First of all, let me first fully clarify that I am NOT an Arsenal fan. In fact, I am a very passionate Chelsea supporter (right from the pre-Abromovich era if you are concerned). Now before you go all “Rediff-Comment”-ish over me and begin to declare me guilty of sacrilege, I first suggest you actually READ the rest of the post and THEN form whatever opinion you want. The objective of this post is not to be judgmental or pass comments on the Arsenal fan or the team or on Arsene Wenger. Instead, I aim to go into the typical Arsenal fan’s mind and see WHAT it is about the team that drives them to support it the way they do. And also, as the title suggests, I want to know when, if ever, the Arsenal fan experiences the Tipping Point. So Read on.
Of the many Arsenal fans I have come across over the past many years, most of them belong to one predominant kind. And that is the kind that I am going to be exploring in this post. And again, before you get all short tempered over me, let me assure you that I totally respect each fan’s choice for supporting whichever team they want to. I mean seriously, what fun would it be if everybody supported only the team that you support? But I digress.
So why do Arsenal fans support the club the way they do? But before that, I believe the question to be asked is what is it that drives an Arsenal fan to continuously support the team in spite of its inability to land silverware? The answer to this is a combination of many factors-the first of which is the brand of football they play. And I have absolutely no qualms in admitting that they play the most free flowing passing football among almost all of the Premier League teams (and perhaps next only to Barcelona in Europe). It is always a delight to watch a game of football being played with such fluid like motion and ease. Maybe there is a pass too many at the end of it, but lets not go into that. Now couple this brand of football with perhaps the most vibrant and productive youth policies in all of Premier League. And again, I do not contest it here. The Gunners’ youth policy has been in place for as long as I can remember and it has almost always generated players to watch out for. Add to this picture a man like Arsene Wenger- someone who generates some minimum respect among any football fan whether they like to admit or not. He is someone who has never lost his faith in the policies he has helped put in place. There is something about this man that makes people stop and listen to what he has to say. And my respect for him got cemented when I saw him in an interview with John Dykes. In response to what it is that drives him to keep going as a manager of a football team, this is what he said:
There are times every now and then when the team really comes together and clicks as a unit. Those moments when the team clicks and everything falls into place, the football that comes out as a result is truly beautiful. And it is that joy that drives me to keep going no matter what.
I havent quoted him verbatim but that is what he effectively said. And the way he said it, you know for a fact he means it. And when you realize that, there is really no way you cannot respect this man. And consequently, when you have such a man as the manager of the club you support, your support can only get stronger.
The combination of the brand of football, the vibrant youth policy in place since ages and having a man like Arsene Wenger as the manager of your team will certainly drive any football enthusiast to WANT to support a team like Arsenal. But these factors only explain why anyone would WANT to support a team like Arsenal. It does not, however, explain the WAY the Arsenal fans support their club. And frankly speaking, it is not too hard to understand the reason for this as well.
You see, times are changing in the Premier League and in Europe in general. There is a lot more money involved nowadays than what it was a few years ago. Transfer deals worth $25 million are pretty common place now and you have a lot of clubs ready to pay a lot more for key players. And so in an environment in which more and more clubs are ready to pay for key players to make an impact on their team’s performances, Arsenal remains one of the very few teams which still have their policies centered around youth academies, low player wages and low budget transfers and at the same time keeping their faith in this system to produce the results on the pitch. It almost gives one the feeling of a “David vs Goliath” situation: with Arsenal at one end making a title challenge with very limited resources-young players and a coach showing full faith in them- and all other clubs mounting a title challenge with significantly larger resources, bloated transfer kitties and player wages at the other end. And in fact, for some Arsenal fans, this almost translates into a good vs evil battle.
In the end, it essentially gives a feeling that Arsenal is the last remaining hope for earning success through, what the Arsenal fan sees as, the fair way. And THIS, is what I believe gives the Arsenal fan his/her identity. And taking this a bit further, one can even say that the Arsenal fan desires to win and feel good about the win BECAUSE of the way the club is run-which I believe is totally fair and good as long as the Arsenal fan keeps this passion to himself and does not judge other fans on the basis of the way other clubs are run.
Make no mistake. It is not all sugar coated as I may have described. I have also met and interacted with quite a few Arsenal fans who mistake their arrogance for passion and believe that Arsenal is the only club worthy of support because of the way it is run and the kind of football that they play. And I sincerely despise this. (Of course it would be totally unfair of me if I didn’t say that every club has supporters like these judging other teams by their own parameters). The way the club is run and the kind of football they play is a good reason for supporting the club; but it cannot and should not be the ONLY reason for supporting a team of one’s choice. I am not going to stereotype the Arsenal fan that I have described in the paragraph as I know there are many more genuine fans around.
The Arsenal story is almost like a fairy tale. It is not at all difficult to imagine a movie being inspired by any success Arsenal might come up with in the near future. Think of it:
One football club having very low resources and trying to be self sufficient challenging for the title along with a horde of other teams with a lot more resources and big name players; players getting injured every now and then but then they keep fighting and keep in pace with the other clubs; they lose their momentum somewhere in the middle and noone gives them a chance of success; but the coach sticks to his players and they mount a late title challenge and eventually upsetting all big clubs to emerge victorious!!
Definitely makes for one heck of a movie surely! Everybody loves to root for the underdogs. The point I am trying to make in all of this is that the reason why an Arsenal fan supports his club and the explanation as to the WAY he supports it is a combination of the way the club is run, the manager and the type of football that they play. Which brings me to my next question:
HOW MUCH LONGER IS THE ARSENAL FAN READY TO WAIT FOR THEIR NEXT SILVERWARE?
It has been what 4-5 seasons since Arsenal won anything? Every season, the Arsenal fan hopes to see his team win some silverware thereby hoping to reinforce their faith and belief in their players and manager and to also validate their reason for supporting Arsenal. But as has been the case for a while, there has been no returns for their support. And the situation does not look extremely promising this season either. But perhaps an Arsenal fan may differ here and I wont enter into a debate there. Either way, the question to be asked here is how long before the young, “talented” players with “promising potential” come of age and begin to make the necessary impact? Or in other words, when are the youth policies, the system, the very WAY the club is run, begin to pay dividends? Continued failure of the present system and crop of players to bring in silverware will no doubt come under criticism from the fans themselves. But I am not interested in the criticism. What I am interested in is something even more fundamental. Which brings me to what I have mentioned in the title of the post (finally!).
If the club continues to bring in no trophies, how much longer is the Arsenal fan going to wait till he calls for a change in the very way the club is run? How many more trophy less seasons is it going to take for the Arsenal fan to call for big name signings or proven players? How many seasons with no silverware is it going to take for the Arsenal fan to call for replacing Arsene Wenger? Or in other words:
What is the Arsenal fan’s TIPPING POINT?
Will the hope of the present players gaining more experience every season prove sufficient to keep supporting the club for the same reason they have been doing so far? Will almost-winning-the-title feeling prove enough to continue to support it forever? Even if star players who have been brought up in the club leave (Cesc for example), will the Arsenal fan continue to have faith in the system? Star players leave, new “talents” are spotted and are played without resulting in any silverware, they gain more experience and become good, and are bought by some high profile club, Arsenal then begins to look for new “talents” and the vicious cycle begins all over again.
So you see, what I am interested is right at the root of the Arsenal fan’s reason and pride for supporting his club. What I have written here can and should not be looked at as criticism. This is more of an enquiry and curiosity into the psyche of the Arsenal fan. I have not made any judgment or passed any unwarranted comments here.
And so if you still find the strong urge to post profane “Chelsea supporters have no right to say anything about Arsenal” type comments, consider yourself to be the lowest form of the football fan. Make no mistake. I will allow those comments! After all, if thats going to start a thread, my blog only gains in popularity!