From “Arsene who?” – To “you know who” by Charles Veritie
The date is Saturday 17th August 1996. Gooners not on holiday are gathering at Highbury for the first match of the new season and its against Taxpaidfor aka ‘wet spam’ aka West Ham.
The BBC are there to greet them for there is fun to be had at their expense. They interview the fans and get this gem. “This club is going nowhere it’s got a youth team coach for a manager (Pat Rice). How did that come about?
Before the start of season 1995 – 96 Bergkamp and Platt arrived at Highbury. In the last game of the season, in the last few minutes of the game, they both scored and won us a place in the UEFA Cup. In the league we finished 5th
Just another ordinary season of going nowhere. Well not quite ordinary for you see before the season we hired Bruce Rioch and after the season we fired him.
Mobile phones were ‘Brick Phones’, too big, too heavy and too expensive.
The internet was limited to universities and their professors.
The day’s bubble gum pundits were confined to the terraces, press, TV and radio.
Despite all the speculation the dawn of the new season arrived and we were managerless which is how it was we had a ‘Youth team coach’ for a manager!
The bubble gum pundits were at Highbury to revel in the Gooners despair, as then as today!
In our frustration at going nowhere we could not have known what one man in the inner sanctum of the club, new. That is, The Boardroom had morphed into a bedroom. Out voted once, he was determined to get his man, the second time round. Looking back, the rest is history back then looking forward the rest was a mystery.
In 1996 the Premier League was still in its infancy.
For news of football outside of England you needed a highly magnified spyglass to read the small print, if you knew where to look for it.
In the eyes of football’s blue suits and the English media ‘Johnny Foreigner’ was and for many still is ignorant on all matters football.
So it came as a shook to the system to learn of a Frenchman being hyped as the new manager.
But before we go any further lets take a look at the Cup Final that took place on the 16th May 1987.
Spuds v Coventry. I was on honeymoon that Saturday afternoon, so as we tramped the streets of a town in Crete for a bar showing the match I was constantly reminded ‘its not Arsenal’ She didn’t understand that constantly hearing its not Arsenal was as much as an irritation to me as my wanting to watch the game was an irritation to her. Saturday night proved to be a lonely night.
What we didn’t know then was that game was to be spuds Saint Glen Hoddles’s last game for them for he transferred to Monaco, where he went on to win a cup final and a league winners medal.
I thought Monaco a flea bit club in southern France, why? My limited research led me to discover the name of the manager – Arsene Wenger. From then on I followed the fortunes of Arsene Wenger the man who took St Glen from spuds. ‘Merci Arsene’.
Back to 1996 the season underway and ‘going nowhere’ Arsenal buy two French players. We feasted our eyes for the first time on Patrick Vieira. Then the Arsene Wenger hype became a reality.
Remember ‘Arsene who?’ St. Glen, could have told them, he knew what was coming. We didn’t.
At Arsenal the refrain was ‘win or lose we are on the booze’ and much of football was the same. Planned drinking sessions were replaced by the Arsene diet revolution.
Training and coaching went from hit and miss to professionist detail with nothing left to chance.
After Arsene had won the Double in 1998 David Dein said ‘We hoped to win the league in three seasons but never this.’ It wasn’t that we won a gong, it was how we had won a gong. It was the revolution on the pitch we had gone from the dour defense of George Graham to dream, dream Arsene goals.
These Arsene revolutions gave us the success we craved.
This one focused on the youth training, which was revolutionised.
This Arsene revolution proved to be the state of the art training facilities and medical center.
After 93 years at Highbury, ‘Home of football’, we left home. But for the money we moved to, The Arsene Wenger Stadium.
In 2008 a new chief executive officer was needed and so it was that in January 2009 known only by those in the inner sanctum, Ivan Gazidis found his place. Number 2 at the helm of Arsenal.
Life after the Arsene revolutions was proving a little difficult.
Into the big world surrounding Arsenal had come the closed shop PGMOL controlling the game’s referees and led by Mike Riley, the ref of game 50.
The first billionaire interfering in team affairs had arrived at Chelski, more were to follow.
The club needing a new owner chose a man who true to Arsenal tradition would not interfere with the team. They got their man, who keeps his money to himself.
The years rolled on. It became clear that despite the odds attacked (yes I mean attacked) against us we are still capable of winning a cup but the league championship needed a new approach a new revolution. So Ivan Gazidis, began his Arsenal revolution.
Unlike the 1996 revolution, the 2018 revolution has come from within the club, each step carefully noted and unseen by most until the club announced ‘Merci Arsene’
So Arsene’s departure was like his coming, a big surprise to all but a few.
We blinked and into our eyes came Unai Emery and we knew. The ignorance of the 1996 summer is in contrast to the knowledge of the 2018 summer. The anticipation as to who the players will be, how the team will play and hope is in contrast to the despair of the managerless 1996 summer.
The two revolutions have taken us from ‘Arsene who?’ to ‘you know Unai’. Yet like 1996 was, the rest is a mystery.
Bring it on, bring it on, bring it on.
Copyright Charles Veritie. 22.6.2018.