Amidst all the uproar and uncertainty surrounding Arsenal Football Club, it irks my mind when the mainstream media attempt to analyze it, for they ultimately simplify and trivialize it. One such example was yesterday, when in the build-up to Arsenal’s 2-2 draw against Manchester City, one of the pundits claimed that the discord and the disaffection would dissipate if Arsenal just got a few wins under their belt.
In some ways, I can understand that logic. Results have definitely played their part in what has been a hugely tumultuous period for the club – however, to imply it is the only factor is criminally downplaying it. Perhaps you can use that logic with Manchester United and David Moyes or Barcelona with Luis Enrique, but not with Arsenal. I can safely say, with an ounce of pride and a dollop of self-pity, that our situation is more uniquely complicated than that.
It’s a situation that unraveled its ugly head over years – from the betrayal of the man we assumed would be our messiah, the failure of the idealistic, utopian Project Youth, to the sold lies of the Emirates Stadium by corporate lords. Granted, it suppresses itself when the team appears to be doing well, but reaffirms its hidden continuance when the club predictably fail to cut the mustard when it matters, year upon year.
Arsenal fans alone know what that’s been like, because we’ve lived it. We’ve lived what has been a horrendous car crash that has taken us on a journey of self-doubt and self-corruption throughout these years. And it is from here I derived my inspiration to write this article – a Kubler-Ross-esque algorithm of the six stages Arsenal fans tend to endure in their lives.
This piece may perhaps stay more identifiable to those fans part of “the Wenger era”; more specifically, those who started supporting the club between 1996 – 2013. It may apply to some of the veterans too, who knows.
I must stress that this is not representative of every Arsenal fan, for obvious reasons. I don’t intend to stereotype or generalize every Gooner under the sun. Human beings are a fairly subjective lot and those idiosyncrasies tend to widen when it comes to an emotional sport like football, and I understand that. This is just a trend I’ve noticed in a fair amount of fans, in person, on social media, or in my own self.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
Step One: The honeymoon period
You’ve just made the decision to watch football and support Arsenal. Whether that was a choice influenced by friends, family or peer pressure is irrelevant, for the cliched ‘football fever’ has now well and truly hit you. You are introduced to the culture and ethos of Arsenal, and are doubtless taken by it.
It is a stage when you are educated on Rocky Rocastle, Andreas Limpar and George Graham. It is a stage when you learn what Anfield ’89 means. You know the names and histories of the statues outside the Emirates Stadium. You insist that the Lasagne incident of 2006 be made into a semi-biographical film.
Most of all, you know about the glory years. You are awed by Arsene Wenger and how he managed to unearth legends like Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry from nooks and corners of France. You are inspired by the style of football he imposed on the club, his pioneering dieting restrictions, and the trophy haul he accumulated (and rightly so). Questioning this great man is, well out of the question, because he’s done so much for the club.
It’s not all beds of roses, though – you do feel the anguishes of losses as strongly as the elation of victory, but you’re naive enough to compartmentalize them in the “shit happens” category. You later find out how wrong you were.
Step Two: Wenger In? Wenger Out?
In this step, after a vague amount of supporting the club, the doubt sets in. It’s doubt propagated by an inability to compete for major honours, failure of signing top names, the club not performing as well as they can, and general familiar failure.
Note the word ‘familiar’: initial failure could have been justified by citing refereeing decisions, FFP drawbacks, money-related issues or a changing of the times. However, as the failures get more and more pronounced and excuses begin to wither away, uncertainty hits you too. You begin to second-guess your beliefs and openly wonder – Were things this bad all along? Was I too foolish or too blinkered in love to see it? Or am I betraying Arsene Wenger and his classiness by giving in to the conspiracies?
It’s a painful stage, perhaps the most painful of all, for it begs you to question what you previously believed to be true. It involves confronting potentially huge misjudgments and conceptions. Circumstances and social circles also dictate if you stay in this stage or progress/regress (depending on how you look at it) to the next one.
Step Three: Arsene Wenger the lightning rod
For those who exit Step Two with the firm belief that Arsene Wenger is not nearly as competent as everyone thought him to be, the vitriol is understandable. After all it feels like betrayal, it feels like a stab in the back, it feels like the biggest untold lie in the world of football. I’ve been there, I can attest to this.
As such, immediate reactions are somewhat understandable. In your eyes he cannot do anything right. You want him hounded out, you want him exposed for the trickster that he is, you want his head on a spike, and you wouldn’t even mind if the club starts losing games if it helps tarnish his legacy. You can’t see beyond Arsene Wenger and the swindle he’s trying to get away with. Agreed, you’re not entirely unaware of the board’s involvement into the malaise, but you may underrate how complicit they might have been in fostering this second-rate attitude across the club.
I don’t need to give you examples of people rooted in this stage. You know enough of them. They are people you’d easily find on Twitter, see on Arsenal Fan TV, or parodied by the outside footballing world. It’s worth noting that some people like the Arseblogs or the Gunnerblogs manage to skip this stage and instead move directly to Step Four.
Step Four: Holistic understanding of the situation
Step Four is not entirely different from Step Three, although it’s not entirely similar either. In this stage, you remain well and truly aware that Arsene Wenger is not the right man to lead Arsenal further forward, yet your angst is somewhat lessened. It’s a stage when you begin to acknowledge the bigger picture, get a broader overview of the workings of the football club behind the scenes.
You understand that Wenger is less likelier to be a conman and more likely to just be behind the times, who, because of not having a personal life, has devoted his entire life to football and cannot leave it. You understand that the board are too frightened to sack a bigger personality than themselves, especially when they don’t have the first clue on how to replace him.
Those who were once in Step Three may register they might’ve been too harsh on Arsene. After all, he isn’t solely to blame for football becoming global and business-like. He’s just a man who was given too much power and no accountability, something Stan Kroenke and Ivan Gazidis should also be blamed for. Not that it in any way excuses Arsene’s ineptitude or arrogance, which is still very much present, but instead dishes out the blame between players, manager and board more appropriately.
Step Five: Apathy
However, after months or years of understanding the unique power dimensions existent at Arsenal, another understanding sets in – of how unlikely they are to change anytime soon. As seasons pass, familiar failures on and off the football field become dull thuds of reminders that the state of play at Arsenal will remain the same. It becomes clearer that the club will remain in top-four stasis, not progress in the Champions League nor, in any significant way, move forward.
This newfound ability to predict so much about the club ushers the rot of indifference. You know nothing will change, and hence you wonder, why bother? Over time, you stop feeling the thrill of signing top players because you know that won’t change the bigger picture. You stop watching minor games, you stop feeling the ‘jump’ in your stomach when Arsenal score or concede goals. Some fans even find Arsenal losing laughable, not because it helps them drive Wenger out, but because that’s how fucked up their coping mechanism has become.
On average, the Emirates Stadium has been the quietest in recent years, a problem many have attributed to high prices or rich tourists filling seats. While that obviously is a huge part of the reason why, another also seems to be that the fans aren’t arsed enough to care anymore. The apathy is setting in, and the results are disconcertingly robotic.
For those curious, yes, I am at Step Five. I feel as detached and disassociated from the club as possible – passive over the Wenger debate, passive over fretting if Arsenal will finish over Tottenham, passive over things that were the very reason that made me love Arsenal. It’s a worrying stage because the pessimist in me says even a change at managerial/board level may not erase the apathy entirely. I hope it does.
Step Six: Stop supporting
I know it has happened to comparatively choice few people like Arsenal Truth. Really, it’s hard to blame them. Watching years of the same bullshit makes you lose faith, and ultimately, interest. Step Six is a conscious decision to temporarily separate from Arsenal – a finality that might change if there is a shift of tectonic proportions on managerial or board level.
It’s a sad thing to fall out of love with anything, and the last thing they deserve is to be called ‘plastics’ for that. These guys aren’t plastics – in some ways, they are few of the best personifications of true Arsenal fans, ones who will not spend their time, energy or money on the existent, corrupted regime. They have the guts to admit that what they love does not love them back. They deserve sympathy, not scorn.
Suffice to say I haven’t reached Step Six yet, but if Arsene Wenger renews his contract, I just might. Taking a break from Arsenal until he or the board changes appeals to me. Before the Arsenal game yesterday, I was watching the second half of Swansea vs Middlesbrough. Strangely, it reminded me how much I love football and how much Arsenal has made me detest it.
Obviously I wouldn’t support any other football club during this proposed ‘break’, but the fact remains I want to love football; I want that feeling again. I want to enjoy anomalies like Leicester City winning the Premier League more than I did. I want to watch the Champions League with fire and passion again.
I want to love Arsenal like I once did before. If it means lying in wait for two years or more, I’m game.
Over to you, Mr. Ivan Gazidis.
-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]