13 January ~ Back home in Lincolnshire over Christmas, I bumped into Jim, an old school friend I hadn't seen for several decades. As I'd just enjoyed a glorious afternoon at Sincil Bank, we got to talking about football. Jim used to be a Grimsby fan, with Leeds as his "big" team. Not any more though. "I've got a season ticket at the Emirates," he said. When I raised my eyebrows at this he became a little defensive. "Been a Gooners fan for 20 years now," he added. Oh, the things London can do to a man.

By coincidence, I'd been at the Emirates the previous weekend, watching Arsenal dutifully beat Hull City. I mentioned to Jim that I'd paid more for the ticket than I'd ever paid for a game in my entire life and that included any of the six games I'd seen at the 2006 World Cup. When I told him how much (I'm afraid to say it was 50 quid), he said that was pretty reasonable. His season ticket was £3,750. In fact he has two – one for himself and one for whichever corporate client he's entertaining that weekend. My raised eyebrows were now joined by a severely dropped jaw.

Bearing these prices in mind, even allowing for the fact that Jim's season ticket was at the top end of the price range, a few things about my afternoon at the Emirates began to make more sense. In one respect, the emotional involvement of the fans around me was reassuring, especially when any Hull player had the audacity to foul one of the home team. Even if the referee immediately blew for a free-kick, there was an air of aggrieved lynch-mobbery about the crowd's reaction. My fears were swiftly assuaged that this all-seater super-stadium – reminiscent of the cold, concrete structures of American Football – would be a sedate host to casual, uncaring football tourists like myself, watching impassively and politely applauding the neat passing moves of the Premier League's neo-connoisseurs.

What surprised me, though, was the speed with which home fans rabidly turned on their own players. This was a straightforward win for a top three team against a weak opponent, yet the screams of outrage that greeted a misplaced pass by any Arsenal player were disproportionately alarming, to the point of being comical. Eduardo was cursed for every minor error like he'd cost £50 million and gone a year without scoring. Do none of these people remember Perry Groves and Charlie Nicholas? The Croatian striker scored a tap-in on the hour and was then, bizarrely, given a standing ovation when substituted 15 minutes later, by the very same people who'd just been baying at him with cherry-red anger. Goals, in contrast, were greeted in a rather more subdued manner, expected as the fans' due in return for their vast cash outlay.

It's perhaps facile to compare just one Premier League game with a single encounter from League Two but I much preferred the atmosphere at Lincoln's game versus Chesterfield one week later. Having previously only scored 13 League goals all season, Lincoln's two first-half scoring headers were greeted with a raucous mixture of surprise and delight. Perfection wasn't expected from the players as they eked out their first League win in over two months, the 2-1 victory secured when Chesterfield's Jack Lester skied over a penalty four minutes from time. No one got on the players' backs, even as they struggled and almost gave up a two-goal lead. And there was nothing as pretty as Abou Diaby's third goal for Arsenal against Hull but then I didn't pay anything close to £50 to get into Sincil Bank. You pays your money, you takes your choice.

But how much choice do Arsenal fans have? There must be thousands of them who miss Highbury compared with the Emirates, a functional, overground hole purpose-built to generate revenue. Nick Hornby recently told the German magazine Elf Freunde that he knows a lot of fans who still want George Graham back. And, according to an Emirates irregular I know, many locals yearn for Wenger's departure because they would rather see burly, Steve Bould-esque battlers in the team rather than all these artistic foreigners. Players they can relate to. Nowadays, these fans are watching football at the wrong level – Barnet and Orient would surely be better (not to mention cheaper) alternatives. But unless you're socially and sportingly mobile like Jim, switching allegiance is not an option for the vast majority of fans, no matter how much they've been milked for. The joy of watching football is therefore reduced to spending a fortune and then releasing your frustration by yelling out "Fakkin 'ell Eduardo!" at the top of your lungs. At those prices success is an entitlement and failure only merits bile and scorn. Ian Plenderleith

Comments (8)
Comment by Lincoln 2010-01-13 10:12:53

I am also a Lincoln fan and attended the Arsenal v Hull game. My experience from sat in the Gods was of an utterly souless stadium. I mentioned to my Dad that it was a bit like going to the the theatre. Between us we must have been to thousands of games but we both agreed this was the strangest game we had been to in terms of the feel of it. However the week after I went to Anfield for the Boxing day game and my faith in the Premiership was restored as there are propper atmospheres out there. Sure there are whines when it goes wrong but for the most part it was constant singing and encouragement. When I make it up to Lincoln from London on those 10 or so occasions a season I hear more whinging and booing than I do praise for the players. As Lincoln fans we have been treated to 5 years of success in an otherwise fairly dull 20 years and now we are back to normality people have been spoilt and act that way. This is arguably the same with Arsenal fans who are simply like Lincoln fans, yearning for the good times again.

Comment by imp 2010-01-13 15:27:47

Less like the theatre and more like the opera at those prices. Although I didn't like the Emirates, at least it was loud. I probably caught the Lincoln fans on a good day because they were winning and it was Christmas - compared with old times at Sincil Bank there was plenty of singing, noise and positive encouragement.

Comment by madmickyf 2010-01-15 01:37:46

So watching premier league football in a big, soulless concrete dome is an ultimately hollow experience? I could’ve told you that and saved you 50 quid!

Comment by Frank1234 2010-01-15 12:04:57

I'm sorry but this article is a load of rubbish and I'm struggling to think of the motives behind writing such a lop-sided, inaccurate account of the Emirates. It's always odd that we are portrayed in such a way, and then to also portray that this is some way completely different to any other football experience anywhere else, like this (inaccurate) example ONLY happens at Arsenal is more surprising.

This is more a view point of (a) a new fan of the PL of the late 90's / early 00's who's come into the game expecting to experience it as one might experience any other games he's attended before, like NHL Hockey, NFL Football, Rugby, Tennis or Cricket, or, (b) one of these fans who although attended the negative spite of the bygone terrace era has forgotten what it was like and now expects Football to automatically become like NHL Hockey, NFL Football, Rugby, Tennis or Cricket.

Lastly, all because Nick Hornby once wrote an average book that got turned into an even more average film (like all his other book to films) that in no way makes him capable of having or doe she have the right to talk about Arsenal fans as a whole. Why would he know any more than me, for example? Cause he wrote a book once? ‘Ohhh he wrote a book, he must know everything’

I don't know anyone who 'wants George Graham' back, not one single fan, yet Nick Hornby knows 'a lot'. I can only sit in state of total confusion as to the fans Nick Hornby is spending his time with cause it is not representative of ANY Arsenal fans I know.

And top that off you then state that an Emirates 'irregular' (and by that I suppose you mean someone who doesn't go much) knows 'many locals' who want a Steve Bould-esque burly coach in charge? How absolutely baseless is that? It’s so baselss as to be completely laughable. Who is this 'irregular' and what sort of survey has he done on 'local fans'? Completely unfounded and without fact.

Your article has no merit to it whatsoever.


Comment by irishgooner 2010-01-15 12:53:36

Interesting but utterly nonsensical (or just plain jealous!) article concerning a team universally applauded for their style of football, a manager universally applauded for his footballing philosophy and a club universally applauded for the manner in which they have built one of the finest stadiums in Europe on a virtual Cost neutral basis in order to compete with some of the most badly run, debt laden franchises in the world.

Emirates is full every game, prices notwithstanding. For every one person who wants Wenger gone, i'll wager there are 99 who want him to stay. For every one person who criticises an Arsenal player, i'll wager there are 99 who don't. I think you'll find that since the Eboue incident, and the massive support he received, there isn't the level of insults you're imagining, Ian. Coca cola cup prices weren't 50.00 by the way.

United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal - which is the model you'd like YOUR club to imitate most? Debts, debts, Rich Oligarch, or steady, considered, youthful development. Go figure.

Of further interest is that Nick Hornby told a German magazine. I don't think he'd risk saying that in the UK. He knows he'd be ridiculed all the way back to his mansion!

Honest Arsenal fans don't want George Graham back. Check out previous issues of WSC to see why.

One final thing. Arsenal have had no success in the last 4 years, unlike Lincoln sadly. Would you not consider that it might just be possible people are prepared to pay 50.00 to see Arsenal play, because they play the game the way it is SUPPOSED to be played? Glory hunters? I think not.

The issue on ticket prices IS worthy of debate, but inferences should not be drawn that Emirates is a "hole to generate revenue solely" on the strength of the ticket prices. It's FAR more than that.

With Liverpool in freefall, and Man United in financial freefall, i'm reminded of the famous quote from Hamlet -"The lady doth protest too much, methinks." Lincoln as a screen, perhaps Ian? You doth protest too much, methinks. Or, as i said earlier, perhaps you're just jealous!

Comment by Mr Beast 2010-01-15 14:48:57

The Emirates isn't full every game. The tickets might have been sold, but that's another story.

Comment by Steamer 2010-01-15 16:04:15

I have never been to Sincil Bank, but even I had, I would never claim to be a Lincoln aficionado who has the inside story on what the fans really think of the club. How pretentious of me would it be to sneer at the quality of your stadium or to generalise about the fans because of the oafishness of the odd supporter and the general uselessness of your team?

However, you thought it was acceptable to do this to my team, my club for the past 35 years. Your article is a form of inverse snobbery.

My only exposure to Lincoln City is when I watch the gorillas who follow England abroad with their flags proudly proclaiming an allegiance to ‘The Imps’ stamped over the red cross of St George, alongside flags from all those other dead-end towns and cities with rubbish football teams. What a bunch of neanderthal, glory-seeking, provincial tossers, I think. Now ... how objective an opinion is that?

Comment by stargooner 2010-01-15 16:42:13

I've got to agree somewhat with Frank1234 regarding the atmosphere at the Emirates. Having been to several other Premier League grounds including the Bridge, Old Trafford and Anfield I can testify that the c=fans there are no better and sometimes even worse.

As for Lincoln's comparison with Anfield I've been there once and there was no atmosphere. I have friends who go there every season and they say the same. Liverpool's European nights tend to produce some of their best crowd support as I'm sure most footy fans would testify to.

I'm not suggesting that the atmosphere at the Emirates is the anywhere near the best in the Prem and against Hull City, which is not a big game to most Gooners, it hardly likely to provide a typical match atmosphere for a Saturday afternoon in N7.

It's fair to say (and having sat in both areas) that the Club Level and Upper Tier are full of armchair supporters, people with money and little long term or passionate interest in the club. This results in at least half the ground regularly staying quiet unless a goal is scored or some outlandish injustice is thrust upon us!

We'd arguably have better support if prices were lower and real fans can go to the matches. I'm sure many ardent Gooners taht live locally can't afford to see their own team but on the other hand if that the case I'd probably not have a season ticket right now.

Oh, and for the record I sit in the Lower Tier behind the goal and vocally support the Arsenal.

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