The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Separated At Birth?

King Henrik and Errol Flynn.


October 1, 2009 Posted by | The NY Rangers | Leave a comment


Da Ranjahz sign Vaclav Prospal for 1/$1.1. Obviously intended as the replacement for Zherdev, and familiar with Torts’ system and with something to prove. No exactly a building block for the future but should prove useful for a single year and the price is entirely reasonable. It’s an odd sort of thing with the Rangers though; they have a persistent tendency as an organization to make a long series of theoretically good moves which ultimately add up to less than bupkus. We shall see.

August 17, 2009 Posted by | The NY Rangers | , | Leave a comment

You Have Got to Be Kidding Me (Pt. 1)

Marian Gaborik, 5 years, $7.5 per

I don’t blog much on the Rangers here since even though I’ve been a fan of them as long as I’ve been a fan of any of my teams, my hockey knowledge has never been anywhere near what I’d say was good enough to need to be shared. They’re also the team I tend to be least rational about, mostly because they drive me fucking insane. So on that basis, let me confirm: even people like me know that this is a fucking terrible deal. TERRIBLE. Barely days after the team finally got out of cap hell by moving Scott Gomez, they’ve leaped right back into it by signing yet another overrated “skill player” to the same level of deal for a similar time span. What on earth is the plan here, to keep chopping and changing finesse guys with reputations for gutlessness cast off by more successful teams until one of them magically fits?

Gaborik is only 27 and will be 32 when this deal expires; in theory these should be his prime years. But he’s missed an average of 19 games a season in his career, played only 17 total last year, and has rapidly gained a reputation as a soft player, a malingerer, a self-involved type who alienated himself from his teammates. So of course the Rangers signed him to a contract no one else in the league would match and which is guaranteed to sap whatever motivation he ever had to fight through injuries in order to stick him in a locker room with Sean Fucking Avery. This should end well. I fully expect Chris Drury to demand a trade by midseason, because no serious hockey player who’s won at the highest level could possibly be expected to deal with this shit in good humor. The only thing which might prevent it is if John Tortorella takes one for the team and deals with Gaborik himself the first time Marian tells the coach he’s sitting out in solidarity with a friend’s having a hangnail. Gaborik is going to get torn apart in the press around here as well, and it’ll be for good reason as this is likely going to be remembered as the signing which did more to tear down the recent semi-success the Rangers have enjoyed than any other, which is saying something. It’s Petr Nedved all over again as Sean put it, except that Nedved was at least likable. With the exception of disgusting thugs like Chris Pronger, Gaborik from afar seems like one of the least likable players in the league. And for all his vaunted skills, Gaborik’s best season is 83 points- and he’s never had another one above 67. Scott Gomez, who everyone was so happy to see the back of at the same price, had his best at 84 and three others in 2nd place at 70. Gaborik has better points per game numbers to be sure, but what exactly is that worth if you miss half the season because you’ve got pins and needles or your leg fell asleep or you’re possessed by evil spirits or whatever the fuck else has gone wrong with this guy? It’s impossible to escape the sense that the Rangers signed him because he had that 5 goal game against them, which is among the stupidest of all reasons to sign a player.

One Valeri Kamensky was enough. Does my head in, just does my head in. We’ve signed hockey’s Tomas Rosicky.

July 2, 2009 Posted by | The NY Rangers | Leave a comment

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

Welcome Back, Captain Dickhead

Starbury, AKA Captain Dickhead II, clears out of town just in time for the Rangers to bring back the original flavor. What can you say? He’s an embarrassment to the team, the league, the sport, mankind, humanity, the order mammalia and the planet earth. Will he help the team win? Who the hell knows. He’ll be under a different coach this time with a somewhat different set of teammates, and catalysts like him tend to drive everyone insane on their team and the opposition’s. Chances are he’ll at least set the Rangers firmly in one direction or another this year, into the abyss for retooling or back into the second round. My money would be on the former, but we’ll see.

It’s probably horrible to admit this, but the sheer averageness and we-know-exactly-where-they’ll-finish quality of this year’s blueshirts has kept my interest very far down this season, with correspondingly few blog posts. Avery will, if nothing else, make me more interested in the team. His first game may be against the Islanders; that ought to be a happening.

March 3, 2009 Posted by | The NY Rangers | | Leave a comment

Oh No! Who Could Have Forseen This!

Three examples of a larger point today, about injuries and outcomes:

Let’s start with Arsenal. Fans have been saying this entire season that Arsenal have been hobbled badly by injuries, and just wait until all of our hurt players come back- we’ll be a force then. An example from today at Arseblog: “…imagine this formation with Arshavin and Walcott in place of Eboue and Bendtner and with Cesc in the centre of midfield.” I don’t mean to pick on Arseblog here, this is simply the most recent example of this I’ve seen.

I don’t buy it, and never have. The premise is that Arsenal’s injury woes are somehow uncommon or unexpected, a freak occurrence which is unlikely to be repeated and thus has little predictive value for the future performance of the team. There’s two major problems with this line of reasoning. The first is that while this year’s team have had a few freak injuries which were largely unpredictable in that they happened to usually durable players (like Cesc, or Kolo’s malaria), there have also been players like Robin van Persie with very long histories of frequent injury who have been almost totally healthy all year long. The uncommon and possibly unrepeatable outcomes have been on both sides of the ledger, so it’s difficult to say that Arsenal’s luck has been exceptionally bad from the standpoint of reasonable expectations of player health.

The second major problem is the assumption that injuries are usually non-predictive events. Arsenal are, in fact, a team full of fragile players: Diaby is rarely good for more than 2 or 3 games at a stretch, Eduardo, sadly, has suffered minor issues after the majority of games in his comeback after a year away, Rosicky’s problems are well known, RVP is usually injured for substantial stretches, Gallas has suffered his share of pulls and muscle problems and such (and is now over 30), Walcott has natural issues with his shoulders which have put him out more than once for extended periods- the list here is substantial and no doubt you can add to it. In all of these cases, there’s a track record of repeated injuries of a similar character which arise from the normal conduct of play, the sort of things which a player is simply going to have to do in order to perform. A non-predictive injury would be one like Cesc’s, where there’s no history of similar injury, or one like the tackle which put Eduardo out for a year which was exceptionally vicious. When Diaby, for example, misses several weeks with a muscle strain, that’s simply to be expected based on prior performance; if that sort of thing was in fact not repeated next year, THAT would be a freak occurrence because of how far it would depart from reasonable expectations.  Assuming that next year’s Arsenal will have a better track record of health than this year’s is an expression of hope, not reason.

So what, you may ask? That’s our second example. Take this article as an example of what happens when people fail to take into account the overall team-wrecking effects of having star players with major injury histories which are ignored.

(Aside: I just wiki’ed Eric Lindros, whose page as of right now has been edited to read “Eric “Biggest Waste of a Hockey Player Ever” Lindros (born 28 February 1973 in London, Ontario, Canada) is a retired professional ice hockey player.” Lol, as the kids say.)

The article attempts to defend the acquisition of Lindros on the grounds that what was traded for him ended up being no big deal, and that Lindros was ok. This is foolish analysis on the face of things, since Pavel Brendl’s eventual flameout was not known at the time, and therefore his perceived value could have been used to acquire many other players than Lindros; the trade shouldn’t be evaluated just on the basis of what each player did, but on the potential value of what each asset in the deal could have been used for at the time.

That niggle aside, the real problem with Lindros wasn’t the trade, but what Lindros did when he was with the Rangers. Wiki has the stats; you’ll note a good first year, healthy, followed by a healthy second year with a major statistical collapse, and then a third injury ravaged year before he left the team. If you’d been watching regularly (I had season tickets at the time), you’d have seen a player who was playing in a totally different fashion than he had previously in order to shield himself from further injury (Lindros had a history of concussions which ended his career, for those who don’t know), who had given up his physical style of play and was avoiding certain positions in order to minimize his risk.

The problem for the Rangers then was twofold: firstly they had ended up trading for a player who, even when healthy, was not at all the player he had been before his injuries became a constant risk, and the similarities for Arsenal fans to the situations with Eduardo, Risicky, etc. should be obvious; the second was a much more insidious cost, which is usually still not recognized. Read that article again, and focus on this sentence: “Losing puck-mover Kim Johnsson was somewhat more painful, though not the franchise-magnitude sacrifice Bondy would have you believe compared to the potential upside of Big E. “

That’s everything wrong with this mentality in one line. By the time he reached the Rangers, Lindros had suffered seven reported major concussions. SEVEN. Each concussion suffered predisposes the sufferer to a greater risk of another- was it at all reasonable to assume that a player who had suffered 7 major concussions in 8 NHL seasons was unlikely to suffer any more? But because Lindros was big and strong and had a good touch, people continued to fall in love with his “upside”- even the author of this article, 5 years after Lindros washed out of New York due to…a concussion.

Lindros was at all successful with the Rangers because he changed styles to minimize his risk, becoming less effective but more durable; this was entirely predictable based on his history, because the only other option for him was to continue to suffer debilitating injuries which were likely to be career-enders. While he was still somewhat effective, the unjustifiable assumptions (which were not his fault) that any day now he would play just like he did in Philadelphia ended up hamstringing the team for years on end, as they budgeted and made player moves around the idea that big number 88 was going to give them far more than he was physically able to do. The result was three years of failure in which the team finished 11th, 9th, and 13th in the conference, with no playoff appearances. The implications for Arsenal here should again be fairly obvious.

A final example to illustrate probability and outcomes. Take the fighting world, where these distinctions are usually clearest: at UFC 95 recently, Paulo Thiago fought Josh Koscheck. Kosckeck, a striker and wrestler who had previously fought the current champion, was a heavy favorite in that fight and considered a top-5 welterweight in the world; Thiago was considered a less experienced and less well-known UFC debutante reliant on his jiu jitsu. So of course Thiago knocked Koscheck clean out in the first round with a two punch combo.

And yet, anyone who gave the matter much thought would realize that if these two were to rematch, the smart money would all be on Koscheck. He has a far greater skill level, a stronger track record, more options in a fight; that Thiago knocked him out despite a demonstrably lesser skill level is what is colloquially called a lucky punch, but should be understood more specifically as an unlikely but possible outcome. Let’s say you could get those guys to fight 100 times under identical conditions- odds are, Thiago knocks Koscheck out, say, 8-10 times out of a 100; maybe he submits him another few times, ekes out a few decisions, etc. Kosckeck still probably wins 60-80% of those fights based on greater demonstrated ability. That doesn’t make Thiago’s victory hollow, or unimportant; it makes it an uncommon outcome which was always possible, but which it would be foolish to bet on happening more than a small fraction of the time.

An even better if less recent example would be the two Georges St. Pierre vs. Matt Serra fights. GSP, clearly the more talented of the two, got knocked out in the first round in their initial encounter; in their second, he humbled Serra badly and destroyed him in the second round, and not once since then has there been any talk of a third meeting- for many reasons, one of the biggest of which is that UFC matchmakers and most fans instinctively understand the concept of possible but unlikely outcomes, which because they’re so infrequent, have little predictive value for the future.

To summerize: Arsenal have been badly hit by injuries this year, it’s true; but they have not been more badly hit than might have been expected given the histories of their players, and if you’re banking on them being substantially more healthy next year, you’re either assuming they’ll have substantially different personnel, or else you’re counting on a miracle.

February 25, 2009 Posted by | MMA, The Arsenal, The NY Rangers | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Time I Booed My Team

This post will be the last I have to say on Ebouegate, unless the issue pops up again later this season, as I rather expect it will. It’s an attempt to provide a little cross-situational perspective.

Once upon a time back in the early part of this decade I had season tickets for the New York Rangers, and made a regular practice then and even after I gave those seats up of attending many of the team’s games in that time period. The raw numbers and roster compositions of those teams are available on the inestimable hockeydb here, for your viewing…pleasure….

I mention those teams which I usually consider wholly unmentionable in the context of the Eboue scandal, because from time to time in those seasons, I booed them. Not as badly as some Rangers fans who were booing the opening faceoff on some occasions, but I did it. Booed them off the ice between periods, booed them back onto the ice as well. Booed them at the end of games. Booed them in a 7-3 home loss to a Penguins team with the worst record in the league, which will always stand out to me as the worst hockey game I’ve ever seen. I never singled out an individual player as such though many Rangers fans did: I will also never forget arriving at the Garden for a game and seeing 7 or 8 fans together in the lobby holding a bedsheet on which was written “trade Kamensky” or something to that effect. In fact I made it a point to cheer Valeri Kamensky after that since I figured he could use one fan at least, and he was nowhere near as bad as he was made out to be. But the rest of them? Booed. And I don’t regret it at all. I’ve written here previously about the need for fans to have some sort of outlet and means of expressing themselves. There are very few means of doing so: blogging, chanting at games, refusing to renew or buy tickets, the occasional mass protest or booing are essentially all that’s available. If a fan is going to be honest and serious about their support, they’re going to have to weigh how and when to use each of those tools. Let me explain my reasoning.

The first thing to understand about those Rangers teams is that they were awful, and not just an ordinary kind of awful but a special kind which marked them out as probably the very worst team in the league if you’re willing to concede that institutional incompetence trumps simple won-lost record as the best measure. In the pre-salary cap years they spent and spent and spent the way Chelsea does in the Premier League today, but they certainly didn’t achieve similar levels of success. No indeed: despite being among the top spenders in the league for many years and bringing many of the biggest names in the sport to town- Pavel Bure, Eric Lindros, etc.- as well as important lesser lights, they spent 7 full seasons out of the playoffs in a league in which, currently, more than half the teams make the postseason. Worse still, they were laughing stocks for the way they did business. Eric Lindros, an injury-ridden shell of a player who had never really reached his potential, was acquired for what was thought at the time to be a king’s ransom and spent much of his Rangers tenure injured and not reaching his potential. Pavel Bure and Alexei Kovalev were acquired at cost, with the one retiring due to knee injury and the other quickly moved on when he didn’t work out. B0bby Holik was acquired from the rival Devils on a monstrous free agent deal and spent his tenure in New York giving a half-assed effort for a team he clearly didn’t respect or care about regardless of how rich they’d made him. The names Igor Ulanov, Vladimir Malakhov, Theo Fleury and Tom Poti each have an equally bad story attached. Coaches came and went with no great effect, the nadir coming in 2002-2003 when Bryan Trottier, who had spent most of his career as a player with the hated Islanders, was selected head coach and then fired for incompetence 54 games into the season, never to be named to a similar position again anywhere. Picture someone like, say, David Ginola or Ledley King managing Arsenal and you’ll get the picture. The rest of the league laughed at the Rangers, and they were right to.

Those were the teams I booed. Many players on them I loved and admired as a fan: Brian Leetch, perhaps the greatest Ranger of all, was on many of those teams and my room here at home is adorned with a signed hockey puck of his, the only real bit of sports memorabilia I own. Mike Richter and Mark Messier, heros of the Rangers’ legendary ’94 Cup run, were on some of those teams as well. Didn’t stop me. I booed those teams because at the time it was, I believed, the best possible option to start the team in the right direction again over the long term. Players were giving half-assed efforts; management was non-local, insular, divorced from fan concerns and following a plan, or series of plans, which were producing no results and were rather predictably doomed from the start; the team was an object of league-wide public ridicule; there wasn’t an obvious alternative method to register an opinion and urge the organization into a more productive path. So at first I booed, and was hardly alone in doing so. Then I stopped my season ticket, and judging by how desperate the club was at the time to get renewals, I doubt I was alone in that either. Then the lockout came and killed a season leaving a salary cap in its wake, and here we are.

Today’s Rangers are a very different lot. They’re not really title contenders in any serious sense, but they’re far from embarrassing. Two years in a row making the second round of the playoffs; Sean Avery and Ryan Hollweg aside, the last couple of years the team has given you a solid and respectable professional effort night after night; and they’re finally being designed differently than they had been, focusing more on developing the farm system and younger players and creating a team style instead of having several different players freelancing in different ways with little guidance from the bench. Moreover they seem to be much more willing to compete and fight to come back from behind, showing spirit not seen since the ’97 conference finalists. And, it must be said, they seem a lot closer to the fans: they’ve taken up the gesture of giving a unified stick salute to fans after every home game, and as corny as it may sound, that has meant something. When you attend a game now you don’t feel like you’re expected to cheer on a player who’s giving mediocre effort, and is only in your team’s uniform because they doubled the next best contract offer. Today’s New York Rangers seem to actually care in many cases about being New York Rangers.

Is that the result of the booing back when? Not completely, no. The salary cap has a lot to do with it, Glen Sather coming to his senses has a lot to do with it, the presence of various new front office people and an excellent new coach has a lot to do with it, and there’s certainly a variety of other factors relating to changes in rules and the general style of the league. But I honestly believe the fact that the majority of fans took a stand and refused to be embarrassed any further by the team had something to do with the changes. The old New York myth is that you can never rebuild in this town, fans won’t stand for it; the weakening ticket demand and vocal disapproval for the Rangers teams which embodied that philosophy probably helped to break down that belief, and paved the way both for the rebuilding job now being done on the Knicks (who share ownership with the Rangers). That does matter, and it’s helped to build the current solid Rangers and the future Knicks of 2010 and beyond, and it could never have been achieved if Rangers fans had continued to cheer players who didn’t give a damn and didn’t try, simply because they wore the shirt. That’s not a blanket endorsement of booing in all circumstances, or even most circumstances; that’s an example of how, in some circumstances, it’s the right thing to do for the team.

Is it the right thing to do for Arsenal fans now? Ultimately, I think no, and I wouldn’t do it. But it’s not so open and shut a case that it makes sense to condemn the fans who take the option without understanding why they do so. Many fans are frustrated, as Rangers fans were back then: they believe management has tracked up a blind ally and can’t or won’t find their way back out, following a philosophy which doesn’t bring results. Arsene Wenger has a fine record as a manager, but it’s not a record all that different from Glen Sather who won 5 Stanley Cups in 7 years with Edmonton at one point. Wenger now puts all his faith in young players; Slats put his in big names and big free agents. Both achieved little in doing so, and began to hear the boos and the “Wenger out”/”fire Sather” calls about 3 or 4 years into a period in which they had nothing to show for their efforts, in the Rangers’ case a playoff berth, in Arsenal’s a trophy. Both teams charge enormous ticket prices. The differences are that Wenger’s mistakes are much easier to fix than Sather’s, that Wenger has achieved with the team he now manages while Sather had not, Arsenal are not nearly as bad off now as the Rangers were then, and that booing is taken by Arsenal players much more personally than it ever was by hockey players, who let’s face it are simply more thick-skinned about that sort of thing. Rangers players knew the booing was about Sather and the way the team was designed as much as it was their individual effort in many cases, and the players who gave an honest effort trusted that the fans recognized that, and didn’t mean anything personal. Arsenal players think it’s about them individually, and given how badly handled the Eboue thing was, in that case they were right. It’s all about context: booing Eboue won’t help because the booing was badly done, too personal, not clear in what it was trying to convey, occurred while the team was winning, and was done in circumstances in which it was viewed as an ultimate betrayal and not a fairly common and legitimate way for fans to express themselves.

And yet there has to be a way for fans to convey those feelings en masse, or else they give up all of their oversight responsibilities over a club. Managers come and go; players come and go; even stadiums are torn down eventually. Fans remain; and they draw no salary, indeed they commit in money and time and attention and emotion as much as anyone associated with any team. They have the right, and indeed the responsibility, to care and to express themselves. That right must be exercised responsibly, which it was not against Eboue; but that does not condemn all instances of fan expression, even negative expression, any more than Eboue having a terrible afternoon condemns him totally as a player. I’m not sure what the answer ultimately will be for football, but I do know it’s not going to be either the rabid personal venom which was directed at Eboue or the blank unreflective cheerleading which so many people advocate as the only acceptable behavior at the stadium, often as they write things online which they’d be ashamed to say to a player’s face. I’m comfortable with having booed my Rangers because in the context of the team at the time, in hockey culture, in New York, it got across exactly the message I meant to convey which was that I loved my team but that I believed it had gone thoroughly off the rails and needed a rethink. If that was more or less the message that the people who booed Eboue wished to send, and I believe it largely was, then it will ultimately prove a whole lot more useful to find a productive way for them to do so than it will to spend endless hours condemning them.

December 9, 2008 Posted by | The Arsenal, The NY Knicks, The NY Rangers | , , | Leave a comment