Roker Ramble: Quick! Everyone Feel Sorry For Arsenal!

Oli Scarff

For this week's Roker Ramble, we take a look at the outcry from Arsenal fans regarding their 'greedy' owners, and why they are probably the very last set of supporters with any kind of justification in complaining about such things.

So, apparently, Arsenal fans are in uproar. At the annual general meeting, they have expressed their disdain to the board about the club's financial strategy, which, they insist, holds the club back through simple greed.

It is easy to see their point of view, of course. Consistent Champions League football, regular chance of winning a trophy, watching players like Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, and Santi Cazorla...

How dare the club's owners rob the Arsenal fans of feeling the sweet kiss of relegation and instead install the club as a genuine influence in European football? Selfish in the extreme.

Okay, so it actually is quite difficult to see their point of view. To the vast majority of football fans across the country, myself included, what Arsenal are seemingly taking for granted is the stuff of dreams. Jealous? You bet your life I am jealous.

I am also baffled, though. My club hasn't won a major trophy in my entire lifetime, never mind the last seven years. I am not stomping my feet and throwing a tantrum about it. Nor am I interested in attaching conditions to my support of my club. I have been there with a smile on my face and a hopeless dream during times when my club were far worse than Arsenal have ever been at any point in their entire history.

I didn't demand that the club fulfil that dream. After all, I am entitled to nothing. I choose to follow my club. No one makes me.

There seems a sense in all of this that Arsenal do feel entitled to win trophies, however. At its very best it is extreme arrogance. At its very worst it is downright delusional.

I am sure there will be some Gunners out there saying 'but we are used to winning'. A point I am happy to concede. It is not a point that will be the source of any sympathy from me, though. What do you want people to day? 'Poor old Arsenal fans. Won so much they need it'. Not likely.

Who cares if they are used to winning, anyway? Leeds were used to winning in the 70s. Nothing but a memory today. Liverpool were used to winning in the 80s. So what? Those memories are more than most clubs have.

The fact is that there are only a certain number of teams who can be winners in a season. It just so happens to be someone else's turn right now. I am sure that Arsenal fans would like to be one of them, but join the club.

Arsenal fans at the meeting displayed a banner that read 'kick greed out of football' in reference to the club's spending policy. Pardon the pun, but I find that terribly rich. Arsenal fans owe everything their club has to the greed of their owners, both historically and in terms of the modern game, too.

Without Henry Norris' greed, the club would likely be still in it's original location as some irrelevant non-league club in Woolwich. In fact, it could be argued that it was Norris who put greed into football in the first place. He uprooted the club and plonked it in North London to seek out a greater catchment area from which fans could be attracted.

Even then, Arsenal were a second division club unable to win promotion. When the First Division decided to expand after the First World War, it was Arsenal who were miraculously voted into it, despite having no tangible claim. Even the club's own official history dare not deny the likelihood that Norris bought and bribed their way into the top division. Greed.

Norris was later (as late as 1929, in fact) issued with a lifetime ban from football for further greed. He was found to have made illegal payments to Charlie Buchan to sign him from Sunderland, surely a sum dwarfed by the gate receipts the transfer brought the club, as well as guilty of taking money out of Arsenal for personal gain which was strictly forbidden by FA rules. The whole club was created by the greed of Henry Norris. It can be neatly wrapped up in nice little words like 'ambition' and 'vision', but they can't disguise its roots.

And what of the modern day Arsenal? They were at the forefront of the group of clubs who lobbied the FA for the abolishment of gate sharing in the 80s. Since the game's embryonic days, the home club was obliged to give 20% of their matchday receipts to the visiting sides. The bigger clubs, Arsenal included, decided they shouldn't have to share a penny of money spent in their grounds and threatened breakaway. There is a recurring theme, here, isn't there.

Arsenal were then one of the 'big five' (along with Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton, and Tottenham) to strike a private deal with ITV to ensure they got themselves shown almost exclusively on live TV.

Still, no matter who was beamed into the nation's living rooms on a Sunday afternoon, the distribution of the money was unchanged. 50% went to Division One clubs, 25% to Division Two clubs, and 25% shared between the Third and Fourth. It was, at least, relatively equitable. The 'big five' garnered the exposure they believed their status deserved, and the rest shared in it from a financial point of view.

Even that wasn't good enough, however, and the breakaway was pursued, primarily by the most powerful clubs, very much including Arsenal. No more equal distribution. The Premier League was here and it was keeping all the money, with the biggest clubs syphoning off and protecting the biggest slice for themselves.

Am I laying all the blame or responsibility for the modern uneven distribution on Arsenal? Of course I am not. They had a big role to play in it, but they had a lot to gain and so why should they be condemned for looking after their own interests? Had my club been in the same position, I'd have expected them to have done the same, and I am more than happy to admit to a little sour grapes that it was not.

But at least I accept what modern football is. With Arsenal we are not talking about a club like Chelsea or Manchester City who found themselves in a dog-eat-dog world and landed the investment required to excel. Arsenal were a major player in creating it, and now their fans, having been happy to reap the benefits of the position their history of shameless and entirely selfish money-grabbing has put them in, have the sheer audacity to claim to be the very victims of greed?

You'll forgive me if I suspend my sympathy. I'm too busy laughing.

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