I spent too long on Monday explaining how little as fans we really know our team. Instead I tried to emphasize the anomaly that the club is, in a league of slightly predictable anomalies.
We know what Man United is. We know that when we look at the parts of the machine, there are few players in that team we would like over ours. We could say the same about Chelsea and City, Spurs and Newcastle and so on. Actually, I bet out of all of the above teams, the most players we would want from any one team would probably be Newcastle – which is strange no?
We know how City, United, Chelsea and ourselves will get on. We know how Stoke, Everton, Liverpool and Villa will do. We know because like Malcolm Gladwell writes in Blink, “The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.” Or, “We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We’re a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don’t really have an explanation for.” Or even, “being able to act intelligently and instinctively in the moment is possible only after a long and rigorous of education and experience”
If you haven’t read it, it is worth a go as it makes sense a lot of the time. As does his book Outliers and The Tipping Point. All lend themselves brilliantly to analyzing, or at least appearing to analyze sport. In Outliers, Gladwell’s premise is that to be extremely good at anything, to be regarded as a genius in your field, you have to spend 10,000 hours practicing that activity as some kind of apprenticeship. The funny thing is, if we start supporting from an age of 8 or so, and we think about football on and off for 4 hours a day, we will have completed our 10,000 hours by the age of 15! And what the hell do we know at 15? Certainly what do we know about football? Have you ever heard teenagers argue about football? It is like listening to chimpanzees fighting. So therein lies the rub. We have hundreds of thousands of over-qualified experts, unheard in the melee of genius-turd, spouted off like some Sony Bravia advert in which we are both the paint and the sprinting clown. Football is the boring block of flats.
You see the thing is, we have no idea what we are talking about. None. Even football managers and players talk a bad game. They might tell a good story, or be able to explain some interesting insight into why circumstances transpired in a favourable or unfavourable manner based on a decision they made or didn’t make. But the one thing they don’t get any better than us, is the meaning and qualification of what it is to be a football fan. So they need to do their job without acknowledging us or they end up sinking to our level. We all have strange and lucid gut feelings based on the hours accumulating meaningless and trivial facts and bias that bring no reward to our lives. Most people do things/work on areas of themselves to make them seem more attractive. The generating of football knowledge is not one of them.
We give ourselves over to something weaker and more secretive than religion. There is a flexible and odd moral code that can bridge the disgusting (I’m thinking of the songs about Adebayor and Hitler being a Gooner because he killed Jews), to the amazing (Muamba, the pre-match laying of flowers by the Arsenal players at Anfield ’89).
The amount of time we spend trying to think things through is directly at odds with our real feelings. Feelings about a Wenger who mirrors the worst in all of us. His inability to budge from his self-belief/opinion, his myopia to suit his needs, his devotion to that which he truly cares about (parity within pay and stability/family life within the group). All of these things are things we see or believe we see in ourselves. Much of that which we love or hate is mirrored in our own beliefs and failings. Why should football be any different?
Anyway, I digress. What I am trying to explain, is that the game itself and the ritual around it are two very different things. One is steeped in tribalism, camaraderie and emotional abandonment. The other is the achieving of immediate objectives based on the qualities of one team to try to beat or hold another team. I am going out on a limb and assuming few teams go out to lose (in any sport).
So then we have the challenge of what makes a fan, set against what makes a professional footballer. From here on in, the links and comparisons could decend into the hilarious. I apologise if I let go of the reins. If I do, this will be both in surrealism as well as experimental sentence structure.
An English fan is an amalgam of branded clothes and sportswear, beer, regular (if unreliable) sources of opinion and conjecture, spurious recollections of the past and projections for the future. A studied and dissonant rabble of solipsists resembling the French Foreign Legion and in the main, suffering some type of physical and psychological atrophy. (Woooah horsey!)
The fan reacts on the hoof and thinks in detail at a later stage. The fan loses all sense of discipline because the abandonment is the drug that invigorates a meaningless and often one-way faith. The real fan doesn’t care about their self-image, because they have long-since recognized that they come a very distant second to the physical demands in the overwhelming emotion that is blind faith.
The quality player is (mainly) fit, disciplined, single-minded, aware of their duty and the impact it has on a team, a good decision maker and able to do so in an instant under stress/pressure.
Why have I spent so long trying to establish this? Because Arsenal is a crazy anomaly that occasionally tries to play like the crappiest fans (8-2 L), but let themselves down by reluctantly and more frequently resorting to skill (5-2 J).
So much as I would like to talk about the merits of Arteta, Wilshire’s absence, defensive indiscipline, us being a selling club and so on, I find myself having to justify why I want to talk about it in the first place. For all the tactical inefficiencies and genius displayed by the various factions of the team, I find myself worryingly overcome by my own fits of rage at the inane, docile, simian and discombobulated expressions too often worn in recent times by the likes of Eboue, Vela, Almunia (who always looked like a homeless person caught defecating in a backstreet), Djourou, Song, Arsharvin, Clichy, Chamakh and so on and bloody so forth.
With that in mind, caring about whether van Persie stays, or if Podolski will be a hit almost seems meaningless. The amount of time we have invested in our madness has already elapsed and taken its true form. The delusion that success on the field, will bring the fan some kind of moment of clarity is as nonsensical as manufacturing and using a home-made catheter when your junk and bladder are in perfect working order.
Man United fans are miserable. Man City fans have been and are already miserable. All fans are bloody miserable because it is that state of being which we enjoy. We just tend to confuse it with thinking. The temporary elation in success brings us worryingly close to a realization that the meaning of football is to chew us up and spit us out. Results and achievements are ephemeral and the solipsism of the fan is what it is really all about. Wenger and his strange habits show he is human and suffering his own madness. Good. Serves him right.
Written by fergalburger