I wanted to write a ‘what Arsene Wenger means to me’ piece but from a slightly different perspective and demonstrate (as much to myself) why I am feeling his loss.So this is a quick reflection on 60+ years of knowingly supporting The Arsenal.
You see The Arsenal has, and always did have, class. What came out of the Chapman era was an ethos – the Arsenal way of doing things. My Mum told me once that around the time my Dad joined Arsenal in 1947 he had long conversations with Ted Drake. Dad knew Ted not only as they were both from Southampton but they also played cricket together in the Southampton Parks league. Mum said these conversations were about the ‘Arsenal way of doing things’.
But it’s always difficult to show how an ethos plays out. For me it was self-evident in the way the club treated their players. When Dad first went to Highbury he had a difficult time gaining the crowd’s acceptance and, according to press reports, was even booed during games. But Tom Whittaker never lost faith in him, always encouraging and building his confidence. Ex-players were always invited to post FA Cup banquets, match tickets were no problem to get, Dad would just phone up Ken Fryer. Christmas cards always received from the club for decades after he left.
In the final season at Highbury Mum, then almost 80 (Dad had died 5 years before), phoned me up one day (I lived 150 miles away)
“I want to take the whole family to Highbury as its closing”
“OK Mum who do you want to take?”
“Mum that’s 16 tickets!”
So at her request I typed up a letter to Ken Fryer (Arsenal director who worked in the ticket office in the 50’s) sent it to her she signed and sent it off. Long story short it was sorted and 16 tickets were found and bought. Could be the end of the story, but the club made sure that there was a piece in the programme on the day welcoming our family.
A few weeks later Mum booked to take my nephew and I on a Highbury Legends tour. She asked me to e-mail Ken Fryer to see if she could see him for 5 minutes to say hello and thanks. Ken e-mailed back to say he’d see what he could do but he might be busy on that day (he was project managing the Emirates build for goodness sake!). In the event what did happen was that Ken made sure the staff on the tour looked out for her (and briefed Charlie George). When there was a line up at the end to get Charlie’s signature he said to her “I’m so pleased to meet you I’ve heard your old man must have been a hell of a player!” And of course Mum melted in tears.
All this may sound trivial (and there’s so much more that I’ve forgotten) but it builds a picture.
What I saw when Arsene arrived was that he completely “got” The Arsenal. He didn’t try to make it about him or change things just to satisfy his ego. He was intelligent enough to understand that he had been given custody of something precious. And he set out to take it forward and achieved that, taking the club on a journey that has been incredible and what he leaves behind is in great shape and in credit, but unrecognisable from what he inherited. Apart from the class.
Arsene was a victim of the expectations he himself had built.
Hey guys we didn’t win anything between 1953 and 1970! Including the gut-wrenching 1968 and 1969 League Cup final losses. I saw those thanks to Ken Fryer!
So we have lost a man who has taken the club to a position not even dreamed of in the 60’s/70’s/80’s.
So if you’ve made it this far it’s helped me to work out why I feel the loss. But more importantly why I was giving him more leeway to stay than most. Yes I’m glad that Arsene is not putting himself through the criticism anymore. But hang on he wants to go straight back into management!
Did he love the club too much to know when he should have gone, i.e not renewed his contract? Yes possibly but I gave him leeway because I was looking at what he had built and that another couple of years of top players arriving who wanted to play for him I could tolerate.
So in my sense of loss I celebrate the work of a man who ‘got’ Arsenal, loved the club deeply, gave his life to taking it forward and above all cherished and left behind what could be the most important thing.