In the summer of 2011, I converted from casual fan of this English sport to an emotionally attached supporter of Arsenal Football Club. I wasn’t around to enjoy The Invincibles. The days of Henry, Bergkamp, Vieira and Adams are only YouTube history lessons for me. The same goes for the 1989 moments told in the film “Fever Pitch.” Having missed all of the glory, but being keenly aware of it, I doubt my level of frustration with today’s Arsenal is less than those that experienced the euphoria first hand.
Arsenal had given me a thrill that previous spring with their comeback win against Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League. Celtic’s recent achievement brought back this memory. At that time, I didn’t know enough about the sport to realize that was only the first leg of a two game match. But after that match, my interest in American sports began to wane dramatically. I wasn’t yet committed to any EPL club. My last enjoyment of an American sport was the 2011 NBA Finals. As I watched the Dallas Mavericks win that coveted trophy, which I had waited 20 years for, I knew that would probably be the last basketball game I would watch. The bug for English football had been planted.
All of the matches were so much more exciting than any American sport. Ninety plus minutes uninterrupted, commercial free action had its hook in me. The constant breaks and commercials are to blame for my divorce from the NBA, NFL, and MLB.
FOX Soccer had become my new girlfriend. That summer of 2011, my TV was fixed permanently on that channel as they showed replays of UEFA CL and EPL matches.
As the 2011/2012 season approached, I felt I needed to make a choice of which English club to support. However, it turned out there never was a choice.
Of all the replays I watched that summer, I had not seen these matches live and didn’t know the results, Arsenal had the greatest affect on my pulse rate. Plus Arsenal were under constant attack from the UK media. The competence of their long-term manager was being questioned daily. It seemed (at the time) he was being attacked for not matching the spending power of an oil sheik and a Russian billionaire. My views on this aspect have changed as I became more informed, but its definitely true that the UK media’s criticism of Arsenal played a role in cementing my loyalty to the club. I will also admit that “Anyone but United” played a role just as I had always rooted for any team but the New York Yankees. I couldn’t respect myself for jumping on the bandwagon of the clear favorites.
Though I had converted to a sport that was much more entertaining than American sports, I do prefer the way leagues are managed over here. Every American team has a reasonable chance of winning the big prize. It’s not just down to money. Due to the salary caps, the trophy hunt has more to do with the skill of management than the size of the transfer budget. If this were true in the EPL, Everton would be winning trophies every year in my opinion. Had Everton been the first club to give me a thrill, they might be my team today. Even with Financial Fair Play, the type of parity seen by US sports will probably never happen.
With Arsenal, I find myself caught between admiring them for trying to compete while balancing the books, while simultaneously being furious with them for not spending big when they could. The board claims the money is there should Wenger choose to use it. If this is true, It seems he is managing their resources as if it were his own personal estate and he is preparing for the next Great Depression. This would be admirable indeed…. much more so if we were competing for the league. But Arsenal have another choice: their own Russian Billionaire. They will not even hear what Alisher Usmanov is willing to do.
Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis says in two years the club will be able to compete with the super rich clubs. This plan is already showing signs of failure as Chelsea just reported a profit and they spend huge every transfer window.
So why not bring in Usmanov and play catchup before the massive fan base erodes, and the opportunities for premium commercial deals that go along with it?
Committed long term fans may become indifferent and stop renewing their season tickets, or buying jerseys and taking vacations to the UK.
In times like these, I wish I could have remained an uncommitted neutral. Unfortunately for me, my loyalty is sealed. I can enjoy matches as a neutral but will I ever see Arsenal win a big trophy? The future awaits.