If you have clicked on this article because you’re a frothing Wengerphobe and you want to praise me for expressing the sentiment contained in the headline I suggest you read no further.
I am not finished with supporting Arsenal and I never will be, even when they nail me down in a box and plant me.
The headline is in quotation marks because I have seen it expressed (in those words or similar) by many contributors to the Arsenal blogosphere.
If you share that sense of desperation – so powerful an antipathy to what is happening with the current Arsenal set-up that you are willing to turn your back on a lifetime of support – I am also not here to make fun of you or attempt to argue you out of it. I am truly sad that you have come to such a despairing conclusion and can imagine that you have not reached it lightly.
Anyway, there is already too much dysfunctionality in the Arsenal family to throw fuel on those flames.
But I am fascinated with understanding what it is that can make people who – in some cases – have followed Arsenal for decades finally decide they can take no more.
Certainly anyone who HAS supported the club for decades has lived through far worse periods than anything we’re going through now (which, to be clear, is a run of poor performances on the back of a season where we finished third, albeit not convincingly, then sold our best player to one of our main rivals).
We have gone through bad periods in the past – periods when we were finishing much lower in the league than today, playing football that would make Tony Pubis wince and enduring the Sahara of all trophy droughts.
The supporters during those times did not do a Delap (throw in the towel). They looked forward to meeting up with their mates on match day, having a few beers, having a laugh and watching the game – win, lose or draw.
Obviously they (we) were gutted when we lost and overjoyed when we won. Most players would be given wholehearted support but even then there were always one or two who got a bit of stick.
Somehow though, however bad things were on the pitch, however clueless the manager, however donkey-like the players, it never took over our whole life. It didn’t leave us dejected the rest of the week, poring over the entrails of defeat like a Roman soothsayer.
The reasons offered for why people seem more upset in the modern era fall into three categories:
Expectations: this theory has it that the agonies of today are a direct result of the ecstasies of the past. Until 2005 we had a run of regular trophy success going back almost 20 years, to when a young Arsenal team managed by George Graham lifted the League Cup in 1987.
In the first half of Arsene Wenger’s reign the pot-winning was enhanced by some of the greatest players and best football ever seen at Arsenal, culminating in the Invincibles of 2003-4.
According to this theory, we supporters have tasted the best and won’t settle for less.
But why didn’t the fans who experienced Double joy in 1971 – including clinching the title at the N17 public toilets – throw their toys out of the pram as the mid ‘70s descended into Spuddish levels of awfulness (we finished 16th in 1975 and 17th in 1976)? Perhaps the answer lies in the second theory:
Entitlement: it is accepted by many that we live in an age of entitlement. Modern technology and a steady increase (until recently) in standards of living over the past 20 years have created a society in which we expect to have what we want, when we want it. Anyone with teenage children will understand this very well indeed.
In extreme cases, entitlement is recognised by clinical psychologists as a symptom of narcissistic personality disorder, with individuals becoming more and more furious when they fail to get what they think is their right.
For Arsenal supporters the entitlement issues are compounded by repeated surveys showing we are among the six richest clubs in world football. By this argument, we should be winning major trophies regularly, regardless of stadium moves, petro-dollars and a club medical centre that resembles something from The Walking Dead.
One problem with the entitlement theory is that it’s not just younger supporters (members of the “entitlement generation”) who are turning their backs on supporting Arsenal. I have read comments from people doing just that who start by saying “I have been supporting Arsenal for more than 30 years but now I’ve had enough…”
Internet: back in the 1970s when I first started watching Arsenal on a regular basis (yes – I was there when we finished 17th!) I would be really peed off when we lost and would have a good moan with my mates in the pub.
But until the next game my only source of information, news or gossip about the Arsenal was whatever the national newspapers decided to print which, in those days, was not very much. Many newspapers had only a couple of pages devoted to sport (all sport – not just football) and footy coverage was mostly limited to match reports. There was no “insider” gossip, no guest columns by ex players, no “WAGs”.
Also it’s worth bearing in mind that there was virtually no live footy on TV: all we had were Match of the Day on Saturday night and The Big Match on Sunday lunchtimes.
Inevitably, therefore, I spent less time talking, thinking about or watching Arsenal than I do now. Today, apart from the massively increased press coverage and wall-to-wall TV exposure, the internet means I read, write and talk about Arsenal every single day – sometimes for several hours (don’t tell my boss… or my wife).
Which, in turn, means that every setback, every concern, every defeat is scrutinised and agonised over to a degree that would have been unthinkable in the ‘70s or ‘80s.
Quite aside from the mild mental derangement this causes me (and, I suspect, many other Gooners), it also means that more extreme viewpoints can reach a wider audience than they would have done in days past. Whether it’s the view that Arsene Wenger is the devil incarnate and should be lynched, or that Le Boss must be beatified by the Pope forthwith as a prelude to becoming Saint Arsene of Ashburton, those opinions – when expressed on the internet – can gain a following that they would not have done when expressed to a few people in the pub
This last theory – the internet – is the most convincing one for me. The first two theories may play their part as well, but it’s the sheer ubiquity of Arsenal in the modern fan’s world that makes the pain so hard to take: there is, literally, no escape.
One last theory: there is a final element which, I believe, plays a part in making people have such drastic reactions to footballing setbacks these days – but it’s not an easy one to classify.
The element I have in mind is that, as a society, we are less sure of who we are these days. The class system that was still entrenched as I was growing up has gone (or at least become much more blurred and confused); we are a multicultural people in a multinational world; we are bombarded with entertainment in all forms (contrast that with the three TV channels of the 1970s and no such things as Talksport, computers or computer games); the “nuclear family” of two married parents and two or three kids – then the norm – is now in decline; even our external “enemies” are elusive, mysterious people hiding in shadows, not the mighty Soviet Bloc that threatened the childhoods of many of us.
I am not saying that any or all of these changes are bad things, just that they have left us (particularly, perhaps, the over 40s among us) feeling like there are fewer concrete things to hold on to than in our youth. We have changed from being a nation of people who all watched the same TV shows at the same time to a kaleidoscope society that has splintered into 10,000 niche interests and pastimes. As a result our sense of shared identity is more fragile than it ever used to be.
In those circumstances, the attachment we have to Arsenal becomes something stronger and more powerful than ever: the one solid part of our identity. But with such power over us, it also has the capacity to cause us pain like never before.
And maybe that’s why losing faith in Arsenal has changed from being what it once was – a wound capable of healing – to what it is now for some supporters – a death blow.