A few years ago, around the 20th anniversary of Arsène Wenger becoming Arsenal manager, the BBC proclaimed that Arsène had won 15 trophies in his 20 years. By any logical counting method, that’s nonsense. They’ve clearly included the three Premier Leagues and six FA Cups, then added six Charity/Community Shields on. But what about the Emirates Cups? There are four teams in the Emirates Cup and only two in the Community Shield, so which is harder to win? Which one is more of a trophy worth counting?
The Charity/Community Shield is the one that always provokes argument. For a large part of its history the match was considered barely more important than any other pre-season friendly, with very little footballing seriousness attached. No club listed it as a trophy alongside the League and FA Cup. After the League Cup was established in the 1960s, the Shield dropped further down the pecking order, to the extent that some League title and FA Cup winners started to decline the invitation to take part. When Arsenal won the Double in 1971 they went off on a pre-season tour rather than play the match. The 1972 and 1973 winners of both competitions all turned down the invitation as well.
The FA’s response to this declining interest was to move the match to Wembley in 1974 and make it compulsory for winners to play. As luck would have it, that match featured a good old-fashioned punch up between Kevin Keegan and Billy Bremner, which naturally the FA pretended to be outraged about while rubbing their hands with glee over the publicity. With Wembley and TV cameras in place, and the FA now insisting that teams actually take part, the ‘tournament’ was taken a little more seriously, but even after 42 years of ever-increasing hype my twitter poll in 2016 still showed a majority who didn’t consider it a proper trophy.
I redid the same poll recently and the majority had actually increased:
Arsenal didn’t include the Charity Shield in their list of honours until 1969, kept it in until 1983 and then dropped it again for another 20 years, before reintroducing it to the list in 2003. Here’s the full list of what Arsenal have considered to be ‘Honours’ over the years, as listed in the matchday programme and now on the internet.
From 1930 and the club’s first major trophy, it was FA Cup and then League Championship only all the way to 1969. Two losing League Cup finals in 1968 and ’69 seemed to persuade the programme editor that losing a final or coming second in the League was actually worth a mention. Suddenly all Arsenal’s runner-up positions also featured.
The Fairs Cup and FA Youth Cup were added by 1971, then the Cup Winners’ Cup second place in 1980, then they forgot about runners-up, added them back in, took them out and added them back in again almost season by season.
It all went a bit mental in the late eighties and early nineties – almost ‘Norwich Hospital Cup’ mental – before the Cup Winners’ Cup victory in 1994 finally banished talk of second place as an honour. For a while, though, the likes of the Caltex Cup (a pre-season 4-team competition in Asia if I recall correctly) and losing the League Cup were still considered more worthy of mention than winning the Charity Shield.
Only since 2003 has the Charity/Community Shield been back in the list, but of course no sensible list of numbers of trophies won by a club includes it.
Despite the BBC and some other observers awarding Arsène an extra six trophies, most Arsenal fans are still more sensible. Witness this banner commissioned by Ricky G (@geezypeas), to celebrate Arsène’s 20th anniversary. Even Ricky, a great admirer of Arsène, has stuck to proper trophies. Well done sir.