In the last 7 days, the Ashburton Army have come under scrutiny from the media following messages sent in their WhatsApp group in 2019 that The Guardian were able to obtain.
Over the weekend, Gav (GC) sat down with a leading member of the Ashburton Army (AA) to discuss their relationship with the club, how they have grown as a group, their plans for the future, as well as those messages.
GC: Congraultions on what you have done this season, Were you expecting to have such a positive impact on the atmosphere with just 100 of you this season?
AA: Cheers mate. We have always believedthat we could make a big impact and get the atmosphere into the Emirates which the older Highbury days saw.
This season has been unreal so far though the Emirates is now finally feeling like a home fortress.
GC: Obviously the way we have been playing has been amazing, was you expecting top 2 back in the summer?
AA: I am known as a very positive fan and will always think we will do well, but being top 2 this season was something even i did not dream of happening. Arsenal is a very exciting place right now
GC: It must be good to see homegrown players around the ages of a lot of AA members on the pitch, performing so well?
AA: Having a younger team, with so many local lads, has helped build the connection between the fans and the club, and especially with AA.
From what we have been told by some of our connections, the lads love what we do – going back to our very first display with Saka and ESR.
We went to the Youth Cup Final the other week as well and will be attending more youth games next season as a group. Hopefully we will see the academy players grow and eventually push their way into the first team.
GC: Nice one. Arsenal reminds me of when I young and had Adams, Merson, Rocky, Thomas etc on the pitch. I just hope you get your 89 moment like I did.
AA: The way we are playing i wouldnt be surprised if we see something special next season.
GC: For most of the season it seemed like you the relationships between you and the club had been brilliant?
AA: We know we have support within the club. Of course, there are always going to be a few that would want Arsenal to be more like Royal Ascot! But in general, we have good relations and try to find things acceptable to both of us
GC: I’ve seen a few comments on the drum in the ground. It seems to split peoples views ?
AA: We will never be able to please all the people all the time. We would say the positives of a drum outweighthe negatives. It works all over Europe and closer to home in Scotland.
GC: When you walk from the pre-match pub you use (The Eaglet) to singing in the Arches the drum really adds to it.
Do these marches take a lot of organising or is it a case of everyone knows what to do now?
AA: The pre-match marches or corteos (which there referred to as well) are brilliant. If you have not experienced it underneath the arches, then I would encourage getting involved in the next one. It is a great way to involve more fans (especially the younger ones) who may not be sitting with us.
The buzz it gives everyone is amazing which then filters into the ground.
They do take a lot of organising from getting our drum, flags, handmade banners etc. But its all worth it.
We get asked alot to do them more often but we stand by only doing them on the big games/occasions so they keep that buzz feeling.
GC: People have noticed whats seemed like more police on your ‘corteos’ and filming you inside the ground. Do feel this is justified ?
AA: We know the bigger we grow, the more attention we will get from the police. It is something we will have to get used to, but we stand by our statement the other week: Football Fans, Not Criminals.
Police overstep the mark with all football fans across the country and never face any questions from the media. If other groups (such as climate change protestors) were treated the same way as football fans, there would be uproar in the media. It is too easy for the police to label fans as troublemakers to justify their unreasonable behaviour.
The videoing of fans, taking pictures of faces, recording names and addresses, just for us to collect tickets is not how football should be.
The way we have seen them treat women, children and other innocent match going fans up and down the country and at Arsenal shouldnt be allowed and that was a main reason for the protest against Chelsea.
GC: I heard prior to the Chelsea game that you had to collect tickets in person.
Are you treated like all other Supporters clubs usually have to submit a list of members, their membership number and what seat they will be sitting in. Do you have to do the same?
AA: For every game, the club know exactly what members are in our section and what seat number. Being ID’d to receive a ticket is annoying, but if it helps possibly counter any touting then we are all for it.
We see a lot of people claiming that is why we protested, but it was for the videoing and recording of details without our knowledge and the police trying to hide behind the closed off box office windows which was the issue for us.
GC: How did you go about organising the mass walkout for Chelsea?
AA: It was agreed pre game with the group. It was a hard decision to make because we get behind the team for the full 90 minute. We know we are a voice for many and will always stand up for fans within AA or other Arsenal supporters. We do not want this to become a thing for all fans on match day.
GC: A few mates of mine did not understand why you were walking out. With hindsight do you think the statement should’ve been posted online as soon as you walked?
AA: Once we walked back in we wanted the main focus to be back on Arsenal and the game.
That is why we decided to wait 24 hours after so everyone could fully focus on the game and great result.
GC: Also what do you have to say on the rumours AA were involved in touting tickets?
AA: We have never touted a ticket and are massively against it.
We have worked with the club on this to try and counter touts and infact at times we have given back some of our allocation. For example when the tube strikes were on some of our members couldn’t make it therefore we gave back an amount to resale to other arsenal fans.
GC: I read the brilliant article that Amy Lawrence did about her day with you. It mentioned about how you vet new AA members. Are you able to expand on what you are looking for?
AA: The vetting process has changed as we have grown. Various factors filter into it, but the biggest thing is commitment.
AA is a group set up to improve the atmosphere within the Emirates so you must be willing to get involved for the full 90 minutes regardless of the score or performance. We are there to back the team regardless, not get on the players backs.
We do our best to help integrate new members within the group. to make sure they are the right fit and get along with everyone. We are growing in numbers, but we everyone talks and drinks with each other of all different ages.
When we do chairty work or arrange tifos everyone gets involved.
GC: How long have you personally been involved in the vetting process?
AA: I put the new process in place serveral months back now which is working brilliantly. Some do get annoyed it takes longer to now get into the group, but we have to make sure we get the right people in
GC: Arsenal have a long, proud history of having a diverse fanbase. Is the Ashburton Army representative of the fansbase?
AA: Yes very much. One of the best things about Arsenal is how diverse we are as a fan base. We are naturally a very inclusive club, and Ashburton Army naturally follows.
We have all different ethnic backgrounds and religion’s within AA. We work hard on everyone being comfortable together and there being no cliques. It is very easy to see within the stadium or at the pub how diverse we are as a group and we continue to encourage inclusivity.
GC: Sadly theres been a negative AA story out there about Anti-semitic posts made in a WhatsApp group 4yrs ago. Was you a part of AA back then?
AA: No I was not part of AA when these messages were apparently sent. I joined serveral months later.
GC: What is your understating as to how the situation was dealt with in 2019?
AA: The incident was reported the club in 2019 and those alleged to be involved were dealt with.
The AA leadership team at the time spoke to everyone within the group, remidning them that any sort of behaviour – whether it be racism, sexism, homophobia or Anti-semitism – will not be accepted.
Several Jewish members of the group were spoken to individually in private at the time to ensure they were comfortable and that they were satisfied with any punishment given out within AA.
GC: How suprised were you to see this artical pop up 4 years after it was dealt with. And what has been the reaction from current Jewish members?
AA: When we were contacted and made aware of this article coming out, we were shocked. Everyone, including our Jewish members, felt the issue was done and dealt with 4 years ago.
GC: I felt sorry for the new Jewish Gooners supporters club who have spent ages planning there opening event vBrighton, only for this story to break a couple of days before the big day.
ould you be happy to extendan open invite for a meeting with them, or indeed any Jewish supporter, even if the issue dealt with 4 years back?
AA: Firstly, we hope this did not over-shadow their event as they put a lot of time and effort into the Brighton game.
We make no secret that we drink in The Eaglet prior to games. We are always happy to chat with other fans before or after a games.
I have also contacted the club to make it clear that if the Jewish Gooners would like to have a chat about the incident, we are happy to sit down.
GC: Have there been any other similar incidents that the club have been made aware of?
AA: No. The club and AA dealt with the issue back in 2019 and that was the end of it. Since then we have continued to grow and work with the club. Our new vetting process ensures that we continue to only recruit the right type of characters.
GC: I know are a very tight knit group and perfer policing yourselves. Have you had to throw out anyone or fail someones vetting as you was unsure of their good character?
AA: Since we set up the recruitment side no one has been added and then removed because of bad character. This is why the process to join can take a couple of months.
As much as we want to become as big as possible, we would rather grow at a slower rate enasuring every new member is the type of person we want representing us.
GC: Is there anything else you would like to say on this incident?
AA: We have made mistakes in the past with recruitment and self-policing. We have gained experience the incident and will continue to learn. We now have the new more stringent vetting procedure and that is one of the main reasons why have continued to grow outside of the ground over the last couple seasons.
GC: Right ,moving on, are there any plans for the Wolves game you are happy to disclose?
AA: Sadly the club have cancelled plans for a tifo display, the 3rd one this season.
We wanted to do something big for the final home game of the season and celebrate the huge steps forward the club have made on and off the pitch. Unfortunately, the club put a halt to the plans. But never say never.
GC: It feels like your relationship with the club is strained right now. Are you hopeful of better club relations for next season ?
AA: We hope to have a meeting with the club right at the end of the season to present our plans for next season.
We want to do more and larger tifo displays, hopefully we can reach an agreement for next season as we know the fans, players and Mikel love what we bring to the stadium.
GC: You did raise £8000 from supporters for tifos, which shows the massive support you have. Did such a large amount shock you, and do you have a message for those who contributed in these hard times ?
AA: Raising £8000 within 96 hours was unreal support.
The support we get from the extended fan base is amazing and we cannot thank everyone enough. The funding allows us to do serveral things we have planned for next season in some big games.
AA are determined to turn the Emirates into one of the most atmospheric stadiums in Europe. With the size of our club there is no reason why this doesnt happen.
GC: Do the club have any input into your tifo designs?
AA: They have to agree any design prior to us displaying it, but they have no input on the designing or funding of them.
We have learned the type of displays which the club prefer and this makes it easier ones to push through get approval.
If the club reject our design, we do try and push back and make our case. But ultimately if the club veto’s the design, we have to go back to the drawing board and alter it.
If anyone feels like they could help us whether that being an artist, graphic designer, etc or just want to get involved and become part of the group we would encourage them to get in contact with us through our socials or speak to us on match days.
GC: I have a great idea for a yellow one with ribbons on it…
AA: When we get to Wembley im sure yellow would be a great colour of choice!
GC: How many active members does AA have and how do you go about a fair system with only 100 tickets? (Personally id like to see your allocation increased)
AA: We do not disclose our actual member count for various reasons.
It is hard to allocate tickets as we have many more members then tickets given by the club. Everyone – regardless of if they are a new or old member- has fair access to our location.
We would love a larger allocation next year, but we also understand the ticketing pressures and issues surroundign the club right now.
Our allocation makes up less than 1% of the Emirates. Imagine the noise and difference entire block would make! Allocation is something we want to work on with the club.
GC: As a 50 year old who stood on the North Bank and Clock End as a teenager and into my 20something, having a whole stand singing all game is amazing. This season has definitely been a huge step in the right direction, so please carry on the great work.
Thank you for taking the time to speak to me, being open honest and not ducking the tricky questions.Enjoy the rest of the season. Victory through harmony.
AA: This season has been great for everyone involved at the club and I am sure this is just the beginning. Thank you to everyone who has supportered AA up until now and will continue to do so in the future.
And thank you for giving us the opportunity to get our message out.
We will always speak to any fan if they have concerns or simply want to know more about the group.