The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Dare to Be Better Than You Are

This will hopefully be the only time we do this.

I’m writing a quick rebuttal to Sean’s response to my post, as I feel what I actually wrote was severely misrepresented.

– I have not said All Arsenal Supporters Are…anything. Doing so would be precisely opposed to the point I was trying to make, and in fact I went out of my way to name several blogs and their readers who I feel have acted well in this instance. The trouble is that they represent either lesser read blogs, or minority trends in the general current of fandom. Some, such as ANR, are more often brought up to be mocked and dismissed than for any other reason.

– My point about the mobbishness of Arsenal supporters draws on two facts.

1) The major Arsenal blogs are, with the exception of Le Grove, mostly interlinked; they are also in direct contact on and off with people who work for the club, as is clear in their writing. Thus, in some respect (especially when they begin to be quoted in the press as representative Arsenal fans) they represent the club and are held up by the club as an, possibly the, important aspect of the way in which the club and the fans meet. They garner this attention because they represent the largest organized factions of fans, and to a degree they represent those fans because of the attention they receive from the media and the club itself. It’s fair to say on that basis that, as noted above, while ALL fans cannot be grouped together in any way, the LARGEST ORGANIZED FACTIONS of fans are clearly identifiable. And yes, those people are the ones I’m largely speaking about- that, combined with things like the wildly variable crowd reactions in the stadium. Vox vulgaris, vox fanbase.

2) All of this is new with Arsenal fans. As I specifically stated in my post, it is NOT new for football fans; as I said, it’s more or less what I’d expect out of Madrid fans. What makes it new is the unhinged, violently emotional quality of it, plus the fact that it’s being lead by specific people who have great influence on the fanbase, and who derive that influence partly by being tacitly endorsed by the club itself. Those two factors were not in place, say, five years ago. Thus in my estimation there’s been a major swing just this year as fans have grown frustrated with the team and look to take out that anger on whatever target is handy, preferably an external one. Compare, for example, the treatment of Alexander Hleb and Jose Reyes (or Julio Baptista) when each of them left the club; neither did much of anything at Arsenal and left under a cloud in dubious circumstances, but only the former gets called a cunt, constantly, and abused in the most vicious and personal terms. That doesn’t mean these fans are about to be Roman ultras (a charge I never made); it does mean that I don’t know where they’re going to be this time next season- and neither, really, does anyone else. The mood of Arsenal fans, and probably how low some are willing to sink, ultimately will depend on results. The mindset, however, is increasingly coming to resemble the worst of football fans, and it’s very telling how both evaluation of and basic decency towards a player can now alter so radically based on which shirt he’s in. I’m hardly the only one to notice this: any blog you choose will have one or two people complaining about “the new fans” on it in the comments section; and whether the change is due to new fans or not, the recognition of a change having taken place is widespread.

– And the larger point about tribalism: it’s disrespectful and wrong to wholly identify tribalism with passion. It demeans someone who strives to achieve without the goad of hatred for another, who can give their best and care whole-heartedly without needing to see an enemy brought low in the process. Tribalism endorses the worst in human nature, the pathetic sad and disgraceful leftovers of evolution which fill us with hate and fear at things which are new or different. Playing with it and indulging it just a little is like having just a little heroin, except that the person you so endanger may not just be yourself. Worse than that, it doesn’t even work to diffuse anger or hatred safely; if anything it encourages those feelings, which is of no little moment to understanding the importance of this. If you hate someone today just a little because he’s got the wrong shirt on, just for a few hours…what will you be ready to hate tomorrow? What are you allowing yourself to become? Pitch invasions and riots aren’t the alternative- they’re where this road is leading, where it’s ended up so many times in the past. Better to encourage people to use the more honorable parts of their nature, to demonstrate the passion without hate of which humans are equally capable. For my part, I would be better than the most base of my instincts.

I have a personal stake in this. Sean and I will never see eye to eye on this issue and there’s many reasons for that, but one of the really key ones is that I’m not straight. I consider it a minor detail about myself, personally, but this is one of those situations where, along with having been raised in and around a political activist environment, it makes all the difference. This is not a theoretical discussion for me; the fear and the danger of being part of the wrong tribe in someone’s opinion is part of my life, and so the understanding of that part of human nature is a necessity. It took me probably 12 years from when I first realized I was at all attracted to men to admit it to anyone other than myself, and when I did it was because I’d simply hit a point of misery so profound that I didn’t care what anyone thought or what the consequences were anymore. I’ve only written the words down twice in public, of which this is the second occasion. In 4 years of college I mentioned it exactly once, which was coincidentally the same number of times I was insulted for my lack of religious beliefs by a professor whose class I was taking- different tribe, I suppose. Since then, only my family and a few close friends know of it; because of course, when I go out socially and hear the word “fag” thrown around 15 times in half an hour, it’s just easier to pretend and pass as part of someone else’s tribe. That does make me a coward, but it also makes me wise enough now to know what tribalism means in practice for those without custom or numbers to shield them.

There was one exception to my silence about sexuality: I had a good friend many years ago who I’d known forever, and to whom I mentioned it in passing once. I’ve not spoken to him in at least 8 years now. Perhaps I wasn’t part of his tribe anymore.

What is the alternative, then? When I tune in to watch a sporting event or go to an arena, I go to see skill, professionalism, technique, athleticism; people pulling together as a team and striving to achieve a goal as a unit, or else the greatness of the truly superior individual athlete who describes in the arc of a career the heights to which humanity may aspire. I want to find out what works in a sport, why, and what that tells us about human nature and the world beyond the arena walls and the roar of the crowd. I do not go in order to hate, say, New Jersey Devils fans and revel in the injury to Martin Brodeur, even though he and they are among the bitterest and most long-standing of local rivals. Personally I consider it a tragedy when arguably the greatest goaltender ever is out- both because greatness impaired is always a small tragedy, and because those occasions when the Rangers have beaten him when he was at his best are among my favorite sports memories (“Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!”) precisely because they beat the absolute best. I can’t hate the Devils (or Manchester United, or the Celtics, etc.)- I respect and admire them. If I didn’t, why would beating them mean anything? Compare this to the reaction to Phil Brown from some Arsenal fans: if they truly believe he’s as much of a rotten, low-account son of a bitch as they say he is, a liar and a cheat, why be so incensed about anything he says? What value could it have? But then the value to them is solipsistic, and lies in what it can be used for- it can be hated, and he can be a figure to focus all that rage on. A good two minutes’ worth you might say, if the mood struck you.

When I root for my team, I root because they represent the city of my birth, or my father’s birth in the case of Frankfurt, or because they’re my national team (or the German national team who I’ve adopted; and yes, your joke about the guy who likes men rooting for Mannschaft goes here), and because I want to see them do well and achieve. There may be opposing teams or groups of fans which I find distasteful (say, internet MMA fans), but it’s not because they’re different, or they have the wrong shirts on; it’s because, in my estimation, they merit it through ill conduct or general foolishness. If the quality of posts on Sherdog increased 100% tomorrow, I’d be happy to praise them- it’d be more good writing to read and an asset to the sport, and I derive no emotional satisfaction out of thinking they’re wrong and misguided. For the same reason, you’ll see me more than once have little good to say about a player for a team I support- Sean “Captain Dickhead” Avery’s a good example- if I feel they merit it for conduct, but also show little interest in obsessing about and reveling in the misfortunes of such players when they’ve moved on. I can’t recall having written anything in months about Zach Randolph, Jason Kidd, Stephon Marbury’s .304 FG%, etc. all of whom left teams I support under testy circumstances. Intellectual honesty, sportsmanship and respect for the self and others demand no less. Hate and schadenfreude leave me unmoved, not because I’m any better than average, but because I make a conscious effort to rise above the tribal instinct. What I do, so too may you, and be a better man for it.

In the end I’m not accusing Arsenal fans of being violent, or evil, or totalitarian, or anything on that line. I am saying that they’re coming to increasingly embrace tribalism, which is probably the most destructive of human instincts, and that to understand why it is so requires you to walk for a while in the shoes of those targeted by it. The whims and attitudes of a football fanbase may be the most petty of instances of this, but it still matters; and all the more so when there are other and better ways of being a fan- ways that, in some small measure, may ennoble the spirit instead of dragging it down into the muck. Football is the world’s game, touching the lives of billions of people on every continent. Better, then, that those with some influence and standing in the game try to make it an influence for good, rather than a license to be squalid. Imagine if that were the Arsenal Way.


March 19, 2009 Posted by | Other NBA, Other NHL, Other Soccer, The Arsenal, The Giants, The Jets, The Nets, The NY Knicks, The NY Rangers | Leave a comment

I am not done.

This isn’t the first time I’ve disagreed with Brendan, and it won’t be the last. We come from different sporting backgrounds, and I think we derive different pleasures out of sport. I say all of this with the greatest of respect for his opinion and his decision to back away from the English league (some of his complaints are not exact, but similar to the things that have driven me completely away from baseball, especially with fan reaction to steroids and the shoddy level of reporting/journalistic neutrality about it). This isn’t a rebuttal so much as an explanation of the differences in where I come from, and what I’m looking for.

First things first – Brendan is mostly spot on when he says that the spitting nonsense is unproveable either way. If it did indeed happen in the tunnel, then cameras would not be there and it very much becomes a case of he said, other he said. If it were out on the field (as Brown claimed, then didn’t, then did again, then didn’t again), I find it hard to believe that dozens of television cameras and thousands of fans with cell phone cameras would not pick up any evidence of it.

For what it’s worth, while Cesc has shown flashes of temper before with the pizza-throwing incident, he is several years older now – and also our captain. Brown is a former assistant to Sam Allardyce, and exhibits much of his qualities. That’s not me hating on him because he’s an opposition manager – I have a lot of time for brilliant, decent men like Martin O’Neill, Guus Hiddink (as much as I hate his side), David Moyes, Alan Curbishley, Roy Hodgson, etc.  This is me hating on him because he’s an appalling man who studied at the foot of The Most Appalling Man. It’s apparent to me that the pressures of the job – and the hideous form of his club – have caused him to snap just a little.

As for fan culture, I think the question we really have to ask here is who owns it? Who really carries the banner for All Arsenal Supporters? Does anyone? If you stopped the families who go to the games for their take on this (or Wenger, or Eboue, or the home loss to Stoke, or Spurs), what would that sound like? If I were an alien landing on Earth for the first time and I considered Youtube commenters to be the standard of intelligence and discourse on Earth, I’d be horrified…but I’d be missing the entire picture.

Penny Arcade had a wonderful version of their comic – seen here in t-shirt form: Couldn’t say it better myself.

Yes, there are stupid people all over the place, and they now have far more of an audience (a captive one at that, in some ways) than they did previously. You just can’t tar every Arsenal supporter with that same brush, though. There are supporters who go to games who are morons, others who are perfectly decent. Same thing with commenters on forums, bloggers, etc. There is no such thing as a unified Arsenal support, and this has never, ever, ever changed in the history of sports. You could find some guy back in the day who thought Herbert Chapman should go…people disagreed on Charlie Nicholas, on Perry Groves. Eboue doesn’t get nearly as much stick as Ian Ure did.

Let’s even take the worst of the worst of our supporters. To say that we’re anything approaching a mob is, I feel, overstating it a bit. There have been no stabbings like with Roma’s Ultras. There have been untold London derbies with little to nothing in the way of crowd trouble (unlike, say, Celtic vs. Rangers…and I say that as a Celtic supporter). The Hillsborough disaster happened as recently as 1989 – are we honestly worried about anything similar at the Emirates?

Also, the notion that fickle fans is anything new, I would love to see the issue of The Gooner or Up the Arse! following our 2-1 loss to Wrexham in the FA Cup in 1992. Fickle fans have been around since fans have…just ask anyone in a Montreal Canadiens sweater.

Anyway, I suppose my general point is that I actually am drawn to the tribalism in sports. It doesn’t always have to equate with tattooed guys flinging rocks at each other…in fact, I would argue that the state of fandom has probably not been better since the genteel days of teams playing the WM formation. Yes, sometimes the internet sniping gets annoying. But, better that then pitch invastions, riots and fights in the stands. I think there may be something to the theory that it serves as an outlet for some of the worst of it, kind of like fighting in hockey (Can of worms? Sure, why not?!).

The thing is, soccer would not be half as fun for me if it weren’t for the degree of passion that comes along with it. There’s a reason why I watch the matches at Nevada Smith’s – for me, the camraderie and singing greatly enhances the experience. Yes, we all know that the danger with passion is that it can and does range into stupidity at points. Fair enough. But, I would rather risk that then have it removed completely.

As mentioned, tribalism shouldn’t always be equated with a negative connotation. I’ve been going to Nevada’s for…7 years? 10? 12? I don’t even know at this point. I can think of exactly one time where I thought someone was going to get stupid, and nothing came of it. Actually, I recently posted this on the Arseblog forums: “I think the main drawing card for me is, oddly enough, the fact that opposition supporters don’t mind having a go at you. It’s so…sedate…in the other places that I’ve watched matches.” I meant every word of it, too. The Toon Army will be there in force on Saturday, and I’m looking forward to it. They’ll beat their bass drum and sing, we’ll try to sing louder.

Yes, it probably is mindless dick-waving if you wanted to interpret it as such. But, that’s where it stops, and that’s why it’s OK.

This is getting long, so I think the world gets the point. The last thing I want to say is that the Almunia tackle not getting coverage is because, in the end, the journos still long for the game played in the 1970s when they were growing up – it’s the same reason why baseball reporters here savage the steroid users while conveniently forgetting that their cherished heroes were on amphetamines and whatever else they could get their hands on. They still lovingly link to Youtube videos of psychotic animals like Graeme Souness plying their “trade”, and it’s why they give so much slack to the “hard-working, honest” types who used to be on the Luton Towns and Stokes and…well…even Arsenals of the 70s.

My two cents, anyway.

March 19, 2009 Posted by | The Arsenal | Leave a comment

I’m Done, Gus

Rambling and angry today.

The response to the Phil Brown situation utterly perplexes me. Brown’s an unimportant goof and the manager of a third rate side; Cesc is injured and has been mired in the midst of a bad season; the spitting is unproven and unprovable and absolutely certain to devolve into a he said/she said with no substantive charges filed or actions taken. And yet somehow everyone feels required to ADDRESS IT and TALK ABOUT IT to the point where even several thousand miles away I’m so utterly fed up with this non-story and everyone’s obsession with it that I want to heave a brick through my computer screen every time I sign on try to get substantive news. Most of the major Arsenal blogs (East Lower, Goonerholic and ANR excepted, to their credit) have acted in shoddy, disreputable, embarrassing fashion through the whole thing, taking a my-tribe-is-the-best-tribe approach before any meaningful information had come out. It’s behavior which illustrates the absolute worst of sporting culture and has underlain every major problem in the history of football from mob violence to the throwing of things at players to endemic racism to the presence of a homophobia so pervasive that it’s rarely even remarked on; and while we may be thankful for the small mercy of it being expressed in so comparatively modest a fashion this time, that is not an excuse.

Reading this sort of idiocy makes me question why I should follow this club, and it’s really the only thing which does. If management mismanages, I’ve survived Glen Sather and Isiah Thomas and Jim Dolan; if players misbehave or underperform, I’ve survived Stephon Marbury, Sean Avery, Derrick Coleman and the year Chris Morris played multiple games with “trade me” written on his shoes. But I’m a firm believer as I hope I’ve indicated here that a club or a team is constituted first from its fanbase, as they’re the only component of the operation which survives through different eras and shapes the decisions and character of players and management. When the fans go bad, when a crowd becomes a mob, that’s usually it; it’s almost impossible to claw back from that, as a reputation for evil behavior draws more fans with an interest in the same and the stupidity of one sanctions the same in others. Arsenal fans this year have in the aggregate, and despite strong examples to the contrary as noted above, mostly lost it: every win is a charge towards the title, every loss is the end of the world, every disagreement is proof that the other guy is Not A Real Fan (which is to say- not part of the tribe), a player booed one week is cheered wildly the next week, a manager respected for the job he’s done with a promoted side is seen to have a little tail and tiny horns when he says the wrong thing about the wrong player. It’s disgraceful, the sort of thing I’d expect from Madrid fans; and if it’s not apparent to people who follow only one sport it’s certainly apparent to me, who makes it a point to cross-compare between nations, sports and fanbases. Keep in mind, I’m a New Yorker- everything I say about Arsenal fans/English fans/European fans is what the rest of the US says about New York fans. When you’re extreme by our standards, you’re extreme.

As much as Arsene’s bad lies and naked contempt for fans bothers me, there’s times, like the last few days, when I think I see exactly what he sees.

I’ve had this feeling for most of this season, so a few months ago I made it a point to sign up for Gol TV when it finally became available in this area. I’ve always wanted to watch the Bundesliga since I became a fan of the sport, admiring their set-up and having a heritage more German than anything else. I am not a gloryhunter by instinct; my German team is Eintracht Frankfurt, on the grounds that my father was born in the city and so I have a closer personal connection to them than any other outfit. They’re currently 7th off the bottom, no threat to make Europe, and still wary of the drop. They’re almost never on TV, and I think the best game I’ve seen from them this year was a preseason away draw with Madrid. Yet at this point I’m far more interested in them and their league than I am Arsenal and the petty obsessions of its increasingly lunatic fanbase, because- and perhaps it’s only because I don’t read German- I can follow the team and the league in passable detail without being beaten about the head and shoulders by tribalism.  That’s the same thing which makes the Knicks and Nets so easy and fun to follow these days, and why baseball is completely dead to me- because the former two, so far as I can tell like Frankfurt, are just teams striving to do their best and fans backing them- while the latter is just fans squaring off like savages and using the games to keep score. Arsenal fans are rapidly becoming the latter, and it’s making me far more disgusted with this season and the club than any amount of bad Song passes or Eboue cheating ever did. They’re just two men; the fans are the soul of the club itself. And what a soul it’s revealing itself to be. Can you imagine the reaction if Arsenal finished 6th, say? It would make what West Ham fans did to Anton Ferdinand’s car look mild.

I’m not sure what more there is to say than that. I will never see the point of trying to turn Phil Brown into a pantomime villain and expending furious energy on decrying him, because there’s absolutely nothing involving him which will have an effect on Arsenal’s season this year. Even if he’s as much of an idiot as the press reports make him out to be, he’s also just as much beside the point. The only reason this demonization is happening is so that some fans can distract themselves from misgivings about the club’s direction by hating someone Outside the Tribe, or else prove how much of a club man they are by rallying against the outsider. It’s not uncommon. Strong clubs shrug this off and move on, as United did with Benitez earlier this year; this by contrast is pathetic stuff, and it reminds me of nothing so much as current Republican politics here in the USA where a reduced rump of true believers respond to reverses in the main competition by focusing more clearly on the things and people they hate as a way to bind what’s left of their group together. I don’t respect them, and at this point I just don’t respect the sections of the Arsenal fanbase who resemble them. And if it takes Arsenal 10 more years to get serious about competing year in and year out, I won’t agree with it, but I’ll understand why the people in charge of the club didn’t listen to fans who demanded changes sooner. Who in their right mind would listen to this fanbase right now, fickle, reactionary, hysterical and bloodthirsty as it is?

Diouf nearly shattered Almunia’s leg in the Blackburn game. Phil Brown said something mean and maybe told a lie. Which got more attention? Ask yourself why, and what that says. Me, I’m done. I have nothing more to say about this team and these fans this year, unless a miracle happens.

March 19, 2009 Posted by | The Arsenal | Leave a comment