These Aint No Plastic Gooners
It was the 1st February 2012 and I was leaving the Reebok Stadium after Arsenal were held to the dullest of 0-0 draws on a cold, wet and blustery evening in the North west. Yes, one of those. I could count myself lucky it wasn’t Stoke though, I guess.
As I left the ground, I heared murmurs behind me about the jacket I was sporting: an Arsenal Manchester Supporters Club jacket. I recall one man saying: “there are more Arsenal fans up in Manchester than there are United fans!”
Now of course, this point is clearly incorrect, but it did make me think about how this radical shift in Arsenal fans to the north west had taken place.
Supporters from Islington and other areas of London wonder why this is the case, particularly when you consider the plethora of top Premier League options in the north west with Liverpool, if you can refer to them as a top team nowadays, Manchester City and Manchester United all within 34 miles of each other.
Has there simply been a mass case of upping sticks to the north of England, have fans simply been introduced to the glamorous football displayed by the Gunners or have they even fallen into the trapdoor of becoming a ‘gloryhunter’ during our relatively recent successful spell?
Either way, the manner in which our fanbase has spread, seemingly nationwide, considerably in the last 10 years or so illustrates just how big the following of our club is, perhaps to the surprise of more local Gooners.
Arsenal Manchester Supporters Club chairman Sean Lea believes the arrival of Arsene Wenger in 1996 and the brand of football he brought with him proved instrumental to the shift in support from a section of North London to a more national recognition and following.
“Prior to the Invincibles Era,” he says, “we were known as a very defensive team and then with the coming of Wenger we were suddenly seen as a very attacking team, playing all this sexy football which was, at the time, really novel to the English game.
“So clearly, with guys in the north west of England who, by nature, might have been followers of Manchester United, Manchester City or Liverpool were drawn via Sky or Match of the Day to liking the way the club played and eventually supporting them even though family loyalties didn’t have any connections to North London or Arsenal as such.”
Lea feels the pressures on Arsenal fans in an area predominantly geared towards supporting one of the Manchester clubs is starting to become a thing of the past with the number of fans in this area only set to increase still further.
“A large proportion of students in this neck of the woods obviously come from the London area or down south and as loyal Arsenal fans they possibly feel that, being in the north west, they have to keep their heads buried below the parapets.
“But now, because there are so many of us within the supporters’ club who are in the 18-23 bracket they don’t mind coming out and making themselves known.”
Lea also told me how Block 101 in the North Bank has become something of an Arsenal Manchester fanzone and with a whole host of other supporters’ clubs to compete against, AMSC are making concerted efforts to make themselves well-known. The distinctive yellow and black jackets, which clearly caught the attention of the previously mentioned fellow fan at Bolton, are often noticed on television and give the club a better chance of being recognised.
Lea’s goal is to make AMSC the best supporters’ club possible and he explained why such efforts have to be made outside of London to get the recognition they deserve as a club.
“At a recent meeting between the supporters clubs, we were addressed by Arsenal’s Communications Director who said his job was to act as the lighthouse and as the light slowly spreads out of the N5 area and further afield, the role of a supporters club is to act as a beacon to illuminate the light in the area.”
Lea founded the supporters club in 2006 and, having amassed 100 members, AMSC became an official recognised Arsenal supporters’ club in October 2009 when it was listed on the club website. With a figure of 662 members today, making AMSC one of the largest Arsenal supporters’ clubs in the country, the demand for watching the Gunners up north is greater than ever.
For Lea, the success of the club he runs has surpassed even his wildest expectations.
“I had no idea it would reach this sort of level,” he said. “Even in October of last year the day of the Bolton home game (3-0), we only had 500 members so it is well above what we expected.
“Our next goal is to see if we can achieve a membership of 1000.”
The way in which us Gooners label Manchester United fans from London as ‘plastic Mancs’ seems almost ironic considering the ever-increasing number of Arsenal fans in the opposite part of the country. But our national fanbase from Preston to Penzance offers the perfect reminder as we get ready for the start of the new season that we truly are, and always will be, a massive club in this country.