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Tuesday, 4 April 2017

What is this Arsenal we all want back?

Arsenal and money is not a new thing

The brilliant BT Sport documentary on Ian Wright and David Rocastle has stirred a lot of emotions among Arsenal fans over the age of about 35. I've seen so many people online over the last few days lamenting the fact that things were so much better back then, with players who cared and a club that was interested in the fans. To quote a famous comedy scene, "au contraire Blackadder." 
As I was watching the documentary I was thinking similar thoughts to all those people as, for someone of my age, the George Graham era brought the first success I'd ever seen. That it went on over eight years to the Zaragoza final in Paris was incredible in a time where Liverpool being the top dogs was all I'd ever known. 
If there is one big difference between then and now it is that players seemed more like ordinary people. Most of them were British, for a start. They earned good money, obviously, but they weren't exactly The Beatles in terms of being superstars. Footballers were accessible to the public. You could get their autographs, you could maybe get a photo with them, they lived in ordinary houses next door to ordinary (but reasonably well off) people. At Arsenal they used to drive their not so posh (apart from Paul Davis' famous Porsche) to the ground before a game and we were able to see them going in to the car-park behind the Clock End at Highbury. If there is a difference between modern football, and certainly modern Arsenal, and those days then that is it.
What struck me towards the end of the documentary was that one thing in particular isn't any different, and it's something that has been used to bash The Arsenal for a while now. One of the biggest criticisms I see of the club, particularly since we moved to the new stadium, is that Arsenal "is all about money" and "it's a business, not a football club anymore" and "the Club doesn't care about the loyal fans of many years." David Rocastle was an Arsenal Man. He had come through the youth-team at Arsenal and was totally "one of us" in terms of understanding what Arsenal meant. Along with Tony Adams, to fans of my age, he simply was "Arsenal" for want of a better description. The trouble for David was that he got a knee injury and Arsenal's medical people and appointed surgeons basically cocked up the repair. As a result he struggled to stay fit. George Graham mentioned in the programme on TV the other night that he knew Rocky "could maybe play one game per week, at the most" and that was the situation. Given the way Rocastle played in his final season at Arsenal I would like to challenge what George had to say there, and his performances when selected at Leeds and then when he played a key role at Manchester City give something of a lie to his statement. However, in the absence of a right to reply to George we have to take him at face value, though maybe if you paid him George might change his mind. He then went on to say, as did David Dein, that Howard Wilkinson called to ask after Rocky's availability. What followed was that Arsenal decided to accept £2m+ for their star midfield player, knowing that he might not be able to play a totally full part at Arsenal because of his knee problem. In short, Arsenal decided to sell David Rocastle - a true Arsenal Man, the hero of the North Bank, a man who didn't want to go - because they had no loyalty to him. Rocky was just another player, despite what Dein and Graham might say in a TV show 25 years later. Dein, Graham and the Arsenal Board put money ahead of David Rocastle. When you put it into context it is clear that Arsenal being a cash-cow is not a post-Highbury phenomenon. Now Rocky wasn't the first, or the last, Arsenal player to be sold against their will having given everything for the shirt. However, with all we've seen over the last few weeks about Arsenal and the contract for Arsene Wenger, his story brings in to sharper focus that the idea of our club suddenly being all about the money is a lazy and convenient stereotype of modern football and fits the agenda being pushed.
Having thought about the Rocastle sale it dawned on me that Dein sold Arsenal's soul to the Devil even before that. He also used a typically cynical ploy of using the success of the team to do so. Do you remember Arsenal v Coventry in May 1991? Arsenal had won the Title on the Monday before that game. Those attending the stadium on the following Saturday for what was basically the celebration party, complete with League Championship trophy presentation, might remember that the advertising boards had all been replaced with the first announcement of the "Arsenal Bond," and we were all implored to "Sign For The Arsenal" and spend £1500 to earn the right merely to be able to buy a season-ticket when the North Bank was replaced by a new stand. That's right kids, Arsenal wanted fans to hand over £1500 (which was a massive amount of money back then) to enable us to have the chance to buy a season ticket. The "pay-off" was that those season-tickets would be discounted for ten years - ultimately, with football becoming more expensive than anyone could have imagined back then, it turned out a good deal in the long-run for those who could afford the £1500 up-front payment. Back in 1991 the Arsenal fans were apoplectic about it. It was basically going to cut off the "loyal fans" (that phrase again) to move in a new breed of upper-class toffs who could afford what it took to have a seat in the new North Bank Stand. Protest on protest was staged around the stadium throughout 1991-92 as the club "lost touch" with what the fans were about. There were even plaintive chants of "we want our Arsenal back" during that season. The mood at times was as ugly as it is now amid the business surrounding Arsene Wenger's future. 
So you see that Arsenal being about money, and not being interested in the fans, and all the other bull**** that is currently being spouted by the latest "look at me" wannabe super-fans is nothing new. I see people lamenting the fact that a "real Arsenal supporter" like David Dein is not running things anymore. That's the same David Dein who was the architect and spokesman for the Arsenal Bond Scheme and who sanctioned the sale of David Rocastle when neither he, nor the fans, would ever have wanted him to go. Next time some p***k tries to tell you that Arsenal is no longer bothered about people like us just point out to them that it has ever been thus, certainly over the last 25 years. It's nothing new. You don't have to like it, but that's just the way it is. So I ask the question in the headline here once again - what is the Arsenal you want back?

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