In Tuesday afternoon’s Football 365 mailbox, an anonymous Arsenal fan made an unusual confession:
“I’m one of at least twenty or so Arsenal fans I know personally who are genuinely happy for Spurs – a really good club, properly run/managed, good young players, great football and with a silent majority of good fans and some fantastic players.”
The letter continued in this vain, and as I read it, it struck a chord.
I wrote about the shifting North London rivalry before the derby in November, and it seemed this fan was expressing something I’ve been feeling for a while now. Simply put: I think I’m starting to hate Arsenal less.
I know this isn’t something we are supposed to ever admit to, but I’m genuinely curious to know if any other Spurs fans think the same way.
Of course, the reflex reaction to such a suggestion will be along the lines of “fuck no, you closet Gooner” — but read what I have to say. You don’t have to acknowledge it if you don’t want to, but be honest now, deep down, are you feeling something similar too?
Now, this sentiment is suspended around North London derbies. In the words of Namond from The Wire, all Spurs fans are ready to saddle up come with it. But I’m talking about all those other weeks, all that time spent thinking way too much about football, all those hours spent on Twitter or Reddit or actually, what’s the expression, talking to people.
We still take joy in Arsenal losing. But there is less need for this schadenfreude with our results and performances so good. It hurts when we see Arsenal above us (OK, so they aren’t at this very moment) in the table or winning things, but just a little less now it finally appears we are going places. It should be depressing seeing Arsenal landing global megastars like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, but it isn’t really as we know Arsenal fans would far rather have a Harry Kane of their own.
Part of this changing sentiment is due to our changing fortunes. But there is more to it than that. For starters, there is plenty of dislike to spread around in the Premier League as it stands today,
Take Manchester City, once a fellow traveller with an even stronger nihilistic streak than we ever had, now transformed into a vacuous global mega brand toadying to the whims of an Abu Dhabi sheikh with nothing better to occupy his money or time. Then there is Manchester United, flinging money about in grotesque fashion without an original thought in whoever is supposed to be running the club’s head.
Worse, though, are Chelsea and West Ham. Chelsea have long been odious — that dirty Russian money, Jose Mourinho setting the tone of the club either in body or in spirit, everything about John Terry. But West Ham, whose Olympic Stadium deal with the British taxpayer is the type of hardcore shafting normally reserved for Sullivan and Gold’s publishing days, are coming up hard on the rails.
The rivalries with Chelsea and West Ham have always been asymmetric — they’ve hated us more than we hate them, if only because we need to save something special for Arsenal. But now, I wonder if this is starting to change just a little.
At this point you may try to argue that part of the dynamic is that Arsenal fans lack passion — this is certainly a charge that gets leveled at them. I disagree with this assessment of Goonerism: they may lack songs, but there is still plenty of passion.
It is just that the passion is expressed in often hilarious ways. Arsenal Fan TV is unparalleled, despite the efforts of others to piggyback off it. Things like this happen when Arsenal fans appear on radio phone-in shows, repeatedly. This guy exists. Even Arsene Wenger has taken to mocking the fans over their obsession with online polls.
Can you imagine what it must be like supporting Arsenal with Piers Moron’s attention-seeking tweets reverberating around your timeline every match? You can mock Goonerism, but it is hard to hate it because it is just too funny. And it is far less offensive than what passes for banter elsewhere.
Much of the Arsenal outpourings are centered on Wenger, and as Spurs fans we can at least understand where these feelings are coming from. Where Arsenal have Wenger, we have Daniel Levy. There is something similar about these two men — such obsessives, and so blinkered, dominating their respective clubs for so long. We understand that internal conflict that Wenger creates — the frustration that he may be holding the club back, the fear of what may have happened without him. It’s a sort of footballing Stockholm Syndrome we know all too well as Spurs fans.
There are similarities between how the clubs are going about their business beyond these two individuals. Like Arsenal, Spurs are having to self-fund a vast stadium project — no taxpayer freebies for us, or vanity investment from our resident oligarch. We are both doing things the hard way off the pitch, and the right way on it with two of the most prolific academies (even if Arsenal have struggled to generate first-team calibre talent in recent years) and a commitment to attacking football. Compared to what is happening elsewhere, again it is hard to hate.
We need to start finishing above Arsenal, mind. On Tuesday night, while I understand the reflexive sentiment, there was something a little embarrassing about all those league tables being tweeted about showing Spurs ahead on goal difference. Like the Gooners can’t respond with any final table from the past 20 years and win that argument.
I’m not counting any chickens this season, especially with Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin returning soon. St Totteringham’s Day may well come again, but it won’t grate as much as it used to.
For me, the nadir will always be that moment Arsenal’s soon-to-be “Invincibles” celebrated winning the title at White Hart Lane in 2004. There will be never be a more sickening moment than that, and Arsenal fans will always have it over us. The only thing that will change it is Harry Kane and Co doing the same at The Emirates.
But memories fade. Thierry Henry is now an embarrassingly bad pundit on Sky Sports, Patrick Viera has taken Abu Dhabi City’s oil money, Sol Campbell is still Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole is still Ashley Cole. Twelve years on and Arsenal haven’t won a title since.
Arsenal and Spurs — we’re cats and dogs. We’ll always be mortal enemies, but that doesn’t mean we are constantly at each other’s throats, or that our interests don’t occasionally overlap.
The way things stand, I’m hating Arsenal less at the moment. Just a little, but nonetheless it is noticeable. There’s nothing to say it won’t come roaring back.
I know this is dangerous territory, even giving voice to it, but it’s something I’ve been feeling lately and this is my blog. Be honest now, isn’t there a little part of you that feels the same way?
Thanks for reading, I welcome any thoughts either below the comment line or through Twitter.