Fighting Back

It’s difficult to believe that any club fighting its way to wining the league championship would ever take the opinion that everyone is against them but during the 1990/91 old Division One season that is exactly what George Graham instilled in his players – A solid belief that no one wanted to see the Arsenal crowned league champions for the second time in three seasons, that the national press were against them because “Nothing ever comes out of Highbury“, the Football Association were against them having fined the club £50,00 and two precious points for their part in the brawl that took place at Old Trafford in the October of that campaign. George even went so far as to suggest that the fans were not fully behind the team and in his famous teamtalk at London Colney he reiterated to his players the importance of getting the fans on their side, he even assured the squad that he would play his part in this, that he would get the fans backing the team during their title run in.

Having been at an age where the politics of football held little to no interest for me I can’t honestly say I vividly remember a feeling that we were coming under attack from all sides back then but from the ten thousand times I watched my VHS copy of the season review aptly titled ‘Champions‘ that defiance and felling that it was ‘us against them’ has always stuck with me.

I think it’s safe to say that we’re unlikely to be crowned Premier League Champions this season and while the club have certainly helped stir the fans current irritation with price increases, transfer impotence, the teams poor form etc in recent months (I don’t want to go into too much detail less I defeat my own purpose here) and as a collective we do certainly have a belief that the written press and outlets such as Sky Sports News are against us. That they’re ready and willing to pick up the tiniest of sticks and prod poke and beat us with them. But more often than not we’re assured by our perceived detractors that this simply isn’t true and we’re paranoid (Usually at the foot of an article laying into our inability to do anything but the opposite of all they implore us as a club to do).

This week I’ve enjoyed what to me looks like the clubs attempts at a resistance…

It began with CEO Ivan Gazidis speaking at a Sports Industry Group breakfast at the start of the week.Ivan spoke not only of owner Stan Kroenke’s full involvement with club matters and the muted Americans apparent plans to share his thoughts with fans and media alike when next on English soil, he also spoke of his backing for the boss in the wake of last weekends defeat at Ewood Park. The South African/British chief exec rounded on Wenger’s critics assuring them that the Frenchman is – “As focused on delivering success as ever. He didn’t suddenly become a bad manager, that’s nonsense

We all know that as a public speaker Ivan is somewhat silver-tongued, it’s a natural environment for the former Deputy commissioner of the MLS. W also know that behind the scenes he is frustrated by the hammering the club is getting from all directions and whilst he may have similar views to the rest of us when it comes to expenditure on playing staff and some of Wenger’s methods he is, professionally at least, a company man and wouldn’t be earning his crust if he didn’t attempt to dampen the fire and get the clubs PR reputation back on track. It may have been an odd thing to say but I quite liked his defence of Wenger when he said – “He’s not broken. To see him portrayed as some kind of idiot is damaging to the game“.

Maybe it’s not what Ivan meant but for us all to now round on Wenger and portray him as some kind of fool in the way that Steve Howard would (and does) after all he achieved in the game is somewhat shortsighted and in an age where anyone and everyone in a position of responsibility at football clubs is only a poor performance away from the dole queue it is important for the game that those with the reputation and longevity of Wenger, Ferguson and the like is giving lesser mortals less than a cat in hells chance of getting anywhere near the types of career those two have had.

Ivan’s backing seemed to stiffen the lips and harden the resolve of our boss and our players. After the clubs Carling Cup victory over Shrewsbury Town on Tuesday night Arsene himself came out with some of the old fighting talk, dismissing suggestions that he had received a so-called vote of confidence and that speculation surrounding his longterm future at the helm of the Gunners was foolhardy, he told his inquisitors: “My record? I have just managed 14 years at this club and I have kept them 14 years in the Champions League and I wish it lasts another 14 years

Maybe it was the heat of the interview battle and the line of enquiry from those who talk a good game of club management without ever have come any closer to doing so then a game of Championship Manager, but Arsene did himself a kind of disservice forgetting that he has now been manager of this great club for fifteen years. However he knew how long he had been schooling footballers, when asked if he had plans to add a defensive coach to his staff the gaffer quipped “I’ve just completed 32 years of coaching – I don’t want to answer this kind of question

Then is now doubt that the club was going on the defensive in the media at a time when we’ve been unable to do so on the pitch. It was all very batten down the hatches and keep the enemy at the gates, but it wasn’t overly doing much to win over the fans.That coup de grace came yesterday.

On Wednesday morning The Sun newspaper ran a story on it’s back page which suggested that the perceived poor attendance at the Emirates on Tuesday night was the fans making it known to Wenger, Gazidis, Kroeke and the world that they were unhappy. Coupled with an almost full page picture of empty Emirates seats “journalist” Charlie Wyett mocked the attendance figure of 46,539 for a league cup third round fixture against a side that is three divisions below us. True it was the lowest attendance the clubs new home has ever seen but the paper seemed unwilling to level this against other attendance figures such as Manchester City’s paltry 44,026 at the United Stadium last week for their first ever UEFA champions League game against Italian side Napoli. They didn’t mention that more fans had attended our fixture on a Tuesday night then were in attendance for Tottenham’s Premier league win over Liverpool on Sunday lunch time.

Now Wyett & Co were content to dismiss our attendance figure as little more than laughable and yesterday the club stuck two fingers up at them with the release of not only a thank you to the fans for their support at the game but also the attendance figures for every Carling Cup game played this week and a selection of last weekends Premier League games to.

This was the clubs best bit of PR in a long time and it was fantastic. It certainly got the backing of the fans and has produced a little of that ‘us against them’ spirit.

Wenger has told his players that it is their responsibility to lead the crowd not the other way home and I hope we see that in our game against Bolton Wanderers tomorrow afternoon and that the fight back starts here.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

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The Rooney Rule

Continuing with Monday’s theme of discussing something different on this blog I want to take a look at the ‘Rooney Rule’ this morning –

If you are unaware of the ‘Rooney Rule’ then in a nut shell it is this – A requirement in American Football for teams to interview at least one black candidate when a managerial vacancy arises.

Now I would like to make it clear from the outset that I have no objection to this rule being implemented in English football , if indeed it is,but at the same time I am certainly not a lobbyist for its inclusion and in this post I hope to explain my reasons why.

Having grown up in North London multiculturalism is very much the norm within the communities I have lived in, if I’m totally honest then I can say that there has been a sea change in attitudes down the years in terms of the integration of ethnicities and the mindless racism that would sadly sometimes accompany it, but it’s been a change for the better.

Mickey & Rocky

Throughout my life time we have always had a large proportion of black footballers on the books at the Arsenal, those that instantly come to mind include Viv Anderson, Gus Caeser, Paul Davis, David ‘Rocky’ Rocastle, Michael Thomas, Sol Campbell, Thierry Henry, Paddy Vieira… There are many many more…

Batson at Highbury
 

The first black player to pull on the red & white was Grenada born Brendon Batson who after making a total of ten appearances for the Arsenal moved to Cambridge United where he first linked up with Ron Atkinson. Batson followed ‘Big Ron’ to West Bromwich Albion where he Cyril Regis & Laurie Cunningham were dubbed ‘The Three Degrees’ as it was the first time that an English side had fielded a trio of black players.  After having his career cut short by injury Batson, who was capped three times by the England ‘B’ team became an integral member of the Professional Footballers Association and was awarded the MBE for ‘Services to Football’ in 2000. Batson is himself in favour of the rule being introduced and was  in attendance with representatives of the PFA, LMA, FA, Football League & Premier League at Wembley yesterday to hear the views of American civil rights lawyer Cyrus Mehri who was instamental in the rules introduction to Gridiron.

In more than twenty years of watching football at Highbury and the Emirates I have never encountered any racism directed from our fans towards players, I’m not saying it has never happened but I have certainly never been witness to it. We Gooners as a whole are made up of a real myriad of nationalities

United Nations

                                                                                                                                                                                           

In more recent times we have seen players from every corner of the globe represent our club and in an era of globalisation we’ve witnessed the rise of Arsenal supporters clubs across the world as our fan base has expanded far beyond the streets of Islington.

Far Flung Fans

My point, with all this talk of cultural diversity and our acceptance of it, is I can’t see that we as a collective would have any problem with the appointment of a black manager should it ever happen – indeed were we not one of the first clubs to put our faith in a foreign manager back when it was anything but fashionable to do so?

Arsene Who?

Were we not chastised for it as we have been in the media and the wider footballing community in this country for having the audacity to field a side made up of eleven ‘Johnny Foreigners’?

We, and Wenger in particular, have been accused of killing English football so many times that we must surely be undertaking the worlds most drawn out assassination attempt.

Yet look at the amount of England internationals our club has produced during this same era, or at least how many of them have represented both our club and the country that plays home to it. Indeed Emmanuel Frimpong, a black footballer born in Ghana but raised in England, has represented this country at various schoolboy levels and was recently selected by the England U21 side after making sufficient inroads to the Arsenal first team. Frimmers didn’t accept the call, due to an alleged injury, and has before and after made it clear the he wishes to represent the country of his birth at international level.

As far as I’m concerned the colour of your skin and/or your country of birth matter not a jot as long as your footballing CV suggests you are the best candidate for the job of Arsenal manager and I would hope that is the belief of all Gooners.

But… if, hypothetically, Arsene Wenger were to leave the club at the end of this season who would be on the shortlists complied by fans, bookies, journalists and Sky Sport news to replace him?

 Names in the hat would perhaps be Owen Coyle & David Moyes, Dragan Stojkovic supposedly mooted by Wenger himself as his eventual successor. I’m sure there would be whispers of former players who are currently working within the game – Adams, Bergkamp, Bould, Garde and of course those of the long odds Mourinho & Guardiola.

Rijkaard

I wouldn’t expect to hear names such as Frank Rijkaard, Piso Mosimane or Chris Houghton…

But that isn’t because they are black men, it’s because they simply aren’t good enough to replace Wenger. Rijkaard was the man in charge of Barcelona when the Catalan club beat us in the 2006 Champions League Final. He won two La Liga titles back to back & steered his native Netherlands to the Semi-Finals of Euro 2000, he clearly has a pedigree but he would still be unlikely to be considered a likely replacement for the man who came in and revolutionised English football.

To make it compulsory for our board to interview at least one black manager for the role would be wrong in my opinion. As with any job the candidates interviewed should be those who best match the requirements as laid out by the employer, skin colour should never come in to it.

The inclusion of the rule would suggest that there is a racist undertone drifting through English football and in particular at the very top-level where money men and executives pull the strings. If that is indeed true then how does the inclusion of the ‘Rooney Rule’ eradicate this? (Please note that it certainly would need eradicating) If clubs were forced to interview one black candidate then what mechanism would be in place to stop it being anything more than a token gesture? Boardrooms full of faux smiles and handshakes, thanks but no thanks. Would that then go on for two, five, ten years until someone says “Hold on, they’re interviewing black guys but  still not enough of them are getting the jobs” – What would happen then?

Not cut out for it

There are black footballers like John Barnes & Paul Ince who were wonderful, fantastic players who served this countries national side with distinction but they seem not to be cut out for football management much in the way Paul Merson isn’t. They aren’t unsuccessful in their management careers because they’re black – you can argue that given his relative inexperience Ince has actually managed to achieve a high level of success when compared to the managerial highlights of contemporaries such as Merson & Barnes, it all depends on the yard stick by which you determine success.

Merse man

Barnes & Ince shouldn’t be given job interviews  simply because they’re black just as Merse shouldn’t be given job interviews just because he is a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

Puzzled by a lack of job opportunities

I understand the argument that says black bosses should be given an advantage so as to build their experience because without that experience how do they get ahead or build a career, but what top manager has walked into a top job?

Often the best bosses haven’t had much of a playing career but no one hands interviews to them because they were mediocre players no one had ever heard of but believed were more deserving than household names.

It is incredibly disappointing that from the talent pool of black footballers this country has produced over the years we’re yet to see more than a handful of managerial careers. As Oliver Holt Tweeted yesterday, there were two black managers at the top end of English football ten years ago and there are only two now. But look at how many black footballers we have playing here now compared to just thirty years ago, many were born on these shores and there are many who not so long ago would have been lumped in with any footballer from an other country as a ‘Johnny Foreigner’ or could have been racially abused every time they stepped on the pitch.

I’ve no doubt that many of the players plying their trade in our leagues today will become football managers, some will be successful others won’t be but it will be due to their ability not the colour of their skin.

It is also important to consider that there may be those who don’t wish to be given a foot in the door via the ‘Rooney Rule’ and it could be seen as tokenistic, patronising and divisive.

If we truly believe that there is an underlying reluctance within English football to employ black managers and coaches, at all levels not just Premier League, then we need to really get to the root cause of this and eradicate that way of thinking just as we should with any form of institutionalised racism. We also shouldn’t just assume that any racial disadvantage exists only at the coaching level of the game. When did you last see a black football journalist sitting around Brian Woolnough’s kitchen table on Sky’s Sunday supplement?

I’m all for the increase of minority groups within football just as I’m eager to see the complete eradication of racial discord in this country – disharmony and unbalance between race groups is not confined to sport in general let alone football, it sadly exists in many walks of life and businesses and that kind of imbalance must be addressed and realigned from the education system upwards if we are to see a real welcome increase in the numbers of black football managers, policeman, politicians, fireman and indeed all professions.

I just want to end this post by enforcing the point that no one, whatever their colour or creed, should be discouraged from achieving all they dream of achieving be it in football or any other walk of life. And if discrimination has been encountered it should be used as a tool for motivation not discouragement. Natural ability, determination & self belief will always win through – they have to because that is all that any of us really have.

It would be great to know your thoughts on this…

Thanks for reading,

Paul.

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