Arsenal and adidas have done it again with the release video for the 2020-21 3rd kit. I mean, come on. Be My Yellow. Ian Wright. Highbury marble. This one is great, too. On its face, it’s another fantastic piece that tugs at the heartstrings of what it means to be an Arsenal supporter. We see ourselves as part of a family and are bound to the club by ties that go deep.
But the “family” message rings a bit hollow this year. Arsenal asked the players to take a paycut back in March to help with the financial strain of pausing the season, which almost all of them took. Despite that, last month, the club laid off 55 employees in what they described as a restructuring. 55 people. In the middle of a pandemic. I guess only the part of the “family” that matters are the ones who give money to Arsenal, not vice-versa.
To that end, the club sent out a ham-fisted email a few weeks ago, crying poverty and pleading with supporters to put down season ticket deposits. “The Initial Payments will help us protect our revenues and cash flow which have been severely impacted due to the pandemic.” To echo PDB, there are 55 “family” members who also had their cash flow severely impacted due to the pandemic. What about them?
I get it. It’s the nature of the beast. The business of football is an ugly, hypocritical one. If you didn’t know that before the pandemic hit, I think the behavior of not just Arsenal but all the big clubs should have revealed that to you. The juxtaposition of having enough money to sign Gabriel Magalhaes and give Pierre-Emerick Aubameyanga shiny new contract with layoffs is jarring. Try as they may to convince you otherwise, it’s not a family. It’s a business.
And it’s a one way street. Supporters feel that deep, family connection to the club, but the club doesn’t reciprocate it. At least they don’t all the time in the same, unconditional way fans love them. They’ll use that siren-song to get you to pull out your wallet, but they’ll change their tune as it suits the bottom line. We’re fungible. If you cancel your season tickets in protest, they’ll just go to the next name on the list.
I’ll admit — this is a more cynical, pessimistic tone and view than I normally take. I’m sure there are many at the club who do feel connected to the supporters. I number Mikel Arteta as one of them. He seems to truly believe what he says about family and the club values, his “non-negotiables” that he shares in the video.
Arteta saying, “it’s okay to get angry as long as it comes from the right place. And even though family can hurt us like nobody else...” jumped out at me. It’s likely more of a nod to the special kind of frustration and pain that only something so close to your heart can cause, but I think there may be a flicker of self-awareness and humility there.
But Arsenal, as a business entity, serves two masters: the points total and the bottom line.
That’s how they get you. And they’ve got me, again. They play the notes, and I sing the tune. “And it’s Arsenal, Arsenal F-C! And we’re far the greatest team, the world has ever seen.”
The video is great. The diverse cast of Arsenal supporters. A Kanu highlight and him saying “Gunners for life.” Rocky Rocastle. Vivianne Miedema flickering into a shot of Dennis Bergkamp and back. The Henry statue in triumphant pose with Mikel saying “we know where we belong.” And to end with “this is family, this is Arsenal” over supporters singing. They’ve done it again.
Shout out to the native closed-captioning in the video. Most of us probably don’t give that bit a second thought, but it’s an important accessibility thing.
It’s a smart move to put Mikel front and center. After nearly two decades of seeing Arsene Wenger as the face of the club, Gooners are accustomed to having a larger-than-life manager. Arsenal are setting Mikel Arteta up to be that figure, the heir to the throne. And I’m ready (already, after just 29 matches of him in charge) to follow wherever he leads.
I want to believe everything he tells me in the video. I desperately want those things to be true. I want it to mean more that I support The Arsenal over any other football club. And I choose to think that it does, even when the more rational part of me tries to slow my roll. Because at the end of the day, I don’t want my sports fandom to always be ruled by my rational side. I’ll listen to it. It plays a part. But right now, I’m all-in on “this is family, this is Arsenal***.” The asterisks help me feel better about my hypocrisy.
By the way, my thoughts on red clubs wearing blue notwithstanding, the kits are dope. And I’m a rube. A self-aware one, but still a rube.