Morning all, blog Chairman Consolsbob imparts his pearls of wisdom this morning
I’ve been re-reading a few posts from ACLF written in the last close season when the dissatisfaction amongst some of us with the management of Arsenal Football Club was becoming more evident and widespread. Much that was written then could with little amendment stand as valid opinion now; in football as in life, I suppose. Things have changed somewhat though. A bright shiny trophy now adorns TNHOF and we all feel a bit brighter, a little lighter in step.
In that regard there is less overt criticism of the club now than then. Arsène is staying and there is no point in revisiting any concerns about the manager at this time; that die is cast. We must support the man in his endeavours. We are hopeful that his final hurrah will be successful and a fitting end to his Arsenal career.
However, underlying much of the angst that surrounded the club was the question of its corporate management. This included Arsène’s role of course, no-one at the club is more powerful than he but there remain other crucial issues. There is the uneasy feeling among many supporters about the owner, the Board and the Chief executive. What of Usmanov? What do they all want with the club? What are their goals and intentions for Arsenal, the entity that most of us, our fathers and grandfathers would believe to be ‘ours’?
As YW posted recently, we are the only ones who support the club, the only ones who, despite the betrayals and disloyalty of the recipient of our adoration, continue to show our love like callow teenagers. It is unrequited, certainly. Only fans are truly, ever loyal.
Given that, I have struggled, largely unsuccessfully, to understand what exactly it is that we support. It was simple once. Arsenal played at Highbury, which for our generation and several previously had been there forever. It was solid, permanent and we could go whenever we wanted but paying at the turnstile. Every week the players would turn out in the Red and White and we would watch from the terraces or listen to the radio.
Then, as now, we moaned. What player was poor, who we should get to replace him. What was the manager playing at? The Board didn’t really feature much in our arguments, nor, I suspect in our thoughts. They had always been there, Arsenal had always been there, we were all on the same side. We all wanted the best for Arsenal and that best meant winning and aspiring to be, or in our case, return to being the best bloody team in the land.
We didn’t expect to be invited into the Boardroom but that wouldn’t have bothered us. The club was the team and the team was the club. We supporters were part of the club, members. It’s what a club means, isn’t it? A membership of common interest and purpose.
That’s not the situation today. When did that cease to be the case? The Premiership and Sky TV changed the football landscape radically and was all part of wider changes in the world. That world became progressively more naked in its scrabble for money and profit and football has now become part of it. The world of business, of commerce and ‘corporate enterprise’. This has been the most radical shake up to the relationship of supporters to the club.
Until the coming of Kroenke, I don’t think that Arsenal deliberately set out to build a business rather than a club, or, more accurately, to put the business before the club. Even David Dein, a proper businessman who was a driving force in changing Arsenal and football with his machinations, was a true supporter. The redevelopment of the Clock end and later, the much more controversial North Bank Stand, were designed to achieve what would eventually result in us leaving Highbury and building ‘The Emirates’. We had to increase our income if we were to compete effectively with Manchester Utd and Liverpool plus the giants of Italian and Spanish football.
That all seemed logical enough. No one expected anybody to make any money out of it for themselves, at least as a primary goal. Holding Arsenal shares and serving on the Board was seemingly seen as a duty for those custodians of the club. Peter Hill-Wood, the third in his family to serve Chairman has said,
“I have never looked at a football club as a financial asset. In the old days, when shares came up for sale, we used to draw lots for them. We used to buy them at 30 bob each, and if you got them, you were inclined to see them as a waste of money. One didn’t view it in a commercial way.”
Fans could therefore see both the ambition and reason for those developments.
However, in retrospect, as The Independent Arsenal Supporters Association voiced at the time, this was the start of the fracturing of the fans from the club. Arsenal arrogantly failed, and probably had no intention, to consult with fans in any meaningful way. Thus while most of those who stood on the Clock End wanted a roof over their heads, this was not a key feature of the plans as they developed. Later, the redevelopment of the North bank was much more controversial and damaging.
Once again, with David Dein driving the scheme, consultation was token and the scheme was announced in a match day programme. This included the infamous Bond Scheme whereby North Bank regulars would have to buy a bond to give them the right to buy a season ticket. The plan would also reduce capacity and leave only 6000 tickets available to non-bond holders on match days. It is thought that 8000 regulars opted not to return to Highbury. Many more were priced out of regular attending. This was the first major fracture between fans and club. With it came slow realisation that their interests were not always mutual.
In 2002, the club changed its crest, for commercial reasons. The new crest was to represent ’brand values’ and ‘embrace the future’. Most of us were unimpressed; something else was lost to us.
The move to Ashburton Grove followed with the inevitable increase in admission. The loss of Highbury, that touchstone of our support hurt, even though we knew it’s time had come. Whatever the logic, something died in many of us.
Since then, of course, shares, and the club, have gone on to become very valuable indeed. The Board room battles eventually saw the ousting of Dein and later, with the death of Danny Fiszman and the sale to Kroenke, a few became very wealthy indeed. The baton had passed from the board of a football club to the corporate managers of a sporting ‘franchise‘. From custodians to subsidiary management of a ‘brand’.
Little wonder, to me at least, that the oft derided Black Scarf movement strike a clear resonance with their “We want our club back” mantra. You don’t have to agree with all their views to appreciate, and feel, the sentiment behind that.
Where am I, that’s the issue. Put on one side the need to reform the Board, to build Arsenal into a football superpower, the need for new players and the intentions of the mega rich who control ‘our ‘club. What exactly do I support? What do you support?
Instinctively, we would say, “The Arsenal”. My question is, what is The Arsenal in 2014? I don’t support a corporate entity, I care little for millionaires on the Board or in the team. I am completely indifferent to the corporate goals of Ivan Gazidis and his team of ‘sports entrepreneurs’.
I love Arsenal, but what exactly is it that owns my affection and my loyalty?
Thanks Bob. ’til Tomorrow