“Umm-ba-ba-ba-baby, umm-ba-ba-ba-baby, golden years,” warbled David Bowie back in 1975. Coincidentally some Arsenal fans seem to think that was a golden time for Arsenal – well, the 1970s in general rather than ’75 in particular, which was one of the two consecutive seasons we were closest to relegation in the last 100 years. The start and end of the ’70s were better though: all Wembley finals in bright May sunshine, Charlie George, Frank McLintock, the Double, Alan Sunderland’s perm bouncing as he celebrated that last minute winner against Man Utd. Ahh, good times.
But actually not everything was eternally rosy. I’m afraid some people are slightly deluding themselves when they hark back to a mythical golden age, when the Arsenal in their memories was a big cuddly family that loved and cared for them.
When did the Board ever care for fans? When did it want to interact with them any more than it does now?
When was the mythical time when all Arsenal fans felt the same? There has always been a broad spectrum of beliefs, attitudes, prejudices and cliques.
When did the club not take advantage of its fans by charging them money to enter the ground and for overpriced and undercooked refreshments? Sure, the prices were cheaper in the old days, but everything was cheaper in the old days. Believe it or not people were poorer in the old days.
Some say that things are different now because they feel alienated from the club – but when was that ever not the case? When did the Board ever pay the slightest attention to what fans wanted?
When the club crest was changed a few years ago, did the fans get consulted? No. Whenever it had been changed previously, did the fans get consulted? No. So what’s the difference? The so-called ‘traditional’ crest that was ditched in 2002 hadn’t always been there, it had just been there for as long as some ‘traditionalist’ fans could remember.
When the club changed its name (see here) were the fans consulted? No. But that was quite a big decision, wasn’t it?
When the club moved to Highbury were the fans consulted? No. Henry Norris made that decision. And it was a very big one. No doubt the Woolwich Massive were upset.
Consider the view of some people on away kit, or as it used to be known, the ‘change strip’. Until the 1970s clubs only changed to alternative colours when there was a clash, hence change strip. It was Revie’s Leeds who started wearing one kit at home and a different one away for every game, clash or not. In Leeds’ case it was white at home and yellow away. Arsenal followed suit and started wearing the yellow and blue change strip as a permanent away kit. Kits didn’t change so often in those days, so for what seemed like a very long time, but in relation to the age of Arsenal it wasn’t, the away kit was yellow and blue. In fact if you look here, you’ll see that we had worn yellow shirts precisely twice in our history before 1969, but nevertheless yellow and blue is now treated by nostalgia lovers as the ‘classic’ Arsenal away kit. It doesn’t matter to some people that we had all kinds of change strips in different colours before that, and we’ve had quite a few since. Most of the fans who think we need to get back to ‘their’ Arsenal want the yellow and blue kit, because that was the one they grew up with. The point is, the mythical golden age always seems to coincide with fans’ formative years, when they first got into football and Arsenal in a big way, and have the most vivid memories of the most fun. In the same way, most people think that the music from their teenage years is the best music there’s ever been. Given that next season’s away kit is rumoured to be yellow-free, this one will continue to run.
Strangely, no one seems to say, ‘Our original kit was red; we should go back to that. I want my Arsenal back’, like they do about the yellow away kit. We had nearly 50 years of red shirts before Herbert Chapman changed the sleeves to white. I wonder if there were complaints in 1934, or did fans think, ‘Actually this Chapman bloke seems to know what he’s doing, we’ll leave him to it’.
Even stranger, when Billy Wright reverted to all-red shirts for a season in the mid-60s we had only been in red and white for just over 30 years, fewer than we’d played in all red, but somehow no one then said, ‘Oh good, back to our traditional colours, well done Billy.’ Maybe the nostalgia market wasn’t so big in those days, or maybe most preferred red and white because they only remembered that. They weren’t confronted by old footage of all-red all the time, and colour pictures of successes in the red shirt, as we are now with the yellow and blue. But I digress.
Some say we are now also alienated from the players, who we can’t relate to any more. But that isn’t just Arsenal players, it’s all of the pampered millionaires of the Premier League. If it’s worse at Arsenal than other clubs, this is because Arsène Wenger doesn’t want his precious darlings distracted by having to be anywhere near the plebs, it’s hardly the fault of the club or board.
Campaigning for change is fine. There are lots of things wrong with how Arsenal is run, and how fans are treated. I’m not saying the club should be run solely for the benefit of fans, though clearly there should be an element of that, because clubs only exist because fans exist. To be honest all fans are never going to agree on everything anyway, so the club can hardly be blamed for sometimes turning a deaf ear.
Some people like to hear The Wonder Of You played before matches, while others would prefer to hear Good Old Arsenal because they view that as more ‘traditional’. It was only written in 1971, so again that’s a rather skewed view of when history began! We always used to have the Metropolitan Police Band playing, so it’s rather odd no one seems to be campaigning for their return.
(By the way, contrary to a recent tweet from ex-Arsenal employee Amanda Docherty, The Wonder Of You was not selected by fans in a poll by The Gooner. It was chosen, I am reliably informed, by Amanda herself and club photographer Stuart MacFarlane, after it was suggested (and largely ridiculed) among many other songs on the OnlineGooner forum. I digress again.)
So yes, campaign for change. Ticket arrangements could be made fairer and more advantageous for a greater number of fans; it’s not all about getting the maximum revenue from everyone who comes within a mile of the ground. Season ticket payments could be in instalments, the away fans could be put where the home fans would prefer them to be, there could be unreserved seating so people can sit together, the club could even campaign for the return of safe standing areas, which would be hugely popular. Do all that. Those things make a difference to how fans experience their club.
But don’t ask for something back that never existed.