried myself in religion (God never fails) and became a passive fan. Unfortunately after a few years and like a miserable drug addict, i returned to my favourite high. I have been feeding my addiction for the past few years. I have been subtly deceiving myself that i am not addicted and can stop getting my fix when never i want. Increasingly, it is clear this is not the truth. 

I was extremely elated in 2011 when it appeared Professor Wenger took the League Cup seriously and we rocked up to the Cup Final. I had tried to pull all stops to get a ticket for the final without success. Unfortunately I was denied the pleasure of even watching the match on TV. I was summoned to pick up the kids and to return them exactly when the final was on. Faced with a choice between my kids and the match, i chose my dear kids and thank God they saved me from the heartache of watching us lose. Not watching the match sometimes makes the heartache less painful and less heart attack inducing. 

May 2014 was a different experience. Fortunately my big brother got me a ticket for the FA cup final. I was wearing my expect anything from Arsenal demeanour. And they didn't disappoint. 2 nil down in 8 minutes. A better team with all respect to Hull FC could have been 4 ahead in 16 minutes. I was laughing and I dare any true Arsenal fan to claim they were surprised. Fortunately, we clawed it back and won. Threw the 10 year monkey off our back and looked at the future with optimism. WONT YOU WANT TO BE A GOONER *music* (My version of the Ooh To be Gooner chant)

Why all these long talk? It is because of the last few months as an Arsenal fan (the off / close season and the current season). I would love to be able to interview Arsene Wenger. I would love for the journalists who cover the clubs press conferences to ask difficult questions with follow up. if questions are rationed, they should coordinate themselves such that one leads and the others ask follow up questions. If the football journalists need any help, they are welcome to watch Prime Ministers Questions. You do not need a subscription to watch that, just the TV licence (don't get me started on that scam). I would love for there to be genuine scrutiny not hostile like the mob that bayed for AvB's head but a serious and professional one. The journalists owe it to us fans, it is their job to hold the people in power and authority accountable. The fans don't have any other outlet to constructively engage their clubs, demand for change, seek answers and understanding. I would love a situation where the Club Chairman (any Club Chairman) doesn't think it is appropriate to make these comments ( I am yet to see a more arrogant statement designed to cover up what appears to be a dividend disguised as payment for services. To break it down. That is the annual wage of a decent English Premier League player. 

If I am one of these journalists covering the press conferences, I would ask Arsene the following:

Is there a plan? Is the Board aware of this plan? Whose plan is it? What role does the Board play in developing this plan? How is the plan monitored? 

How did we get to a stage where we have only three fit senior defenders  - Per, Monreal & Chambers (if you choose to call Chambers a senior defender) this was during the Sunderland match). How? Are we a big club? or are we a joke? I get the 'not bringing players in who are no better than those in our squad' thing? But is there anybody in the club who genuinely believed that we had our full complement of defenders in the closing hours of the transfer window? Is there a Plan A, B, C to Z of player recruitment. Or is it all about poker faced negotiation and scrimping to save £1m here and there. A figure which is 0.6% of the wage bill of the club and could potentially in the worst case scenario have impacted the c£5m profits by the same amount or in the best case improve our league position such that we earned an extra £2 or £3m of revenue depending on league position or God forbid, win us more trophies. So is our player recruitment really about economics or is it a proverbial case of penny wise and pound foolish? 

Is it true that there is (or was) a policy to pay players roughly the same wages? What is the justification or football philosophy for this? 

Do we believe in tactical preparation for matches? Or are we so convinced of the 'rightness' of our ways that we don't alter our approach to the game whether we play a Lieciester side prepared to kick us till kingdom come or we play a Dortmund side who want to play and are happy for us to play or a Chelsea side prepared to both kick us, stop us from playing and insist on playing themselves? 

What is the magic behind 60th minute plus substitution? Is there something wrong with making substitutions at half time? Is there a tactical or philosophical reasoning behind this? 

Why is it so difficult to address issues quickly. Chambers was fed to the wolves at Swansea why didn't the bench address that issue quickly? It was obvious when Arteta limped off versus Anderlecht that the dynamics of the game had changed, people on the telly and in the stadium could see it, why can't the bench see it please? 

Does the club need extra help? All organisations evolve, if one man has been at the helm of an organisation for almost 20 years, surely the dynamics of that organisation would have changed in that time and we should be seeing new faces helping with the first squad in all aspects not just for things like injuries or youth team set up. 

To be completely open and honest, I do not belong to the Wenger Out brigade. I belong to the Wenger fix it brigade and the Wenger do the right thing brigade. He owes it to Arsenal and the fans. Football has such impact on peoples lives whether rightly or wrongly. He owes it to us to let us understand his 'modus operandi' without giving away any of his competitive advantages because at the moment all he is achieving is muting the defend button on all his supporters.    

As outlined at the beginning Arsene, for some of us fans, this football thingy has caused us lives, relationships and much more. life time managers go and come but we remain. We are Arsenal. 

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