This is a question I’ve been asked pretty often in the last three years, ever since my university journey began. “Why do you support Arsenal?”
Of course, the question is posed by neutrals, not by Arsenal fans or, indeed, any football fans. My replies varied. I felt obliged (most of the time) to say something better than just “I cannot explain it”.
So I went on an adventure every time someone asked me why is it I support Arsenal. I listed the things I liked: Arsene Wenger, the style of football, certain pedigree, great players. Before, quite recently, realising these had little to do with why Arsenal is my club of choice. What triggered this realisation was Dennis Bergkamp’s quote:
The phrase brought the point home for me. But before I start elaborating why, let’s cross every other reason off the list.
I started to support Arsenal in the summer of 2004. So my first season was 2004-2005. Knowing that, you could make a pretty good case that the Invincibles, who have gone the previous season undefeated and won the Golden League trophy, fuelled my desire to start supporting the Club. Were it not for one simple thing: at the time I didn’t know we were reigning champions. I didn’t know we went a whole season undefeated before we lost 2-0 to United. And it took me several years to find out we had, in fact, gone a season unbeaten, becoming the second ever English side to do so, the first in the modern era and as it stands, the last.
If I were supporting Arsenal because of the trophies I would have had enough at around 2007-2008 and called it quits. But I didn’t. I suffered like every Arsenal fan did, yet I continued supporting the Club.
You could say that I’ve started ploughing for Arsenal because of the players. Henry, Bergkamp, Pires, Ljungberg, Viera, Toure, Campbell and Lehmann were all present and firing in 2004. This group started to fell apart only in 2005-2006.
You would be wrong yet again. Because even when van Persie, Nasri and Fabregas were our only decent players, amply surrounded by mediocre guys like Denilson, Song, Senderos and Djourou, I stayed. I watched Arsene Wenger suffer on the sidelines. It must have been immensely painful to make caviar out of sausages. To watch his team fight for CL qualification only.
I’m ashamed to say I know next to nothing about Arsenal’s history. I’ve heard names, read Wikipedia articles and watched YouTube videos to try and not look like a lost cause in terms of our history, but you won’t need to dig deep to find out I know very little. Should really get that “Complete Arsenal history” book out of the closet in the summer. God knows I’ve been planning on reading it long enough.
The only bit of history I know is the bit that unfolded right before my eyes, and this period doesn’t even cover Wenger’s reign. Though it’s fair to say my whole life up to this point barely covers Arsene Wenger’s tenure at the Club.
For quite some time even I was under the illusion I support Arsenal because of Arsene Wenger. The thought of him leaving still sends chills running down my spine.
After all, there’s so much to like about the Frenchman both as a manager and as a person. He revolutionized English football. He became the first foreign coach in 1996. He introduced new training regimes, new diet. He set(s) his teams to play beautiful football. Arsene adopted three different playing styles during his tenure, gone 49 undefeated, built a new stadium. The man leaves and breathes Arsenal. He was even asked once whether it was coincidental his name started with the same letters as the Club he manages.
There’s also Arsene the person always fighting against injustice, always protecting his players, vigorously articulating on the sidelines; politely answering all the stupid questions in the press conferences. Ready to take on the blame if needs must.
He majored in economics, fluently speaks at least English and German, while also being no stranger to Spanish, Italian, Japanese and some French dialect (forgive me, I forgot which one).
I associated my love for the Club with my respect for the man in charge of it until I realised I won’t stop supporting Arsenal even when Arsene inevitably leaves. A recent article, no, two of them (one from fellow writer Clive, another from @7amkickoff) helped me to finally get what Bergkamp meant when he said that “you start supporting a football club…because you found yourself somewhere there, found a place where you belong.” So let’s get to what I’ll call…
The Arsenal Way?
I’ll start with some recent quotes from Ivan Gazidis:
“Feeling a sense of pride in Arsenal is just as important as European success”
“When we talk about the destination, it’s not winning a Champions League, its making fans proud,”
“It’s about making the people at the football club proud of what we do and how we do it.”
“We get a lot of criticism, but we have people at the club who are very firmly fixed on where we want to get to and won’t get knocked off course by the whims that happen day to day. We are very much on that journey, and we may never reach the destination.”
First of all, it’s nice knowing the current culture, a culture of doing things the right way, one which was instilled by Arsene Wenger, won’t fall apart after the great Frenchman leaves. That there are people who believe in the way things are being done and they will see to it things will continue to get done this way. I experienced a genuine sense of relief upon reading these words.
Arsenal believe there’s something that goes beyond short-term gain. That there may, just may, be something which is ultimately more important than gathering trophies. No one says the two cannot be combined: a period from 1996 till 2006 showed us they very well can be. But no one’s saying trophies should be the ultimate thing in football, the be-all end-all of everything.
I keep returning to one article I’ve recently read (if you haven’t done it, do so here (Guardian) ASAP):
“It’s his (Arsene’s) faith – his belief that there’s a code of rightness other than success; his Catholic claim that virtue, magic, and beauty might be more important than the trophy case.”
Judgments on Arsène say far more about the judges than they do about him – about our comfort with the idea that sport, or football, or life itself, can be worth our while even if it doesn’t end in victory. That to be beautiful, or to be decent, to improve ourselves or leave something for the future, might be as or more important than the trophy case.”
That’s the way Arsenal does things. We don’t park our machines and start firing banknotes at rivals. We don’t offer huge wages to mediocre players. We don’t end our financial year in debt. We don’t spend hundreds upon hundreds of millions on a dozen below-par players to substitute one great. We don’t live off of our rich owners. Don’t allow players to dictate us terms. Don’t fire managers at will and don’t appoint them on a whim either.
Whatever we do, some serious thinking process and long-term planning are usually involved. Perhaps that’s why media mostly dislikes us? They want drama. Want stories. Where stability and consistency are involved, there’s little room for stories. That drives journalists up the wall. After all, it’s so much more amusing to write about what a clusterfuck of poor decisions United has become, or how Mourinho said something highly inappropriate during a presser than it is about sustainable growth and quiet development. Such stories won’t give you clicks. How there’s a campaign against Chelsea will.
And so, for what is most likely the first time I can say (with clarity and full realisation of what it truly stands for) that I’m proud to be a Gunner.
Such an elaborate answer to such a seemingly simple question, eh?
How about you? Why did you start supporting Arsenal?