There’s a page on the Arsenal website called ‘The Arsenal Way’. But what is that exactly? Most fans would say it’s to do with the standards of behaviour Arsenal upheld from the time that Herbert Chapman turned Arsenal into the biggest club in the world in the 1930s. Arsenal gained a reputation for doing things properly, treating players, staff and all visitors to the club with respect and dignity. Alongside this, traditions grew up, such as filling the boardroom with flowers in the colours of their opponents on matchdays, the players always wearing suits to travel to matches and later the captain choosing long or short sleeves for the whole team.
We can put a lot of this attitude down to Chapman. He made Arsenal the biggest and best, and his legacy endured for decades after his early death. The rebuilding of Highbury in the 1930s with its famous art deco East and West Stands was also a major factor in the perception of Arsenal by the rest of the football world. As a stadium Highbury was so far ahead of everything else that even 50 years later, by which time English football was suffering with hooliganism, falling crowds and an ever-worsening reputation, there was no football ground in the country remotely as classy. So Arsenal WERE different. The team went through lean times, but the club was still a symbol of class and tradition. In the same way that it’s almost impossible for teenagers or even people in their thirties and forties now to understand the impact the Beatles had, modern football fans no longer see Arsenal as a one-of-a-kind club, upholding standards and influencing the football world. Unfortunately, modern fans are right: Arsenal is no longer a class apart.
So what does the club itself say? The Arsenal website page starts with a brief history lesson:
Arsenal Football Club was born when a group of workers at Dial Square armaments factory in Woolwich, notably exiled Scotsman David Danskin and Jack Humble, decided to form a football team to break the monotony of factory life.
Since that Dial Square team played its first match against Eastern Wanderers in 1886, Arsenal has gone on to become one of London’s most successful football clubs and one of the most famous names in modern football with millions of passionate followers worldwide.
I have to interrupt here. “One of London’s most successful football clubs”? “One of”? Which London club has more major trophies than Arsenal?
Steeped in history and tradition, Arsenal Football Club has thrived on a pioneering and innovative spirit that has existed throughout its 125 years in existence. While society and football may have changed during this time, Arsenal has always served to create a sense of community for people here in Islington, across the UK and now around the world.
Lovely, but creating a community is surely what all clubs do. This paragraph is really just corporate waffle and also ignores that whatever can be outsourced to the lowest bidder is now outsourced to the lowest bidder (online merchandising, ticketing), which does little for the local community. Also it’s now 135 years since Arsenal was formed. Keep up.
Arsenal Football Club exists to make our fans proud wherever they are in the world and however they choose to follow us.
That pride is driven by success on the pitch. This means winning trophies.
Pride is driven by success. Well that’s hardly unique. The club exists to win trophies. But so do all other clubs, albeit not as successfully in most cases.
It also comes through our style of play, our focus on developing youth talent, our magnificent stadium, our broader contribution in the community and our self-financing approach.
Our style of play has varied from dour to breathtaking and back again since the Premier League started, so I’m not sure that’s part of the Arsenal Way.
Developing youth talent – well, sometimes that has worked and sometimes not. Hardly unique.
Magnificent stadium. Okay. I mean, we had a nicer one…
Broader contribution to the community – yes, excellent community programme and charitable works through the Arsenal foundation. Can’t fault that.
Then we get to a little nugget that Stan Kroenke has slipped in: “our self-financing approach.” There is it in black and white: Stan Kroenke is not here to give money away. Worth bearing in mind.
Everyone who works for Arsenal Football Club understands that we will fulfil our goal of making fans proud by being together, always moving forward and doing things the Arsenal way. This final element is a key ingredient of who we are. It’s about thinking about others, getting the detail right and going above and beyond expectations.
So ‘the Arsenal way’ is a key ingredient of making fans proud? Finally we come to what they say the Arsenal way actually is: “it’s about thinking about others, getting the detail right and going above and beyond expectations.” So that’s it, is it? As an aim I guess it’s okay, but it’s not really a unique brand.
In summary, the club is telling us that there is in fact nothing special about Arsenal or the Arsenal way – oh, and by the way, don’t expect any handouts from the billionaire owner.
David Ornstein recently revealed that Arsenal have decided some tarting up of ‘the Arsenal way’ is now needed. In his words on Twitter: “Arsenal [will] hire external consultants to help improve culture at club. London firm People-Made conducting “top to bottom cultural review” called “The Arsenal Way” in bid to connect with history + values amid acceptance it has faded”.
We await further news of this review. Who will they talk to? Whose opinion will they trust? Does it matter if the people running the review have no interest in Arsenal or football? (Answer: Yes it does.)
In the meantime an indicator of how far standards at Arsenal have fallen is the deal with Socios and the issuing of ‘fan tokens’. It makes my blood boil thinking about how stupid Arsenal were to get into that arrangement. More on that to follow…