This is not the sort of article you might expect from me. A nice, well written, positive (some say naive, some say Arsene Knows Best) article on a club not doing so well. Nor will it be some vague attempt of mine to seem tactically astute. Today I want to talk about something that has bothered me for a long time. It is something that will engage, and be relevant to, all Arsenal fans. It is noticeable in almost every paper, on every footballing website, and all day long on twitter. It is this notion that Arsenal fans, by and large, consist of these distinct yet homogenous groups of people, by whose association our identity as Gooner is formed. It pis*es me off. And today I hope to dissect it, but if not, at least discuss it, and hopefully change a few people’s warped views on the matter.
For the last week or two I have spent most of my day on twitter and reading articles of all kinds on football but mainly our beloved football club, mainly because I am once more in the unlucky realm of single people. And whilst the divides and the media rhetoric have been around for much longer than any of us seem to appreciate, things are getting worse. Gooners are, much more than any group of fans I could discern, a group that are being spoken for, more and more, and in more subtle ways than before. From the Adrian Durhams and the other morons on cheap media to the tabloid journos seeking a new thrill, the enemies of old, we have gone to the lengths of Arsenal fans being put into groups, from AKB to WOB, from positive to negative to plain cynical; we have big bloggers (with massive followings and as such, massive impact) becoming more and more negative; we have the so called spokespersons for the fans making a mockery of the entire principle of spokespersons and we have the insane former Gunners and famous Gooners, the Piers Morgans, the Niall Quinns and the other off centred individuals. All of a sudden (or perhaps gradually, but the first remark sounds better) we are the most fragmented and least realistically represented bunch of supporters in the nation. And it has to stop.
If you look at the papers or other mainstream media these days, the way Arsenal seems a scapegoat is something that could rouse some ire, but that is not the issue today. Right now what worries me is how we have lost our voice, our individual personality. In the papers even classy journalists seem to rely on the (to many) biased views espoused by so called spokespersons like Tim Payton (who we will get to later) or the Black Scarf people instead of seeing Arsenal fans as a bit more than that. On the TV the negative banners and songs, no matter how few, seem to get more attention than any number of songs in support of both players and club. This sort of behaviour always gets exacerbated at clubs with a less than successful season and I can fully agree ours is of that category. Yet it does not merit the spin of a club in crisis, nor of a club whose entire fanbase is baying for blood.
The realism, the rationality, is gone. On my twitter timeline I have hundreds of intelligent (mostly), interesting Gooners with the ability to think for themselves. There is an insane amount of boxing people in, of making a person into one kind of fan, yet there are also all these individuals who criticise when needed, who relate to issues when applicable, and who support the club and its staff whenever possible, simply because of their love for the club. These are the Gooners I know. The same sort of people I spoke to last time I went over to London for a glorious day supporting The Arsenal (and that is another debate I’d love to host, that of foreign fans being genuine, but another time perhaps). There is so much more to 80% of reasonable fans than AKB or WOB, so much more than people praying for new transfers or people just praying we don’t play Santos or Squillaci. Yet I feel that side of our fans is insanely misrepresented.
It scares me when an entire fanbase is slowly (and the intelligent, reasonable people I speak of are the last to go) becoming a divided group without any individual thought. If a big name with a lot of followers tweets something, going against that is blasphemy. When a negative comment is made, someone is Wenger Out, or just negative, or plain stupid. The same goes for those of us who are a little too optimistic. The middle ground is lost. This is very rare amongst football followings and shows the schizophrenic nature of Gooners at this moment. Gooners were some of the first to the internet, to blogging and social media. I remember a few years ago that eight out of the twenty most popular footballing websites in England were Arsenal related. Now to me some of the big blogs have reached (or even surpassed) the influence of supporters groups such as the AST, the BSM and the AISA. And the spin in recent times has not been great. Too often the editorial line is closer to the venom being spewed by those who aren’t worthy than the enlightened principles being espoused not too long ago.
On twitter the abuse gets more personal as well. Disagreeing is no longer allowed on any fundamental level or you get a label placed on you. Some, admittedly, place that label on themselves. Yet one remark will often be interpreted differently by people and cause the typifying of a person way beyond that persons intentions. I would bet that pretty much 90% of Gooners see themselves as neutral, as Gooners whose opinions on the club are varied (if most certainly not always nuanced, as I can attest to) and not to be determined as one specific direction. This reactionary labelling is visible on all levels, from twitter to blogs to bigger media and even in the stadium (and often outside it). Whilst I personally enjoyed hearing that the people from the ‘Wenger Out’ banner got themselves into some trouble, a support should never have to turn on its own members. That is a fundamental part of the freedom of speech and independent thought.
Independent thought. Now there is a notion we seem to lose. The intent of this article was never really to inform, for most well-thinking Gooners will have noticed similar things in recent times. Nor was it my intention to push my own thoughts and opinions on the club and how it is run down your throats. My intention is to make you think about how you see the club and how you can, as a human, see the club in your own specific way. If it turns out your views entirely match those being espoused by a specific group (even though these views are often vague, abstract and inconsistent) then that is fine. But otherwise don’t let yourself feel spoken for. Don’t be pulled in.
I am writing this at the moment just after the transfer window. The AST have just released an interesting yet hilarious statement on that same transfer window. This statement was an easy score at the clubs expense, without the full facts being laid bare. They have been portrayed in quite a few media as the representatives of Arsenal fans. Yet strangely I find myself, and most of the people I know, disagreeing or shaking their heads. The same goes for their spokesperson. Whilst I have no personal qualms with him, and I don’t doubt he is an affable, intelligent and very capable leader (nor am I intent on singling out one person), his ability to make his opinion into our opinion and his ability to spout bullsh*t quotes, alienates him from fans.
That such a man is still quoted as spokesperson of Arsenal fans is a massive fault of by the media. Not to mention this notion that those who weren’t in the stadium supporting the club were ‘Muppets’, a few weeks back. This reveals an agenda, something which a Supporters Trust, inherently aimed at improving the supporters influence within the club and the way we interact, should absolutely refrain from in that area. Their attitude to Kroenke and ticket prices is the way you would expect, but large parts of their views aren’t. The Muppets incident, whilst just a slip of the tongue, was a Jen Chang like moment to me, and shows perhaps even a disrespect to the fans that make up the AST and indeed the club.
The people of the AST deserve their opinion, naturally, but not at the detriment of others, especially if you have an position like that. A spokesperson (or group) who speaks for a very small group of people is a notion that shouldn’t be. That doesn’t take away their full right to their opinion, and in the words of Evelyn Beatrice Hall ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’. Same goes for them, but only if they represent the actual majority of fans.
This is not intended to crap on the AST. Their fanshare initiative is one I am remarkably fond of and I am still intent on being a member and helping converse on the important subjects. But the notion of being a representation of the fans should perhaps be expanded into a more demographic, democratic representation and not on the whims of the few people who actually run it and are most involved. Their input and effort is essential, but the resulting statements often rankle even with AST members and with Arsenal fans. Considering the AST is the only group of its kind as far as Arsenal is concerned, the views should mirror the majority of fans. At this moment they don’t.
Other movements often associated with Gooners and representing the opinions of Gooners include the Black Scarf Movement. I myself have to admit that until recently I was not aware of exactly the role they fulfil, but I am now. And I must admit that personally, some of their ideas on football are excellent. However they do not fully conform to mine and as such I would not want to be associated with them. That is something personal but essentially part of my ability to choose my own opinion. If the BSM were to be considered representatives of Gooners (as they have been, by media, especially around the time of their marches or other protests) I would hate to be lumped in with them, no matter how valid some of their points are. In fact, they don’t represent Gooners any more or less than Piers Morgan, Tony Adams or Alan Davies. Or you. They just happen to be louder and in bigger numbers. Don’t ever feel (and I know some do) obliged to agree simply because they supposedly represent us. Instead, make up your own mind.
If this all sounds a bit idealistic and like we are talking about a revolution, realise that partly, it is. Partly it is hyperbole. But Gooners should say what they want to say, as long as they can back it up and explain way. Don’t feel like callers on TalkSport or BBC 606 represent you. Don’t accept the Daily Mail using Tim Payton and Adrian Durham to paint a picture of how Arsenal is doing and how we should feel. Read blogs, articles and your friend’s tweets, but never accept any one thing as the whole truth. Organisations have many uses and are often setup for the good of fans but also often seem to forget the opinions of the majorities of these fans. It is not always their fault they are portrayed as representing all of us, but they still are. Joining an organisation like that is an excellent idea, as long as you use it to voice your opinion. Which is exactly the function of twitter and blogs such as this one. The mainstream media like talking heads and generalising, and I implore you all to be different from that. And that doesn’t mean being positive and pro-Wenger like me: some of the best rants I have seen have been on the other side of the debate. If someone wants to be ‘Wenger Out’, and can explain why, they have every right to be.
I’ve mentioned this unique Arsenal position. And it is uncanny. We seem to have been the first to colonize the internet, we seem to have more people on twitter than any other group of supporters, and yet for some reasons I have never seen a group of supporters as misrepresented. We can blame the mainstream media for laziness, we can blame the supporters groups for not representing us evenly, but eventually every person needs to do their piece. I was personally very upset with this pervading notion that Arsenal fans are all neatly placeable into these very narrow boundaries. But I realise why it is. It is up to every one of you to think for yourself. Gooners have always been good at that. From when Dennis Bergkamp was supposed to be a flop we knew better. From when we were 11 points behind ManU in the winter of 1997 and were written off entirely. Or when we trusted in a bunch of young players in 2007 and nearly won the title. Since then it has all gone downhill. Fans seem to be a small part of the equation, the people who speak for them are bigger. Things aren’t going great at Arsenal Football Club, but neither are they going great within the Arsenal fanbase. I truly believe we will benefit both by all of us thinking for ourselves, making our own opinion count, and making sure we are truly represented. That is where progress lies.
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