Tuesday, 12 June 2018

We need Safe Standing!

The safe standing debate has been going on for quite a while but very much in the background until recently. I think the break through moment was when the inquiry into the Hillsborough tragedy was concluded with the verdict that Liverpool supporters were not to blame for the incident where 96 football fans, like me and probably you, if you are reading this passed away.  

Rightly so, the safe standing debate was put to one side as the families of those who lost their life were battling to remove blame from the Liverpool fans in Sheffield that night in 1989. There was an unwritten agreement that the campaign would only really begin if the families of those 96 Liverpool fans and Liverpool fans in general gave the go ahead.

Last year, the Spirit of Shankly supporters group in Liverpool surveyed just under approx. 20,000 Liverpool fans with 88% backing rail seating / safe standing and in a similar poll done by the ArsenalSupporters Trust which reached approx. 15,000 supporters, 96% supported the concept of safe standing.

This was a clear sign that fans wanted safe standing back in the English game. The families of the 96 Liverpool fans, via the Spirit of Shankly, visited Celtic who were carrying out a trial for safe standing and some of them were supportive after seeing the facilities in Scotland. Other clubs such as West Brom and Cardiff have tried to conduct similar things and are working on appeals, after being initially rejected at government.

Ultimately, the government are in control of the situation and have the power but in a petition signed by over 100,000 people are now set to debate / discuss it in parliament on June 25.
Labour, have also recently supported the campaign and the Arsenal Supporters Trust were present in a meeting with the Shadow Sport Minister, Rosena Alli-Khan, who announced the backing at Loftus Road recently.

The Premier League are also now involved and in a meeting again where the Arsenal Supporters Trust were present, admitted they have beenasked to review safe standing. 

All the signs are that it’s moving in the right direction and supporters are being urged to contact their MP, if they support the concept of safe standing with fan groups now contacting their clubs to seek their views and are beginning to put some pressure on as it’s clear that the majority of football fans want it.

What would safe standing mean in my opinion?

Let’s get one thing straight, supporting safe standing doesn’t mean you have to stand when you go and watch your club play football. A potential standing section would amount to a small percentage of a ground’s capacity. At the trial at Celtic, 3,000 seats were replaced by 3,000 people standing – it was one for one. Long term this may change and Arsene Wenger, when in charge of Arsenal, spoke highly of safe standing and the potential to reduce ticket pricing, but we’re a long way away from that.

At the Emirates, even if 5,000 become safe standing, the rest of the 55,000 would remain as it is (3,000 goes to away fans) so we’re likely to have more demand than supply which means anyone not part of the demand, will be unaffected (unless they currently sit in the place where safe standing comes in – they may need to be moved in that case). I remember at a football supporters meet up where someone was very passionate about safe standing because he believed it would improve the atmosphere and be great for young people but when asked if he would want to stand, he said ‘no, I’m too old, but just because it won’t direct benefit me, it could benefit others and benefit the club who in return will get a better match day atmosphere’. That’s the view, I’m sure, of many supporters who have views on atmosphere, seating, ticketing but may just not be able to be part of it anymore.

There will be teething problems – safe standing may mean further and more stricter policing of seated areas and those not lucky enough to get into the safe standing section, may be forced to sit more than they do now (it’s pretty common to stand during exciting moments) with persistent standing to be taken quite seriously. There will be a higher demand for the standing areas so there would have to be a system in place but if it all worked, how great would it be to have a section that can go head to head from an atmosphere side with the away fans?

The atmosphere at the Emirates has always been debated and while it has improved in my opinion for the big games, it may just need another injection and safe standing could be that. It may encourage younger people to get involved more; it may encourage supporters who follow the team away only to come to home games and we may get a proper singing section to drive the team forward in games. The old cliché about the 12th man being important could begin to be a thing at Arsenal again.

I’m all for safe standing, as long as it’s done with no risk attached and is 100% safe. If there are any doubts, the plug should be pulled but going all over the country and looking at conditions in the home and away ends, it’s actually becoming more dangerous to stand in a seated section and that alone, could end up being more dangerous than having a safe standing section.

Watch this space….

Up the Arsenal.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Thank you, Per Mertesacker

It’s been slightly forgotten but Sunday marks the final time we’ll see Per Mertesacker in the first team squad at the Emirates Stadium (barring injury) and remembering what Arsene did with Mikel Arteta, I have a feeling we may get a final chance to see Per on the pitch playing in the red and white for the final time.

Let’s go back a few years to when he signed for the club – we were in complete disarray, we had just been destroyed at Old Trafford 8-2 having already lost at home to Liverpool. We had just sold one of our better players in Samir Nasri, having already lost our captain Cesc Fabregas earlier in the summer so there was a major rebuilding process on.

Robin Van Persie was entering his last two years of his contact and there were doubts about Theo Walcott at the time. Arsenal needed some leadership and they needed players who WANTED to play for The Arsenal.

Up stepped, Per Mertesacker. A self-proclaimed Arsenal fan that was honoured to come and represent the Arsenal. He was a player linked with the club for a while and when it happened, it was ‘a wish come true’ for the player.

He brought leadership and calmness to the club and quickly developed the role of ‘debt collector’ when players received fines and was made captain after Mikel Arteta retired.

His first goal was in the North London Derby – not a bad place to start and you get the feeling he knew what it felt to be an Arsenal player.

The ‘big f*cking German’ quickly become a cult hero and was always quick to come over to the away fans , win or lose, playing in the game or not playing in the game and that got instant respect.

Arguably, his finest hour was one of his last starts in a big game for the club and that was at Wembley in the FA Cup final last May. He hadn’t played all season aside from a few minutes on the final day of the PL  but was forced to start after injuries and suspensions to others meant there literally was no one else but big Per was there to step in. He told Martin Keown at the end of the game ‘not to write him off’ and anyone that was there at Wembley understood what he meant.

Arsenal fans were nervous that we would be facing the likes of Hazard and Costa with Rob Holding and Per Mertesacker in the backline but neither of them let us down but it was Per who impressed with a man of the match type performance – he really was a hero, a leader and a real Arsenal man.

I think he has been forgotten a little with the news of the boss but keeping him around the club in his new role in the Academy is fantastic news and let’s hope he has a long and successful career of the field for the Arsenal because he has so much to offer.

Per Mertesacker – Thank you.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

For Years, It Was The Elephant In The Room

I’ve often try to explain what football means. I’ve often tried to explain what Arsenal mean to me, but the majority of the time, I’ve failed. Even to those close to me.

People often put match going fans into a different bracket to non-match going fans in terms of their passion for a club because of the money they spend but I generally reject that idea but think the amount of ‘time’ someone puts in is the key indicator to how much  they can be affected by their club. 

If you invest time into something, in particular, a football club, whether that’s attending matches, being active in a supporters club / trust, running a blog or podcast, producing content around football in form of social media and invest time in Arsenal then you will probably be hurting recently.

Due to personal reasons, I had to miss the Bayern trip, and I watched it in the comfort of my own home which is rare (I really should cancel my sports subscription – but I won’t because of the ‘time’ I put in). If I’m not at a game, I tend to experience different feelings / emotions.  I have more time to think and more time, sadly, to be affected in a negative way after a loss for longer. When you are at a game, you tend to have to travel, you tend to have discussions and often rant to get things out your system (perhaps why phone ins / fan tv channels get so many viewers) but when  you are not at the game, you may lose all that.

The other additional experience you get is to watch the post-match interviews including an interview with the managers involved – this was really the moment, where my feelings came out. I'm told no players stopped in the mix zones and Arsene Wenger limited his media commitments.

There has always been an elephant in the room when it comes to Arsene Wenger, I’ve been in many conversations when people, due to their respect (rightly so respect) they tend to avoid the subject. I was probably one of them for years, certainly up till about a year or two ago. But that interview, seemed like a pivotal moment.

He sounded like a broken man, who knows his time here, is over.

When you see pundits who have been going for him, take a step back and actually feel sorry for him, you know the end is near.

Arsene Wenger has been a fantastic manager, leader, CEO, bank manager and even project manager for this football club. In years to come, people that love Arsenal will look at the Wenger era as ten years of trophies and the other ten years successfully negotiated the stadium move (with a few FA Cups). He should have a statue outside the ground, he should have his name sung every so often (and I’m convinced he will, once the dust settles in a few years) and go out proud of his achievements.

The legacy may only remain, if Arsene Wenger leaves Arsenal this summer. Staying on has a major risk, if the ‘same old’ continues then that legacy may be in serious danger of vanishing. Some will argue it already has and off course they are entitled to their opinion and I respect them; football is about opinions, after all.  But I would HATE for the legacy of our most successful manager in our history to be tarnished especially when he contributed to the transition of the stadium move that puts us in a position to hopefully compete at the top of the game for years to come.

For what it’s worth, I thought there was a game plan in Munich to sit deep, counter with pace and that actually brought us a couple of good chances plus two free kicks and a few corners in the game and at half time, I was quite comfortable. After we rode the storm of the first 30mins and got a goal, we had a bright 10-15mins. We even came out in the second half quite bright for a few minutes but it all just wrong from the 50th minute. I don’t particularly blame Arsene Wenger for last night, I think he influenced the loss at home to Watford much more with his starting line-up then he did yesterday. I would have preferred Danny Welbeck to play but I can’t believe Arsene wouldn’t pick him if he was 100% fit – perhaps returning from injury and getting another injury last season has impacted on the decision to limit his game time so far.

But the problem isn’t about one game, it’s about the mentality, it’s about folding when the going gets tough, it’s about not being able to keep up a sustainable challenge and it’s about the same things repeating itself for several years.

On a personal level, I’ve found the criticism that Arsene Wenger has had to take, very tough to hear. He has been here such a long time, and majority of my ‘Arsenal supporting’ life and therefore some of his principles and philosophies have really grown on me. I’ve met him several times, even got a wedding card from the club which he personally signed and has always acted with class every time I’ve interacted with him. I’ve the upmost respect for the man – but like everything in life, nothing lasts for ever.

I’ve had jobs that I’ve absolutely enjoyed and loved and been very passionate about and continued to be an advocate even when I’ve left – but the key thing there is, I have left when I felt the time was right and many would argue the time was right after winning the FA Cup at Wembley against Hull a few years ago but I think even more would agree the time is right now.

The club in general is in great shape, the level of consistency Arsene Wenger has brought to the club has been tremendous and everything is in place for Arsenal Football Club to continue to grow and be a major player for the next 100 or 200 years and Arsene Wenger has played his part as much as anyone – for that he should walk away with his head held high.

He deserves the big farewell – if he announced it now, I’m not convinced all fans would rally because some may want him gone earlier but I think it would give those, like me, the opportunity to enjoy the rest of the season which hopefully would conclude with an FA Cup and a good run in the league, with a win at White Hart Lane being the highlight.

Arsene has have been absolutely wonderful for this club and for that, I'll always be grateful but nothing lasts for ever, but he will always be a huge part of this club and is a true Arsenal legend.

There is only one Arsene Wenger.

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