This letter was written by Gooner ex-pat Clive Hill, former season ticket holder, and sent to the AFC Board in the aftermath of the 8-2 defeat at Manchester United. One month on, Clive has not had any reply.
With the club’s AGM imminent, it is perhaps a timely reminder of the feelings of many fans following that crushing defeat and the summer that preceded it.
Arsenal Football Club
Board of Directors
12 September, 2011
I am respectfully writing in the hope that you, as custodians of Arsenal Football Club, may be able to clarify the position of the Arsenal board as to what the aspirations of the club are and how they may be fulfilled. I ask this in the light of the apparent lack of cohesion and forethought in the management of this summer’s events, the sorry preparation of the squad for the season and the gradual demise over the last five seasons of Arsenal as a force in English and European competition.
First let me say that I admire and am proud of the overall philosophy of the club to operate within a sensible and sustainable budget. But that effort should not be allowed to blindside the observer and supporter to the apparent mismanagement of transfers this summer the irreproachable position Arsène Wenger has been allowed to attain, the pitiful capitulation last season and the poor preparation for the beginning of this. Here are what I see as our most substantial failings and I would be extremely interested and grateful of the board’s take on these.
I have used the pronoun ‘we’ in the following as I feel as much, if not more, a part of this club as you do. I have never been paid to share in the representation of Arsenal and before I moved to the US was a season ticket holder.
Wenger: “Judge me in May.” Well the judgment is surely that he lost the plot, failed to bolster a weak and insubstantial defence didn’t see the Nasri situation coming, couldn’t persuade Fabregas to stay, only has one tactical plan, which he can no longer change mid-game, and will not listen to anyone! The end of season capitulation was pathetic and we’re still paying for it now. There have been some hard knocks along the way. I think we may well have won the league in 2008 until Eduardo’s injury. But the annual raising of hopes followed by an insipid capitulation has become sorrowfully inevitable.
We still have the same training and fitness regime that grinds players into the ground. I can’t believe anyone really thinks Vermaelen will be beck in six weeks? Two weeks ago we sent a bunch of children with one tactical plan against . . . well, a bunch of children. Difference was the other lot were motivated by one of the best in the business, wouldn’t dare let their heads drop while wearing their colours, were organized by a tactical maestro, who has no problems being pragmatic, weren’t paid experienced pros’ wages and knew there were plenty of others vying for their place. Oh, and augmented by a healthy dose of new blood, pulsing with quality.
I heard on the BBC’s ‘Monday Night Club’ following the demolition that the directors’ box was empty long before the final whistle. Who are you and where is your heart? The supporters that travelled to that game were fantastic, as Arsenal away support so often is. (If you haven’t seen the YouTube videos please watch for a lesson in passionate support.) It would seem to me that something like this goes to the heart of the problem at the club. The people that need to stand up and be counted are missing in action! You didn’t stay because you don’t understand the symbolism of that important gesture. You only see futility. Leaders inspire, and I count the Manager in this, but the respect and belief that those to be inspired must possess appears absent.
How, oh how . . . or perhaps who was doing our transfer business over the summer? We went into the window knowing we’d most likely have to replace Fabregas, Nasri and definitely Clichy (surely no one believed Gibbs could remain fit for more than two consecutive games and that Traore was a valid back-up). We needed two centre-halves, someone to remind Song he isn’t an automatic selection and guide Frimpong, plus a striker. With the exception of Gervinho all our business was done in the last few days/hours. As to the value of the business . . . the jury is still out. Man Utd, the EPL gold standard, did all their business in June. They win the league and get to the Champions League final (again!) and still they recognize the need for and implement a solid plan for improvement. After losing to relegated Birmingham City in the Carling Cup Final we fade like a Polaroid, lose two of our best players, and spend the entire summer bleating about how hard it is to find quality and that “We can’t pretend we’re a big club if we sell our best players.”
So, Arsenal executives, what kind of club are we? Just what is the short, medium and long term plan? The stadium was built at tremendous but very worthwhile cost, so that we could compete in the future of mega-clubs. Wenger, the genius, had put us there and somehow over the past five seasons kept us there. But now the playing field and the Club administration is very different. Football isn’t a business. It’s too invested with emotion, concepts of loyalty, identity and community to be considered solely on those terms. But there is a very important business aspect to running a club and if Arsenal Football Club were to be measured by the rules of the market, then there would be an horrific culling.
The ticket prices went up but the quality of product went down. A strange equation. I believe we deserve answers to what happened this summer and why this five year car crash has been allowed to happen. The need for change is paramount, in addition to an unambiguous explanation of what this club plans to do to maintain its position and halt what right now is an inevitable slide into mediocrity. If mid-table, the odd cup final appearance and perhaps a place among Europe’s also-rans once in a while is the aspiration level. Then we have a right to know. And then we can make an informed decision about paying the most expensive match ticket prices in the world.
It will take a very long time to remove the stain of that ignominious defeat. Everyone saw it coming. Everyone apparently, except you, the board. But then if you’re in the habit of not seeing out the full game, perhaps that’s no great surprise.
Clive Hill, Denver CO, USA