Here's what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defenses each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.
-- Bill Hicks
Amy Lawrence writes about Arsenal, and has done so brilliantly and intelligently for two decades, for the Guardian and the Observer. She also wrote a fantastic book about the Invincibles, which you should check out, if you have the cheddar. In yesterday's Guardian, however, she wrote a post entitled "Arsenal and Tottenham supporters have every right to question their clubs" that I find sort of surprising, and a bit worrying. Please go have a peek at it if you haven't already.
Rather than giving her the Fire Paul Hayward treatment (in no way does she, or will she ever, deserve that particular indignity), I thought I'd briefly address some of the things she brought up in hopefully a non-contrarian way -- this post is less about disagreeing with her feelings and frustrations, and more about how different my experience with Arsenal is at the moment. So, in that spirit: onward.
Ms. Lawrence opens with several paragraphs about the use of loud PAs to drum up noise at Premier League venues, and I honestly couldn't agree more. This is not to say that I think that if the supporters aren't Partizan-Belgrade-level terrifying for 90 minutes, they've failed, but I find the idea of using super-loud-bad music to provide entertaining atmosphere for kids of all ages (or something) to be short-sighted, and, used in the way that she describes at the end of Spurs' loss to Stoke, discouraging/(hilarious)/mostly discouraging. Honestly, if the idea is to get supporters to make noise, playing loud-ass music that nobody likes to sing along with is the wrong way to go. So, I'm with her on this one.
The next topic, however, is one of voicing discontent:
Yet if fans bring a more critical voice, well, it is blind-eye and deaf-ear time from on high. That is where the disconnect is so keenly felt.
I have two questions about that: 1) was there a time in history when club presidents/chairs/CEOs/managers rushed out to accommodate those with grievances? 2) was there a time in history when fans voiced their displeasure as much as they have in the past ten years, and 2a) [ed. note: I lied] is there really a disconnect?
Nos. 1 and 2 are probably unanswerable, and 2a, well, chairpersons of large companies tend to have one measurement that they pay attention to as far as "disconnects" go, and it's the same measurement that leads to Maseratis (calm down, you in the back). Complaints about that are complaints about market capitalism, not complaints about football clubs, and I think they should be addressed differently.
But I can sympathize with supporters who feel like a piece of their history, their childhood, is disappearing before their eyes. In this case, there is a tradeoff, though -- and pardons if this is too black and white -- Arsenal could never remain the Highbury-housed, pee-running-down-the-terraces, all-singing-75000-at-an-FA-Cup-quarterfinal, club of the 1970s if they were also to remain the winning-things-every-few-years club they historically had been. That's just how this works. We know fairly well how team wages correlate with table position, and it's about what you'd expect (we'll see how this year turns out). Ticket prices are indeed very high at the Emirates, but for Arsenal to compete in a sustainable, capitalist way, they are where they need to be. Are there anti-capitalist, anti-market arguments to be made against the ticket prices? Yep. Are there anti-Arsenal arguments to be made? Possibly, but then, we come to this:
Both clubs tick over so healthily from a financial perspective it is hard for either board to accept any finger-pointing. However, the question of whether they have put in place the healthiest environment for their clubs to flourish is valid...
...Being financially viable is not success and fans have every right to say that loud and clear.
I cannot agree with Ms. Lawrence, here. It is not that that Arsenal or Tottenham boards are infallible. I cannot even speculate, though, about what she or anyone else would advocate as a healthier environment or a more flourishing one than the ones currently in place in North London. Presumably a better on-the-pitch product would help, and I think that's being addressed, but I don't know how that ties in with the rest of her post -- ticket prices, nope, thinking Wenger isn't frustrated, nope.
It's also a bit disingenuous to make the claim that "being financially viable is not success", not least because it's a straw man. Presumably the alternative is "not being financially viable", and while I'm not an economist, that's not a path to success of either a fiduciary or a footballistic type. Even clubs like Chelsea, initially about as concerned with financial prudence as a six-year old in the Lego aisle at Target, have worked their way to terrifying financial stability.
Something has changed in supporter culture, I think. One trophy every seven or eight years used to be basically the norm, and is basically the norm, for every successful football club in England bar two, historically, on average. If Arsenal had not moved from Highbury, it's hard to see that that average would improve in the future very much for the Gunners. (To claim that it SHOULD be more is, also, to claim that there SHOULD now be fewer clubs with a fair chance at trophies every year, which frankly is depressing as hell, and, I'm pretty sure, the opposite of the point Ms. Lawrence is trying to make about supporters and clubs and history).
It is incumbent upon those making the arguments that the club should listen to disgruntled supporters' ideas to explain how those ideas, once implemented, would improve things for the club and not solely for said supporters. I think those cases, though, are very hard to make, at least without resort to demands that the rich owners of clubs pour personal fortune into the hopes of winning, which, well, if pigs could fly, they'd be my uncle.
I am completely sympathetic with the feeling that something has been lost in what going to football matches used to be about, particularly for the 37,000 (now 60,000--hey, that's 23,000 more kids that get to have awesome experiences like supporters had in the 1970s!). I get the sense of loss. I get the nostalgia.
But I'm also an American. I am one of the millions of "other" supporters Arsenal has taken on board since the early 1990s. I do not pay taxes in London. I do not hold season tickets. I do pay for Arsenal Player, and I'm glad for it. I pay Arsenal very indirectly through my cable package. Where Ms. Lawrence seems to sense loss and discontent, I feel only a gift and excitement. I imagine the feeling is much the same for supporters in Santiago, in Sierra Leone, in Singapore. I mean my man ran FIVE MILES ALONGSIDE THE CLUB BUS in Vietnam. I can't even drive five miles.
We know why he gets to feel that excitement, and we know what his excitement brings to the club. The hit in the pocket that the 60,000 feel is stiff, but that hit is the consequence of bringing The Arsenal, the joy, the passion, the tears, the OH MY GOD ALEXIS IS WEARING OUR CHRISTMAS SWEATER, to those millions. I say that this is a good thing.
We have our memories, and nobody should ever take those away, for each of the millions, and not just the 60,000. At least until the day, if the pieces fall into place, we can all see the Arsenal for free and explore outer space together, maybe at the same time.