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The Non-League Football Paper

David Preece: It’s time for a reality check – protestors have no grasp of failure

The ex-Lincoln City and Darlington goalkeeper writes for The Non-League Paper…

I’VE been finding all the goings on at Arsenal somewhat bemusing, if I’m honest with you. As a Sunderland fan, watching grown men holding their A4 sheets of paper with “Time to go, Arsene” or worse still, the most tired looking of hashtags “#WengerOut” printed on them, I just can’t take these guys seriously.

Old enough to know better, young enough to not realise supporting a football club is about more than counting the cups you’ve won at the end of the season, they stand there taking selfies of themselves, smiling, holding their pitiful protest cards aloft so they can get them in shot.

Their gripe is that they are living their own version of Groundhog Day. A perpetual hell of the same season, year after year. A top-four finish in the Premier League; Champions League football (and possibly winning the FA Cup every couple of years as scant bonus). I just don’t know how they put up with it. I suppose if the worst comes to the worst, at the end of their days and they do end up in hell, at least they will be well prepared for their eternal fate, right?

Well, as tired as they have become of their club’s mediocrity in consistently competing at the right end of the table, I’ve grown weary of listening to the complaints. They should try out two seasons of the real Groundhog Day, blud. The annual grind against relegation that really gets you down.

Walking up to the stadium full of hope and those same hopes being dashed before half-time. The seemingly never-ending run of defeats that really tests your love for your club and that really tests your loyalty for the club. That’s what supporting a club feels like for a lot of people, and they love it despite that.

As a player, I always made the distinction between fans and supporters. I saw those people who gave you the worst abuse as ‘fans’. They were fanatical in their backing, but there was never any in-between. You were either the worst player they had ever seen or the best, depending on the result. Supporters on the other hand, were those who were positive in defeat. Who acknowledged effort in the face of bad performances. The ones who believed that no matter how bad a situation their team found themselves in, they applauded every tackle and encouraged players after every misplaced pass.

Denominator

Whilst at Aberdeen, we were always accused of raising our game against Rangers because of the fierce rivalry between the two clubs, but there was a common denominator in every game the two clubs played: the fans (or supporters).

It was the one fixture during the season where every single person of a red and white persuasion got behind the side as if they were shouting home a horse they’d backed at 20/1 and had its nose in front. That’s what made the difference; that’s what lifted the team and it’s something that some fans have forgotten… They can make the difference.

Perhaps this is the future. Perhaps this is the new generation who weren’t around pre-Premier League before they disconnect from the game. Perhaps they weren’t there at Highbury when they could lift their side.

Sunderland supporters have stuck by their club through the tough times

That disconnection hasn’t quite happened at Sunderland as of yet. It’s still a club that has a tremendous part to play in the identity of the city and the surrounding area. The battle is so entrenched in the people who come to watch that success would probably feel too alien, but it would be a coat that would be nice to try on every now and again.

Sunderland fans have been ridiculed recently for the empty seats that have become so visible well before the final whistle in defeats to Southampton and Manchester City, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.

They haven’t been ultra critical of the players or the manager, and still have the belief they can pull it off again against all the odds.

I know success is relative, but imagine if Arsenal had a season like Chelsea had last year. The reaction would be cataclysmic. This might sound like some ‘holier than thou” rant proclaiming Sunderland supporters are better than Arsenal fans – but there’s my point in the words I use to describe both sets.

Sunderland have ‘supporters’ and Arsenal have ‘fans’, and that says everything to me. It’s Arsenal Fan TV, not Arsenal Supporter TV.

Reaction

Supporting Sunderland isn’t easy and for those of us who had no choice in the matter it can be more of a curse than a gift, and there has been plenty of times when there has been cause to vent our displeasure.

I remember in my early days as a teenager at Roker Park prior to the Peter Reid era, when thousands would congregate outside the reception area calling for the head of the-then chairman, Bob Murray.

The club was in danger of sliding back in to the third tier and there was a desperate need for change. Any kind of change. That was worth demonstrating for and the supporters did it for the good of the club. If Arsenal fans want a reminder of what it’s like to support a club through thin times and even thinner, all they needed to do was take a look over at the 9,000 Imps at the game on Saturday.

Lincoln supporters cheer on their team at Arsenal

If there is a group of fans more deserving of some success, it’s Lincoln City’s – a club that has been starved of limelight and anything that remotely resembles success.

And if you still can’t find any joy in Danny Cowley’s boys’ achievements then perhaps football just isn’t for you. If you only go to watch the game to see your team win, then you’re missing out on what football is really about. There is so much more to it despite what some ‘fans’ would say.

When you pay the price of your ticket there isn’t any small print that guarantees a good result or even a good performance. It just shows that this is your team and you’re a supporter. No matter what.

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6 thoughts on “David Preece: It’s time for a reality check – protestors have no grasp of failure

  1. Joe

    As a supporter of Arsenal and of non-league Maidstone I have to disagree with you, I don’t think you fully understand the situation at Arsenal. Yes, Arsenal fans are sick of Groundhog Day but we are the 5th most valuable club in the world and constantly fall below expectations. The same mistakes happen over and over again. I can deal with the losses but the fact there is no attempt to address the glaring issues which have been prevalent at Arsenal for years now is the real kicker. I can tell you that supporting Maidstone has been more enjoyable than supporting Arsenal this season and they have been in a relegation scrap which looks to continue until the very end of the season. Personally, I love Arsene Wenger but he’s out of ideas and needs to go, if the fans stood idly by then he’d never leave. I can’t stand the AFTV lot and the people that show disrespect towards a man who has given us so many happy memories over the years but people should have a right to express their opinion in a respectful manner.

    Reply
    • Jared

      Apparently you didn’t read anything he said in the article. So what are these glaring issues? Not winning the league? Not winning the Champions League? Ok what else? Because in every other facet of the game we’ve been successful. I appreciate that you have respect for Arsene Wenger but the man works 12-18 hour days and has given his life for this football club. That in itself doesn’t guarantee or suggest that he should continue but his record of success does. Finally able to spend some money and we win 2 FA cups and come 3rd followed by 2nd. We’ve hit a rough patch and our “fans” decide to turn on him and the team. There’s still time to turn this season around and it doesn’t help when fans abuse their own players and manager.

      Reply
  2. Chris

    That’s a ‘fantastic’ piece… We’re cut from the same potato on so many of the points you raised. Most of the WengerOuts are too young to remember a time when it was all mid-table tedium. Most seem to think we’ve a divine right to win the big trophy every year, and are trying to force change through disrespect. These guys don’t know how lucky they are to ‘support’ a club that’s been ‘successful’ for so long. I’m unfortunate to stand a few rows behind some of these tossers and it’s embarrassing. I think most people think change is just about due, but hauling poisonous banners into the ground does nothing for morale for players, staff or supporters. We need to help create unity not dischord.

    Reply
  3. Dale R

    As a Lincoln City ‘supporter’ for 25+ years, I know the difference between success and failure in respect of football. How nice it would be to complain about finishing a mere top four in the Premier League every year. How nice it would be to only ever be able to win the FA Cup now and again. How nice it would be to sit on comfortable padded seats in the huge Emirates stadium, rather than standing in the rain or climbing a tree for a better view of the pitch away at a small non-league ground in the middle of no where.

    It was noticeable on Saturday that the Arsenal contingent were mostly silent. I never heard a peep until the first goal went in. Then it was cheering and flags waving for a minute before it fell silent again. At 3-0, a few songs broke out from one or two blocks. If you want your Arsenal team to do better than finish in the top four season after season, support them! Don’t react when you score, don’t wait until it’s going your way, encourage them, cheer them!

    I’ve seen Lincoln win one single promotion in all of the years I’ve supported them and then a subsequent relegation a year later. I’ve seen us defeated in promotion playoffs four seasons in a row. I’ve seen the club survive administration by the skin of their teeth. I’ve seen declining performances year on year which eventually led to relegation from the football league. I’ve seen us hovering around the bottom half of the table, even flirting with relegation from the Conference in the last few years. We went from derby games with Notts County, Peterborough, Grimsby and Mansfield to spending Boxing Day and New Yeras day playing Guiseley. Now make a comparison and think about what actually constitutes success and failure.

    We seem to have turned a corner. Top of the league, an FA Cup Quarter Final appearance, an FA Trophy Semi-Final (tonight), lost only 3 games in 38 (with one of those against Arsenal) and hopefully (!!) promotion back into the football league next season. Crowds have grown accordingly and the ‘board out’ signs have come down but one thing has been constant throughout; the core of supporters. Even in our darkest days, that core kept singing and supporting.

    Reply
  4. Noah

    Something needs to be made very clear here; it’s not just a case of success being relative, but a case a lack of incentive for success.

    It’s WAY easier to be a “supporter” of an enviroment were there’s change to improve. Arsenal’s failures and success have been equally as consistent – that’s not bad, but even leaning towards one of the other more is easier to digest emotionally and evaluate rationally.

    The entire purpose and concept of support is beleif in improvement and change towards the right direction. If one can predict the exact same consequences, then support becomes nuetralised. It becomes redundant.

    It’s easier to experience different mistakes than the same ones. The phylosophy is tired; passing football, tactical naivety, big opposition defeats, frequent injuries, incomplete transfer windows. It’s exactly the same. Every. Single. One.

    The emotions reflect the stratigies and outcomes and it’s boardering on the depressive. Put all football fans under the same context and you’ll get the same reaction.

    Arsenal fans are supporters of the club, they’re simply no longer supporters of the people in the club, because they, infact, show no support.

    Reply

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