Friday, October 26, 2012

Arsenal v Schalke

The Germans always bring a good crowd. I saw Dortmund play here last year, and their fans were the same as Schalke's - energetic, loud and uncannily well-drilled. It's almost as if the Germans are suckers for organisation. Someone conducts them, and they en masse do their thing. Waving their scarves en masse. Jumping up and down en masse. Going "Yo!" or the German equivalent en masse. And their singing goes on for ever. None of this twice round & out, quickly, for fear of being the last man singing; instead they repeat a refrain for ten minutes, the drummer leading them off and the effect is almost meditative.

Away fans are generally louder and better organised than the home mob, especially in Europe, where the evening kick off gives the visitors an entire day of travelling to get drunk in, whereas the hosts are mostly straight from work, a few pints on the way if they're lucky, and none at the ground. Of course some home fans - those in the lower leagues, or at the unfashionable end of the Premiership - are all about the roar. Portsmouth fans once so impressed Thierry Henry, as their team was crushed 5-0 at Fratton Park, that he gave them a special mention on the BBC. They were doing what the Germans were doing: singing throughout, though the Germans didn't have the decency to concede five.

It's something about supporting a team as opposed to watching them. If you support them, as a fan, you're energised in the cause, you're yelling and shouting and chanting because for a start your team dearly needs the help and also because even if you can't win - or especially if you can't win - on the pitch, at least on the terrace singing "your support is fucking shit" will stick one over your rival fans. But club success breeds a different fan, who doesn't so much support as expect, and when their expectations are dashed then they deride, and they're the ones paying £60 a match at Arsenal, the deriders. Sixty quid for a comfy seats and Wengertainment on the pitch. Wengertainment - which used to imply astonishing football and now implies astonishing shooting of your own foot - doesn't really lend itself to crowd passion, it inspires reverence, sitting back and absorbing, not yelling your head off in the hope your shout can somehow draw the ball goalwards.

But then Wengertainment's taken a lot of knocks over the last ten years, a steady sandpapering of a once flawless idol, and the buying of second-rate polish hasn't fooled anyone, not least the crowd, who booed at the final whistle, booed their own team's mediocre showing. I don't blame them booing, but it's hard to imagine that well-drilled German unit booing even if Arsenal had turned up and blasted Schalke off the park. Even if we do that back in Schalke, I imagine (I might be wrong) that the Germans would take too much pride in their own performance, the fans I mean, too much pride and dignity to be caught booing their own team. I mean that's the end then isn't it, you've lost, as a fan, when you boo your own team. You're not fulfilling the fan's role. You're booing them. You're not a supporter, you're something else. An expector, perhaps. Some might say - and I would sympathise with them - that their support comes in the form of sixty bloody quid a game - and here again the Germans stand out, with their ticket prices about what ours were when Wenger first arrived - so once you've supported the team, by keeping it afloat, you can bloody well let a bomb off in the stadium and it doesn't discount it and that's the football we've got ourselves.

The Highbury Library and the boo boys won't be solved by Arsenal winning stuff again, nor by them losing stuff again. Standing would help at least allow those inclined to choir to congregate together, but who knows where we can find the attitude of supporting, of cheering them on, instead of expecting, of booing them off.