TThere was something poignant here Thursday night to see Martin Keown standing on a windswept dais in front of an empty super stadium trying to rationalize the dissolution, by various structural forces, of the entity formerly known as “Arsenal Football Club ”.
Keown may not always pronounce player names correctly, but he is a good expert and a man of substance. He went out of his way to provide comfort to Arsenal fans following the 0-0 draw with Villarreal, another match marked by protest outside Emirates at the club’s distant ownership. Keown noted that change can come from within. He recalled that Arsenal were mismanaged in the 1980s as well, and that they fixed themselves then, when all this really involved was getting a couple of capable people in the boardroom and maybe doing training ground.
As he spoke consolingly about the billionaire bastard’s toy behind him, it was hard not to see cuts from some parallel Keown: Mr. Keown of Keown’s Grand Horse Drawn Tram Company, striding in a tube hat and trousers. shabby three-piece, doing everything possible to assure the townspeople that this oil revolution is just a fad, that Keown’s horse-drawn trams survived the cholera outbreak and that they will survive the complete destruction of all their framework. And so we continue, more or less, as before. There was a similar, but more studied tone in Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s version of the Old Trafford protests last weekend. Speaking before the second leg of the Europa League semi-final in Rome, Solskjær suggested that protests should be above all “civilized”, which is a way of saying they should be different and much less challenging. Solskjær focused on the disorder, the worst part of what happened that day. He insisted that the problem was “communication” and that the Glazer family agreed to improve on this aspect of their vampire cash settlement kidnapping, which is good. “Now we are going to let the stadium rust for two decades. Hop U ok m8. “Presumably that sort of thing.
This has been the general tone since the extraordinary events of last weekend, when a group of angry and alienated people decided to stop the show by occupying the space in front of it. That alarming situation appears to have already been handled and packaged. Protests have been streamlined and screen settings adjusted to incorporate this new element into the entertainment product. The protesters’ motives have been described as ridiculous or selfish. There has been a tendency to linger on whether protesters “acted right” by expressing their anger and frustration, whether they disrespected corporate headquarters by doing so, or worse yet, invaded the pristine space occupied by our famous athletes.
Graeme Souness is not the only one who insists (incorrectly: check dates) that this is all a reaction to Manchester United not winning on the field. And ungrateful too, as the owners have been so generous in allowing the club to spend a portion of its own self-generated income. It seems that the mechanics of the leveraged buy is not taught in the school of experts either. It’s easy to see the futility here, people with (laughs) iPhones and Starbucks glasses protesting their own defeat in the hypercapitalism game. Perhaps this is just another event that will pass and be absorbed, like many other spontaneous expressions of anger and anxiety over the past year.
All of which is a long way to the real point. That the protest is legitimate. The protest is positive. Protests should not be ignored or dismissed; even protests that Souness doesn’t like people or protests on the news can be considered unacceptable. The protest will not always behave well. Sometimes inconsistency is the only reasonable response to an unreasonable situation.
This is the broadest point. These protesters are not, let’s be clear, making a point that is limited to soccer. Only the most ingenious analysis could insist that these feelings of alienation and deep discontent, of being commodified and defeated by the rest of the world, have their roots mainly in the lack of signature of Dayot Upamecano. People are stretched out and tired. The world has become a strange and closed place. There is a feeling that the private space, the basic business of the human being, has never been so controlled or invaded by outside interests. It feels like the world is struggling to find a way to organize itself. How will it work?
And so, football will become, as always, a sounding board for these anxieties, because it is the place where people gather, because it hooks our feelings. And because English football clubs still represent something in this balance of interests, a space that is not simply a unit of consumer choice, but offers community and collectivism, as much as this may be a pipe dream now. It has never been expressed so clearly as in recent weeks. That thing that you love, that you felt you had. Well, it’s not like that.
And yes, people may not behave well in response. Do they have to be good? Billionaires are not good. Money is not civilized. What voice do you have to resist when you have no power? For starters, you have a bag of cans and a path to stand on. He has dissent. You have your basic physical presence. This is still an affirmation of will, an occupied space.
There will also be more. We the people are about to re-merge in that outer space, a place where, despite the supposed economic recovery, many will feel lost and powerless. We can change it. We can point to smoother routes to change (which won’t work). Gary Neville can speak coherently and in a way that makes people feel like this authentic, uncomfortable energy is now safely absorbed by the show. But this is not done. And it’s going to be hot out there.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism