CAUSE AND EFFECT

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 the contradiction?

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.

 


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