Before we go any further, this is not a wailing diatribe of how bad things are at the moment, there is enough bashing and wailing on blogs etc to fill your lust. This is just a gentle wander, dear reader, to look at days gone by and some similarities we see with today’s team.
From Swansea to Bradford, from Reading to Newcastle, from breath-taking football to complete and utter shambles. Arsenal are, in this 2012/13 season, a joy and a frustration to fans and the word consistency appears to have been removed from the Arsenal dictionary. Add to the mix the signing sagas, Theo’s will he wont he put the pen to paper, Chamakh and Djourou both out on loan now and Arshavin to follow out the door? Who knows, but it got me thinking. Where have I seen the sought of fan unrest we are seeing now, especially on twitter?
After a few chats and a bit of research it became obvious. Highbury, seasons 1991/95 under George Graham, Arsenal’s most successful manager since Herbert Chapman. So I am going to take you on a bit of a trip into Arsenal history, throw some comparisons into the mix, so you can make up your own mind on this current season. Also, if I am lucky, entertain you on the way.
The early 90′s was, at times, very good for Arsenal under George Graham, or was it? With success in the 90/91 season, winning the league and only losing one match that season (Think almost Invincibles like Arsene Wenger’s) and getting a points deduction for fighting at Man Utd. In 1993 Arsenal completed the FA and league Cup double over Sheffield Wednesday, albeit with the help of replays and won both 2-1, the first side to do so. Also 1993/94 saw Arsenal win the European Cup winners Cup, beating Parma 1-0. You would think every thing in the Arsenal garden was rosy, especially if you add the 89 title in to the mix! Sadly it was not.
Like Arsene Wenger, George Graham had completed some wonderful things with the team but football changes and moves forward just as it is now as Arsene is finding out. During the 90′s things changed too. After the Taylor report we said farewell to the old North Bank and Clock End as Highbury became an all seater stadium. It was a time of murals to hide the construction work and the beginning of discontent. As one fan put it at the time, “On the North Bank I used to stand with people out of choice, now I am surrounded by people I do not know, who do not know the songs and seem more interested in the stuff they bought from the Arsenal shop than the game. Don’t get me wrong some of the changes are good but Arsenal have lost a lot of its heart and soul”. ( Sound familiar??) It was about this time that the “Highbury Library” jibe started. (Thank god for our away fans at the moment eh?) Then whizz forward to the move to the Emirates and the same arguments being bandied in the early 90′s are back today! You just need to have proper look at the “Black Scarf Movement” website. Far from the misconception that it is a Wenger out group it talks of wanting a singing section, a safe standing area by moving away fans to the upper tier and cheaper tickets. Go have a look as it was an eye opener for me too. Talking of cheaper tickets, lets move on eh?
Also in the 90′s, ticket prices had become an issue too. The conversion to an all seater stadium required money, around £22.5 million back then and to finance it a bond scheme was announced. It was thought that £16.5 million would come from the fans and the rest from the clubs coffers. Rangers had done the same at Ibrox (look where they are now) and several clubs in America. (Kroenke effect even then) This meant fans had to pay either £1200 or £1500 for exclusive rights to a season ticket for 150 years and a bond signed by Peter Hill-Wood and George Graham. David Dein was fully behind this and even quoted several sections of the Taylor report to ram home its need. However he forgot to mention the part where it was recommended that clubs should involve and consult fans, there were some public meetings, in vague sort of way, a glossy brochure and a questionnaire sent to 15,000 fans. That the findings were never made public was never made clear by the board (Another silence that continues today sadly) but it meant a massive outlay by fans, which the majority could not afford. This led to the newly formed Independent Arsenal supporters Association branding the board as “Unforgivably arrogant” in trying to push it through.
For the 1991/92 season fans were further hit by a 33% hike in match day prices and crowds fell due to the increase and the discontent over the bond scheme and the gulf between fans and board widened when Dein advised that Arsenal were “not a charity” when asked about lower-income fans being squeezed out but it showed no provisions were being made for them. There were terse and sharp responses from Dein and Ken Friar to the fans ( Reminds me of the recent AGM which I wrote about) but the crux of the matter was the bond scheme was failing as ony 5,000 had been sold, due in part to the IASA’s campaigning. It’s funny that they suggested a membership scheme as another way to raise funds, ignored at the time it somehow then became the boards idea a year later and is now the founding of the membership we see today.
A you can see, issues with the board are nothing new at Arsenal. In fact that some of that board are still about today you would have thought that previous lessons would have been learnt. Ticket prices, seating, atmosphere, talking to fans? Time and again it rears its ugly head. Well that is football for you.
So that is it for part one, I will be back with part two to continue the saga, do not worry, this is no Lord of the Rings epic, but will look at players and league similarities. Mean time, remember to support for 90 minutes, debate yes, insult? Never, after all we are all Arsenal!