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An article from the beginning of 98/99 season


Fairweather friends fail to reach Fever Pitch
            By Robert Hardman
WHATEVER happened to Fever Pitch?
Nick Hornby's portrayal of Arsenal fans as a bunch of diehard devotees who would risk life, limb and livelihood to support their beloved Gunners looks rather false. Judging by the conduct of the fans on Sunday - booing, heckling and leaving early as their team succumbed to the awful indignity of a 1-1 draw - the sort of Arsenal fan depicted by Hornby is a dying breed.
It is time for a new Arsenal novel called Fit of Pique. It would focus on today's breed of Arsenal fan, a thirtysomething chap from middle management in a rather natty designer bomber jacket who has come to football a little late in life. He doesn't remember the long, uneventful years when his team were called Boring, Boring Arsenal because he wasn't watching football then. He vaguely remembers names like Pat Jennings ("great striker, wasn't he?") and Bertie Mee ("one of our greatest defenders ever, erm, I think").

Whenever the topic of football arises socially, New Arsenal Fan makes a big noise about his slavish devotion to Arsenal but he suddenly goes quiet when the subject of away travel is mentioned. He once went to watch Arsenal play at Spurs but he spent the whole match worrying whether he would find the roof of his new convertible slashed. In the last few years, since he decided that football was a cool thing to follow, he would make occasional trips to Highbury. There was always a mate in corporate finance or marketing who could find him a ticket. And thanks to the abolition of those dreadful old terraces, there was never any risk of being sat next to anyone too frightful.

This season, though, New Arsenal Fan has a season ticket. He sees it as a clever investment. "Now we've won the Double, there'll never be any spare tickets going so I can always flog my seat if I can't make it to the game," he told his mates when he splashed out for his season ticket.
But now, horror of horrors, he feels cheated. He only bought the blasted season ticket because he wanted to watch a team that wins all the time. And what does he get for his money? A lousy 1-1 draw and a miserable fourth place in the League. At this rate, they won't even be in the Cup final let alone the winners. Next season, they might even be in the humiliating position of playing in that noddy competition, the UEFA Cup!
What kind of an investment was that?

New Arsenal Fan knows the problem with the team. As a businessman himself, he can see that Arsène Wenger should have gone into the marketplace during the summer and bought the three most expensive strikers in the world. Simple.

As Fit of Pique reaches its close, we see Arsenal Fan rapidly falling out of love with his club. He decides to sell off the rest of his season ticket at a discount to one of those sad old-style fans who will watch their team play any old rubbish. Then, as the 2002 World Cup approaches and everyone is talking about football again, he can shop around for the new Best Team in Britain and start supporting them. With any luck, it might even be Arsenal again.

ARSENAL fans were, of course, incensed by Arsène Wenger's remarks on Sunday. "Perhaps we gave the fans too much last season," he said. "If you eat caviar every day, sometimes it is difficult to come back to sausages and mash."

Down at my club, Portsmouth, the fans and the players would be very happy with either sausages or mash. The situation is so bad that the Professional Footballers' Association have had to step in to pay the wage bill while the club straddles the relegation zone. Oddly, though, the fans have not responded by booing the players or walking out mid-match. They have a very different tactic. It is called cheering even more loudly. It worked when Pompey were in similar trouble last season and the fans are doing it again. It is amazing what can be achieved on an empty stomach.