This is a very negative blog and I'd expect most people to stop reading at this point because I guarantee that many will get offended by various parts of it but I'd like to say that I never wanted to publish one like this which was just pure annoyance. This piece started at some point almost two years ago when I was lamenting the state of humanity and society in general after some of the things I'd seen and heard and encountered both in life and in the fanbase. It constantly kept evolving and taking shape and was close to ready in May but opted not to publish it back then because I genuinely thought - "Hey, we just won a cup that so many desperately wanted, maybe that's all it takes for people to get more reasonable and the atmosphere around the club to become more calm". Sadly, I couldn't have been more mistaken and I've never felt more disconnected and unhappy with our fanbase than I do right now and this is even though I've seen people do and say a lot of horrible things both at the ground and online. People have somehow only strived to get behave worse than I've ever seen it and I think it is about time we started to take a long hard look in the mirror to see what we've turned into.
I should clarify for the sake of some of those wondering, I'm not writing this just about one extreme bunch who are out there on video showering abuse on a man who made us what we are and holding up unsupportive banners. I really do mean all of us and these are thoughts that have built up over the years that I can't help but express at this point. So all of you touchy souls out there (you know who you are) wondering if you should place yourself in the crosshairs or not (and get defensive about fans in a way you never seem to about the club), you definitely should especially when you feel like it applies to you. The self proclaimed "reasonable" middle ground often depicts the fanbase to be a bunch of poor cherubs, who are nothing like the "extremists", but are being mistreated by their "cruel" club. Some of them claim objectivity to the point of forcibly opposing the natural bias that goes with being a fan like it is something malicious and wicked to be avoided. They take this middle ground position of theirs to the point of militancy about how they're the true objective and reasonable ones and because of that nothing can ever be said about them. There are even some who simply sit on the fence the whole time to see which way the wind sways and jump in to sound like one with the majority and will flip flop the other way just as quickly. Well guess what, none of us are more objective than the next guy, and in life, everyone is absolutely convinced that their brand of delusion is the finest and they're part of the most reasonable middle ground. The way people claim that it is absolutely fine to question the club and the manager because you want it to be better, well this is me questioning the fanbase as well for a bit of balance to the questioning that has long been rather one sided, to put it lightly.
Are we all experts here?
A peculiar thing about our fan base (and humans in general) is how everyone considers themselves an expert at everything. We have expert tacticians, experts in medical practice, coaching methods, physiotherapy, transfer negotiation, club operations, logistics, marketing, the list is really endless. For such a talented bunch with so many skills, you'd be forgiven for mistakenly assuming that we're a fanbase consisting of highly rated football club employees around Europe rather than the average fan being just another person with access to Sky/BT Sports, FIFA, Football Manager and an internet connection. We, as fans, have access to maybe 10% of the happenings at a club whether it comes to training or coaching or medical treatment, but somehow we feel the need to provide expert input on all of it and I'm sure there will soon come a time where we start suggesting ourselves for coaching and scouting hires as well.
Here's one example of how we tend to behave - one of the big themes last summer from many was how the club desperately needed a new GK coach because what we had was somehow declared to be no good. A year later, our starting keeper won the golden glove and our two backups departed and are now comfortable starters churning out solid performances for Premier League clubs. Could it really be that, like most other things we knew nothing about what goal keeping coaching entails? Could it be that all the childish jibes about "Flappyhandksi" and "Clown shoes" (because Vito dared to have large feet) were proven to be just that, childish and wrong? A classic case of the Dunning Kruger effect which absolutely plagues our fanbase and it is something people are, for obvious reasons, never happy to confront.
Are transfers another trophy?
Another thing that makes little sense would be the way people relate with transfers. On one hand, the FIFA and FM era has meant some people assume purchasing a player is as simple a few clicks and throwing whatever money you have. On the other, it also gets treated a bit like a "measuring" contest to show off to people around with nary a concern as to whether the player fits us.
If the manager dares to wait for what he considers the right player, dares to not pay too much of our still limited resources, dares to trust in what he has, instead of wasting resources on the wrong player or dares to purchase someone that our all knowing fanbase isn't aware of, he gets attacked for being cheap, dithering and a whole lot of other things. I've seen people make declarations that if he doesn't buy X, Y, Z players then he has to leave and I'd love to be corrected on this but surely X, Y, Z proving to be good players that meet what we need is far more important than simply spending on them? The idea that he'll be judged simply on the basis of whether or not a purchase happens and what price tag it happens at is a ludicrous one. Sadly, transfers is one where Arsène simply cannot win because he's attacked for waiting for the right players, and he's attacked for players not doing well either and it is always going to be his fault except in the majority of the cases where the players come in and do well, in which case, it is hardly ever going to be mentioned because it doesn't suit the narrative that he only either dithers or buys junk.
Do you even know what you're saying?
I see repeated references to Arsène being a dictator. Forget the ridiculous way in which his wages (that he's well and truly earned) are constantly brought up like he should be working for free unless he achieves those huge and unrealistic expectations and demands we have. There are comparisons made to some of the most horrible events to have happened in the history of humanity and some truly horrendous human beings whether it is Hitler or Jimmy Saville. I see all this and I have to question the sanity of those among us and whether they have an iota of a clue as to what they're saying? You're comparing the man who you should be eternally grateful to for giving you the privilege of supporting one of the top teams in Europe every season to horrific mass murderers and other despicable human beings and further claiming he's senile and demented. I've even seen references wishing for his death or execution. I see repeated declarations that things are a "disaster" and that we're in "crisis" and that Arsène is "ruining" the club and "destroying" his legacy.
Do people even know what these words mean? I think people have lost all sense of the meaning of these words because they have been blessed and spoiled enough to never actually see the reality of these things so now, everything is a disaster and by virtue of the instant generation, it has to be fixed instantly . I see the Harvey Dent quote about "dying a hero or turning into a villain" used constantly without necessarily understanding that the quote is all about perspective and perception which is well highlighted by the fact that Batman is perceived as villainous by a populace that doesn't know any better. Then take the quote that, when originally attributed to Bergkamp, caused so much discomfort to people, that they went out of their way to disprove that he said it. It may have helped to make you feel better about yourself when you couldn't find a source for the quote but the meaning behind these words still stands - "I really love Arsenal, but do you love Arsenal or Arsenal with Trophies?"
Do you even know what you want?
Last season and the years before, it was all about how we didn't respect domestic cups and how we'd never win anything under Wenger. I even heard people declare that they'd swap playing in the Champions League for a domestic cup and all the grievances were about how if we learned to take cups seriously, we'd have something to show. We were top for a big part of last season and fell short by 7 points after injuries and some avoidable results. We also won the FA cup which should have ended the "we'll never win a trophy under Arsène" arguments but instead the goal posts have shifted to the point where the manager is being judged on the ability to bring in player X and the statements have changed to "we'll never win the league". I hear this all the time now as reasons for the anger "I just want us to compete and challenge", "I expected us to push on after the FA Cup win", or the good old "The club lied to us about the stadium" but beneath all this I still never know what exactly people want.
Do you all know what it is you want? I hear all the time that "we all want the club to do well", "we all want what's best for the club", "we all want the club to succeed", "want to compete". But who defines what "doing well", "best for the club" and "success" is? Who acknowledges circumstances like competition, injuries and more and maintains a sense of perspective when defining these especially when there is a tendency to blame everything on Arsène? There is the constant demand that we absolutely must overachieve and overhaul the three teams with far greater resources than us and I can't help but feel that people have forgotten what it means to hope for something that's extremely difficult to achieve as compared to acting like they're entitled to it.
More and more I find that the demands for wanting to compete (and for a lot more things) usually equates to a "We have to win, trying isn't good enough" and no one will admit that if you pointed it out either. This is quite disconnected with reality when you realize in the world of football and in life, trying and giving it the best shot is the best you can do. If you don't succeed right away, the best part of football is that you get to reboot the next season, try to get stronger and try again. I can imagine some of the invective in the response to this coming out as - "That's how losers talk, I'm a winner, strive to be a Champion or don't bother" and all I say is, good for you for being perfect (and good luck to your kids), but if you're demanding that from your team, I can't help but wonder if it's because you're hoping to compensate for real life disappointment showing you the futility of expecting to always win.
Someone on Twitter made this lovely comparison of our situation recently (sorry I can't remember who so I can't credit you), saying that the anger at Arsène is the equivalent of an Everton fan being furious at their manager for not getting Top 4 every season despite all the odds against that happening. And none of this is to say the manager is perfect, he has his faults, and to me, his idealism when it comes to his principles is the one most commonly lambasted as stubbornness even though in a world of football that's going completely insane when you consider the transfer fees, wages, agent fees and more - he might be the lone sane man who is unappreciated and worse, asked to evolve to be equally insane himself or else accused of being "stale". I'll never understand how people say they want what is best for the club, but believe the manager who's dedicated a huge chunk of his life to this club wants anything less than that himself. Your idea of what is best for the club need not be the same as his, and doing something as stupid as booing a substitution when you have no idea why it is happening is not the best for the club either. I'd bring up more examples but looking back, I see far more instances of Arsène consistently doing the right thing and patiently doing what's best for us despite the clamour from the fans for some instant solution and it is for this precise reason that I will always be glad he's in charge and not one of us.
I get constantly accused of accepting "mediocrity" but do people have any idea what this means? I see people saying they "pity" the fans who have to watch us lose all the time and I wonder if fans of most clubs in the world would agree with the idea that we need to be pitied for anything other than the fact that we're falling short in some pretty tough circumstances. In the twitter era of hyperbole, a title challenge, 7 points off the top, FA Cup is looked at as mediocrity and a football team losing all the time and fans needing to be pitied. That's a level of mediocrity that most clubs would die for so we must be doing something right. Even if you consider this season, there is a lot of talk of under performance and I will agree with that with a caveat - our underperformance is more from the perspective of some poor results rather than the team doing badly. I'd also remind people that it is only December and around this time, 2 years ago, Laudrup was the saviour, Michu was the answer and we were in another "crisis" that we comfortably walked out of.
What is it that you actually love?
I have no doubt that everyone loves and I'm not going to question that. I am going to question if there's conditions involved for the extent of your love like success, over achievement or something more. Why is it so difficult to accept valid circumstances for a team underperforming or making mistakes? Why must everything have someone to blame who must be sacrificed to the Gods for eternity? Why do we use the wages people earn to dissociate them from the fact that they're humans too and expect them to be completely error free and when they're not, try to justify raining abuse on them? Why are we so hyper critical about what we have to the point where every external extenuating circumstance is ignored in order to find a reason to blame us? Why do we somehow always claim we're "lucky" that other teams are sh*t instead of giving any credit doing something right (including the cup)? Why is it that we find it so easy to make excuses for Klopp in Germany for being up against one rich behemoth and yet that same level of understanding doesn't apply for Arsène when we're up against three of our own?
People love and credit Graham for being a legend and give him the required and deserved respect (despite the manner of his departure) and they won't have a harsh word said about him. I'm completely on board with that and in his time he's very much helped shape some of the greatest moments of this club we love. There is currently another legend who has even exceeded what Graham achieved and given us the greatest team in the history of the premier league but where's all the love and respect there from the very same people who offer it freely to GG? One can't help but feel there's a sense of an almost unconscious xenophobia in the startling double standards with which the two are treated and it's further confirmed when a lot of the unsavoury remarks about Arsène involve mentioning "French" without fail. I have seen people trying to somehow equate Arsène's wages with the manner in which Graham was dismissed in the end and I'm baffled at even the suggestion of such a thing.
I hear people say things like "It's not easy to support right now", "I find myself not caring anymore" and I wonder if sometimes people understand what love and support really is. It has to be through the good times and the bad and if all it takes is a poor start to the season to feel like you can't care anymore, I sincerely hope you're stronger in your convictions when it comes to your personal life. This is one aspect where we can certainly look over to the fans in Dortmund, a comparison that again makes some people uncomfortable because of the inconvenient nature of seeing a banner that says "If you fall, I'm with you" in a similar (and possibly worse) situation affected by circumstances of having a lot of injuries and a behemoth of a club in competition. This quote, doesn't matter who it is attributed to now since some people will desperately try to discredit the origin, is quite applicable in this case - ""If you can't support us when we lose or draw, don't support us when we win."
Gooner Family? What Gooner Family?
I was once told that whether we're local, foreign, positive, negative, objective, rational or irrational, we're all part of a great big gooner family. I was naive and optimistic enough to believe it at one point. Some family it must be where it often feels like outsiders and rivals show more understanding and reason and less hate than those on the inside. To me the fact that the club has to constantly be defended from its own fans far more than it does any outsider (other than maybe the media) tells me this mythical gooner family is broken. We're turning into a comic soap opera of bickering little children and we need to take a long hard look at ourselves.
I see abuse and attempts at bullying happen far more frequently than it should to many far too many people. We have turned this into a competition of who can be more angry and irrational about the state of the club instead of having any connection to what reality is. God forbid, anyone dares to be hopeful in their support and wants the manager to stay, they get accused of ruining the club, worshipping the manager and destroying Arsenal. They get told to get out with that "French w****r" and to get off the "delusion kool aid". I'm afraid I happen to be sensitive enough let the abuse get to me about my nationality, family, skin color, place of residence and even, bizarrely, facial expressions, appearance and hobbies. I wish this was isolated for daring to do the most heinous and illegal act of being supportive but it happens to far too many people. It's even worse when you see how frequently the xenophobia tinged arguments of "do you go to games", "go support your local team", "are you from London" come into play. And it even takes a particularly nasty turn when you see people ganging up in cliques and with some disturbing use of Photoshop trying to drive people off twitter (and in a few cases, unfortunately even succeeding). You can't help but pity the people meting out this treatment if this is what they need to do to feel better about themselves.
At the same time, I've been on twitter for 6+ years now and from where I started off saying exactly what I believe, I can see now how I tend to stop myself when typing anything now because I catch myself wondering "what will I get hurled at me for this" or "when will this be dug up and retweeted out of context to attack me because I dare to have an opinion" or "who is going to get offended when this isn't even about them" or "what is the point of saying this". Even now, as I write this piece a part of me cringes at the levels to which some will stoop in reaction to this and makes me want to stop and just send this to drafts like I have many times before. I finished writing this piece on December 8th and even shared it privately with a few people and the responses have been just as mixed ranging from "definitely put this out" to "people are beyond reason, there's no point" to "you'll deal with the very abuse/bullying you mention, it isn't worth it".
I realize now, the futility of such thought and the need to be far more thick skinned about all this though because no matter what is said, no matter how harmless the remark, the toxicity from some doesn't change and if people can find ways to justify the abuse showered on the club's greatest ever at a train station, I can absolutely find ways to justify simply pointing out exactly how we all behave. "It's alright to criticize, it is alright to have an opinion, but oh no, the fans are beyond all that" and by their own standards of behaviour if someone disagrees with criticism, that makes them deluded. Jumping to an ad hominem attack like that only serves to prove that you really don't have anything more to say in the face of reasoned argument and you've delved into the unreasonable and the irrational. In a situation like that, that probably explains why there's so much anger in the face of so many valid explanations because these are all dismissed as (inconvenient) excuses.
I'm equally guilty of some of the things mentioned in this piece and I'm absolutely not some über fan and I never claimed to be. I'm not afraid of admitting that I'm not perfect and I'm personally a bit embarrassed to have stooped to this level in writing this piece but I needed to let this out because the absolute disrespect (in general, not just the video) was bothering me so much. The sad thing is, I don't see the divide or the behaviour from any group of fans (positive or negative) getting any better or changing any more no matter how much success we achieve. I'm afraid people will always find ways to be dissatisfied and always find some new thing to be entitled to. And the harsher they get when it comes to the manager, the more it will make those who genuinely love him (even if they're open to change) get more aggressive in defending him.
This seems to particularly hold true for the fanbase when it comes to viewing the fortunes of our team - "The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be." In terms of the manager himself, you know you've lost all sense of perspective about him when you're mad at him for things like not standing up and shouting at the team constantly, not doing anything other than protect his team in a press conference, not mentioning transfer targets and so many other little things that make people furious about Arsène for no real reason. The good thing though is that I'm confident neither the manager nor the board are going to judge the manager's abilities based on what a minority of screaming animals say in Stoke (they'd probably assume it was more of the local Orcs).
Lastly, I really do wonder how quickly the sheen of "new" will wear off at a point when we do get a successor and if it will be as quick as the FA Cup win that has been completely erased from people's minds in a matter of months and is little more than another number painted in our stadium. Will the new guy even get a chance to adapt to a new system? While people like me will be around supporting whoever comes next and giving them a fair chance to capitalize on the fantastic platform that Arsène will give them, I can see the banners and the train station treatment start from the very first December if it doesn't look like we're going to win the league even if there are valid reasons of injuries and adaptation to a system (like there are now). This is one of the reasons why I really don't fancy another former legend like Henry or Bergkamp becoming manager because I simply don't want them to be treated this way. It feels like Rocky's timeless quote - "Remember who you are, what you are and who you represent" has long been forgotten.
Mean Lean's Response
I suspect you will have a section of readers fidgeting in their seats after reading that but there is so much truth in much of what you say.
This idea that we are in some sort of crisis is ludicrous in my opinion. We've had a very slow start, a very inconsistent start to the season and any chances of a title race are slim but that does not mean we have to place the back of our hands on our foreheads and flop to the floor.
Football fans tend to live in a bubble it seems. It doesn't matter that others have also been inconsistent and that there could be reasons for this, you will likely get the response that they do not want to compare Arsenal to other teams. We are Arsenal FC. Well until you bring up Chelsea's start to the season that is.
I have had an article in mind for a number of weeks now, so I have to get around to writing it to also get a few things off my chest.
There are a few really good articles doing the rounds at the moment.
Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger is the club's greatest ever manager – and deserves more respect from the fans - Jeremy Wilson
Arsenal – Sport and Athletes in the Entitlement Age by @Gooner_In_BCN
Booing of Arsène Wenger reflects media’s fetishising of discontent by Barney Ronay
All well worth reading.
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