I feel a little under qualified to write this piece. The politics of the last two weeks in football is all a little above my head. I have read articles and followed the news, but I guess that isn’t what I’m trying to write. I am not going to set out a timeline, nor am I going to explain why and how this coup happened. I am here, like you, as a fan – fans who were almost robbed of their clubs and their game.
When the very real prospect of losing my club loomed last week, I realised just how much this means.
My first reaction was one that has come many times before: ‘It won’t happen’. But very quickly, it did. My next, ‘Not Arsenal.’ But very quickly, it was. Arsenal mean a lot to me, as our clubs often do. I have been lucky enough (although it was arguably a while ago now) to see my team be successful – truly successful. League titles, doubles, Champions League finals (that one still hurts). But that success doesn’t always stay around forever, just ask my Forest friends and family. Despite this, that isn’t really why I love Arsenal, why I love football. It is that my roots are there. With a family from Archway, Islington, there wasn’t really another choice. I grew up with Arsenal and that was that and many of us will have experienced something similar. Being an Arsenal fan gives me an identity, a shirt to wear, it makes me who I am but more importantly, it makes memories with my family.
I go to the Arsenal with my uncle and cousin – sometimes a few friends. We meet for pre-match pints. We walk down the streets of Finsbury Park, maybe grab a burger on the way. This is the romantic side of English football, what we long for. When we walk down these streets – the streets that I have grown up wandering down, from Highbury to the Emirates – surrounded by our fellow supporters, that is the essence of what football means to me. Being together, a collective, a family.
And so, when the very real prospect of losing my club loomed last week, I realised just how much this means; how tainted those memories would become. I asked myself, what do we do? The answer? It really doesn’t matter. Because although our relationships are built on football, they are much stronger than that. Substitute in Leyton Orient or even Enfield Town FC and those feelings, those emotions and those memories are still there. And if these clubs don’t want us, don’t care about us? Then fuck them. I love football and I love Arsenal, but I love the dignity of the sport and the connection with my family much, much more.
Nonetheless, the news left me hurt, saddened, lonely even. How could this happen to me? My football club? I have always felt that Arsenal have their morals in the right place. ‘Remember who you are, what you are and what you represent’. Rocastle’s words have never been truer, but Arsenal in recent years have been getting it wrong. The redundancies during the pandemic, the refusal to back Özil over criticism of China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims, and now this? This isn’t the club I know, and it most certainly isn’t one I support.
But turning on the TV midweek made me realise that this isn’t about me. That it wasn’t about football. And I wasn’t in this alone. Fan demonstrations at Leeds, Chelsea, Spurs and eventually Arsenal proved what this all means – that we are altogether when it comes to protecting our sport and our identities. In an age of culture wars, our country constantly arguing about some statue or a formally state-funded celebrity couple – in the face of this, we were more unified than ever. In this case, there is more that unites us than divides us. Feeling in solidarity with Spurs, Chelsea, Man United is something I have rarely, if ever, felt in my life but it felt special. This was more than rivalry, or competition, or success. So much more was on the line.
For now, this robbery has been pacified. We shouldn’t forget what these owners did, out of their greed and self-interest; they should almost certainly be punished too. But what we really mustn’t forget is what happens when we unite. Because football fans aren’t a breed of their own – a different demographic. They are all of us. They are the coppers, the council workers, the network rail engineers, the plumber who fixed the leaky sink, the woman you pay at the petrol station, the annoying neighbours, the teachers, the students, even the estate agents. We are from all walks of life. We all love our game. And they will not take it away from us.