Looking at the power of Arsenal fans

Last week, football taught us a valuable life lesson.

We live in a world where we are forever told that we have power to effect change via the democratic process, whilst simultaneously those with the money and power are working against the very notion. Indeed, selling us the idea that we can effect change is all part of their long-term strategy to deny the possibility. This is why, no matter how many elections and votes are held, mysteriously the same people, drawn from the same backgrounds, often interrelated by bloodlines and educational establishments, dominate and thus perpetuate the system which has served them so well. This is how the money keeps the money. How the power keeps the power.

For this to work, the powers-that-be have always deployed a distract, divide and rule policy. Keep the people occupied in the pursuit of worthless goals, sold to us as achievements, keep us as slaves to well-marketed materialism, co-opting just enough recruits to their success model to make it seem like it could be you next on the gravy train, while they turn us against each other, in order to further distract us from what is really going on.

If you’re annoyed about your neighbour scamming some money off the dole by claiming while working, if you’re obsessed with house prices and ladder-climbing, then that ensures you’re not focused on what the often anonymous or hidden movers and shakers of global capital are doing to further grow and entrench their wealth, nor see how they have inculcated us into a system to directly benefit a sliver of an elite, nor notice exactly how much of what were once national assets have been sold by the state to private speculators, stealing our faces right off our heads, whilst telling us our blindness was visionary. Preoccupy us with the small stuff, so we can’t see the big stuff. That’s their gig.

So what all these overlords fear most is that the people en masse spot what is going on and collectively organise against it. Spot that we’re being manipulated and duped, that we’re being sold an economic, social and power structure which actually oppresses us and isn’t a route to greater wealth and freedom. The dice was loaded from the start.

This uprising hasn’t happened because the levers of power and money are constantly being pulled to ensure it never does. Constantly working to suggest such a revolution is not needed, they paint their extremist philosophy as normal and the normal as extremist and anyway, it couldn’t possibly work. But this week, football showed us the way forward.

At Arsenal in recent weeks, we’ve seen what can be achieved by even a relatively modest degree of collective action. Although Arsenal FC, like some sort of Soviet propaganda machine, kept declaring the Emirates was almost full, based on season ticket sales, rather than actual bums on seats, it fooled no-one. We could see the truth.

Arsenal fans, by staying away from the Emirates, leaving swathes of empty seats, effectively hastened or even directly caused Arsene Wenger to be ousted by the board. It became untenable for the club to have a ground that looked so empty. It painted them as a unattractive, as failing, as dysfunctional. Many people had paid for their seats via season tickets, but were so uninterested, so disillusioned that they’d rather waste their money. That could not go on for long and the board were forced to persuade Wenger to decide to leave. Had they still been packing the ground, would that have happened? It seems unlikely. In a volte face of normality, for some it had become more a symbol of loyalty to the club to not attend, than to turn up and perpetuate the problem.

This has set a very important precedent. Put simply, if you don’t like your manager, or how your club is being run, then stay away. Stay away in large numbers for just a few weeks. That’s all it will take. Deploy your power. Do that and the club will buckle and give in to fans’ demands, or at least will make some sort of change.

This has been said many times before, whenever fans were disgruntled with a club or manager, but it has never been done before to this extent at this level. Some say 20% stayed away, some 30%. Not even a majority. But those empty seats are an incredibly powerful symbol. As Michael Cox said on the Totally Football Show, “the image of the club was starting to look shabby”.

There isn’t a club of any size or import who can survive the disinterest of fans. It doesn’t matter how much money they have, nor how much status. In fact, the more money and status they have, the more vulnerable they are to fans staying away, because it diminishes them in the eyes of global football very speedily. And being diminished makes them less attractive to media, players and managers, and that in turn has financial and egotistical consequences, so it cannot be allowed to happen, not in the top flight at the very least.

Attendance numbers are every club’s soft white underbelly and fans should have no qualms anymore about how effective their latent power really is. Clubs should be scared of the fans. No. Actually, they should be terrified of them. When they trot out platitudes that it’s the fans’ club, they don’t mean it, but that doesn’t make it untrue. Fans have the ultimate power, they just never used it. Until now.

Football might have many things to thank Arsene Wenger for but his intransigence provoking the fans to absent themselves and thus causing his removal, is perhaps the most significant and important of all. Could this be the start of a new era of real fan power?

We are the people and we are powerful when we are united. And no-one is insulated from that power when we use it responsibly and en masse. No-one. Those in charge might want to bear that in mind a little more often.

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