Why I Hate Arsenal By A Leeds United Fan
“The atmosphere at the Emirates Stadium is electric”: words you are rarely likely to hear from the lips of most commentators. But one Saturday earlier this month, for just a few minutes before kick-off, the modern home of Arsenal Football Club witnessed the closest thing to a festival atmosphere it has seen in its brief and so far disappointing history.
On December 10th, ahead of the club’s fixture against Everton, Arsenal celebrated its 125th anniversary. Among the festivities to mark this latest date in the club’s illustrious history was the unveiling of three statues, each a dubious bronze likeness of one of the club’s legendary names: Tony Adams, Thierry Henry, and Herbert Chapman.
When Leeds United’s sizable travelling support rocks up at Ashburton Grove for their FA Cup tie in January, those who are rather more steeped in the history of either club will pause for a moment and reflect at the feet of that last figure.
Leeds United have a history with Arsenal (of course, Leeds have a history with most clubs). Yet their stories intertwine surprisingly all the way back to the early quarter of the 20th century. Herbert Chapman was hired to manage Leeds City FC in 1912, instantly lifting the Elland Road club and building the profile of association football in the dirty old industrial, rugby league town.
Above all a set of boring, indifferent, passionless mockney supporters who drive in from Hertfordshire and Kent to sit on padded seats at the Emirates just to stay quiet and look miserable for ninety minutes.
Leeds seems to have an Achilles’ heel when it comes to money: the club was shopped for financial irregularities and illegal payments to players during the Great War, and in 1919 expelled from the Football League. Herbert Chapman was banned from the game. Out of the ashes emerged Leeds United; the city never looked back. Chapman too recovered, had his ban overturned and in 1925 was appointed to the manager’s job at Arsenal. Having destroyed Leeds City, he went on to build Arsenal FC – the club which today destroys a little piece of the heart and soul, the passion and the ardour of the English game.
Few Leeds fans are relishing the journey south – not only because of the inflated cost, the long coach ride there and back, and the comparative form of both sides which suggests anything less than a hammering wouldbe yet another failure for Arsene Wenger. The sad truth is that going to Arsenal is not much of a thrill any more.
A team of cheap knock-off imports and young starlets waiting to move to a better club; a zombie excuse-making manager who clings to his self-indulgent footballing “philosophy” in the face of repeated failure; and above all a set of boring, indifferent, passionless mockney supporters who drive in from Hertfordshire and Kent to sit on padded seats at the Emirates just to stay quiet and look miserable for ninety minutes.
As a team they are hardly world-beaters, their names far from legendary. It is many seasons since the so-called “Invincibles” dominated the Premier League. Two of their finest leaders last season, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, both wanted out and this year ditched the club at the earliest opportunity to join teams where they would earn more money and win more silverware. Who wants to watch a side perform whose stars would simply rather be playing somewhere else?
The club’s decline in glory has been presided over by Arsene Wenger. Once a revered manager, intelligent tactician, and sage of the modern game, the well-travelled Frenchman now appears elderly and out of touch.
The club’s decline in glory has been presided over by Arsene Wenger. Once a revered manager, intelligent tactician, and sage of the modern game, the well-travelled Frenchman now appears elderly and out of touch. His team’s dismal form at the start of the season saw him visibly under strain, struggling to answer the most straightforward questions about his players’ collective loss of form and seeming lack of interest in winning.
Last season, when the bubble burst and Arsenal choked yet again having begun to delude themselves into thinking they were about to win a famous quadruple, Wenger said that he would be happy to see his team consistently finish second – consistently being able to compete at the highest level is what counts.
For a club that believes its birthright is to rule as the aristocrats of football, who declare themselves the Invincibles off the back of one good season, what a stunning and miserable defeatism from the manager! Say what you like about Man United (and Leeds supporters tend to say a lot), but Wenger’s greatest rival Sir Alex Ferguson has managed to be consistent – and consistently on top.
Wenger proclaims his philosophy to be founded on seeking out young players (generally poaching them from other academies rather than raising them at the club), and unleashing their potential under his guidance, rather than throwing millions on mind-boggling transfer fees. Perhaps inevitably, the policy seemed to have been spectacularly dropped after a series of desperately and rather dubious deadline-day acquisitions at the end of a troubled August.
But for all this, Arsenal’s historical record is a proud one: it is impossible to imagine anyone else taking Arsene’s place (which may yet prove to be the club’s real downfall), and their first team will still be competing in the Champions League in the New Year whilst both Sir Alex and Roberto Mancini have to start making the acquaintance of the Channel 5 Thursday night live commentary team.
The all-pervading reason behind the club’s uninspiring showing of late, their tendency to choke whenever the chips are down, and the derision with which they are met in some parts is simple: the Arsenal supporters.
Every set of fans has its group personality: Leeds fans are delusional and think their team ought to be champions of Europe, but they’re loud, proud and will follow the club to hell and back. The “Gooners”, to use that absurd name by which they like to be collectively known, are similarly notorious. Few sets of supporters could be given the blessing of a magisterial setting such as the Emirates in which to play their home games and consistently fail to provide any atmosphere and give their team that twelfth man effect. From the Highbury library to Ashburton Grave, the Arsenal home support would make a morgue seem lively.
There is one in every office, that balding, chubby man who awkwardly calls you “mate”, describing himself in his company biography as “a proud Gooner and season ticket holder” because it makes him seem like an ordinary, solid bloke you could have a drink with.
They are of course a diverse crowd, combining posh university boys, dodgy cabbies and day-trippers in woolly pullovers and red-and-white scarves. There is one in every office, that balding, chubby man who awkwardly calls you “mate”, describing himself in his company biography as “a proud Gooner and season ticket holder” because it makes him seem like an ordinary, solid bloke you could have a drink with. The kind of man who keeps quiet the fact he doesn’t fully understand the offside rule, but will talk in the pub about it at length louder than anyone else.
They are Arsenal not out of passion, not even for the glory; just for the status. They have no songs to sing. They applaud politely both sets of players every now and then, but mostly have a go at their own side when things are looking down – just like they did when Leeds came to town last year.
When the Whites took them back to Elland Road for the replay last season, Arsenal finally started playing like the aristocrats they have long claimed to be. Two first-half goals set them on the way to a dominant win.
But when midfielder Bradley Johnson scored a blinder with a 30-yard shot, sublimely rising and rising and rising beyond the reach of the keeper and into the top of the goal, the Arsenal fans who littered the South Stand were struck silent (more so). Some of them clapped him, as if the match were something far less significant than cup football – like a play or a political debate. They are weakly polite and middle-class and just dull.
As the Leeds faithful howled “You’re Not Singing Anymore” to the away end, the words were laced with more than a hint of irony: the Arsenal fans weren’t singing at all in the first place.
The ultimate reason we hate Arsenal is not so much the manager or the players, or out of some morbid inferiority complex in the face of their history. It’s only because we have to endure yet another long trip down south to try and liven up a boring ground, watching a dull team, on a cold winter’s evening.
At least I suppose we’ll get to have our pictures taken with Herbert Chapman...
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