Arsenal, love ‘em or hate ‘em we’ll still be playing them on Saturday dinner time and you’d still be pondering over things like just how posh their fans are, how they take their pies and the ins and outs of their boardroom power battles if we hadn’t gone out and grabbed the nearest ‘minor royal’ looking bloke off twitter and quizzed him for you.
Turns out that bloke was Andrew, editor of The Arsenal Collective
, so not only did he look the part, he was perfectly qualified to give us his views ahead of the game.
Wigan Athletic, what do you really think of us?
I can’t believe you’ve stuck around in the top flight for seven years. I remember watching Crespo score against you in the dying seconds of your first Premier League game against Chelsea and thinking, ah well, plucky…but bound to be relegated. That you’re still here is really rather impressive; I know that sounds (is) incredibly patronising, but given your resources it’s an astonishing feat.
I admire Dave Whelan; I like that he had a long-term vision for the club and that he’s gone out of his way to put Wigan on the map from a football perspective. Moreover, in Roberto Martinez I think Arsenal fans see a man who follows in Arsene Wenger’s footsteps, a guy who believes in bringing through youngsters and football being played not just for results, but also for aesthetic reasons.
I’ve been lucky enough to interview him and he’s so damn nice, you can’t not like him! The relationship he has with Whelan must be one of the closest manager-chairman partnerships in football and proof that loyalty in the game isn’t dead just yet. It’s not everyday you find someone willing to turn down the Liverpool job.
Despite all that I fucking hate playing you at the DW. Our record at your place recently isn’t great and the memories are compounded by a couple of classic late collapses on our part. I’ve never been to your place, but let’s just say the feedback from travelling fans isn’t always complimentary.
Some of our abiding memories of life at the top table so far involve Arsenal, the League Cup semi and the ten minute come back from two-nil down immediately spring to mind, what do you remember of those games, and what (if any) is your prize Wigan-Arsenal memory?
I was at the League Cup match at Highbury and I thought the tide had turned when Van Persie nailed in his free-kick. We killed you in that game, but Jason Roberts bullied us on the break. It wasn’t a pleasant experience conceding in the last seconds of extra-time (it never is!) but the disappointment of going out was slightly tempered by the fact we’d won the game and it was ONLY the League Cup. Always strange that scenario.
As for the 3-2 game at your place; I was watching the match on an internet stream and we seemed to be coasting to victory. The momentum completely changed when we conceded. I hate it when you know you’re going to fuck up and it comes true, and that day was a prime example. I nearly broke my laptop at full-time, I was apoplectic. The rage came as a bit of a shock to a mate’s girlfriend who’d just arrived for an ill-timed barbecue I was hosting. She thinks I’m a nutcase now
My favourite Arsenal-Wigan memory has to be the 4-2 win on the last day at Highbury that was (and always will be) a very special game for all Gooners. You lot raised the tension by taking an early lead before dutifully gifting us three goals and the Henry penalty that saw him fittingly bring the house down with a hat trick. What with Spurs literally poisoning themselves, us getting the Champions League spot, the sun shining and all the other festivities it was a fine day all round.
A lot of the public can’t get past a Home Counties/Islington set stereotype of a typical Arsenal fan. Nick Hornby and Alan Davies haven’t helped over the years, the Queen, Prince Harry and Jack Whitehall are listed amongst your famous fans on Wikipedia and now you’re cancelling games because of tube strikes. Care to defend the humble Arsenal fan, or are you really just all posh?
Having grown up in Windsor on the doorstep of Her Majs favourite castle (and five minutes down the road from Nick Hornby’s childhood haunts in the Berkshire town of Maidenhead) I’m not really in a position to help you overcome the stereotype! Moreover, my butler told me that the Boxing Day match isn’t off because of the tube strike, but because we Gooners are all letting our chauffeurs have an extra day off over Christmas
However, bear with me; this is the bit where I tell you about the long-lost links with North London. My grandfather (a Greek Cypriot immigrant) raised his family in Camden and he was a regular at Highbury from the late 60s onwards. My dad was already an Arsenal fan when he met my Mum through a mate (also a Gooner) and began going to games with her brother (also a Gooner). Dads been a season ticket holder for the best part of three decades and he, my Mum, my brother and I all sit together in the North Bank at the Emirates. My uncle is a bus driver (he often joins us) and my Dad is an art historian I think what I’m trying to say is that there’s no point stereotyping because everybody has their own story when it comes to supporting a club.
Don’t get me wrong, the ridiculously high price of tickets at the Emirates means there’s a lot more financially able football tourists and the matchday atmosphere in the ground often comes across as a bit soulless because its all rather glossy (particularly the ring of corporate seating) but in no way does that mean working class people don’t watch the Arsenal! If you fancy going to some of the pubs around the area on match day and labelling the punters posh then you’re a braver man than me!
I used to think of Arsenal as the grand old lady of English football. You were owned and run with a real sense of stewardship and responsibility. Some of that sheen has been lost for me over recent years, how has the move to the new stadium and change of ownership affected the club’s relationship with the fans? Weren’t they about moving the club on to the mythical “next level”, yet, if anything other clubs have accelerated past you?
There’s several issues to be tackled with the above I’ll try and simplify. I still firmly believe that the sustainable business model we have in place is the most responsible way to run a football club. From a business perspective I think it’s difficult to criticise the notion that you spend what you earn.
The ownership struggle is complicated and has its roots in the decision to leave Highbury. We couldn’t redevelop the old stadium due to the listed status of two stands, so the only way to increase match day revenue was to build a brand new stadium or move elsewhere we were well aware at the time (early 2000s) of the danger of losing financial ground on Manchester United.
David Dein, the former CEO, wanted us to move to the new Wembley (somethin
g the fans were aghast about), Danny Fiszman, at the time our biggest shareholder, and the rest of the board felt it was important to stay as close to Highbury as possible even if that meant taking on huge debts to build something from scratch. The long-standing tensions from the decision to build the Emirates eventually saw Dein pushed out in 2006.
Still in possession of a huge number of shares, Dein went looking for someone rich to get into bed with so he could make a comeback. First he forged a relationship with Stan Kroenke, who subsequently dumped him because he realised the board saw Dein as toxic, and then he sold out to Alisher Usmanov. Viewing the former as the lesser of two evils, Fiszman, who was suffering from cancer, opted to sell to Kroenke before he died on the proviso the American promised to go along with his self-sustaining vision.
Despite owning nearly 30% of the club, Usmanov never got near the majority he needed to take control and is now stuck with a load of shares and no say. Effectively, Dein single-handedly and totally accidentally engineered the stalemate we see today. It’s a total mess, with two billionaires who don’t talk to each other, one in possession of power but opting not to spend, the other with no power and an eagerness to sign blank cheques.
It’s worth noting that two major factors played against us during the stadium build years. First Roman Abramovich turned up at Chelsea with his infinite budget and set the trend for mega-rich Premier League club owners. Second the 2008 recession struck at a time when we were trying to flog the residential properties wed built as part of the stadium move. The cash from those sales was supposed to help us with transfers and wages but in the end we didn’t get anywhere near the profits due to the residing economic climate. It looks as though Arsene took to flogging the best players to help us stick to the ‘spend what you earn’ mantra. I have long believed that since he played a major part in the move to the Emirates he has felt it his responsibility to stick around and guide us through the troubled waters that have ensued.
I think most Arsenal fans respect Wenger’s legacy and still believe he’s the right man to lead the club, but not winning trophies for this long was always going to take its toll on his popularity. The silverware drought has left fans looking for scapegoats everywhere; whether that be on the pitch – as evidenced by the poisonous treatment handed to out to underperforming players – the board – who many feel are out of touch and rinsing everyone for cash and the manager – for the results. Unfortunately, fans are even turning on fans at the moment.
It will get better, I’m sure of that. And I don’t think it’s been as bad as the media have made out. Frustrating yes and a little embarrassing watching our dirty laundry get aired in public, but other clubs have suffered far worse. It would be churlish to say otherwise having watched Arsenal beat Barcelona just a couple of seasons ago.
Anyway, back to more pressing matters, how do you see the game going tomorrow?
I think we’ll win. We’ll concede, we always do. But I fancy us to go on a bit of a run after that Reading result. Maybe 2-1 or 3-2. Your goals will be the result of sloppy defending on our part, possibly from set pieces. I’m not going out on a limb by saying that.
And most importantly, pies! What is your favoured flavour ( I’m imagining something rustic and Nigella-fied, involving feta cheese & nuts), what’s your preferred method of eating it and what condiments and/or sauces would you involve?
There’s a great (relatively) new pie stall which has opened up near the ground called Piebury Corner. I’m a fan of the Ray Parlour which is pork and apple. They provide dainty little wooden forks which I also use to eat chips if I choose to treat myself at the Golden Fish bar across the road. I’m not really a condiment guy, although I’ve been known, usually under the influence, to controversially indulge in a dash of Burger sauce. Yeah, I like to live on the edge, although I don’t think I’d last too long up North would I?
You’d be surprised, the best answer we’ve had to that question so far this season has come from a Norwich fan. Thanks for popping over and I hope that the result on Saturday doesn’t ruin your Christmas too much.
The Arsenal Collective
exists to bring to life past Arsenal glories, but also to make sure the bad times are never forgotten. It is about doffing a cap at the stamina needed to ride the football rollercoaster season after season. Fanaticism is a journey with no end, but whether it’s unbridled joy or utter dejection we recognise that it is an experience undertaken together and one which stimulates a ‘culture’ all of its own.
The site reflects on the achievements of managers who have engineered victories, pays homage to the efforts of great players, and also reminisces about those whose achievements may have been forgotten in the passage of time.
They can be found on the web at http://www.thearsenalcollective.com/ , Andrew can be found on Twitter at @AAllenSport or @AFC_Collective
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