I guess if you were a fan of a team not involved in this Super League proposal, the last few hours must have been absolutely hilarious. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so happy it collapsed, and I have nothing but contempt for those who tried to foist such a thing on us, but it’s hard to see the funny side when your own club has been so stained by all this.
This was an idea so irredeemably awful that the likes of Boris Johnson and Amazon were able to score morality points. The club owners and those executives who were complicit gave them the kind of assist they couldn’t fail to take. Tap-ins. They could have knelt down and headed them over the line.
It started to unravel last night when reports emerged Chelsea were pulling out. Then Man City. And from there, with one thread after another to be pulled, there was only one way it could go. As there had been from Arsenal Football Club, there was nothing but silence. Not a word from the owners, nothing from the board or the executives, and not a social media post from a player. Not until Hector Bellerin stuck his head above the parapet, and regardless of concerns people might have about his performances this season, he had the balls to do that when nobody else did.
— Héctor Bellerín (@HectorBellerin) April 20, 2021
Then, an announcement from the club, and an apology.
The last few days have shown us yet again the depth of feeling our supporters around the world have for this great club and the game we love.
We needed no reminding of this but the response from supporters in recent days has given us time for further reflection and deep thought.
As a result of listening to you and the wider football community over recent days we are withdrawing from the proposed Super League. We made a mistake, and we apologise for it.
People can take that at whichever level of face value they choose. In comparison to Liverpool’s statement, for example, it does at least try to say sorry. However, in the middle of it was this:
It was never our intention to cause such distress, however when the invitation to join the Super League came, while knowing there were no guarantees, we did not want to be left behind to ensure we protected Arsenal and its future.
Let us be clear that the decision to be part of the Super League was driven by our desire to protect Arsenal, the club you love, and to support the game you love through greater solidarity and financial stability.
If anyone thinks for one second that our owner was doing this out of any desire to protect Arsenal, or to support the game of football, they are sadly mistaken. It was always about money for him. We weren’t some innocents invited to do something daring by the big boys. KSE were one of the driving forces behind this thing, so we are being lied to here. What that then does to how you perceive the rest of the statement is up to you, but if you’re apologising on one hand and telling mighty fibs on the other, it’s hard to take it seriously.
These owners (all of them) knew fine well how this would be received by fans: the people who actually love their clubs, who love football, and love the sport itself. They pushed this through without any consultation with their own managers or players, because they knew they’d hate it too. There’s a reason why this came out of the blue as an announcement, rather than a proposal – this was an attempted coup they tried to push through in record time, not any kind of strategy to improve the game. So, don’t insult our intelligence by saying you were trying to do something to benefit of all us.
Even the Arsenal apology was signed ‘The board’. What utter cowardice. This was Stan Kroenke. This was Josh Kroenke. This was KSE. ‘The board’ makes it sound like this was a collective decision involving people they employ to do their bidding. It’s nonsense. At Man Utd, Ed Woodward has reportedly resigned. There’s talk of Ivan Gazidis getting the boot at AC Milan (that would make me laugh). So, expect there to be a fall guy at Arsenal. Stan probably spent all night polishing the sword that Vinai will have to fall on. Maybe he won’t get a lot of sympathy, but in the last 6 weeks our owners put him on the European Club Association, then told him to resign from it, and basically ordered him to keep quiet publicly while this played out. They are cowards.
What could we expect though? They didn’t have the balls to provide even a one-line quote for the announcement, so why would they do anything different for the withdrawal statement? Instead they hide behind this amorphous entity – THE BOARD – but let’s be clear Stan and Josh, we know. We can see through this, we can see through you, and we know who caused such damage. You could fire every executive at the club, and we’ll still know who is to blame. You will always be the target of our ire, no matter how many buffers you put in place.
It seems clear to me now that what has always been an uneasy (at best) relationship between the owners and fans is now irrevocably broken. To be fair, there have been attempts of late to increase and improve the communication. They haven’t always been great, but in a reality such as ours – when it’s been apparent they are here for the long haul – fans were open to them out of necessity. A thirsty man loves a drink of water, and all that.
Now? After this act of treachery and self-sabotage, where are we? There are protests planned for Friday night ahead of the Everton game. In as much as it matters in the grand scheme of things, #kroenkeout was trending last night. Ian Wright, who loves Arsenal as much as any of us, took a stand last night and more than likely put paid to any involvement he might have with media duties, promotions and all the things that keep him connected to his club:
— Ian Wright (@IanWright0) April 20, 2021
I have to say I’m worried. I thought the line in the statement about their ‘desire to protect’ Arsenal came across as vaguely threatening. Almost a ‘Well, we did warn you, but you didn’t want it and now all this is your fault.’ We’ve seen first hand just how little they care. On this occasion, and in this context, they couldn’t ignore the depth of the feeling from Arsenal fans and the football world in general, but when it’s a smaller issue (in their minds), I don’t rule out spite.
When this team needs investment during the summer, what will KSE do? What will they be inclined to do? Even if they didn’t care before, getting this kind of public slap-down will sting, and I don’t expect a hard-nosed billionaire to take that lightly. I could be wrong, but this has been so damaging to the relationship between owners/club and fans, I suspect we’re in for a period of long-simmering confrontation, and ultimately that is an extremely unhealthy thing for any football club.
The big problem is that even if Kroenke wanted to sell, and I don’t believe he does (yet), the valuation of Arsenal is such that there are a tiny amount of potential buyers. And at the financial levels we’re talking about, it’d have to be a nation state or an oligarch or some other kind of billionaire. The chances of us finding a nice one, a philanthropic one, an altruistic one, are infinitesimal. But that’s the reality for most Premier League clubs, I guess. Is it time to think about changing the rules on club ownership? It probably is.
I also worry about the impact this will have had on the manager and the team. I have no doubts over their professionalism, the Europa League is now more important than ever, and I hope their will to win that competition can supersede whatever has happened in the last couple of days. But they too were treated with contempt by the owners. There was no communication to them. They, and all the other staff, were left in the dark, left to take the heat, while the cowards at KSE sat in LA or at the Texas ranch as they put in place plans to destroy football even further.
And there’s a key point: We have, thankfully, averted something terrible. But there was a reason they tried to make that terrible thing happen. There needs to be a reckoning from everyone about the way the game is being run. The governing bodies are viewed as out of date by many, and downright corrupt too. They and the broadcasters clutched their pearls and cried ‘But what about the fans?!’ It wasn’t out of concern though. It was about protecting their ability to use and exploit the captive audiences that football and football clubs generate. Their cash cow was under threat. I don’t doubt the sincerity of opinions held by some of those who have gone public this week, but maybe they now have to think about the positive impact they can have from within.
Quite where we go from here, I don’t know. It’s hard not to think this was just an opening salvo, some kite flying to see where the line was, and from there they can redraw it to get some of what they want in a different format. What it did show, and not for the first time of late, is that the collective power of football fans is greater than they think. On the things that really matter, if we can leave tribalism to one side, we can make things happen and we can stop things happening.
Join a supporter’s club or representative group. We’re all part of that collective, but we can always do more. Six greedy owners in England, along with nine others across Europe, just attempted the most blatant, avaricious land-grab of the sport we all love. They lied to us and told us it was for the good of the game, but it was only for the good of their bank balances. They deserve every bit of condemnation and criticism we can muster. They ought to be roundly pilloried as soon as they show their faces in public. However, we can’t sit here and think the war is won, this was just a skirmish. We can’t ignore the underlying causes, because unless we address them, something like this will happen again.
“Remember who you are, what you are, and who you represent” – Arsenal fans have done that so well and so vociferously in the last 48 hours. Well done, everyone ❤️
In the same time period, the owners have also shown us very clearly who they are, what they are, and what they represent – and it categorically is NOT this football club that we cherish so dearly. They have left a stain that might never fully go away.