Thursday, 3 March 2011

As soulless as football can be

A trip to Arsenal's Emirates Stadium and a free seat in the corporate tier for their FA Cup replay with Leyton Orient turned out – perhaps unsurprisingly – to be one of this writer's least enjoyable evenings at the football

First, let's get one thing clear. I am not anti-Arsenal. I have no agenda against the club, manager or most of the playing staff. In fact, I probably like Arsenal more now than I have ever done. As a child I found them dull as dishwater and, as a result, vaguely disliked them in much the same way that I now vaguely dislike Stoke. You know that joke about children snapping one arm off each of the back four of their Arsenal Subbuteo team and gluing the arms back on the other way up – as if claiming an offside decision? That was my favourite joke as an 11-year-old. These days, they play admirably beautiful football, and while they have obvious flaws, I can at least gain plenty of pleasure from watching Arsenal. This is something my childhood self would never have thought possible.

But yesterday evening I had perhaps the dullest, most lifeless, anodyne football experience of my life. I'm struggling to think of a worse one. I guess the only consolation was that I did not pay for it. But, in a way, my free ticket did not help.

I was sat with the prawn sandwich brigade in the middle tier. And it wasn't even my employer that was paying for it. Another company with an interest in maintaining a good relationship with ours was footing the bill. In short, you could argue that I was one of the most freeloading corporate tossers in the whole stadium. But the difference was, the other freeloading corporate tossers were all there to watch Arsenal turn on the style; to see a Nasri or a Wilshere massacre a lowly Football League minnow and toy with its carcass. I was there in the hope of seeing something special, namely Leyton Orient making a fight of it and giving Arsenal a fright. The others got what they were baying for. Arsenal scored early and quickly killed the game as a contest. I got precious little, bar enormous respect for the Orient fans who were sat directly below me in my legroom-tastic middle tier.

As the second half started with the score at 3-0, the Orient fans were still in very fine voice. A boy sat near me, who looked for all the world like a younger Jack Wilshere, couldn't get his head around this. Surely these silly fans of such a comparably terrible team should be slumped in their seats? "Oi! Shut up Orient, you're crap! We're smashing you three-nil!" His parents seemed to think this was fair comment and continued to gaze gormlessly ahead.

As the strange mix of genuine fans and freeloaders around me lapsed into chatting about work, Barcelona and last night's telly, Arsenal won a penalty. I knew this because I'd heard the whistle and seen the referee point to the spot. But the fans didn't react to winning it. There was no cheer at my end of the stadium at all. They either didn't realise or didn't care sufficiently to emit any sort of noise. Yes, they cheered as the delightful Nicklas Bendtner duly completed his hat-trick, but it was more of brief "wa-heey" than anything else.

Bendtner had previously scored two first-half goals down in front of us. If I was in any doubt as to his character, his pointless goading of the Orient fans on netting his second did little to improve my mood. Classy behaviour from a man who ranks himself among the world's best. Having been in celebratory mood to this point, the Orient faithful suddenly had their backs up. A boo for Bendtner preceded a hearty and very salient burst of: "Four-nil and you still don't sing!". This chant echoed around an increasingly listless stadium.

"Stand up for the Orient," they sang, as eight or nine thousand away fans got to their feet and applauded. With the game now put to bed, surely this was the Arsenal fans' chance to acknowledge the efforts of Orient who'd played so brilliantly to force a replay in the first leg? Nope. I scoured the stands looking for Arsenal fans showing any sort of appreciation. I spotted one solitary fellow stand up and offer a clap in their direction. That was it. One guy.

Bemused and perhaps a little hurt, the Orient fans had had enough. They knew they deserved better than this. It was time to give the Gooners a quick jab in a painful and tender place. "Two-one to the Birmingham!" came the chant.

Clichy thumped in a decent fifth to complete what should have been a confidence-boosting rout for Arsenal. But surely a big part of rebuilding the side's confidence would be a standing ovation at full-time, in the hope of giving the team a lift before they head off to Barcelona? Instead, three quarters of the Arsenal fans had left by the 88th minute. The final few minutes were played out largely bereft of home fans, while the Orient contingent continued to sing.

I realise this was probably quite a different sort of home crowd to a regular league game. Some Arsenal die-hards might have given this fixture a miss for financial reasons, and that is more than fair enough. But Arsenal still had 50,000-plus in attendance last night, and only a fraction of those were freeloaders like me. Surely the lion share were Arsenal supporters of some description? Those in the regular seats did not seem to be enjoying it very much, nor did they seem interested in playing their part in rebuilding their side's dented confidence.

As the final whistle sounded and the players left the pitch, my fellow prawn-munchers and I filed out through our executive lounge area towards the stairs. At this point, I spotted a series of paintings depicting Arsenal legends. I couldn't resist taking a snap of the painting of Tony Adams. I've seen lamp-posts that look more like Tony Adams than this.

Bottom left: Tony Adams (apparently)

While I'm fully aware that I was on a hiding to nothing in hoping to see Orient pull off a shock in this game, once Arsenal took control it turned into a football experience that summed up much of what seems to be wrong with the game at the moment. I'm not telling you anything you don't already know of course – just providing a little snapshot of the game's ills in microcosm.


Charles said...

And is that meant to be Bergkamp above him? Blimey.

Anonymous said...

Moron. People like you are the problem at Arsenal. If you dont support Arsenal, don't come to our staduim and sit in the home crowd and then complain about it!

Angus said...

bit precious innit

eddiem said...

Too many non-Arsenal fan corporates, tourists, foreigners and first-timers at Emirates. That's why the atmosphere is shit. But hey, it's the way the board wants it...keeps the balance sheet healthy, you see.

daniel said...

What a terrible article.The Orient players didnt get any respect from the Arsenal fans as they showed no respect to Arsenal in their various press interviews since the carling cup final on Sunday.Also how do you expect much atmosphere when people,like you sitting in an Arsenal area have only gone to see them lose and your night was ruined as early as the 7th minute when Arsenal scored.From where I was sitting I found it quite hard to hear Orient singing which is amazing seeing they had 8000 fans all in the sane part of the ground.Next time you get offered a free ticket give it to someone who will appreciate it rather than you who wouldnt know good football if it punched you in the face.

Anonymous said...

Yes, when we're expected to win the Grove can be a rotten place to watch football. When it's a contest or a European night then it's different story. We are cynical Londoners after all.

Anonymous said...

if you had stayed till your team left the pitch you would have realised that orient were clapped off

Adam said...

I go to every Arsenal home game and your take on events is interesting.

I certainly agree that the atmosphere last night wasn't great (and that's putting it diplomatically) but I would add a couple of caveats.

Namely, that sat in club level, it rarely seems noisy - the acoustics in the stadium aren't great, and noise doesn't carry well.

Second, that when the stadium is as empty as it was - I would say it was about 3/4 full - the large gaps between each seat mean its hard to get songs to carry round the stadium.

And finally, that I don't think the Orient fans were as good as you say they were. Arsenal fans regularly get outsung by opposition fans, despite my best efforts (though that's probably true of most Premiership grounds, because away fans are the 'hardcore' support) but I thought their fans were on the whole quite quiet. I've seen away teams with 3,000 fans make more noise.

Anonymous said...

That “boring” Arsenal won trophies in a manner that today’s writers like to claim this current version may need to adopt a bit of. They played a very safe brand of football but would you have wanted the fans to stop supporting their team? Indeed fans of Stoke and teams of that ilk are supported as ardently by their fans. They are very willing to pay to see Rory Delap throw the ball 40 yards.

You have no problem with giving Gooners a “quick jab in a painful and tender place” but you cast Bendtner as a villain. He has been misquoted, booed, disrespected, insulted, and targeted by many, many people – Arsenal fans included. He does the business in the face of 9,000 away supporters who no doubt were giving it to him large. Would I have preferred him to not respond and get on with his job? Yes! Do I mind that he reacted? No! And if you do, that’s something you’ll have to sort out for yourself. If stick from the opposition motivates him then please use your blog to ask fans of all other clubs to carry on doing what they do. Thank you very much!

As for singing; it’s a fan’s choice to do or not do. Not every fan cares to be part of the crowd, even when they’re sitting amongst them. Some just want to watch the match. End of!

Fair play to that lone Arsenal fan who recognized the Orient faithful. However, while you indict Arsenal fans for not applauding the away section, where is it written that a seat in The Emirates obliges you to celebrate opposition fans who’ve been shouting insults at your team all match?

You say Orient “deserved better”. Let’s be very clear, in football you get no points for what you “deserve”. Business is like that, and if you didn’t realize it, football is big business. Ask the man who handed you a free ticket about business. He knows more about it than I do.

You talk about “the game's ills in microcosm”. I would say that being given the seat you’ve been given in place of a real Arsenal supporter who may never get to experience what you clearly take for granted can be added to your list of ills.

As a “freeloading” attendant maybe you should consider accepting the state of Arsenal supporters as is. Surely being amongst the “soulless” for two hours is a decent exchange for the comfort and fare you enjoyed gratis. If you have a shred of integrity you will turn down the next offer to attend an Arsenal match, and the next, and the next…

Narrow The Angle said...

I wasn't expecting so many comments so soon after posting this, but I guess the piece was more provocative in style than I normally write.

"bit precious innit"
-I don't think it's precious to hope for an atmopshere in a crowd of 59,000 people - though to an extent I do agree with someone else's point further down that the acoustics in the stadium are quite poor - surprisingly poor for a bowl actually.

"don't come to our staduim and sit in the home crowd and then complain about it!"
-They were just observations really. And I wouldn't really call corporate seating "the home end".

Another thing to make clear is that I'm not an Orient fan. First-time readers of my blog might not have realised that. If I was, I would have been in with their lot and paid my way. I was an interested neutral last night, invited at the last minute, but it's natural to root for the underdog.

"if you had stayed till your team left the pitch you would have realised that orient were clapped off"
- I did stay to the end. 80% of Arsenal fans had left by then. Those that did stay did clap. A bit.

"You have no problem with giving Gooners a “quick jab in a painful and tender place” but you cast Bendtner as a villain."
- I didn't do any singing. I was just describing what the Orient fans did. They were sat below me and there was no noticeable Bendtner abuse. I thought it was rubbing their noses in it a bit personally. Yesterday was a huge deal for their fans and what he did may have soured it for some.

"where is it written that a seat in The Emirates obliges you to celebrate opposition fans who’ve been shouting insults at your team all match?"
- They didn't. But after Bendtner did his thing, they retaliated, with the two chants I mentioned.

"In football you get no points for what you “deserve”. Business is like that, and if you didn’t realize it, football is big business."
- That's quite a depressing way to look at it.

"being given the seat you’ve been given in place of a real Arsenal supporter who may never get to experience what you clearly take for granted can be added to your list of ills."
- I did say I was being a freeloader. This was a new experience for me and one I doubt I'll repeat. There were plenty of empty seats in the corporate section though, so had I not gone it would have just been another empty seat. Maybe Arsenal should give free tickets to deprived kids for games that aren't going to sell out?

"As a “freeloading” attendant maybe you should consider accepting the state of Arsenal supporters as is."
- Yeah, I think I have now. Doesn't stop me thinking it's a real shame though. When you're team plays football like that, how exciting would it be if combined with a raucous noise in the stands?

Anonymous said...

Spot on! Interesting how its only Arsenal fans against this piece. It happens at all the "top" clubs in this country. Too arrogant, and don't care about the smaller sides.

Wayne said...

What gets me with most supporters of most premiership clubs is their question when you say you support a lower league side. You know the one, "Nice little club. What division are they in?" A response of "Ryman Premier League North" normally satisfies.

Anonymous said...

Orient midfielder Jimmy Smith was quoted in the Daily Telegraph that he laughed when Arsenal lost the Carling Cup final. Maybe that's why Bendtner cupped his hands towards the Orient fans after scoring his second goal. You failed to mention the quality of his goals. But since the quality of the opposition was only Orient I guess critics will dismiss them. Arsenal played their reserve team including two youth team players. Nothing mentioned in your post about how good they were. But I guess you went to the Emirates to watch Arsenal and Orient fans watch a game of football. You really are a prawn sandwich then aren't you.

Narrow The Angle said...

If it was Jimmy Smith that said he laughed, why take it out on the fans? Also, this is a piece of colour writing. If you're after a match report, try the BBC or assorted other sites.

Also, if Bendtner's goals were scored past "only Orient" why didn't he help himself to a bunch in the first match? It's the dismissive attitude from fans of the top sides to lower-league sides that irks people. Let's not forget, Arsenal are only a top-flight side as a result of a crooked Football League election in 1919. Had that not happened, perhaps they'd be a League One side now? But then you wouldn't support them if they were "only" a League One side, I guess.

Anonymous said...

I support Arsenal because I grew on Blackstock Road. They were my local club. Blame the FA for taking the bung money in 1919 not Arsenal for offering it. Since that time we have stayed in the top flight the longest. No other club can match that. Football is corrupt. You only have to look at transfers and the involvement of agents to know that. But it's run by FIFA and men like Jack Warner so what do you expect. We the fans really have no voice.

Narrow The Angle said...

"Blame the FA for taking the bung money in 1919 not Arsenal for offering it."

I think the offer helped, don't you?

It's good that you care enough to stick up for your team, but really this piece was not intended as a direct attack on Arsenal. If I'd been in the corporate seating at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge I still might have wanted to write a similar article.

Having said that though, Arsenal fans do seem quite prone to leaving games early. I also went to the Kiev game in 2008 (I paid for that one!) when Bendtner scored with the pink boots on, and quite a lot of people missed his late goal.

This is a bit of a bug bear of mine. If people are leaving early to beat the crowds or have 15-20 mins less on their journey, that's rather depressing.

Jude Ellery said...

Great article, ignore those stupid comments, I wouldn't have bothered responding if I were you. I think it's the way a lot of large stadia are going unfortunately, I seem to recall an ex-Man Utd player complaining about the prawn sandwich bridage, forget who it was... The more you move towards all-seater stadia, with executive boxes and luxury seats, the less chanting and overall atmosphere there will be. Not sure what can be done to stop it though really.

Oh, and Tony Adams? Really!? I could do better than that!

Anonymous said...

Arsenal fans are scum, souless posh bastards who don't know much about football and don't know how to SING, the football they play is not really as good as they like to think. if you wanna see proper attractive football watch swansea, their fans have so much soul and passion too.

Anonymous said...

As a Pompey fan who lives right next to the Emirates it amazes me how quiet it is - not just for FA Cup replays but on a Saturday at 3pm. I hear the stadium announcer read the teams out then it goes very, very quiet until someone (usually Arsenal) score.

I think your article was spot on - Arsenal fans are very quiet compared to most. I expect the 'Corporate Experience' is the same wherever you go - except Fratton - we don't have any corporate boxes!

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