I am delighted to welcome back Adi Manjunath to ‘1nildown2oneup’ after a couple of months since his last blog. Better known to many of you as @themetalgooner it was Adi who set the scene on the growth of the Arsenal fanbase on the subcontinent at the start of Indian Global Gooner Passion week in August. http://1nildown2oneup.net/indian-global-gooner-passion-part-1-setting-the-scene/
Adi’s returns with an insightful blog that will make you stop and think before you perhaps over react to some of coverage and report both in print and via other media about what does or indeed does not go on at our great club….
Arsenal FC – Narratives, Reactionists, Mountains and Molehills.
Not too long ago, Mark Joyella, a reporter in the United States based in Orlando who happens to be an Arsenal FC supporter once said, “To support Arsenal is to exist in a state of near constant optimism bordering on complete emotional collapse“.
It is hard to question this description of what it is like to support Arsenal, it is important to understand why, and more importantly, how, so many Arsenal supporters’ supposed positive voluntary attachment to the club has in many cases, turned into a completely different monster of sorts – with fans displaying sentiments of anger, despair, disappointment, and so on. It has come to the point where one can literally see people ranting about how their lives have been utter shite and Arsenal’s performance in the recent past has been right at the heart of their problems.
When people go to the point of ranting about their lives after Arsenal might disappoint on the pitch, it is important to take a step back and truly understand what we, the fans, should expect from our voluntary relationship with our favoured clubs and teams. It is important to simply consider if all of this uncontrolled rage spewed onto the internet is really worth the trouble.
How did something that started out as fun and enjoyable – following a club as recreation or leisure from one’s other activities, turn into something where some supporters are almost better off not following the game at all seeing how negative their reactions can be? How do these supporters affect themselves by being so negative about something that they do to entertain themselves and relax?
I believe that the answer to this question is simple – to me, it all boils down to narratives, and the plots/subplots that construct this narrative. Narratives that influence and define relationships between clubs and their fans through mass media, narratives that involve individual relationships that could affect the way clubs and players are seen by their fans, and narratives created by the fans themselves to make their own connection to the club they support unique in its own way.
Simply put, narratives are stories. They are accounts of events that are in some way or the other connected to each other. Why are narratives important? Because they define our lives. Our lives will always be defined by how we as human beings recollect and recount our stories, and how we choose to, say, fluff them up as the happiest moment in our lives, or play them down as just another event in a series of disappointing occurrences.
– Narratives Define Our Lives –
To take a step back from how narratives are involved in sport and look at how narratives affect our lives, we, not just as fans of sports and sport teams and clubs, but as human beings, are naturally storytelling creatures. They are the means by which we rationally construct their world in order to understand, interact with, and control it.
However, as human beings, we also have a tendency to make events seem bigger and far more significant than they truly are. Kurt Vonnegut while talking about why people have a need for drama in their lives once said,
“People have been hearing fantastic stories since time began. The problem is, they think life is supposed to be like the stories. Because we grew up surrounded by big dramatic story arcs in books and movies, we think our lives are supposed to be filled with huge ups and downs! So people pretend there is drama where there is none.”
(to avoid going off-topic here, I’m going to sidestep his examples which were very illustrative of this concept (examples that you can read here if you wish to do so)
To summarize what he said – because we are constantly exposed to dramatic narratives that involve seemingly sizable highs and lows, we have an inherent need to make everything that might have occurred to us, seem bigger and far more important than it really is. We want to live the fairy tale life, or feel like we’re acting out a movie of sorts, and to make it seem that way, talk up everything that happens to us. This need also applies to situations when we as human beings approach story lines that are not directly related to ourselves; we tend to fluff them up because we like talking about stories that are sensationalist in nature and deal with big ups and downs.
But in reality, our lives really just drift along with normal things happening every day, week or year. We experience many ups and an equal number of downs, but rarely do we see something that’s really, really going to go down in history as an event that will never be forgotten by generations to come. Nothing so fantastic or terrible that it’ll be told for a thousand years.
– Narratives, Reactionists and the Media -
The unfortunate part is that every single media conglomerate understands that people construct literally everything they see or hear in the form of narratives, and use this to their advantage in every way possible – even if it means putting unnecessary twists to certain plots and subplots within the larger narrative. This might further aggravate fans and supporters – who of course, in most cases, do not stop for one second to think about what they read, hear or watch, and lap up pretty much everything the media spews out.
For instance, remember when Podolski came out and supposedly said that he was unhappy playing on the wing and wanted to be played up front not too long ago? Compare the original interview done by the Kölner Stadt-Anzeigerin here translated from German, and the numerous English media organizations that wrote stories about what he said, and it is clear how the latter have conveniently omitted a few lines from Podolski’s answer to make it seem like he was complaining, unhappy, or was urging Arsene Wenger to play him in the middle, while in fact, he was not.
The media understands that people are more likely (in the case of online media) to read pieces with headlines that seem surprising or shocking, headlines that play at the reader’s emotions in either a positive or negative manner as opposed to being just another ordinary article in the massive expanse that is the Internet. They understand that biased articles are more likely to find more viewers than unbiased pieces – because these are the fans that are more likely to react strongly to what they read about their club.
Take the way the Arsenal crisis-season narrative exploded after our loss to Norwich on the 20th of October. Plenty was said about how our title dreams were in tatters, or how a hammer blow was dealt to our title hopes. This was after our win against West Ham prior to the international break, and this is important to consider seeing how we were on a great run at this point.
Now take the way Manchester United’s season narrative has developed over the last two weeks – United struggled to beat Aston Villa and then lose to Norwich with the same scoreline at Carrow Road. You’d think there would be a fair bit of criticism of their problems.
But instead, all we see is the media talking about how United has merely slumped, or how Norwich earned a “shock” win, thus failing to bring to light the fact that they have had defensive issues for the entire season that they have barely papered over because of their attacking prowess. The statistics show that United has the second-worst defensive record this season in the top 8 (save for the Sp*rs who now have conceded 21 thanks to our brilliant 5-2 repeat at the Emirates), and this has not been explored or discussed in detail one bit. Man U have shipped 17 goals with 26 games to go. In the last 8 seasons, only twice have the champions conceded more than 30 goals, with the average being near the 29-goal mark – and United have already conceded 17!
Sensationalism is rampant across the every single manifestations of the media today, and while there is little we can do to change this, there is a lot we can do in terms of being critical of anything that we read, lest we react inappropriately to a piece that could be imprecise or worse, biased. Because the reach of the media is so widespread, it is impossible for us to simply ignore what is being said – instead, we must be critical of what we read or watch instead of simply reacting to what we read, hear or watch.
– Over-reacting and Arsenal –
If one associates the previously-discussed idea of how our larger-than-life narratives seem to define our lives, to how a sizable section of Arsenal fans relate themselves to their club, it is very possible to come to the conclusion that people are overreacting. Our recent form has left many supporters branding the team as lethargic and lackadaisical, along with the constant calls to “Sack the board!”, “Sack Arsene Wenger!”, “Wenger Out!”; anything along the lines of massive change really considering we’re a “club in crisis”, but this in my humble opinion, is the wrong way to react to our recent results for two primary reasons.
First of all, being relentless in one’s negativity towards the club that you supposedly support will never lead to anything constructive whatsoever. People going on and on about how they hate pretty much everything that the club represents at the moment without providing valuable, constructive, intellectual and viable options to improve our situation is pointless and leads to nothing.
Next, because it does absolutely no good to a person’s own self to be constantly angry and pissed off about something they claim to love. A lot of people claim that their anger stems from being “true supporters” who care about the club instead of being oblivious as to what is happening to Arsenal, but there are plenty of ways to love something without getting angry about it.
– Our Current Predicament –
As for Arsenal and our prevalent situation, we might be currently 9 points off the pace in the Premiership and to some that might mean we are already out of the running, but there are 26 games to go this season with 78 points up for grabs, we are 1 point off the top spot in our Champions League group, we are still in the reckoning for the FA Cup, and we are in the quarterfinals of the Capital One Cup. And its November.
Understandably, one might argue that we should have been in a far better position and things could keep changing for the worse, but with Szczesny and Gibbs possibly fit and raring to go, our starting eleven will be considerably stronger at the back, and with reports that Wenger is considering shaking things up tactically (one of our problems so far this season), there is still some hope that we can turn things around for the better.
One big reason to still have hope is the fact that the quality of our squad is not the problem as much as getting our players to work together is. For instance, on paper, a midfield of Arteta, Cazorla and Wilshere sounds very strong – but from our recent performances it is clear that haven’t played together enough to be able to work totally as an effective unit.
In the case of our defence, our back four has changed far too often for our players to feel comfortable playing in their positions, and our centre-backs are playing a number of games with a new keeper. And it is clear that Podolski, Giroud and Walcott have not formed the understanding that forwards need to have to be devastatingly effective – although the Fulham game showed signs that (at the very least) Walcott and Giroud are on the way to doing so (Giroud’s second header exemplifies this). This was further in evidence against Spurs of course.
Despite our poor showings after the last international break, I still believe that our squad has enough quality to mount a serious challenge once our players develop that missing chemistry of understanding how to play as an effective unit – how to truly play as a team.
– Conclusion –
To come back to the original question of how supporting a football club had started out from being something that was meant to be enjoyable to something that is hopefully not going to create blood pressure problems somewhere down the line for perennially angry supporters, it is my humble opinion that when people get angry or pissed off about a football club’s performances, they need to reassess their expectations of supporting a football club. As one of my favourite football writers, Brian Phillips, put it in his absolutely stunning piece “Your Stupid Rage” back in May 2011,
“The problem is that by doing so, you condemn yourself to a life of always being at least a little angry about a thing you supposedly love, a life of storing up slights and spinning them into bitter little stories, a life of basically hostile, suspicious, and un-fun commitment to a thing that only exists to give you joy.
The sole and entire point of sports is to enjoy sports; even if you think athletic competition has a deeper purpose, that it helps with moral instruction or enforcing community ties or whatever else, it’s only able to serve that purpose because it’s fun in the first place.
If your love of football has brought you to a point where you’re no longer really able to see the game as something wonderful and amazing except in narrow moments of unequivocal triumph, then you are doing it wrong, no matter how many kills you rack up on the internet.”
He eventually concluded –
“The secret is to care, I mean really care, about something other than your club. That thing can be the game itself, or the truth, or just being a reasonable person. You can care about something other than your club and still be totally supercommitted to your club. It doesn’t mean not supporting your team through thick and thin; it just means being able to tell the difference between thick and thin, and not thinking that your favourite forum, or your group of like-minded supporters, is so important that it throws reality on the wrong end of a greater-than sign. It means doing this for fun, and not for revenge or for a sense of deep-down defining identity, even if you’re a crazy tattooed ultra. You can be a crazy tattooed ultra and still be fine, for that matter. You just can’t be an idiot.”
“That, in the words of Martin Tyler, sums it all up.”
Thanks Adi for an alternative perspective to that the tabloid would offer and to the headlines which so ofetrn cause in fighting amongst Gooners. Ensure you follow Adi at @Themetalgooner on twitter.
Until next time thanks for reading.
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