There is a widespread view that the reason that Arsenal in modern times suffers so many terrible injuries to its players is because the word has got around that the best way to beat Arsenal is to kick them.
Of course many of the people who advocate this approach in the media don’t actually say it like that. They use euphemisms such as “get in among them” and “let them know you are there” and so forth.
There was, until a year or two back, even a desire among the press to glorify the fact idea that Arsenal could not compete in games in the north, with the added suggestion that southern footballers are softies.
But the intent in recent times has become clear, and the message is endlessly repeated so that it becomes part of the psyche of lesser managers and players alike. “I’m not as skillful as you, but I can win the game by being strong,” with strong meaning “putting the boot in.”
As the central focus of this site is Arsenal in history I have looked back and searched for examples of this happening in the past. Did the media in days gone by encourage less skillful players to kick their more skillful opponents?
Searching the archives I can see only a partial equivalent.
Going back 100 years, footballers were beefier and more stockily built, but they were a lot slower and had a tendency to put on more weight. The emphasis was on power and build, nor athleticism or skill.
The game was far less quick, and there were very few tactics. All the teams lined up on the classic 2 – 3 -5 model, with the inside fowards in the “5” dropping back a little, to link with the three midfielders. Apart from that bit of sophistication there was no tactical talk.
So players got hurt, and legs were broken, but the level of injuries that kept players out of games for a long time was far less than is the case today.
One thing that was there, one hundred years ago, however, was the fact that the press presented the northerners, especially the Scots, as much more savage in their approach to life and to the game than those in the south. The north was where men were men, unlike the southern softies, who had lost their muscle because they no longer worked in factories or down the mines.
Southerners, in cartoons at least were divided into country yokels who were stupid, or tricksters who would con you in some way or other. They were fast talking crooks or slow talking dolts.
In the north the working population worked the mills, the mines and the factories and were covered in muck. They were big, powerful and you didn’t mess with them. They said little, walked slowly, drank endlessly, and packed a powerful punch.
These were the popular parodies that were conveyed in the press, in an era when stereotyping was considered the norm.
And certainly these stereotypes were maintained within football, when it came to games between teams from the industrial north and midlands, and the likes of Chelsea and Tottenham. Those clubs were the real “southern softies”. Kick them, and you win.
But it was not like that with Woolwich Arsenal. The Woolwich Arsenal team was largely Scottish, made up of men who had traveled (often walked) from Scotland to the south in search of work, which they found in the munitions factories at Woolwich. If you wanted to be tough, you could be tough, but it was not advisable to try it against Woolwich Arsenal. Northern teams complained and called trips to Kent, “our annual visit to hell”.
And what of the media in all this? They kept the stereotypes but there was never any mention of needing to kick the skillful players. Skillful players were admired and valued, not singled out as the targets for attack.
The modern approach of “if you want to beat Arsenal, you’ve got to get the tackles in hard and fast” is simply not there in newspapers until the start of the Wenger era. It is a totally modern phenomena – part of the way the media now runs the game.
If you are looking for a reason as to why this anti-football vision has now got into the heart of our game, you need look no further than the media.
If you want to read a football commentary from the past, and just see how utterly different it was from now, see the first two references in the list below.
The days when football journalists could write, entertain and make us laugh (a true newspaper report about Arsenal in the 1930s)
Tony Attwood immediately after the end of the Stoke game
EPL owes more money than the rest of Euro football combined.
Predictions for the rest of the season: the start of the new golden era.
(c) Tony Attwood 2010