I am not talking about financial fair play here, that is perhaps for another day. To my mind, discipline and fair play, on and off the ground, go hand in hand. And Arsenal reigns supreme, at least in the Premier League, in these qualities. And as supporters, we value these qualities quite a lot as well. Or do we?
Arsenal finished top of the Fair Play League in 2012/13, and was awarded £30,000 by the FA Charity Committee, for use towards community or youth projects. “As a club, Arsenal prides itself on values of fair competition and positive behaviour both on and off the pitch,” Arsène Wenger said at the time. And not for the first time as well. Arsenal has won the award several times over the past decade and a half.
What constitutes the fair play award? At an objective level, it is smallest number of red and yellow cards totted over the year, plus positive play, respect towards opponents, respect towards the referee and officials, behaviour of the team officials, and behaviour of the fans. Quite a full agenda, is it not? But, ah, what use is fair play if you cannot win trophies? Turning the question the other way round, can you win the fair play award and the league at the same time? It turns out you can. The last team to do it was, yes, Arsenal, and in the invincible season of 2003/04.
What about the intervening period? The ride has been rocky at times, to say the least. Even, the fantastic role model that he is, Arsene Wenger has had his occasional trysts with the evil side. He has had spats with Mark Hughes, Big Sam, Sir Alex, the Special One and Alan Pardew, and has occasionally refused to shake hands. Ex gunners van Judas and Gallas had been spotted by the paparazzi smoking in public, and Wilshere more recently. Arshavin and Bendy were caught in awkward situations as well, and Alex Song even came close to a conviction. And, of course, the journos had nothing better to do but to try and make stories out of these supposed trivialities.
But overall, Arsenal has been a great example for how the team and the manager have conducted themselves in the public domain. Indeed, Arsene Wenger has been hailed for revolutionising the way English footballers look after their bodies. The Arsenal manager’s influence has led to changes in diet and lifestyle which have set new standards for professionalism at Premier League clubs and beyond. Hence, discipline in public life and fair play on the field have gone hand in hand for Arsenal.
Imagine, then, the surprise (at least for some Arsenal fans, yours truly included) in the summer when Arsenal placed a bid for one Luis Suarez, who has not been the most disciplined performer on the field of play. One of the greats at the current time, no doubt, but not a great example of fair play – diving, sledging, and even cannibalism being important parts of his portfolio. In time, we fans sort of warmed up to him, if for no other reason, than the fact that we really seemed to need reinforcements upfront. But along came one Mesut Ozil, waving a magic wand that inspired the team and the fans to fantastic heights of performance. So far, it has been a good ride!! And it would seem from Rocky’s post and responses on Monday that we no longer crave for the alleged cannibal.
All nice and fine and onwards with the discipline and fair play agenda then? Apparently not. In our attempt to be strong on the field and negate the impression of being pushovers, our youngsters have let some of the attitude spill over outside the field of play. Yes, we wanted the attitude, the passion, the strength on the field. But, we may be better without the adverse publicity, gained by alleged racist behaviour on the field, or unfortunate outbursts of juvenile opinion expressed to the press.
Does aggression on the field necessarily lead to the unfortunate shedding of the “role model” tag? Have we as fans somewhat given up on the high standards of discipline and fair-play that we expect of our team, on and off the ground? Our in principle acceptance of Suarez would seem to indicate such a change of heart?
Dear AAers, where now for discipline and fair play? What value are these qualities, in any case?
Written by Arnie