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Monday 25 September 2017

Still Proud To Say That Name?

With the Gooner fanzine going the same lamentable way of virtually all printed media, with the exponential and seemingly infinite expansion of the internet, I feel privileged to be able to provide my own humble contribution to an edition, in sadly the last season that our arrival at the Arsenal on a matchday will be welcomed by that familiar invocation to "get ya Gooner!"

While I am all for saving more precious trees, personally I much prefer turning the pages of a tangible magazine, or a newspaper and I will never enjoy passing the time spent on "the throne" quite so much, when squinting at the small screen on a smartphone. Besides which, it's not nearly quite so useful when one glances up in horror, to discover that the last person in the karsey has left an empty cardboard toilet roll.

Considering that the Gooner has been in publication for the past THIRTY years, providing a public forum for Arsenal fans to make themselves heard and often proving to be an irritating, pestilent bulwark against the worst excesses of a board, which was previously infamous for being stone deaf to supporters views, I doubt the club's PR machine will be mourning the demise of the printed version?

As one of the last from that vanguard of the footie fanzine revolution that continues to appear in print, it's passing will inevitably prove to be yet another nail in the coffin of the beautiful game, as I always knew it; sadly just another straw on the back of the camel that sees our beloved club evolve into an antiseptic, anonymous corporate machine.


Still Proud To Say That Name?

Amongst all these buff athletes, the frail looking interloper
in the centre begins to appear more pensioner than professor
            Thumbing through the matchday programme during the halftime break on Spursday night, the other week, while looking to see if any of the opposition players were at all familiar to me, I was struck by quite how many of the Bundesliga outfit were listed as having been born in, or around the Cologne area.

            In these mercenary times, when star talent tends to change clubs more often than their underpants, in pursuit of ever more obscene pay packets and where sadly, totally committed, one club players have become the exception that proves this rule, this revelation about the Cologne side inevitably left me feeling nostalgic for a bygone era, a time when the taunt of “we support our local team” wasn’t merely applicable on the terraces.

            Nowadays, when I spy an exchange between the likes of Monreal and Kolosinac, through my binoculars, as the players are trotting off at the break, the question that often comes to mind is “what language are they communicating in?” Elite clubs have mostly become such a multi-cultural bouillabaisse of global talent that never mind my disconcerting doubts as to whether our current crop of players share a genuine affinity for the Arsenal, I’m not even sure they share a common lingo.

            No matter how much faux badge-kissing players indulge in, unfortunately the harsh facts of the modern day business of  “have boots, will travel” football are no longer much different to those of any other industry; where the vast majority of our heroes are always only a better offer away from packing their bags, to ply their trade elsewhere.

Not a Sherman but a Bosnian Tank
            It was interesting to witness how rapidly the Gooner faithful took Kolosinac to our hearts. With the Bosnian’s bullish style, all it took was a couple of barnstorming runs, for our muscular Tank to immediately nail down a place as a firm terrace favourite. This was perhaps symptomatic of quite how starved we’ve become of late, of players who’re consistently willing to put their bodies on the line, with the sort of “run until you drop” displays, which serve to demonstrate that the Arsenal and our results REALLY matter to them.

            We often hear the old guard amongst TV’s retinue of ex-pro pundits whinging about the common sight of the canoodling that takes place in the tunnel between opposing teams' players who have a shared history, or who are International colleagues. Yet you can’t turn the clock back, to the partisan animosity that was responsible for the rutting stag scenes of yesteryear, where for example the tension between the likes of Vieira and Keane was so fierce that it was almost inevitable that it would “kick-off”, when ever these two gang-bangers were in such close proximity.

            I can cope with all the kissing and cuddling, but I at least need to be able to kid myself that when the Gunners step past the white touchline, the very minimum that we can expect from them is a willingness to earn the sort of quantities of corn that might satiate the entire third world, by showing sufficient respect for the red & white shirt and sixty thousand mug punters; even if this only amounts to merely going through the motions, to make it appear as if the outcome means as much to them, as it does to all of us.

            Considering the apparent apathy culpable for our recent humiliation at Anfield, in Wenger’s shoes, I would’ve ordered the entire squad off the coach and frog-marched them all the way home from Merseyside, just so they’d have to endure the sort of physical torture that might’ve been the equivalent of our own mental anguish on the long schlep back to London.

            Unlike the millions of far too entitled Gooners, who’ve been spoiled by the success we enjoyed during those glorious early years of Arsène’s tenure, I’m long enough in the tooth to appreciate that a lack of silverware is the default status for the vast majority of football supporters, for most of the time. A bad result is water off a duck’s back, but what I simply cannot abide is a lack of spirit. If the Gunners are going down, I want to see them doing so, losing their rag, getting sent off, demonstrating genuine anger, instead of merely rolling over and playing dead.

These kids still hungry enough to "carpe diem"?
            All Wenger’s title winning teams have contained a smattering of homegrown talent, or players who’re sufficiently imbued with the culture of our illustrious club to inspire amongst their team-mates that crucial extra few per cent of effort, which is essential to sustain a consistent tilt at a championship run. It is for this reason that we continue to hold out in hope of a miraculous renaissance from Jack Wilshere and are willing to show that little bit more patience with the homegrown likes of Alex Iwobi. Similarly, it’s frustrating to see patently committed Gooners such as Szczesny slip through the club’s fingers and we seek some solace in our Europa League embarrassment, in the hope it might offer a stage for young guns such as Nelson and Maitland-Niles to force their way into the first XI frame.

            I’m realistic enough to appreciate that the days are long gone when Charlie George could step off the terraces and the Arsenal can no longer be reliant on a red & white core to reserve our seat at Europe’s top table, but for me to be able to continue to invest so much passion into supporting the Gunners, I need to be able to believe in a side that isn’t made up entirely of the sort of mercenaries capable of washing off the disgrace of defeat, in the dressing room showers immediately after a game.

            While I find myself questioning whether our ageing manager is still capable of stirring the passions of the current squad on a sufficiently regular basis, possibly the most infuriating aspect of the interminable Wenger Out saga, is the dampener that all the banners put on the awayday ritual, the last vestiges of a show of mutual respect and admiration between the team and the travelling faithful, at the conclusion of away games.

            Aside from Arsenal players selfishly ambling back when we’ve lost possession, as if to suggest “it’s not my job to bust my balls in defence”, there’s little that is more disrespectful than the sight of the Gunners trudging off the pitch after a poor performance, with nary a nod to the commitment, effort and cost involved in travelling all over the continent to support our club. This was always one of the few remaining opportunities to commune with the players, to at least be able to maintain the misguided delusion that they share our commitment to the cause.

            If we’re not to accept that the continued corporatisation of modern day clubs means that football has increasingly become a job of work, in which the vast majority of players are merely clocking on and off, then surely it’s become that much more essential for us to be able to believe in players for whom the badge means just a little more than a bottomless pension fund?

            No matter how naïve of me it might be, my affinity with the current crop of players rests on being able to maintain the sense that we go into games against the likes of Spurs, Chelsea and Man Utd, knowing that there are still some out there in red & white who remain willing to put that little bit more on the line, knowing they’ll wake up on a Monday morning no less depressed than myself after a bad result.

            If social media has one saving grace, it does at least make our players vulnerable to the same sort of stick that we endure from friends and workmates. Yet with PR teams to deal with such trifles, as has always been the case, the only genuine means of the Gunners proving that they really care remains out on the park.

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