The Board, Values, and Arsene Wenger
I was particularly shocked when in response to the story run in the News ofThe World, where Arsene Wenger spoke about debt repayments (it now seems that this was a complete fabrication), that fans began to criticise the decision to build the Emirates stadium. This came on the back of a period when the more reactionary element of the supporters were calling for foreign investment, possibly in the form of Alisher Usmanov, so that the club could compete in the transfer market. I have wanted to address some of the issues that I felt that raised ever since, but am doing so now in light of Danny Fisman’s interview put out on Arsenal TV online yesterday.
Now I am quite sensitive generally to criticism of the club that I love, that includes fellow Gooners; I personally do not understand those fans who think that there criticism is constructive or warranted. In my experience the best the fans can offer the club is their support, do you boo or sing up when we go-a-goal-down? I know that those fans who go to the games choose to encourage the team, stay loyal, and offer a sense of security to the side through that. However, I feel that the attacks on the board, and particularly regarding our current financial situation go beyond that; they in some way try to rewrite history, and that I think must be spoken out against, as well as truly endanger what at heart distinguishes Arsenal from the rest.
Let me first set the record straight about the stadium for all who have chosen to forget all but that which suits their own reactionary and bitter point of view. The move away from Highbury was essential for Arsenal Football Club to be able to compete financially at the top level of world football, to make the position that it has attained through Arsene Wenger’s brilliant stewardship self-sustainable. It would triple the match day revenue of the club, as well as ensuring that an extra 20,000 fans, or a 50% increase, would be able to watch the team they love.
I started going to games regularly with my Nan and cousin in 1991, up until the new stadium was built we had to queue from 7am to get tickets, the office opened at 9, and did this in all weather conditions. For big games we were subject to a postal lottery, although as we were there every day tickets went on sale front of the queue, the box office ensured we never missed out although this bent the rules. For people like us, with over a decade on the waiting list, the new stadium was a very welcome piece of progress quite aside form the economic perks for the club.
I think that any attempt to suggest that we could or should have stayed at Highbury is quite simply a distortion of fact, at best stupidly misinformed, at worst dishonest. The move to the Emirates has secured the club a financial base in line with its position on the field, as one of the top 10 clubs in Europe; that is fact. If there are debts until the redevelopments and flats are fully finished, then be patient and thankful that Arsene is there to weave his magic, but we would be worse off in Highbury. Plus, for real fans, and sorry folks there is a difference, it has meant that more of us can get to games. I tip my hat to those people who go to every away game, the time, money, and dedication is more than I have ever managed, sure there are very real constraints that stop me, but they still do it and I don’t, that principle is true and works on several levels.
Now, one might say that, “yes the stadium was necessary, but can’t we sell out to a rich investor to help in the short term?” No is the simple answer to that, I will base my argument on principle, but economics also works. I cant see how on any theoretical or moral grounds someone can buy a company, previously solvent, then plunge it into debt to the tune of its previous value, a la manure, nor how it can ever be profitable to the club in the long term; so I will leave that aside. I see quite clearly why selling out to rich Russian oligarchs is morally bankrupt, but to be quite honest I think that is just whoring and don’t want to lead a discussion about why; I think you see it or you don’t.
I think we should show some loyalty to the present board because they are Arsenal. This isn’t blind faith, I will be the first one shouting if they want to pay themselves dividends, but that is different to “thank a bunch, but I’ve got all the worth I can out of you, now pack up and get out.” Peter Hill-Wood may be getting senile, and like a tipple, but he and his father have spent their lives at Arsenal; so who the hell is some drivelling malcontent to tell him to beat it? (Just checked Wikipedia, you can add his grandfather to that list.)
On a personal note, my Nan spoke at Islington Town Hall when the final vote for planning permission for the stadium was in the balance, a truly massive night for the club and one where the outcome was genuinely in the balance. She spoke passionately, but simply, about what Arsenal meant to her as an Islington resident and the borough in general, telling of how her father had first taken her 55 years previously and she now took her grandchildren. Arsenal won the vote and Peter Hill Wood wrote personally to thank her for speaking, something she did off her own back and with great trepidation, then invited our whole family to watch the team train at London Colney. A class gesture from a man Arsenal through and through; good for him if he gets drunk and runs his mouth off, he has earned the right, which is more than I can say for me.
This leads us on to values, these start in the boardroom, are demanded and promoted by our manager, and then upheld by every member of the club if they are to truly exist. Wenger said when he signed his new contract,
“It is a special environment for me, but as well you must be careful to respond to that kind of trustand confidence by achieving the results and, as well, by behaving like the club wants you to behave. It’s a club of values, traditions and you feel that you have to respond to that kind of responsibility.
On Arsenal’s official site he was quoted as saying.
It’s important Arsenal maintains its values because they are what makes the club so popular,That is beyond any investment. The values are a bit of human class, distinction, respect for people and ambition to have a certain class in what you do. That’s what I felt when I came inside this football club. There was always fair play, a desire to do things well and respect for basic human values.
It’s a daily struggle to keep those values. They are not only decided by foreign investment because you can have bad English people as well who go the wrong way. But what I like at this club is that we have maintained our values, we have shown we care about our fans and the people who love the club.”
As ever, Arsene knows. I am not blind or naïve to the faults of him, the board, or the club, but if we are to display the values above, we need to acknowledge the job these people have done for our club, and show a shred of the loyalty we demand from our players. Ask any Spurs fan if they would like what we have, the manager, the trophies he has won, the stadium, and the permanent success – the would give a ball to get in the champions league just once – because if you come from North London that is still who you want to beat.
Peace and love to the family, keep the faith, and in Arsene we trust – this is our year.