Do you ever look at what’s happening in the world and feel kinda scared? The stuff that’s going on at the moment is genuinely frightening. A big shift to the right, intolerance on the rise, it doesn’t matter if you lie any more apparently. You can say whatever you want and people can disprove it, but it makes no difference to anything. War, people treating each other like they’re less than human simply because of where they come from, or the colour of their skin, their sexual orientation, what they believe in, or even how desperate they are.
Heavy start to the blog, I know, but bear with me. This is very much an unformed thought that may go nowhere. Sometimes I think we attach too much importance to football. A thing that can provide us with an escape route, some entertainment, or a way of putting all that other stuff in the background, becomes all-consuming to the point where lose touch with what it actually is.
A sport. A game. 11 men kicking a ball around with 11 other men. Which isn’t to trivialise it either, but I do wonder if there has been some kind of collective mind-melt where we infuse football with greater importance than it actually has, or should have.
Look, everyone wants their team to win. Everyone wants to do over the noisy neighbours in the derby and have the ‘bragging rights’. Everyone wants goals, success, trophies, open-top buses, and all the rest, but when it comes right down to it, only a select few teams each season can have that. There’s only one winner of each league, the rest are runners-up to varying degrees.
There are the cups, of course, but hundreds of teams enter the FA Cup, only one can win it. There are a tiny number of clubs that can win the Champions League, and nobody really cares about the League Cup. I mean, I will if Arsenal win it, of course, but it’s hardly the measure of a successful season.
I wonder with all the focus on the destination do we forget about the journey – because if everything is dependent on lifting a trophy at the end of May, then almost every football fan is cruelly disappointed come the end of the season. And that surely can’t be the case, because why would people keep bothering week in, week out. Season after season, year after year.
It’s the game. A game that has changed hugely since I started watching it in the early 90’s, but ultimately the aim is the same – score more goals than them. There’s more money, greater distance between players and fans, clubs are corporate, soulless, entities. They’re brands, they’re businesses, they’re social media BANTZ, they’re cash machines and fans are the ones that nearly always pay the bills.
We’re swamped, inundated with news and information. A game that only ever lived on through post-match pints in the pub before everyone went home now echoes through the web, social media, angry men venting and raging on unofficial TV channels, through podcasts, and all the other media we have available to us. That media isn’t even something we have to work hard to find. It’s ON us every minute of every day. Smartphones for reading, for listening, for watching, for leaving furious comments because a result didn’t go the way we wanted. There’s literally zero separation anymore.
And look, I hold my hands up here. I’m part of it. I started this blog, I’ve played a small part, but that still doesn’t mean we can’t recognise it for what it is. When something becomes all-consuming, as football is, as supporting Arsenal can be these days, there’s good and bad.
The good is the knowledge, the information, the fact we know more than we ever did. We can speculate, make assumptions, judgements (reasonable or otherwise), but I think there’s also a need to accept that we’re not always best placed to fully understand the machinations behind the scenes of any large football club. They’re secretive machines whose message is carefully manufactured for the most part. I’m Stuart-waffling a bit here. Told you this was fairly unformed.
I think my point is this: when I think about Wenger’s 20th year in charge, and the Invincibles, I wish I’d remembered it more at the time. Tried to enjoy it more at the time. What Arsenal had was golden, and while I don’t think I took it for granted, there are times when I have regret that I didn’t make more of it.
I don’t quite know how I could have done that, but still. I remember sitting with my friends in Edinburgh watching Champions League games in the University bar during the week, and loving what I saw. Fun times, but could they have been funner?
I saw the BBC show with Ian Wright and Martin Keown and Amy Lawrence, and thought of how those guys are rightly held in such esteem. They won things, they did incredible things for my club on the pitch, but I wonder how they might have survived in this era in which everybody lives under a microscope.
If Keown had made a defensive mistake and some bloke ranted and raved on Arsenal Fan TV afterwards would it change the perception of him? If Ian Wright fell out with a manager, would everyone have been on his side or would there be those whose belief that the club is sacrosanct and can do nothing wrong have turned some against him? Would Tony Adams have been so easily forgiven his drunk driving when there are millions of people making people judgement? It’s hard to know, but sometimes being better informed is not necessarily a bad thing. Ignorance is not always bliss, but sometimes it is.
I think what I’m trying to say is that if your happiness depends on 90 minutes that are completely and utterly out of your control, it’s time to have a think about it. Football, for me at least, is about more than that. The thing that captivates us about sport is how arbitrary it is. If we could predict with total certainty what was going to happen then it would be pointless and boring.
Yet there’s now a demand for perfection that goes against that completely. Every game must be a convincing win, otherwise we’re failing somehow. And in that people forget to enjoy the game, the company, the people, the friendships, the occasion, the fact that it can lift you up and make you forget your troubles – even for a little while.
If someone spends their day fighting and arguing online – even at a time when things are going relatively well – then what hope is there when their default position is anger? Enjoy the trip. We’re not all in it together, clearly that’s not the case as even with the football online world divisions and polarisations have become obvious. Deliberately fostered by some, maintained with huge desire by others, I have no time for that or them. Fuck them.
For the rest us though, as much as we want our team to win, succeed, and bring back those glory days we all hark for, we should also remember to remember the moments that make up a season. Good and bad. Hopefully more of the former than the latter, much more, but either way it’s out of our hands. We might hit a cow on the way, and it might all look doomed, but then the tracks are cleared and you end up watching a late winner. We just don’t know.
In the end, I don’t know really know what I’m talking about. Maybe I just wish people would treat each other better and not be so bitter and nasty over football, and especially over their own club. I know it won’t make any difference to some, those unflinching extremists at the positive and negative ends of the footballing spectrum, but maybe it’s something for those of us who can see the middle-ground to consider.
Until next week (when I promise I won’t be as introspective). I’ll also try and make more sense, but hey.