Many years ago my friends and I were standing in a hallway at work, chatting about weekend results when a guy barged past us, bumped into us and caused a minor coffee spill. The guy kept walking. ‘Jerk’ was the immediate response, followed by ‘well, look at his jacket – what do you expect?’ He was wearing a Manchester United top.
One of my friends who only has a passing interest in football took offence at this characterisation of someone we had never met. My Arsenal supporting friend said, ‘well, if you saw someone wearing a t shirt with a swastika you wouldn’t need much more to know what they are like would you?’. Harsh? Of course. But it got me thinking about whether it’s fair to characterise people based on the football club they support. Firstly, I know it’s not. One of my best friends supports Manchester United -although our friendship is partially sustained by an unspoken agreement that we never discuss football. I was visiting her in London last year and the game at Old Trafford was going on as I was making my way to the airport. She didn’t say a word and supplied me with double vodkas. I will always be grateful for that.
Some other Manchester United fans I know are less decent – my uncle for one. He gloats when they win, and if they lose, there is no pleasure winding him up because he will stick the knife into his own team worse than any rival fan. My mother’s saying for this is ‘they eat their young’. My cousin ‘supports’ United in the text book ‘glory hunting’ way. He’s got a Barcelona shirt to break out for spare occasions. I know there are plenty Arsenal fans (and fans of many other clubs) who behave in the exact same way, but I do (naturally) have bias towards the Gooners.
One of my favourite Arsenal supporting friends is laid back, witty, and the best person you could imagine to watch a game with. I remember watching United tear a weakened Arsenal team apart (we hadn’t strengthened but Arsene had reassured us there was great spirit in the squad). The game was punctuated by shouts at Nasri, a la Star wars to ‘USE YOUR TEAM SPIRIT!’ If you don’t laugh you cry etc. Another Arsenal supporting friend is more like me, the type of fan who, if we are three goals up with five minutes to go could easily conceive of us conceding four.
With twitter, I have access to a much wider variety of Arsenal fan. And for the last few weeks I’ve been considering unfollowing all but about three of them. This isn’t a fingers in the ears reaction to poor performances– it’s more utter disappointment that so many fans of our club seem to have turned on one another, the manager, and most sickeningly, some of the players – the 21 year old Aaron Ramsey for one.
I will always support Arsene Wenger, because I believe he has earned it. That’s my stance – I don’t expect everyone to share it. I have a realistic sense of his faults, but I honestly believe that we would be in a much, much worse state without him. I also know that if he left most of the top clubs in Europe would want him, and it upsets me to see rival fans laughing at Arsenal fans questioning one of the greatest managers of the modern era. Does anyone seriously think he was happy to sell Van Persie to United? If it was me I’d have sat him on the bench for the year. But then he’d have just gone for free and we’d have been worse off financially. And does anyone think he’s happy looking for players between 8-10 million when our rivals are routinely paying upwards of 20? I don’t think that fans should blindly and unquestioningly support teams, regardless of results. And I don’t like that it’s ‘good enough’ to finish in third or fourth place, but I do understand it.
But there’s a reason Arsene Wenger is still in his job. There’s a reason he is asking us to trust that he is planning for the long term. And yes, I worry that we’ll get left behind while we are waiting. And I worry that players will feel they can’t wait either. But I honestly don’t see the point of fans turning on each other, turning on him, and turning on the club. I don’t know where Arsenal will be five years from now. I know I’ll be supporting them wherever they are. I just hope we aren’t in a situation where we have to accept that we never realised how good we had it under Arsene Wenger.
By Mary O’Connel