Tuesday 12 May ~

When the Fast Show satirised new football fans in one of their best known sketches, the object of ridicule was an Arsenal supporter. He'd brought a hamper with him to the match, applauded an own goal by his team as if they had scored and showed his enthusiasm for his new hobby with a clenched fist yell of "Soccer!" at the end. Making him an Arsenal fan worked not because they have a monopoly on clueless arrivistes among their support but because he was representing the metropolitan middle class – a few years later he could have been depicted as a Chelsea fan.

Nonetheless, anyone who watched either of Arsenal's last two games will have seen plenty of men in replica tops, mostly the 1970-71 Double shirt, standing up and shouting. But they were angry rather than enthused and their target was the Arsenal manager. There's no reason to suppose that any of them were recently acquired supporters, which just makes their behaviour seem even worse.

Five days after their team were humiliated at home by Manchester United in their Champions League semi-final, the boos rained down from sections of the Emirates crowd when Arsenal lost 4-1 to Chelsea. Some didn't bother to jeer to but simply walked out during the match as they had done in the previous game. This defeat meant they were "condemned" to fourth place and potentially a tough route into next season's Champions League. It was their biggest home defeat since March 5, 1977 when Ipswich won by the same score at Highbury.

As was the case with the side beaten by Chelsea, the Arsenal team of 32 years ago contained several youngsters although Richie Powling, John Matthews and Trevor Ross didn't go on to have the sort of glittering careers that are prophesied for their counterparts today. Still, the team finished eighth that year, which was a considerable improvement on the preceding two seasons when they had ended up in the bottom seven.

Arsenal were in another slump when Arsène Wenger took over in 1996, since when they have won three titles including two Doubles and reached a Champions League final. Success always spoils some people and you can see hundreds of textbook cases of that at every Emirates home game now, all raging at having their sense of entitlement undermined. Of course, Wenger should not be immune from criticism – indeed his failings are being pored over throughout the football press, as though it was a national crisis. Most of the suggested remedies involve spending large amounts of money, at a time when other clubs are criticised by many of the same commentators for having irresponsibly built up huge debts.

If Wenger were to leave – which still seems unlikely, despite persistent overtures from Real Madrid – his replacement might indeed work his way through a small fortune, for a year or so until he too departs with the team even further behind the top three than they are now. Failing to win a trophy for four years is not a disaster, but an experience common to most football fans. Welcome to reality you stroppy Gooners. 

Comments (8)
Comment by Percinho 2009-05-12 15:25:10

Arsenal fans seem to be the ones most in the firing line at the moment despite them being no worse than any other fans in the country. It's not the four years without a trophy that gets the goat most, it's the fact that the same problems have been around for the last couple of years and there seems to have been no attempt to address them. Yet again an easy goal is scroed from a set piece. Wenger himself said about the need to bring in a dominant centre back yet failed to do so. He said last summer that a defensive midfielder woul;d be bought yet he wasn't.

What is a fan meant to do in this situation? Wenger and the team are not beyond criticism but how else is a fan meant to make his voice heard other than at the stadium? Phone-ins? Message Boards? Strongly worded letters to newspapers? No, you make your feelings felt at the ground. Having seen their team go backwards over the last year through faults that are readily identified yet not addressed I think Arsenal fans have every right to be unhappy. They've seen a team go from title challengers to also-rans in the space of one summer.

The reality is that this sort of behaviour happens up and down the country most weeks at one club or another. There seems to be a particular delight taken in seeing Arsenal fans unhappy, a vast amount of schadenfreude when they express opinions like pretty much any other set of fans around the country.

Comment by hullabaloo 2009-05-12 16:05:21

Good piece, and follows my thoughts. Percinho may well cite other fans as being the same but the point here, I'd say, is not fans being unhappy with the team/performances but rather expectations - and a sense of reality.

Wenger has built - again - a team playing beautiful football with an incredibly young side. Undefeated in 21 matches in the Prem, Champions' League semis... with an average age of 23. Twenty three!

And yet the fans are moaning about 'crap football' (as I overheard in an Islington pub last night. Quote: 'I'm not hanging around to watch that shit.') and not winning a trophy for four years. Well, boo-hoo, wouldn't we all like to be winning trophies every year?

For me this is yet another indication of where we are now with football. So I don't really blame the Arsenal fans - they're just a result of the times we find ourselves in. Sadly.

Comment by Percinho 2009-05-12 16:18:19

hullabaloo, I'm not about to try and defend fans who talk about it being 'crap football', but I feel that judging all Arsenal fans on people lioke that is akin to judging all Chelsea fans based on Tim Lovejoy. If anything most fans I know think that what's needed is a bit of steel to do more dirty work. an average age of 23 is great, but again it seems to be where aprt of the problem lies. There's been a visible lack of leadership on the pitch ever since Henry was appointed captain.

I'm not denying that ther are spoilt fans who follow Arsenal, but I also think that there are a great many who are seeing a side on the slide due to problems which have existed for a few years and not been addressed. Taking issue with that is not the province of the modern fan, or a state of the times, but what fans have been doing for many years.

Comment by ale 2009-05-12 20:50:16

dont get whats so disgraceful about not winning a major trophy in 4 years ( though its probably pertinent to add Im a Newcastle Utd fan)...but still...

English football is traditionally the domain of 2 great clubs...Man Utd & Liverpool who have managed to win trophies in most decades of the professional game as well as taking advantage of the European competions not available to their predecessors..Arsenal were late challengers to domestic trophies having to wait until the 1930s but since the early 1950s each trophy came along on an 18 years basis until George Graham...Wenger has significantly reduced that gap as well as destroying the lucky Arsenal jibe that originated in the 1930s..

Comment by fbrazolin 2009-05-12 21:46:25

The fans have all the rights to be upset with their teams, but booing such a young squad is not going to help.

Comment by Portmuthian_Blue 2009-05-13 08:26:59

Arsenal fans don't know they're born sometimes. If they're fed up of watching Fabregas, van Persie, Walcott, Arshavin and all the rest every week, then there's something wrong with them. I'd be really quite pleased if Wenger managed to win the League or European Cup sticking to his principles.

They only really need to sign a central midfield hod-carrier and a centre back in the summer, with maybe a couple of squad players. The strikers certainly don't need adding to - Adabayor, van Persie, Vela and Bendtner is light years ahead of the strength in depth Liverpool or Chelsea have up top.

Comment by Nilsatis 2009-05-15 00:17:14

Whaddya mean?!!?! Trevor Ross was ..... no, you're right, he was cack.

Comment by jonesylar 2009-05-15 12:20:26

I agree with percinho and other comments. Are we watching a sport, and following a game, or desperately craving trophies? What if we were Wigan or Blackburn or Portsmouth fans? Would we stop going to support the team? No. Instead of a 'must be top' attitude, I've always had a 'want to be top' attitude. Also, what's wrong with 21-23 year old footballers? Are boxers, rowers, tennis stars, dancers, pop stars all above this magical 25 years old?

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