‘But, who will replace him’, probably the most overused question in our recent history. I think it would be easier to ask ‘who couldn’t replace him’, but that’s for another day.
The ‘who will replace him’ is no longer a priority for me, ‘who will replace us’ is by far a bigger problem. You see, it’s not just the Wenger in and Wenger out divide, it’s far more complicated.
On the way home from Watford one of my friends said ‘I am really considering not going to Everton’. This would have been a common conversation taking place on every train out of Watford, but it isn’t a common conversation from our lot. For us, we follow The Arsenal, that’s just what we do. I, for the first time ever said ‘I don’t know if I can do this much longer’. Watching another lacklustre display, the players begrudgingly giving a token clap to an away end divided by hate, anger and apathy, I stood there and forgot what it is I love about my club. How did this happen? How did we become a club where the fans are not just disconnected from each other but also from their common cause…. the one thing that is meant to hold us together.
It got me thinking about how much things have changed. Once upon a time we all wore the badge. Not a half and half scarf, not even a football shirt necessarily. My Dad always wore his yellow Ben Sherman to away games, he now wears his red Ascot cap. I wear the cannon, the cannon facing the right way. We don’t wear the badge now as it isn’t ours is it. We weren’t consulted, it was imposed on us.
Years ago it didn’t matter where you come from, what job you did, what age you were. We were all Arsenal. We had something so strong that we never noticed the differences. We didn’t need gay gooner banners, or adverts in the programme about racism in football, we were The Arsenal and that’s all that mattered. Accountants, builders, cab drivers, bank robbers….. we were all Arsenal. We got excited about going to Shrewsbury, Yeovil, Sheffield. We didn’t come out once or twice a year for a ‘big game’. We certainly never used phrases such as NLD.
We met friends for life. They stood with us all through the night as we queued for tickets. They gave us their season ticket when they couldn’t go without charge. We walked round every away ground together. We didn’t really want to look at the ground of course, we wanted to convey a message ‘The Arsenal are here’. I thought of this a few weeks ago when the Germans came to visit. We used to do that everywhere we went. Make a noise and make a point.
I always felt there was a subtle difference between North bank and Clockend. The Northbank was full of tradition. Older generations mixed in with youngsters. The Clockend however, was full of younger people, it was full of our future. For me it was where the next generation started to take ownership of their club.
These young people I stood with 30 yeas ago are the ones who I still see now at every game. They are the ones who, like me, live in the hope that one day we will see a glimpse of the club we fell in love with. Some of them I don’t even know their names, but I don’t need to, we have a history together that many won’t understand. We can communicate a full match report simply by eye contact. The problem is, these people are disappearing. I could name as many who have called it a day as I could who still go. They don’t feel as they belong anymore. I look now at where the new hardcore will come from and I honestly have no idea. We have a young guns enclosure that has not once sold out since we moved to The Emirates. How are these kids going to learn the ropes in there? Why are we segregating kids from their own fans who should and hopefully would look after them? How are they going to meet and experience the few characters we have left? Who will they talk about in 30 years?. We all knew the badge man, peanut man, The Knowledge and many others. We will soon lose The Gooner sellers, we will no longer hear the great chant of ‘Get your Latest Gooner, Up The Arse’.
At the age of 12 I was standing for the first half in the northbank and then jumping over to the east stand to get to the clockend for the second half where my Dad would be. 30 odd years ago a 12 year old girl at football was not the norm. But I was safe, I was with my family. West Ham away in the late 80’s I lost my Dad on a packed terrace. Within minutes I was taken care of. Mr Dainton saw me, recognised me and stood me in front of him the whole game to stop me getting squashed, ‘Mind the little girl’ he kept shouting, I didn’t really know who he was then, but I knew he was important. That’s just how things were then.
Travelling to away games now we reminisce. One of our regulars told us about the day he broke his back. He still somehow drove a few weeks later to our next away game. It was his job. It still is his job.
Ive never been one to think if you go to games or have a season ticket you are a better supporter. I know plenty who never go to games now who I class as ‘Proper Arsenal’. I also know people who live the other side of the world and get up regularly at 3am to endure 90 minutes of heartache. What makes you ‘Proper Arsenal’ is in the heart, it’s in your blood’. It’s about the memories.
Forget the manager, he’s an employee, forget the board, they are temporary guests….. we are the ones that we should be concerned about, the followers, the supporters, the characters, the story tellers and the history makers.