Being an Arsenal fan is becoming more and more difficult. Recently, following the worst ever run in Arsène Wenger’s long and deteriorating career, the playful banter we’ve been enduring over the past decade has escalated to vicious, scornful trolling.
He arrived at the club in 1997 and transformed our club to a team popular for its dynamic and attractive football
We’ve been the clowns of the English game for a while now, that’s nothing new. But everything seems to be getting worse: our manager seems more out of touch with the fans than he’s ever been; our usual late season collapse seems to have started much earlier; and, for the first time in the Wenger era, we look set to finish outside of the much vaunted and lucrative top four spots in the Premier League.
I was first exposed to Premier League football in 1999 by my uncle who was, along with my elder cousin, a massive Man United fan. My other cousin and my aunt were Chelsea fans. But I fell in love with the red of Arsenal.
We were really good back then and every time we’d sit around the TV to watch Arsenal play either Chelsea or Man United, I would be expect a win and, for the most part, the boys would deliver.
I was mostly drawn in by the attractive brand of football the club is famous for, a brand of football which is largely credited to Wenger.
He arrived at the club in 1997 (a period where our reputation for bland, defensive football had opposition fans taunting, ‘Boring, boring Arsenal’) and transformed our club to a team popular for its dynamic and attractive football.
I was also drawn in by the talented contingency of African footballers at the club – I’m talking the likes of Kanu, Touré and Lauren. But no one excited me more than Thierry Henry. The way he’d tear up defences with such finesse, such precision. He was so flamboyant and, in my eyes, represented rare and relatable black excellence.
I remember a game versus Liverpool where Henry (or dad, as I called him) picked the ball up near the centre line and drove through the heart of their defence
I can readily recall watching the Arsenal team of 2003/04, aptly labeled The Invincibles, do what no other team has ever done in the history of the Premier League and go an entire season undefeated. I was only 10 years old then, but I was well aware of the magnitude of this achievement.
In that same season, I remember a game versus Liverpool where Henry (or dad, as I called him) picked the ball up near the centre line and drove through the heart of their defence, leaving defender Jamie Carragher staggering in the box before burying the ball in the back of the net. We were feared back then; now the big teams lick their chops when they play us: we are their favourite dish.
Fast forward to 2017 and my club is in ruins, the laughing stock of English football. If you don’t closely follow the English game, and only consider our consistency at finishing in the top four, then you may find this statement a bit dramatic, but it’s the truth.
There are few things more difficult than facing my friends after our typically disappointing match days.
Consider our available war chest (rumoured to be in excess of 100 million pounds), the talented group of players we have and our sizable yearly revenue; it’s clear that we really should be consistently competing for the top spot – not only in the Prem but in Europe, too. It’s unbelievable to think that my beloved team has not lifted the trophy since The Invincibles.
As things stand, we are languishing in sixth position (a new low, even for Wenger), we’ve just been mercilessly dumped out of the UEFA Champions League by Bayern Munich and, astonishingly, Wenger looks set to sign yet another lucrative deal to continue as Arsenal manager.
As Arsenal Fan TV has so accurately captured over the years, we the fans are fed up.Today, there are few things more difficult than facing my friends after our typically disappointing match days. On Monday mornings I’m like the maze runner trying to dodge colleagues in my office itching to have a go at me and ask me why Wenger is still managing the club – as if I have regular chats with Ivan Gazidis and the Arsenal board.
Many of my friends are at the ready with brutal–sometimes hilarious–memes after each humiliating loss.
Even the Man United-supporting security guards at my complex often have a laugh at my expense, deriding my ‘poor taste’ in football. Even the typically annoying Piers Morgan–perhaps Arsenal’s most famous fan–is starting to rally support from disgruntled Gooners the world over for the same incessant #WengerOut campaign that used to drive us crazy.
Sport is meant to be where one turns to escape from the harshness of everyday life.
I don’t watch Arsenal with the same pride when I’m with my uncle, aunt and cousins. I can no longer rely on them winning the big games or expect them to woo me. Those days are in the past now.
In Zimbabwe, we have our very own dictator, Robert Mugabe, whom Wenger seems to take after, as one Arsenal fan pointed out.
Power is a drug, and both are overdosing on its allure
Both are at the helm of once heralded powerhouses, and both started off promisingly before dragging these powerhouses down and tarnishing their reputations.
Power is a drug, and both are overdosing on its allure and ruling dizzily from their crumbling castles.
Sport is meant to be where one turns to escape from the harshness of everyday life. But, for me, it seems to be mirroring the reality of my home country. I hope Wenger’s reign defies this doomed trajectory because all I want is to be able to recite Kevin Campbell’s famous quote again, with pride: ‘Sometimes there is nothing better in life than being a Gooner.’
Right now, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
This is part of a guest editorship series by Shingai Darangwa, Alex Kamutondole and Thebe Kadiege who are bringing you the best new culture and news from Johannesburg.