Sunday, April 21, 2024

Joy Divisions

Around two years ago, one of my best friends was suddenly beset with an intellectual shame. She had briefly caught the tail end of a news item around the Israel Palestine conflict. She was instantly struck with how little she actually knew about the history and the rime and reason for the hostilities. The more she thought of it, the more her ignorance astounded her. The conflict has been something of a constant hum on news bulletins for time immemorial and yet she didn’t even know the basics.

As an intelligent and curious individual she simply had to satisfy this deficit in her knowledge. She aspires to be a warzone photographer and has travelled to many dangerous places to get shots. She decided that reading a book or browsing Channel 4 online for the odd documentary was not sufficient. She wanted to do some field research and come to her own conclusions. So she spent just over a month in the Middle East and decided to spend time with two protest groups. One pro-Israel. One pro-Palestine.

This way, she thought, she could get both sides of the story and begin to formulate a well informed and critically sound idea of the reason for this long standing hostility. The theory soon diminished when she put it into practise. Quickly, she became very frustrated in her search for knowledge. Every question she asked was given an agenda driven and slanted answer, or else questions about atrocities were batted aside with “they started it,” style responses. Both sides were the same. In a little under five weeks she didn’t get one straight answer from anybody, so studied were they in spun, political ripostes that were always manufactured to align with their precise side of the fence.

As an outside observer, she was baffled that these groups, who dreamed of smashing systems, were so tangled in internal politicking that they never got anything done themselves. There were so many sub divisions and splinter protest groups that both sides actually fought just as much with each other as they did debating with their supposed opponents. Her trip subsequently had the opposite effect to that which she intended. She totally lost interest in the whole subject altogether. Her curiosity was crushed.

The reason for this drawn out and rather esoteric anecdote? Well, this is what supporting Arsenal has begun to feel like. Support is increasingly being seen in polar terms by those that, perhaps unintentionally, seek to divide. Maybe more knowledge is a bad thing here. We now know so much about our football clubs – or else we think that we do – that we have more to argue about and find difference in. I’m as guilty as anyone when I say we’re all now amateur accountants, lawyers, administrators and commercial experts. We each have an online platform to use as a sheath for our views on everything from tactics to catering.

But I think a lifetime of people being instructed to think politically or religiously has reinforced this idea that everybody has to belong to a sect. In religion and politics, there is always an enemy to slay or a party line to deconstruct. A deity to protect and a devil to avoid. Anyone that doesn’t belong to your sect is a sworn foe that you and your brothers must destroy. People with no desire to belong to anyone of these splinter groups are constantly having their opinions tailored to measure a prescribed box. It’s the age old mythological battle between good and evil. “You’re either with us or against us,” as George W. Bush termed it.

The issue is it’s robbed us of our ability to think critically. At the risk of putting myself in a pigeonhole, I suppose I prefer to think more scientifically. Science encourages you to test your convictions and test them again. Even if you are ultimately proved wrong, that’s to be celebrated because you arrived at the truth. But what we’re seeing, or at least what I’m seeing, is an increase in fundamentalist behaviours when discussing your views on your football club.

If I may borrow religious terminology for a second, I don’t seek to martyr myself when I use personal examples. In the last week, I’ve been accused of taking my cue from Arsenal’s PR department for defending Stewart Robson’s right to criticise Theo Walcott. I was subsequently asked by someone else if I was on Red & White Holdings’ payroll for the same act (!) I was told, “Watch it, I know where you sit!” because I attend AST Meetings – which I do, largely, with the desire of extricating my own ignorance around club ownership and finance. I know many people who have experienced similar.

Perhaps these are just extremists and something like Twitter is hardly a sane barometer for discourse amongst football supporters. But I’m finding these narrow ways of thinking increasingly commonplace, albeit not always in such a stark manner as the examples above. It’s all become so ensnared in internal wrangling we’ve lost focus entirely on the common goal we share. I don’t want to teach Arsenal fans to sing in perfect harmony or anything like that (for one thing I’d be woefully under qualified). I guess I just don’t understand why we should blight this great opportunity we have to exchange views by attaching dogmas to them.

There was the small matter of the Gazidis Q & A last night, for which I was in attendance. By the time this goes to print, a good 24 hours will have passed since the event so I’m sure you’ve seen it dissected to death by all and sundry. I’ll not add much. It was largely as you’d expect; a lot of words to say not a great deal. Yet on the other hand, supporters of Blackburn Rovers for instance would be casting their eye with jealousy that anyone of any executive level at the club acknowledges that supporters even exist.

Our silvery tongued CEO did rather confirm one or more widely held impressions; that the club were clinging on until key sponsorship deals are renegotiated in 2014 and that the club thinks (hopes) Financial Fair Play will level the playing field. I think FPP will make a difference to an extent. The very fact that clubs like City and Chelsea are paying deference to it with naming rights and expanded commercial operations means they’re not just riding over it roughshod. Whether it will make enough of a difference remains to be seen. My own impression is that it is all a bit after the horse has bolted.

I was glad Ivan highlighted the work undertaken by the “old” board over the last ten years. People often paint them as old toffs happy to slurp champagne on Arsenal’s Champions League gravy train. But it took a lot of short term sacrifice and perseverance to deliver the new stadium. At that point most of them could have retired with the Invincibles in their pomp at Highbury and buggered off into the sunset without anyone saying a bad word. We might not have anticipated this new sugar daddy landscape pissing all over our chips, but we’d be much further behind right now without that new stadium.

Ultimately, I do believe the much vaunted self sustaining model is our only choice. It’s not just the philosophical principle of wanting my club’s long term future to be secure over the understandable lure of short term booty. (Besides which, benevolent chequebook waving billionaires hardly grow on trees). But economically, it enables us to compete in the long term. And I do genuinely believe the club can compete. It’s just up to us to use the resources we do have and use them better. That’s the challenge for Ivan and Arsene now. LD.

Accuse me of having an agenda on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

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