The opening week of the football season always feels like normality is being restored for us football obsessives. Everything feels fresh and hope abounds for our teams’ prospects for the campaign ahead. Mrs Football Nerd’s and my journey got off to a relatively early start thanks to our continuing dedication to the Leyton Orient cause: not only were the O’s live on television for the opening match of the National League, this was then to be followed up by two home games within a week.
Somewhat frustratingly after a creditable draw away at title favourites Salford City, Orient contrived to concede late equalizers in both of their home games, throwing away four valuable points in their quest to return to the promised land of the Football League.
As disappointing as those results were, just being back in the familiar matchday routine and catching up with our associates in the East Stand has felt strangely comforting. In many ways the results have almost started to become if not irrelevant, then certainly less important than the experience of going. The level of football may be a significant way off the pace and technical levels of the higher echelons of the game but that gives it a character that is far more attractive than the soulless, money-driven Premier League.
As I wrote on these pages last week (https://football-nerd.org/2018/08/10/football-nerd-weekly-ramblings-the-premier-league-is-back-will-anyone-be-able-to-stop-manchester-city/), once again the top six of the Premier League looks pretty much set, with even the order in which they will finish offering little room for debate. The results from the opening weekend having done little to dispel this theory.
Having said that, for the first time in a very long time, there has been a level of anticipation amongst us Gooners as we head into the unknown. With a new Head Coach, a new approach and some intriguing new signings, hopes were high that while success might not be guaranteed, we could at least hope for a break in the sterile monotony that was so much the hallmark of the later Wenger years. Then came the announcement that majority shareholder, Stan Kroenke, was going to buy up the remaining shares he didn’t already own and take the club into private ownership.
While we can only ever speculate (read: guess) at Kroenke’s intentions for the club, it is fair to say that his involvement to date has far from endeared him to the Arsenal faithful. Unlike his counterparts at Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and even Manchester United despite having endured a similar process through the Glazer takeover; Kroenke seems to have little interest in achieving success on the pitch. Essentially, sole ownership will mean that Kroenke will be able to do what he wants with a club that he sees as being no more than another cash-cow asset in his portfolio to potentially be milked as he sees fit.
In our customary text-message analysis of the state of Arsenal while I was at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, my cousin, the instigator behind my Arsenal support in the first place, suggested that he, like many others, was getting bored with the TV-led, money-mad Premier League and quite liked the idea of getting into proper grassroots football, his local options being Altrincham FC or Warrington Town. More and more it seems that traditional football fans, increasingly disillusioned with the direction that the top division is taking, are seeking solace in the reassuring familiarity of the lower levels of the football pyramid.
Being back at the Emirates for the start of another season it struck me just how far-removed the experience is from the game that I fell in love with. It will never sit comfortably with me to be treated as a customer rather than a supporter, with the club’s only interest in me being how much cash they can convince me to part with while I am there.
Obviously it would be anathema to any true football fan to abandon the beloved team they have followed for the vast majority of their conscious lives; and tradition, habit and a love for both football and my club will probably mean that I will never relinquish my Arsenal season ticket, but more and more it feels like something is missing.
Thankfully, assuming there isn’t a miraculous upturn in fortunes which sees Orient climb the ladder and claim their place amongst the exalted company of the Premier League (we can dream can’t we?), then a safe haven exists where things are still familiarly just as they used to be. I genuinely fear the consequences of the soulless direction in which the greedy club owners and administrators continue to take our beloved game and would urge anyone feeling increasingly disenchanted with modern top-level football to get themselves down to their local lower league or non-league team. I promise you won’t regret it and I can guarantee your support, and not just your hard-earned cash, will be more than appreciated!