We hate Tottenham and we hate Tottenham…
During last weekend’s snorefest between Chelsea and Manchester City, there was one statistic that got quite a bit of airtime. No, not the one that said that Chelsea’s shot total was their lowest in 12 seasons (ha!).
It was how this game was being broadcast to 650 million homes in 175 countries around the world.
Just take a moment to appreciate how big that number is.
Six hundred and fifty million.
That’s five times as many homes as there are in the whole of the United States of America.
The extent to which the Premier League has expanded its popularity is simply astonishing, and is showing no sign of abating.
As a result, all the Premier League clubs’ fan bases are becoming more and more spread out across the world, as people see for the first time what so many others are getting excited about.
Having more fans worldwide is, in theory, a good thing for football as a whole: More fans means that clubs, thanks to all the extra exposure they’re getting, will bring in lots of extra revenue, both from new fans buying merchandise and going to games for the first time, and from advertisers looking to sell their product to all of these new fans.
In turn, clubs who have more money will be able to spend more on players that will improve their fortunes on the pitch, which will garner them more support from new fans, and the circle continues ad finitum.
But as the club’s fan base diversifies and multiplies, the need to protect what makes Arsenal stand out as its own entity as opposed to being just another franchise in a professional sports league, becomes greater by the day.
Arsenal is being sold to the world as a worldwide leader in excellence, both as a football club and as a business but the same can be said for Manchester United. And Liverpool. And Real Madrid. And Barcelona.
Pretty much every club in every league in the world.
What is it that makes us any different to any other football club?
Yes, we have a rich history of success, a unique strip and an iconic stadium, but so do hundreds of other clubs around the world. There is only one thing that can shape a football club’s identity an it isn’t a player. It isn’t a manager. Nor is it even an owner.
No matter how big or small a football club may be, the most important component to how that club assumes its identity, is the community in which it resides.
Arsenal simply wouldn’t be the Arsenal we know it to be today, if it wasn’t for the people who live around the club deciding that this was the club they wanted in their town.
Arsenal wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the local fans putting their hands into their pockets and handing over their hard-earned money every fortnight.
You take away the paying fan from a club, you take its heartbeat with them.
Nothing without the fans
I was in London over the weekend, and on Tuesday I went to the Emirates Stadium.
I’m a kit geek and there’s nowhere near where I live that can print the font we use for cup games or the Champions League badges on kits, so I used that as an excuse to pop down there. I also went on a tour of the stadium.
At one point, they let you sit in the director’s box and soak in the view.
It’s a stunning place to view the stadium from. The architecture of the roof is amazing when you get a chance to see it in detail, the sight lines down to the pitch are superb, the flowing curves of the stands designed to let in as much air and light as possible are beautiful.
There are so many things that strike you whilst sitting in a luxury padded chair, but one thing stood out from all of them.
It was like sitting in a huge church but with nobody in it.
Every noise made was accompanied by an echo that was twice as loud. It was a striking reminder that, like any other public meeting place, the Emirates Stadium is little more than a roof and some seats without any people there to fill it.
Without the community around it, Arsenal is just like the stadium I sat in on Tuesday; a shell.
Arsenal in the community
That is why Saturday’s game is, was, and always will be the most important game of the season. Not because of whether there’s Champions League football at stake, or because of any trophy to be won.
The only reason this game is important, is because this is THE one game that the local community that surrounds Arsenal will demand to win at all cost.
To them, beating their nearest rivals is bigger than any prize, because they have to live with the consequences of losing more than any of us who don’t live there.
It’s amazing to consider, that if you’re 30 years old or younger, there really is no reason to hate Tottenham.
Apart from Gazza’s free kick in 1991 and when we finished 12th in the league in 1995, when was the last time you thought Tottenham were as good as us? Even in 2006, whilst they were fighting for fourth place, we were in a Champions League final, for crying out loud.
During the entire Premier League era, Spurs have never been a threat to our ambitions in the same way that Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester City have.
But whilst Arsenal fans outside Islington rarely have their lives burdened by even the prospect of a laughing Tottenham fan, for those fans who live close to the club they love, it is a far more worrysome predicament.
Nobody likes being one-upped by their neighbour, and there is hardly a more public display of one-upmanship than beating your neighbour’s football team, or being beaten by them.
That’s why, in an age where more people are watching Arsenal than ever before, it is crucial that the wishes of the community that helped Arsenal thrive to begin with are given priority, not because they are bigger or better fans than anyone else, but because they have no choice but to remain loyal to the club they helped build in the first place.
It’s why the club should do everything in its power to reduce the financial burden placed on those who pay to go see them play. It’s why the club should do everything in its power to make sure that the community it represents is proud of sharing its name with them.
And for those of us who don’t live there, it’s up to us to do everything in our power to ensure that we hate Tottenham just as much as they do.
You might enjoy: