Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Protests. What do 'Where has our Arsenal gone?' really want?

Protesting has become rather fashionable recently. The Middle East has seen an upsurge in pro-democracy protests, students in the UK took to London's streets to protest against the increases in tuition fees and we're now hearing that teachers are planning to strike, protesting against proposed changes to their pensions.

The world of football has also seen a number of protests. Two recent high profile examples are the Manchester United fans who protested against the mountain of Glazer debt leveraged on their club, and the Liverpool fans who successfully drove out the American owners that nearly took the club to bankruptcy.

Now it seems there are a small number of Arsenal fans who want to join the protest bandwagon, and their preferred method appears to be Liverpool's laughable 'march to a game we were going to anyway' model.

So, what do this group (dramatically titled 'Where has our Arsenal Gone?') want to achieve? The initial call to action on their website was incredibly vague:

"We call for all Arsenal fans who agree with our views and who want to see their Arsenal back, to join us on a walk before the match against Aston Villa on Sunday 15 May."

"Want to see their Arsenal back"? I mean, really, what does this mean? You can't protest against the club on such flimsy, sentimental waffle.

Maybe I'm being thick, but this seems to be implying that things used to be brilliant and now they're shit. What is that all about? I mean, really, it's simply not the case is it? I questioned some of the main supporters of the protest via twitter and got responses such as the one below:

"if the board and/or wenger changes then GOOD!"

Change how, exactly?

I understand that we've come up short this year - once again imploding in the final weeks of the season.  Wenger may need to change his focus and the board may need to spend some money. Both have indicated that this is possible.

So if we agree the club are trying to sort out these on field issues as a matter of course, what is this protest about?

Protests are there for when people in power are doing things against the will of the wider populous. So what are the changes that the board and/or Wenger need to enact for Black Scarf to be happy?

Helpfully, they have now issued a press release, which covers six (yes, that's right SIX) main areas:


1) Season tickets

Basically, they don't want the price of season tickets to go up. None of us do. Nothing ground breaking there. People want to spend as little as possible. No need for protest either - price increases for general season tickets are simply a rumour at the moment.

There's also some unworkable ideas about being able to give up your season ticket for a year if needed, creating the possibility of downgrading your ticket (good idea to be fair) and some tripe about implementing a swap-shop if you want to move seats (this sort of exists - write to the club during the renewal period - unless they mean during the season, in which case, I don't see the point).

2) Seating

This is an odd little section where they bang on about issuing season tickets in the Clock End, moving away fans into the upper tier and put forward an unworkable and pointless experiment of unreserved seating.

Again, this isn't ground breaking and it certainly isn't urgent, requiring a protest! Isn't this type of stuff that the AGM is for?

3) Commercial activity

It's getting weirder by the minute isn't it? Since when have people protested at a football club because they don't believe commercial deals are making enough money for a club? As supporters, it's none of their business - let the new owner sort it out. In fact, there is a rumour that this is actually on his to-do list.

Our away kit should always be yellow. Fair enough - I agree, but I don't see this as an issue that requires an urgent protest. Same with their issue around the club releasing two kits every year - if you don't want them, don't buy them. Seems a bit of a contradiction, they've asked the club to make more commercial revenue, but at the same time want to restrict their shirt sale opportunities. Whatever. Next...

4) Ownership and target markets

Honestly, this is getting dull. Four paragraphs going on about how we place too much emphasis on getting corporate supporters through the door and how this will hurt the club long term.

Look, I hate to say it, but we're following a national trend here - top flight football is more expensive to attend. It's a supply and demand thing - the "loyal, long-term support [that] the club has been built on" attended games during a time when football was unfashionable, Arsenal were a mid-table top flight side and it didn't cost hundreds of millions of pounds per season to keep the club alive. That is all the board are doing - they're not deliberately fleecing fans, they are simply doing what is needed for the club to survive and compete.

It's true that things are more expensive at the Arsenal now. This is also the case at every other top flight club. Yes, we do pay the highest ticket prices in the land, but this is partly a product of supporting a self sustaining club that competes at the top of the league - supporting a club that doesn't have to rely on an owner putting in millions of pounds of their own money as interest free loans - supporting a club that doesn't have to worry about it all collapsing when one individual gets bored. If high ticket prices are needed to sustain this, then I'm all for it - even if it means I need to dip a bit deeper into my pockets.

5) The manager

A couple of paragraphs saying they want him to repeat his successful years at the club (don't we all), and that he should sign a couple of world class players (no protest needed - I'm pretty sure he knows now).

6) The chairman

Mental. "We want our Arsenal back" but we want the immediate removal of the one member of the board who properly represents the tradition and history of the club, because he called some fan's opinions "silly".

By allowing him to remain as Chairman, this gives the message that the Board think it’s acceptable to openly criticise and disrespect the club’s supporters.

Unbelievable - we as supporters are allowed to openly criticise anyone we wish, no matter how crazy or selfish our views are, but god forbid anyone criticises us back.


I'm really just not getting this protest at all. The six points above are just too broad and, I have to admit, after having read the press release there is no way I could summarise their issues into a paragraph. It's all very financially focused, and mainly on issues around the cost of supporting the club for the average fan.

As for the football (which, incidentally, is hardly even mentioned in the press release). People are upset because we haven't won a trophy in six years. SIX years?! It's nothing in the grand scheme of things. Barcelona went six years without a trophy from 99-05, and look where they are now. I'm not saying that we're going to be the new Barcelona, but when teams like West Ham are playing some awful shit and all the while their fans are simply getting behind the team, our protest at 'only' achieving top four finishes, with the odd League and Cup double / unbeatable season / cup final chucked in, just stinks of spoilt entitlement.

My main gripe with the protest however, beyond the complete lack of focus, is the appalling timing.

The timing of the protest, along with the lack of focus and the current media interest in Wenger, means that it can be misinterpreted and misrepresented very easily. It only takes one idiot to start one ill advised chant on the march and that's it... headlines of "ARSENE OUT! - ARSENAL FANS FINALLY TURN ON TROPHY-LESS WENGER" will be just around the corner.

They way I see it, at best, this protest will have no effect on the club whatsoever, at worst, it will divide the fans even further and destabilise the club at precisely the time we need to be together. If the press coverage is unkind, it could even lose us our manager. Imagine that.

Victory Through Harmony - seems to have been forgotten recently, eh?