The Thing about (My) Pettiness...
The past month or so has been a terrible one for Arsenal supporters like me.
We knew this would be a transition year and hence (we believed) we’d managed our expectations accordingly. But as the end of the season approached, we found ourselves in pole position to do something fantastic (for where the team was, anyway). We had a real shot at finishing 3rd in the league, thereby securing a coveted spot in the Champions League (very necessary to attract the best players), and we had the chance to bring home a European trophy, having reached the Europa League Final.
As it happens, we threw away both opportunities. Not just by virtue of being beaten by better teams on the day but by our own lack of commitment, lack of consistency and lack of mental strength. At the end, we finished 5th in the league and were pretty much humiliated in the Europa League Final by a team we had it well within us to beat.
Season over it would have seemed, but, in actual fact, not quite. Because our “season” wasn’t actually over. There was still one more game to be played - one that didn’t even involve Arsenal, but involved, rather, the passions and desires and rivalries so much at the heart of supporting a club like Arsenal: the Champions League Final this past weekend, the biggest trophy that club football has to offer, where Liverpool would take on Tottenham Hotspurs.
The game was relevant not because we cared about either team - we don’t. And not because we wanted to see two English clubs represent English football well - please, we’re so much pettier than that.
It’s because we hate Spurs. With a vengeance. It’s a rivalry that goes back for decades and, admittedly, one that is lost on many newer supporters of Arsenal (and possibly Spurs as well, but who cares about them?). It’s a hatred that was especially strong for decades but then waned in the 90s and 2000s, when, well, Spurs were just crap.
In recent years, though, Spurs have built a very good team, their best in decades. (Not one that’s good enough to win anything, but a very, very good one nevertheless.) And it’s one that’s spurred talk of a power shift in North London, which league standings suggest may be the case (though I prefer to think of it as a temporary hiatus).
If you’re an Arsenal fan, you hate to hear this kind of talk, because, well, Spurs are terrible. Why? Because they’re irritating: they raise their game when they play us, but then promptly lose against lower table opposition the following week. Because this is a club that, if they beat us in a particular game, would then put out DVDs to celebrate the result. Because, for many years, their players would talk smack (led by Harry Kane, an Arsenal Academy cast-off) about Arsenal, when we barely even noticed their existence. And now, with a little success, it was suddenly a “power shift”.
So, this weekend, most Arsenal fans found ourselves doing something quite alien. We found ourselves supporting Liverpool, cheering them on to beat Spurs. In what is widely regarded as one of the most dire Champions League finals ever (no, I’m not bitter), they did the right thing and won, beating Spurs 2-0.
Liverpool - European Champions. My distaste in writing that is tempered by the sheer horror I would have felt if the word “Liverpool” were to be replaced by “Spurs”.
By the fact that we would have had to endure the self-righteous chants of Spurs supporters (both online and off) again talking about the power shift.
By the fact that they would have a trophy we’ve never won (and don’t have a chance or hope of winning for the foreseeable future).
By the fact that maybe, just maybe, that power shift was real?
But probably most accurately, it was because we’d have to face up to the fact that we were well short of the mark that we ourselves set years ago for high quality, excellent football.
Because at the end of the day, another team winning a coveted trophy - one that we’ve longer for, for decades - isn’t actually anything to do with us. Since we weren’t in it, we, as Arsenal supporters, shouldn’t care who wins. We should support the team that played the best football (which, on the day, it appears neither team did).
But we do care. Because it allows us to shift our focus from ourselves to a mutual enemy.
To ignore the issues we need to grapple with for another day.
To alleviate our pain (as a result of our own shortcomings).
In a few days, though, it won’t matter. In a few days, we’ll realize that reality hasn’t actually changed. In a few days, we’ll have to wake up, face up and shape up to the challenges ahead of us.
That no matter how much we avoid our problems, no matter where we shift the focus, no matter how satisfying it is in the short term, at some point, we need to look inward, and ultimately do the hard work of solving our own problems.