On the day that Sol Campbell
was charged by the F.A. for ‘violent conduct’
for reacting to Djemba-Djemba’s boot heading
towards his groin during the Community Shield, I was
idly spending a lunchtime browsing at Sportspages
bookshop in London.
Amongst the volumes being advertised for imminent
publication was a new book by Jon Spurling, contributor
to both The Gooner and Highbury High and author of
two previous books about the Arse – “All
Guns Blazing” and “Top Guns”. His
latest contribution to the Arsenal literary canon
is called “Rebels for the Cause –
The Alternative History of Arsenal Football Club”.
With a beautiful cover featuring Highbury’s
favourite rebel son Charlie George looking languidly
over his shoulder during an early Seventies pre-season
photo call, the jacket copy goes on to describe how
Spurling’s alternative history positions Arsenal
Football Club against 120 years of social and political
change, encompassing everything from the chicanery
that accompanied the post-First World War ‘promotion’
that has so enraged Tottenham Hotspurs and their supporters
for the past 84 years, to David Dein’s supposed
espousal of free-market economics to a reluctant patrician
Board of Directors during the Eighties.
If Spurling’s cast of characters looks somewhat
tame as regards to real rabble-rousers – Darling
Charlie fair enough, but Alan Hudson, Malcolm McDonald
and, of all people, Nicolas Anelka! – his attempts
to put Arsenal’s history into an overall context
looks like an intriguing concept.
Of course the title, “Rebels for the Cause”,
gives an added spice to the proceedings, for as the
history of Arsenal reaches our own time, it seems
that the football club is engaged in a perpetual state
of guerilla warfare with the game’s authorities,
with Campbell’s charge the fourth act of ill-discipline
associated with Arsene Wenger’s side in a season
that is just nine days old.
Arsenal’s eminence during the Thirties is obviously
responsible for the envy that was directed at the
club during those turbulent times. Being called ‘the
Bank of England Club’ was not going to go down
too well during the worst economic depression of the
20th-century. Similarly, the loathing that was directed
towards some of George Graham’s sides has a
basis in a well-founded distaste of the team’s
playing methods. At the time, I pooh-poohed press
reports that the victory at Anfield on that balmy
night in May ‘89 was achieved on the back of
a highly-aggresive stance towards the technically
superior Liverpool players. Looking back on it though,
with eyes that have seen what Wenger has brought to
the club, those criticisms were justified.
Tony Adams, Steve Bould and David O’Leary were
freed by Graham’s ‘sweeper’ system
to get as tight to Aldridge and Rush as was humanly
possible, and boy did they give the Liverpool forwards
a clattering whenever they could. Similarly, in midfield,
Michael Thomas and David Rocastle clashed time and
time again with their opponents, Thomas being particularly
guilty of leaving his stud marks down the length of
John Barnes’s calf muscles.
And yet, none of these players were booked. Indeed
no Arsenal player was booked until Kevin Richardson
took out Barnes once-too-often. Once-too-often back
in 1989 being something like the 70th minute of a
once-in-a-lifetime Championship decider. It really
was another world.
Now, the unique, spectacular footballing achievements
of the Wenger era are being undermined by constant
attrition with the authorities. Arsenal, it seems,
are the worst-behaved side in the Premiership. Each
of Wenger’s Championship-winning sides has achieved
their goal despite bans, suspensions and controversies.
And yet, they play the most beautiful club football
most of us have ever had the pleasure to see. Why
In the early years of Arsene’s reign the fabled
back four/five of Dixon, Adams, Keown/Bould and Winterburn
were guaranteed to provide the bulk of any ill-discipline.
TA6 walked the walk on numerous occasions. Indeed
surviving member Keown is still likely to see red
sometime this season. Then it was the foreign imports
that block-booked UEFA suspensions or their visits
to F.A. Headquarters.
Vieira, Bergkamp, Petit, Grimandi, Luzhny, Henry,
Ljungberg. Now the new English boys are at the beck-and-call
of the Video Panel. Jeffers, Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell
have all gained a reputation for cheating over the
past twelve months. The trouble is, English lads that
are can easily be replaced in the England team just
haven’t got the muscle to influence those making
the decisions any more.
Not like England captain Alan Shearer, who kicked
an opponent in the head, then threatened to quit the
national team if he was brought to book for the assault.
Not like England captain David Beckham who elbowed
opponents in the head, directed obscene gestures towards
opposing fans, yet never faced disciplinary hearings
for the offences.
It seems that the answer to Arsenal’s problems
with the F.A. may be all-too painfully obvious.
Arsenal just aren’t English enough any more.