Football has changed – can Arsenal keep up?

Radio Times front cover, showing the raised profile of football coverage Photo Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images

Radio Times front cover, showing the raised profile of football coverage
Photo Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images

APRIL 2017

We need a break from the Wenger IN Wenger OUT. The arguments have been well rehearsed and repeated and I have made my own views clear on Twitter @arsenalcircular so I thought it useful to reflect on past highs and lows and how they were handled.

But “context is everything”. Today times are so different. In 1953-54 the beginning of our 17 Years In The Doldrums there was only one match on TV – the Cup Final. Eventually England v Scotland as well but that was it. It made the Cup Final such a special event. We all knew the tubby man in the white suit who stirred us to conclude the pre-match Sing-In with Abide With Me. TV coverage began early in the day with recordings of past Finals, then a visit to the two teams who stayed in the Brent Bridge close to the North Circular or the Hendon Hall on the A1. Then live film of the fans gathering with scarves and rattles and rosettes and gradually the atmosphere began to develop. But there were no First Division games at all and if you wanted to see Cup Ties you could go to the local Odeon/Gaumont and catch snatches of black and white film of replays.

So no matches on TV. Radio?. No local radio. No Grandstand on TV. No goal by goal updates. In fact most matches ended at 4.40 and there was a Jazz Interlude before Eamon Andrews with Leonard Martin and James Alexander Gordon gave us the football results. The intonation of the announcer meant that you knew when he had announced the score for the home team whether the result was a home win, a draw or an away win. You could tell.

George Swindin in his incarnation as Arsenal keeper - in the 2-0 victory over Liverpool in the 1950 FA Cup Final

George Swindin in his incarnation as Arsenal keeper (before he became the club’s manager) – in the 2-0 victory over Liverpool in the 1950 FA Cup Final

But I digress – 1953-54 was beginning of 17 years of non-achievement – 12th, 9th, 5th, 5th, 12th, 3rd (George Swindin’s first season as manager), 13th, 11th, 10th, 7th, 8th, 13th, 14th, 7th, 9th, 4th, 12th, and then 1st in 1970-71. There were a few moans and Billy Wright caught some flak in 1966 but just two top four positions in 17 years. No phone-ins. No tweets. No social media. No TV coverage until Match of the Day in 1964. All quite different from today.

Managers took some criticism but even in those days the newspapers were more sedate. Murdoch bought the Daily Herald around 1964 but it was quite a few years until “Fan Fury” type headlines first made an appearance. We had had a great 1930’s and after the WW2 we won the First Division title in 1948 and 1953 with an FA Cup win in 1950 but then the barren years, the grey years, the anonymous years.

Ticket prices are higher today. Bovril and a Hot Dog was a modest cost and we were all more local than today so cost of travel was less. But they were years of nil achievement. Eventually things turned around. Bertie Mee whose appointment was greeted with derision turned us into Cup Winners and League Champions and then Neill and Howe until George G arrived in 1986 and restored our spirits. But during this barren period there were no banners, no case of managers getting roughed up at train stations or protest marches to the ground. So as I said before there was some frustration with Billy Wright but football was changing. Tribal loyalties had come into play and fan violence inside and outside grounds was increasing.

Actually a comparison of performance, league positions, fan responses means little because so much has changed. Whether its Sky, tv coverage, Fancy Dan wages for top players or whatever football is so different. Now the media play with our heads; they stoke up resentments; stir a crisis into a confrontation and fans have become more belligerent. Fired by paying higher prices and seeing inadequate achievement intolerance and anger has taken centre stage. So be it.

Booing never helped

Booing never helped.

We still want to win every match and try for a Top Four place. We have a semi-final tomorrow week and we have to await developments on the pitch and in the Boardroom. People know I stand behind Wenger and I have made my position clear but the key thing is to get behind the players. They may be high earners but I sense they are intimidated by the animosity. You can boo or you can cheer. Boo and the players’ frail confidence – regardless of what they earn – will be further damaged. Cheer them on and things could go our way. We all have to make our individual decisions but hoping we lose in the belief it will chase Wenger out of Arsenal is misplaced.

Still – each to their own.

Further reading: A fantastic article exploring the history of football on TV [Editor]

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2 Responses to Football has changed – can Arsenal keep up?

  1. Victor Thompson April 18, 2017 at 5:28 pm #

    What a joy to read this article. Graham Perry as usual excels in reminding us of a more gentile time. He is correct in saying that football clubs were rooted in a more local catchment than they are now. It meant that they were all much of a level, with crowd capacity of 30-40,000. The players either played for a wage which was not much more than the average fan, and some played for a wage with which they added to their earnings for their day job.

    The result was that there was an affinity between the fans and the players almost as part of a family. Winning the first division was not obtained by having a sugar daddy owner who enjoyed spending billions on stadia or purchasing world class players from the four corners of the globe. Transfer monies were obtained from gate receipts, so the winners of the First Division or the FA Cup were winners on merit. Herbert Chapman was the first super manager who applied an almost scientific professionalism to the game and he was extremely astute in recruiting the best players to Arsenal.

    By the time George Graham arrived, there was much more media coverage of the game and fans could not get enough information on their club, its` players and its fortune.. There was also regular black and white TV coverage of the games. Internationals and European cups were covered and with the advent of Real Madrid with De Stefano, Puskas, Gento etc. Legends were born.

    I recall watching the legendary European Cup Final at Hampden Park when Real Madrid beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3. It was a really foggy night and the white apparitions of Real Madrid kept emerging out of the fog to wreak havoc with the Frankfurt Defence. It was a magical experience at the time, but now, Sky has completely changed the game, as have the Abramoviches of this world.

    With due respect, Chelsea were a mediocre team which had no pedigree before Abramovich. It was not their exploits on the field that earned them their present lofty position. Man Utd. owed their status because of the Munich Air disaster and the destruction of the “Busby Babes”. They were en route to playing Real Madrid in the final of the European Cup when what may well have been the best British team ever at that time. By the time the Glazers bought them they were a glamour team and their future was changed forever.

    West Ham made regular appearances in European football and their Team including Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geof Hurst, brought a sophisticated brand of football to the first division. In my opinion, the best team ever to have emerged entirely from home grown british players was the great Spurs Team of 1960-1961 ( their double team ). In the 70`, Leeds and Liverpool were giants of the game and Liverpool were regular winners of the European cup. Arsenal won it under George Graham in 1971 and none of them had any great advantage in terms of financial resources over any of their rivals.

    It was our turn in 1976 when Wenger arrived, We had the fantastic services of David Dean who was instrumental in bringing him from Grampus Eight in Japan. We emerged from the stranglehold of Leeds and Liverpool and it was a good time to be at Highbury but it all changed when Man City, Man Utd. and Chelsea became so rich that none of the rest could compete. Arsenal had a potential to have crowds of 60,000 plus and it was thanks to Wenger that we managed to stay in the top of the premiership when it was being built when Chelsea, Man City and Man Utd. were sharing the silverware.

    Apart from the aberration Leicester; none of the other teams have featured since then. Arsenal were only different from the rest because we had established our club as probably the premier club in the first division. Liverpool had long since stopped winning the First division and were relegated as were Liverpool and Man Utd. Unfortunately our ground capacity could not compete with the amount of money poured into their clubs. It has now become a club of few members at the top of the Premiership.

    For the Arsenal fans, it has taken extreme patience to be now having to pay the highest price in the world for tickets to watch their team, but they have done so because they see the magnificent stadium we have and the memories of the Invincibles which they have to remind them what Arsenal once was.

    When we see the big clubs buying our best players, demanding success of their managers and firing them when they don`t deliver, Arsenal have been content to stay with Wenger for 13 years even though it is clear that his genius for producing fine footballing teams has long since deserted him. The fans have been told by Gazidis and by Wenger himself that our days of being a selling club are over but it seems that Sanchez is on his way to Man City and the Ox may be going to LIverpool. Ozil is undecided but may go to PSG.

    It is very credible to you and the other Wenger supporters to continue to support Wenger. That is your right, but it is equally right for those who want change to voice their opinions. If the club will not listen to reasonable argument and Wenger has confirmed that, then what else are they to do. I agree with you that Wenger should not receive the abuse he has received and I do not endorse it in any way. I have often said that the worst vice the club and Wenger have is that they disrespect the fans and they are kept in the dark as to what concrete plans are afoot to change things round. It is not the fans fault ( as Wenger has implied ) that matters are as they are now.

    If things don`t change and Wenger remains we shall be in a situation that the team is not good enough whilst Chelsea, Spurs, Man Utd.,Man City and Liverpool have all improved and they are on upward curves. Wenger is not capable of getting the performances needed for this team to challenge and he has been rubbish in identifying players capable of doing so.

    Unlike the days of Herbert Chapman and even George Graham, life is much faster nowadays, the money in the game is obscene and TV rights produce far greater revenues than the fans. It is galling to think that whilst we were a top team in 2004, we have now become also-rans. That is where the rage comes from. People who work all week under todays economics look forward to light relief from their source of enjoyment, namely Arsenal FC. They want to see Arsenal where they belong – at the top of the pile competing with the best.

  2. Victor Thompson April 18, 2017 at 5:34 pm #

    Sorry Graham, I meant to say that I agree now that whatever the Arsene Out factor think, we need to get behind the team now for what may well be our biggest fight since the premiership began.

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