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14 February 2017

The Fan: in defence of Arsène Wenger

Those who want Arsène Wenger sacked will regret being so horrid to him.

By Hunter Davies

Me and Arsenal, we go back a long way. I nearly got engaged to her once. I look upon all clubs, like ships, as female, capable of fun, fantasy and frustration. OK, so are men.

In 1960, when we got married and moved into our first flat in Hampstead, we were equidistant from Arsenal and Spurs. Too far to go home every week to watch Carlisle United, so which should be my new lover? I chose Spurs. They were doing better, exciting to watch, about to win the League.

In 1963, when we moved across to the wrong side of the Heath, buying our house for £5,000, so expensive, I was now slightly nearer Highbury. But too late: I had pledged my troth. What is a troth, Grandad? Shurrup, get back on your blessed mobile.

In 1972, when I decided to write a book about a year in the life of a football club, I was very nearly unfaithful to Spurs. Brian Glanville, the distinguished football reporter, even older than me but still writing away, said I’d have no chance getting into Spurs. The board were stiff and the manager, Bill Nicholson, a dour Yorkshireman. So I wrote to Arsenal. They never replied, bastards. I wrote to Chelsea, then owned by the Mears family. They did reply, and I went to see them, but nothing happened.

I decided I shouldn’t be unfaithful, but stick to my first love. I approached Spurs, not at first mentioning the book idea, just that I wanted to do a feature for the Sunday Times. Which I did. Spurs didn’t sue, or complain. After that, I just hung around for a year, going training with them, sitting in the dressing room, without any contract. Can I have made this up? I sometimes think so, looking back. Today, getting in to any club, talking to any player, is like getting in to heaven in an Austin 7. What’s an Austin 7, Humper? Take that, fishface.

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Our street has become middle class, unlike in 1963, when almost all the houses had flats and sitting tenants, and football is awfully fashionable. The MCs can afford the season tickets. And mostly they are Arsenal supporters.

In the 1980s, one of my Arsenal friends offered me half a season ticket, as his son was going off to college. I had it for about ten years, which meant that most weekends I went to either Spurs or Arsenal. Traditionally, they never play at home the same weekend.

My son was appalled that I should pay any money to watch the Scum. I argued that football is my main love. Spurs winning is second. At Highbury, I carefully didn’t cheer when they won, said nothing when they lost. I kept shtum.

Spurs supporters, by the way, are no more Jewish than Arsenal’s. Families from Russia arrived in the East End around 1900 and moved to north London when they made a few bob, following either Spurs or Arsenal as part of their assimilation. Just as I did when I came from Carlisle.

I now have many well-off Arsenal friends, several of them QCs, editors and publishers. One of them always has a spare ticket, so I still often watch. I therefore feel awfully knowledgeable and totally qualified, with over 50 years of regular following, to be able to say: HANDS OFF ARSÈNE!

The Arsenal fans who are currently holding up banners saying “Wenger Must Go” are so ungrateful. I only wish we at Spurs had had him these past 20 years. He has done wonders, season after season, keeping Arsenal consistently around the top. He is so wise, dignified, fluent, a credit to football when so many managers are pigs or unbalanced. Yes, they’re a poor team at present. He has too many players who are weak. Özil and Walcott I am sure are lovely human beings, but you don’t want them in your team when the going is tough; and the defence is about Arsenal’s worst in 20 years.

But I feel Arsène should be allowed to go on his own terms. Après Arsène comes the déluge. There will be a string of failures, as at Man United when Fergie went. They will regret they’re now being so horrid to him.

Hunter Davies’s memoir “The Co-op’s Got Bananas!” is newly published in paperback (Simon & Schuster)

This article appears in the 08 Feb 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The May Doctrine