Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The Emirates Stadium move and modern football- a distancing and snubbing of long-serving, loyal supporters

If you asked our older generation of fans about football you would find it un-recognisable and, in parts, comical with their tales of olden day heroes who all seemed to be called George, Arthur or Billy. Football has changed dramatically over the last fifty years. A lot more money has been pumped into the game and the gap between fans and their clubs has subsequently widened. In the George, Arthur, Billy days contracts were adhered to without get-out clauses; players didn’t angle for moves away for ridiculous wage increases and loyalty and commitment were still words in The Football Dictionary.

Of course football has improved in many aspects over that time. But the aim of this article is to widen your gaze to a big, unnecessary cost of that improvement. The dis-enfranchising of long-standing loyal fans.

The 1970’s saw the first 1 million pound transfer (Trevor Francis to Nottingham Forest) and since then we have witnessed an ever-growing increase in fees and wages which has escalated over time to the point where drastic and fast-moving increase in transfer fees and player valuations has seen Andy Carroll move clubs for £35 million. Admittedly that is an extreme example but overall players’ fees and wages have risen dramatically recently. Who’d have thought 30 years ago that one day you’d have players on £250k a week and transfer fees reaching into the £40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70 millions?

With the Premier League and Champions League came increased funding for success and league position, and the price for failure (such as relegation or missing out on promotion) became so astronomical. With the vast monetary gains to be made clubs suddenly became targets for mega-rich foreign owners who see football clubs as a business project rather than the community-bringing-together, soulful place it is. They fork out ridiculous transfer fees and wages are paid in order to achieve success, which subsequently escalates ticket prices (through clubs trying to make that money back).

Fans are dis-enfranchised, the ticket prices having being increasing over the last few years at the Emirates season by season only contributing to that. Hard-core, long-serving fans are brushed aside and treated like meaningless numbers. There isn’t enough thought going into the soul of a football club- the fans. Football has improved in certain ways- it being more popular, the TV coverage, the better players we see now, it’s a fascinating league. But there has to be some middle ground. This can’t all come at the expense of fans being priced out of going to games and supporting their beloved team. Teams in Germany have managed to avoid that. And not at the expense of lack of success- look at the recent achievements of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

Some clubs, like QPR, have had family sections where tickets are cheaper- that is a good way of partly resolving this issue. Let’s not make it so that hard-working Dads can’t afford to take their kids to football games. Having cheaper seats and sections of the ground designated for this sort of thing would help. Or even better, a reduction in ticket prices full stop.

Craig Love, co-writer of this article, has supported Arsenal since he was 4 years old, that’s 40 years in total and makes clear his sadness at what appears to be happening at his beloved club since Arsenal moved to the Emirates.

“I now look sadly on at fans sitting in the ground every home game as I and many other fans have been priced out of season tickets and new shirts every year, it is simply beyond my monetary budget and it has now become a birthday treat to watch the team I love ply their trade. Sky sports and internet streams ensure I watch most games but it is not the same. It was never this way at Highbury; all the board members were known and definitely closer to the fans. They seemed to understand and acknowledge our tradition and heritage more than the current board, and most importantly we were successful and had some world class players lining up for us. We moved, we were told ‘to compete better with the top clubs’. I did not realise they meant competing for higher share dividends for board members and not trophy success.”

Right this is. The stadium was supposed to put us on a more level playing field with the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, whereas it has actually just distanced us more from them. Yes it will benefit us in the future financially, but is it worth it? Is it worth leaving your spiritual home and soul to move to a bigger, more expensive stadium where ticket prices are higher and the club and the fans are more distant? What’s more, where a lot of fans who were able to afford to go and watch their team regularly at Highbury are now priced out of going to do the same at the Emirates Stadium, like Craig?

Fans are a secondary implement at all top clubs these days because owners install boards with a corporate based company ideology, and fans are just seen as a commodity and means of making more money. Boards seem more distanced from their fan base than ever before. Yes they still go through the motion of fans forums and focus groups, but do fans honestly feel they have a say in what goes on? Do fans honestly feel that they can persuade the club to lower ticket prices at all to allow the priced-out fans a way back into the ground? That would be a true test of the club’s priorities- a bit of extra money (to not spend on improving the team by the way) every week or treating the fans better and performing their moral duty to the long serving priced-out supporters who’ve supported the club through thick and thin and helped provide them with the income that has allowed them to progress and eventually move to a new stadium?

This triggers curiosity about which is the best kind of club to be supporting, is it the smaller family club whose fans feel part of and appreciated, or a bigger conglomerate that can isolate their fans but win trophies? I honestly believe Arsenal encompassed both of these things at Highbury and it worked fine. Which points to the stadium move being a negative thing once again.

Football has changed a lot for the good but I can’t help but feel it’s at the expense of a lot of fans and in particular, long-serving poorer class fans who are often the most loyal.
(Image soures:, The Telegraph and The Daily Mail)

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Would the sale of Gareth Bale be a bad thing for Arsenal?

This evening Real Madrid have put in a record £85m bid for Gareth Bale. That fee is astronomical to say the least, especially for a player who has only looked top class for about 5 months. He bailed (no pun intended) Tottenham out a lot of times last season, basically winning games and points single-handedly for Spurs.

But is he really worth £85m? Of course not. He hasn't done nearly enough to merit that sort of fee. Tottenham would have to be mad not to accept it. I know it doesn't send the greatest of signals out to sell your best player but everyone has their price and think what Tottenham could do with that money.

They aren't in the Champions League so many would say they'd struggle to attract really good players, but I think that's a bit of a myth to be honest. Tottenham were in the Europa League last season and managed to get Verthongen and Dembele, this season they are in the same situation and have managed to attract a Brazil international team regular in Paulinho. They also seem to have caught the interest of high scoring Spanish striker Roberto Soldado. Liverpool have managed to attract Luis Suarez, Everton Kevin Mirallas and even Aston Villa with Christian Benteke.

We see every year new players plucked out of nowhere through good scouting systems- like Mirallas, Benteke, Michu and Koscielny. Tottenham could make those sort of buys and get in the likes of Roberto Soldado. They've still got the pull factors of being based in London, being in what is still largely renowned as the best league in the world and are at least in Europe and have got very tempting financial capabilities. So they still have the ability to attract very good players.

So I'd rather see Tottenham keep Bale and not have a huge war chest of dosh lying around to spend on improving the squad as a whole. Tottenham could easily get players in to replace the goals and chances Bale scored and created for them (he didn't get many assists last season- 4). And not only that, but have the license to go out and improve other areas of their team.

I'll be scared if Bale goes. Especially as we're just sitting on our huge war chest of money. So yes, Tottenham selling Bale would be a bad thing for Arsenal, provided Tottenham managed to get players of quality in after selling Bale.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

My Graduation Ceremony

Yesterday I had my graduation ceremony. Call me weird but I wasn't really looking forward to it. Don't get me wrong, I was looking forward to collecting my certificate and making my family proud but it was the rest of it that was making me look forward to it being over.

The ceremony was at 5pm yet they wanted you to get there for 3.30pm, so there was a lot of hanging around and waiting. It was rather irritating until I arrived inside the hall for the ceremony. Virtually every other student was in their seat as I squeezed my way down the row to my assigned seat and in the corner of my eye as I sat down I saw a pretty blonde girl next to me look as if she was greeting me. I assumed my peripheral vision had deceived me but then she said "hiya". It turned out it was Vanessa, a girl who I'd liked but actually felt intimidated by a bit during the last year (only because she always seemed to be in one of those hot girl packs that they travel in). I was in a couple of classes with her but never really got the chance to talk to her but here she was chatting away to me likeshe knew me as her best mate.

It did make the ceremony a lot more pleasurable, she and I talked a lot and I felt totally comfortable. It was really nice. The ceremony speeches went on for what seemed like forever, very boring and irritating- as it always is to hear self-boasting. There's no way I'd do that, I'm way too good for it.

However soon it was time to queue up and collect our awards on stage. I stood there in my very awkwardly long and fiddly gown and hat (which kept sliding off). It was nice to be wearing the ceremonial robes but also quite annoying. The woman who'd put it on me hadn't done it completely right as my right shoulder strip kept falling away from where it should've been, and the hat was too small. I suppose I'm the common denominator but that sort of thing always seems to have happened to me- even when I went paintballing when I was about 12 when I got a shoddy combat attire.

But nevertheless I managed to fix it temporarily before I got to the stage (the gowning, not my paintballing gear). Slightly daunted, I walked on stage and shook the hand of one of the boring speakers and had my image on a big screen for the first time in my life while I was applauded by a crowd. It felt like I was being substituted on a football pitch.

Next up were photographs with the amazingly exact (or fussy) photographer who was very particular about things like finger positioning and hand placements. It was a nice evening with the exception of the unnecessary hanging around and the heat caused by wearing that frigging gown in that hot hall. My main disappointment was not getting to throw my hat up in the air... they didn't arrange that for some reason.

So, to quote the many clich├ęs used at the ceremony... so begins the chapter of my life filled with fear of the unknown and, hopefully, opportunities of career advancement!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Why Williams would be a good signing- Experienced centre half can add to our British core

Arsenal have supposedly upped their interest in Ashley Williams (whatever that means). This excites me. It wouldn’t have done a year ago but over the last season we have seen some outstanding performances from Williams, notably against Man Utd and Chelsea.

He seems to be a big game player as he has shown over his two seasons in the Premier League with Swansea, as well as being an integral part of them knocking out Chelsea over two legs and Liverpool at Anfield on their way to winning the Capital One Cup. Moreover he is experienced; he’s 28 years old which is around the age of being at your peak as a centre half.

Additionally he knows the Premier League, which is crucial. He won’t take 6 months or a full season to adapt (like Koscielny and Mertesacker did), he’ll be able to slot right in and won’t struggle with the intensity or physicality of the English game.

My one worry with him is he does seem to drop the odd clanger, like a bizarrely timed back pass to the keeper. However he seems to have cleaned that up, I don’t remember him doing that for a while. I suppose as well his lack of experience in Europe isn’t a great factor considering our potential Champions League campaign.

Despite that I think overall he’d be a good signing for anything up to £10 million or so. Experienced, solid, stays injury-free and a big game player. He seems a very attractive option to me, the fact he won’t take a while to settle into the league being a big plus. It’d also be good to add more of that British grit and fight we’ve been developing over the last few years with Wilshere, Ramsey, Walcott, Jenkinson and The Ox. It’d be lovely to see us add to that determined British core.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Is Benteke treating Aston Villa shamefully?

Last summer Aston Villa brought Christian Benteke to the best league in the world, a big club and improved him as a player. Then they made it clear he's a big part of their future and now Benteke's handed in a transfer request.

He's not left because a top club has come in and had a bid accepted by Aston Villa. He's just shown his desperation to do the dirty on the club that has done a lot for him in a year. The manager, the coaches and the fans.

I think there should be a clause in every player's contract, at least every player under 30, that prevents them from moving to another club within the first year or two of their contract. Because Aston Villa are doing things the right way. They're spending little amount of money on players transfer fees and wages, bringing through young talent, have a very good scouting system and try to play good, attacking football. Basically they're trying to succeed by doing things the correct way; bringing in young players, coaching them in a way that promotes the right style of football and improving them, rather than just throwing money at it (ala West Ham, QPR, Tottenham, Liverpool, Sunderland... a lot of clubs).

But it's never going to work is it? Because the likes of Benteke and maybe Lowton and Westwood in the future are going to attract interest from the top clubs and Villa aren't going to stand a chance really in keeping them. So they'll have to start from scratch again. They'll get punished for doing things the right way.

I don't blame Benteke for wanting to further his career. If I was at Aston Villa and the likes of Arsenal came calling I'd be very tempted too, but it's not even that is it? He's handed in a transfer request and as far as we know none of the top teams have put in a bid. So it's not like the opportunity's presented itself and it's been too good to resist, I'd understand that. It's a case of just being desperate to leave and that shows him not having a shred of loyalty to Aston Villa's staff and fans.

A solution to this problem therefore is that any player that signs a contract of 3 years or longer has to have a clause in their contract that means they can't leave in the first 2 years of said contract. I know it doesn't solve it completely but it'd improve things for teams with less power to keep players when Europe's elite come calling. It's not fair that teams like Aston Villa should be punished for doing things the right way. They deserve the chance to keep their best players for a more significant period of time.