Breach of trust

wsc303Relations between club and fans are fraught at Arsenal, where a new stadium has left some feeling short-changed, reports Matthew Bazell

A lot of accusations have been levelled at Arsenal fans recently, claiming we are a spoilt bunch of ingrates who have no right demanding better from our team. We are told we should be happy where we are because things could always be worse. I do not go to games any more, partly because modern-day prices are a rip-off, but when I put myself in the position of Arsenal season ticket holders I came to the conclusion that, if I spent that kind of money for admission, I too would be incredibly demanding.

If I were to pay the highest ticket prices in world football, I would expect something near to the highest standards in world football. After all, fans of clubs like Arsenal are told that if you want the best you have to pay for it. Would anyone classify this Arsenal team as being the best in England, let alone Europe? Yet the cheapest season ticket at Arsenal is around seven times more expensive than the cheapest season ticket at Bayern Munich.

Instead of Arsenal fans being spoilt, you could argue that the club are the ones who are indulged. They underachieve but still sell out a highly priced stadium. If it cost less to follow Arsenal, there would not be the same level of dissatisfaction. I can back that up from recent history.

I have followed Arsenal since 1986 and the only team I have seen that were as bad as this current bunch was the mid-1990s side. George Graham had lost his magic touch and Arsenal had become mediocre. Fans wanted the team to be better, but I do not recall anywhere near the same level of animosity, and even hatred, towards the club from its own fans. I do not use the word “hatred” flippantly. There are Arsenal fans out there who hate much of what the club stands for now. That is a major change.

Back in the mid-1990s we were disgruntled to see John Jensen and Ian Selley feature in midfield, but there was not the same bitterness towards the club. We just wanted and hoped for better. How could I have felt bitter about an affordable club that played in a beautiful art-deco stadium for a fanbase to whom I could relate?

The club has since sold its soul, introducing commercial stadium-branding, prioritising corporate hospitality and excluding the less well-off with ticket prices. That is why Arsenal supporters have every right to demand a better standard of team. The change of culture that came with the move to the Emirates Stadium was supposed to be a compromise for success – success in football terms of course. I imagine the board are pretty chuffed with the annual profits.

When the team is not successful, fans are left feeling short-changed, supporting a club with an impersonal corporate identity that is very costly to follow. It is not difficult to see why resentment emanates from that kind of environment. Modern-day football culture has bred this monster in the stands, now they have to feed the beast what it demands. One bad season outside the top four will be enough for Manchester United fans to call for Alex Ferguson’s head. A couple of defeats in February saw Spurs fans on radio talkshows insisting Harry Redknapp is not the man to move the club forward.

Fans are told that football is now just a business. Well, the business world can be fickle and unmerciful. If things do not go to plan, heads will roll. Attending fans are the heavily burdened financial backers of the football business, and therefore feel justified in demanding certain standards from their high investment. Some may feel sympathy for those on the end of such demanding pressure, while others will say it is simply a case of reaping what you sow.

From WSC 303 May 2012