You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away

Tim Stillman column Arseblog

“We want Wenger out, say we want Wenger out.” That was the chant that rang loudly and clearly from the away end on Saturday during the final moments of Arsenal’s 0-0 draw with Leicester City. The ditty had been preceded a few minutes earlier by the now (bi)annual favourite, “spend some fucking money!” The two sentiments are inextricably linked; a lot of the dissatisfaction is around transfers (or lack thereof). A tuneful call for the sacking of the manager in August will scarcely be about anything else, even taking into account the cumulative nature of the frustration.

Likewise, the chant does not exist if Arsenal take 6 points from games against Liverpool and Leicester. Many would brood silently and suspect that reinforcements are still required, but the feeling would simmer beneath the surface, rather than erupt into a unified chant. It is an important distinction too that the song did not air until the game was all but over. “Spend some fuckin’ money!” crashed into the fray at around 85 minutes.

The majority were willing to wait and see how the match panned out before making the statement. Nevertheless, Saturday marked the first occasion that I had ever heard such a collective expression of distaste for the manager. It was always going to happen at an away match long before the Emirates was stirred into action from its contemplative slumber. In truth, it has been in the post for a long time. Away matches have become increasingly tetchy in this regard over the last 5 years or so.

Back in April, I appeared on the Arsecast ahead of a planned supporter protest for the home game against Norwich City. I always felt that it was doomed to fail inside the confines of the Emirates. Large parts of the crowd at home games do not ‘consume’ the club in the pause between fixtures. The crowd is generally a little older; they have families or high powered jobs in the city, or simply do not engage with social media channels, where much of the ill-feeling festers and lays its eggs, throughout the working week.

The genome of the away crowd is a little different. It is condensed, more compacted; it’s an organism of sorts. Generally speaking, there is a younger thread that runs through it, which probably makes it more voluble. Away fans absorb the minutiae of club discourse for large chunks of an average week. It is a smaller group that has become homogenised by the internet; it converses on a daily basis, which helps to breed anger and resentment even further. In short, it is a far more fertile ground for rebellion.

As a result, people often arrive at the matches already fired up and a little angry. Add the additional alcohol consumption that is the staple of the away day and you have febrile conditions for the frustrated. If the team isn’t convincing or winning- and pretty quickly- grievances are concentrated and come to the fore more readily compared to the more opiate surrounds of the Emirates Stadium. I look around at away matches nowadays and regularly see faces contorted into rage and misery just minutes into the match.

20 or 30 years ago, many of these people would have simply stopped going in protest, until things improved. This is no longer such an attractive option, with the demand for tickets and the away credits mechanism; there is an armed race for tickets. If you stop now, you’re out forever. So people feel locked in, obliged even, to continue, just in case prosperity really is around the corner. Again, this serves simply to multiply the feeling of resentment and dissatisfaction that swirls around the average away match.

A choreographed call for the manager’s head has been in the post for some years. Arsenal’s visiting fans attracted a lot of positive media during the humiliating 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford in August 2011. As the goals rained in, the travelling band chanted “we love you Arsenal, we do”, seemingly with greater vigour with every shot that flew into Wojciech Szczesny’s net. The coverage this earned saw the club refund those of us that travelled to the game as a gesture of gratitude and apology.

What many people don’t realise is that that show of undying loyalty was more of a masking agent. There were pockets of supporters voicing their discontent. Very quickly, another huddle of fans began to sing “we love you Arsenal” with great vigour. The very obvious intent was to throw a veil over the murmurings of disquiet, which threatened to turn into an eruption. This has happened at several away matches since.

A now infamous banner calling for the manager to leave first appeared at an away match at the beginning of the 2012-13 season. As the Gunners capitulated to a four goal deficit at a League Cup tie against Reading, the away end chanted “we want our Arsenal back”, until the team’s extraordinary comeback quelled the disquiet. At Stoke train station in 2014, I stood around 20-30 yards away from a group of fans that barracked Arsene Wenger as he and the team boarded the train home. Soon enough, a video of the incident went viral on the internet.

One of the more unpleasant symptoms of this powder keg has been regular infighting at away matches, as fans take vociferous opposition to one another’s views. At Anderlecht in November 2014, fist fights broke out behind me as the team toiled against a poor Belgian side. On occasion, train journeys home become tiresome as arguments abound. (Non-violent, I should add). I was not among those that chanted for Arsene’s head on Saturday. As much as I think his tenure has become stale and the time for change is nigh, I personally refuse to take vocal opposition against the man out of gratitude for his past feats.

That’s just my personal feeling on the subject, I don’t greatly care whether people agree with it or not, nor do I wish to browbeat anyone into assuming the same position. Frankly, I don’t understand why anyone would care what my personal position on the matter is or why they would want to change my mind, or anybody else’s for that matter. Yet this atmosphere of intolerance is becoming increasingly grating away from home.

Conversations with friends on public transport are often interrupted abruptly when overheard, as unsolicited views from strangers are testily offered. Last week, a video surfaced on the internet of two Arsenal fans arguing following the defeat to Liverpool. “You’re happy with mediocrity!” one shouted at the other. Even if this rudimentary critique were true, I simply don’t understand why the gentleman cared so much what a complete stranger thought, or why the two felt the need to try and coerce one another into submission.

Even if one is “happy with mediocrity”, so what? Why is that anyone else’s business? It’s a very common theme that I am certainly seeing a lot at away fixtures and it’s a phenomenon that works very much in both ‘directions.’ (I think) I understand the combustive atmosphere, where it comes from and why it exists. Whilst I don’t share all of the frustrations, I understand them. The intolerance and angry insistence on agreement however, I find perplexing.

Nevertheless, a collaborative chant for the manager’s head has been brewing for some time, the only surprise is that it took as long as it did. Now this taboo is broken, I would expect it to become a regular feature at away matches and then, maybe even at home matches too. It is difficult to see how Arsene steers this tidal wave of acrimony back from here.

Follow me on Twitter @Stillberto

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