What is happening inside a person’s head when they watch GB News? Are they nodding away, like some zealot inspired by the words of someone they long to be their mentor? Are they feeding off the bile and prejudice? Do they genuinely feel they are considering an objective assessment of whatever news story is being twisted into their ears?
Most probably, none of the above, although option two seems more than a tad tempting to believe. In all likelihood, they are simply absorbing the nonsense spouted forth. Unquestioning. Like a dog that sits on command, whether or not the instruction is a reasonable, or sensible, one.
But who are we to complain? We’re football fans. We too exist unquestioning in our loyalty. Absorbing whatever comes from our club. Loyal to the end. Even when we raise objections, and at Arsenal, that’s more than an occasional occurrence, we do not do it with any real malice (mostly) and certainly our tendency to complain is merely an unfortunate trait, a sense of frustration taking solid form. Proof can be found by comparing Twitter of this season and the four or five that foreran it. Yes, there are still moans. There are still occasional tweets stating that Arteta must go, or complaining about Granit Xhaka, or Gabriel or Ben White. But they are from silly, attention seeking nine year olds sitting on the table right in front of the teacher. The ones who shout out answers without putting up their hands, desperate for their voices to be heard. Not because they have anything to say, or even know the answer, but just because if they are speaking they hope others will shut up, and they will catch Miss’s eye. Oh, they’ll be in trouble, earning the ire of their peers, maybe even losing their break times, but it’s worth it for their miniscule moment in the spotlight.
Like GB News presenters, I suppose.
What I have to say, though, is not like that. My whinge is legitimate. Honestly. It is. I wouldn’t waste your time otherwise. Like every football fan across the country, the world even, I love my team. As unquestioningly as that person sitting in front of the TV while Anne Widdecombe spews out nonsense. Or that weirdly intolerant Vicar utters some abomination or other. (Surely, he’s not really a man of the cloth, is he? He seems to personify everything we wouldn’t want in a person of God – prejudice, narrow mindedness, uninclusiveness, dislike of anything different to his own narrow field of acceptance – more of a football fan than a Reverend, in fact.)
But if I love my team, I am not sure at the moment I can say the same of the hierarchy at the club. I do not include Mr Arteta, or even Mr Edu, in this criticism. They are doing a fine job (although like many, I have to admit to some disquiet in the early days. It’s nice to be proved wrong, sometimes.) I am not even sure that my anger is directed at Cool-Dude Kroenke or son. Although, I’d quite like it to be. No, it’s the faceless ones who have upset this normally mellow soul. Those making decisions around the functionality of Arsenal FC. Something which is creaking in an increasingly worrying way at the moment. If it were my car, I’d be on the phone to the garage straight away requesting a service. Except, if Arsenal were a car, it would be a Rolls Royce. A 1970s one, classic in design and lines, yet still astonishingly adept for current times. So, given the cost of a service, perhaps I’d live with the rattle, pretend it wasn’t there, that it is road noise. Until, that is, it became unbearable.
That is what is happening. It’s not just me that feels it. There was a tweet posted the other day from a season ticket holder who suffers a disabling illness. No doubt the hierarchy (I refuse to call them anything else) would like to claim that they do a lot for disabled supporters. I am sure that in some ways they do. But sometimes they seem to forget that the experience of going to a game does not begin and end with climbing the steps to the stadium. We have to get to the ground. We don’t all live in Ashburton Road either. For the man in question, walking any distance is not a serious proposition. Neither is public transport. The only option is to drive. There are around a hundred disabled parking spots under the stadium, apparently. This gentleman understands that there is a lot of demand for them, and sometimes he will be unlucky in his attempts to secure one. But as a season ticket holder he has managed to get to precisely zero games this season. When he attempts to book one of the parking spots, the club does not even reply. That, hierarchy, is outrageous. Whilst you might not be the actual person who sends out the email (or not), part of your job is to make sure that somebody does.
Then there is the catering. It is truly shocking. My last game was the Everton one. What a performance from the team. But I travel a fairly long way. I set off at three for an evening game, and thought I would have something to eat in the stadium. Fool. I never learn. Burger and chips with a plastic beaker of brown stuff and sugar. (Actually, I think it was sugar free, which means the sweetness is completely unbearable). Cold burger, lukewarm chips covered, smothered, drowned in salty seasoning that meant I ate three, thought I was going to throw up, and the rest went in the bin. That’s a small mortgage down the drain.
This all leads up to my current, widely shared, gripe. Like many, I want to see my team play. I can’t go to every game, if only I could. The next one I could attend, and probably the last this season, is against Leeds on Saturday. I have been trying for three weeks to secure a seat. Hours every day spent refreshing the ticketing page. Knowing that any moment that annoying little sign saying ‘Map Unavailable’ will come up. Yesterday, I queued for more than an hour (not, I should say, for the match I wanted, but because another game came on sale). Finally, it is my turn. Immediately, the site fails and the moment is lost. An hour plus wasted. This, judging by comments on the aforementioned Twitter, is a regular occurrence.
It’s not that there are few tickets coming up. That’s acceptable, but it is the failure of the hierarchy to stop seats being fished out the water by touts. There’s no other word for these agencies. I spent a bit of time researching yesterday. The cheapest ticket I could find for the Leeds game was £178. It only costs $130 to go to a once in a lifetime Billy Joel concert. That’s from an agency too. But the Americans won’t put up with stupid prices. Apparently, tickets for the final game of the season, against Wolves, are appearing at £2000 a throw. Note, for the £178 ticket all that is guaranteed (ha!) is that the seat is in the home section. Other than that, it could be anywhere. Somehow, I suspect not a nice halfway line spot in the club level section. Three hundred and thirty five seats were available on the site. 335! I looked at a few more of these exploitative sites. Each had well over a hundred tickets available.
According to that veritable source of reliable information, Football London, the club are aware of the problem and are doing something about it. Certainly, to get a ticket now you need to enter a code, and frequently a little box appears for us to tick because, apparently, we have been moving through the website at ‘superhuman’ speed. (Trust me, I do nothing at even human, let alone superhuman, speed these days.) Plus the Ticket Exchange option appears not to work as claimed (Ticket Exchange is where season ticket holders who cannot attend legitimately resell their tickets, at a fee taken by the club.) The website claims that only when a red button appears will tickets be for sale. I have seen them advertised without the red button (although am yet to get to one before it is sold! – Despite my ‘superhuman’ pace. Equally, frequently the red button appears, indicating tickets are available, but none come up either in a list or on the map of the stadium. Weird. In the end, frustrated to the point of impotence, having wasted about a full day in total over the last three weeks, constantly refreshing the Ticket Exchange site, I emailed the club in the hope of at least getting an explanation as to what was going on. Their reply was quick enough, but completely misunderstood my message, assuming I was a different category of member, and wanted a ticket for a different match. It was as though they had no more than scanned my message. It seemed that, again, the club did not care about a loyal fan who has supported the team for over half a century. Still, unlike my disabled peer mentioned above, at least I got a reply, just it was irrelevant and unhelpful. I emailed back to explain but was ignored. Again, the faceless hierarchy might not be the people who respond to such communications as mine, but they have a duty to ensure responses are at least about the subject raised.
But there is so much more that could be done simply to stop the touts. These are seats that are appearing all around the ground. Surely, then, they must be coming mostly from one of three sources. From season ticket holders, from members who have purchased when their ticket level goes on sale or from people associated with the club who have access to tickets. Do seats go on general sale any more? It seems not, at least not this season for Premier League matches. The hierarchy states with beguiling sincerity that only tickets purchased from authentic sources, i.e. the club itself, are guaranteed. Completely disingenuous. We’ve all seen numerous visitors closely examining a piece of paper as they search for their seats.
It is so easy to stop this mistreatment of members. Make every entry only possible via the membership card. The problem is solved in an instant. If there are general sale tickets which a member of the public might legitimately get hold of then there won’t be many. So make a single entry point for such ticket holders. Then the seat can be checked against who should be sitting there. If it is somebody other than the person presenting their paper ticket, the original holder simply loses their season ticket, or their membership, or if it is the embarrassment of an official misusing their position, their job or their right to get hold of tickets. Apparently the club are trying to do this, and have banned a number of people. Except, the problem is getting worse. The two facts do not tie together.
Because Arsenal is not GB News, it is more like the BBC. A great institution. Just, at the moment like Auntie it is allowing certain elements to tarnish its once respected name. Its audience too, us, are not GB News viewers. We think. And we are getting fed up. Having spent the last few years attending games when it wasn’t always the best experience, now the good times are back we want to be able to get into the party. We’ve earned that right, and it’s wrong that the house is full of fly by night glory seekers who have the means to get through the door, but not the passion to properly enjoy what is inside.
Anyway, it’s been a while since I played the ‘Refresh the Website at Superhuman Speed’ game, so time I got back to it.
Come on hierarchy. Sort it out. Or resign. The alternative is that we members will withdraw our support. Not for the team, that is impossible, but for the financial contribution we make through our pointless membership fees. And that will really hurt our club.