By Tony Attwood
In considering how Arsenal might do this season it may be tempting to think that there is so much discontent and uncertainty surrounding the club that it would be very hard for Arsenal to make a serious impression on the league and regain their place in the top four.
But this would be to misunderstand Arsenal’s history, for turmoil and criticism has been the bedrock of Arsenal since the club’s formation.
For example, take the very early days of Woolwich Arsenal FC, which became a professional club in 1891. Those who opposed Arsenal’s direction in terms of becoming professional, and who also opposed applying to join the Football League, were in a minority on the committee that ran the club, so they persuaded the landlord of the club’s ground to double the rent on the Invicta Stadium. It forced Arsenal to find a new home.
Then we have the issue of the fans turning on certain players and endlessly saying they are not good enough to play for the club. The first player to get this treatment was goalkeeper Harry Storer, the Arsenal goalkeeper who dared to answer back to his critics on the terrace behind him.
For taking on the crowd he was suspended by Arsenal for a month in 1895 and then sold. So bad was the attitude of some of the crowd that local reporters often commentated on the fact that they were forcing “decent minded supporters” out of the ground.
Then there is the issue of money.
When Arsenal ran out of money in 1910 there were several options available: ground share with Fulham, merge with Fulham or (as later happened) move to another part of London.
Local supporters opposed all three of these options, but had neither another approach to offer, nor the willingness to turn up in sufficient numbers in order to support the club at the Manor Ground.
Arsenal did of course move north, but criticism followed them, and the man who rescued them financially – Sir Henry Norris until a minor administrative issue forced him out of the club.
Norris believed in a club owned by its supporters, but once he was forced out this vision was lost under the Hill-Wood family dynasty, who saw the club as a vehicle for their own financial and personal advancement.
Even after the arrival of Chapman and the success of the 1930s fans continued to barrack the players. Jack Lambert, for example, was regularly booed by sections of the Arsenal crowd – despite his scoring 38 goals in 34 league matches in 1930/1.
After Arsenal lost to Walsall in the FA Cup, a section of the Highbury crowd regularly jeered every pass that didn’t reach an Arsenal man, and even the newspapers started to comment negatively on the crowd at the Arsenal noting “nothing is good enough for this crowd”.
However the media were not above adding to the problems. Jimmy Logie for example came under attack for being seen drunk in the streets. He was in fact a teetotaller and the stories in the media were totally invented. On this occasion Arsenal went on the offensive against the fans and newspapers that spread the stories threatening to sue each and every paper that ran the story again.
But after this episode, Arsenal lost its way with fans and the media and after the 1953 championship victory many players openly expressed their dismay at the Arsenal crowd.
Arsenal historian Jon Spurling recounts that in the 1950s players were telling journalists that they were ashamed of the crowd, calling them the “most unsporting collection in the country.”
Later, Jon Sammels was sold to Leicester in 1971 not because he was not good enough (far from it) but because a group of “fans” at Highbury booed him every time he touched the ball. And by 1985 disaffection was so great that the club’s average attendances at 60,000 capacity Highbury had sunk to 23,813.
The fans at Arsenal are still very split on what is happening at the club as the recent statements from Arsenal Supporters’ Trust has shown. If you think this might be affecting the club you could always make your own predictions as to what will happen. Once you have reached a conclusion, that will influence how you predict this season’s results, and you can get on with placing your bets. You can download betting apps from bettingapps.org
But of course it is not just the fans. A couple of years ago Richard Morgan analysed over 1000 blog and newspaper articles about Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea over a two day period.
Manchester United had 14 articles and headlines that were negative about the club, Liverpool had six, Chelsea seven while Manchester City had the most negativity of the other clubs, with 16 articles (although most were about the singular issue of a cancelled derby game with United).
But Arsenal had 27 negative headlines and 68 negative stories Arsenal, massively more than any of the other top clubs.
So Arsenal, is no stranger to accusations, protests, media hostility, and demands for change. In fact the media has singled out Arsenal for special negative treatment, as well as seemingly having the most negativity in the crowd. That is the baseline and seemingly it will continue to be so this coming season.