First of all, let me begin with a hymn to the old days. I started going to watch Arsenal regularly in the 1980's and if younger supporters have an issue with some of the performances under the current manager, they should count themselves lucky that they didn't have to watch the teams Don Howe (may he rest in peace) used to put out. Put simply, we were crap. The crowds had thinned out after the triumvirate of FA Cup final appearances and the exits of Brady and Stapleton had imbued the supporters with a sense of genuine loss, the team was on the slide.
Arsenal were a bit lost in the early part of that decade, although there were some occasional exciting performances, Don's style was to pick teams that didn't get beaten very easily, technically proficient but with players that looked well short of challenging for silverware. I remember one month in particular, where in three home games, we conceded none and scored one.
However, the point I'd like to make is that, despite the massively ordinary football, in the period between 1980 and 1987 we featured in one semi final, the pure enjoyment of going to watch Arsenal play at Highbury was an ever present aspect. For starters, it was pretty cheap, £3 to stand on the Clock End, you'd meet your mates in your personal favourite of the number of excellent pre-match pubs in the area (this is still the same by the way), get a few lagers down your neck, pick up a programme at the bottom of Avenell Road, pay your three quid and walk in at about ten to three. Usually, the hours between 1pm and 3pm were the highlight, as I said, the football wasn't the best.
At this time, Arsenal hadn't really changed that much since the 1930's, not really. A succession of chairmen from the same family, the Hill Woods, had been at the helm of the club since that time and that continuity was evident. Arsenal had real values, the club stood for professionalism, sporting integrity, and an old fashioned feeling of decency. I always felt that the club was both quintessentially representive of England and London. Although the team was ambling at the time, during this period, the club did try and bring in some "glamour" signings, they may not have always have got their man, but there wasn't a shortage of ambition. In short, Arsenal had style and grace and every supporter in the land knew it and envied us for it.
When the club made the historic decision to uproot itself from Highbury to move to a new ground, I was delighted. The design of the new stadium looked fantastic, it was incredibly close to Highbury and I thought that this represented a genuine chance to compete with the big boys; Real, Barca, Juve and let's face it, United. That the Emirates has come for many to be the focus for so much malcontent is a real shame in my eyes. I've always believed that with better design, the stadium could be more intimidating for the opposition, the stands at ground level are too flat, the generous proportions of the seats might be good for you fat bastards out there, but imagine if we could have steepened the banking and put in an extra 15,000 seats?
Of course, the real issue at the club, isn't the ground itself, it's the people who occupy the top jobs at the club. The owner is a waste of space who is waiting to see how high the share price might go, but whom I fear will never sell - he's a moral and financial coward. He's invested nothing into the Arsenal at all and is a absolute disgrace.
We miss David Dein terribly (although he was largely responsible for Kroenke's arrival on the scene initially). The manager is allowed to operate an independent fiefdom, with little challenge from his acolytes on the coaching staff. The players often seem more keen on their social media profiles, apparently there are only three players on the squad that command any respect: Koscielny, Cech and Ramsey. The "match day experience" is embarrassing, opposition clubs think that we are a bunch of effete arseholes who generate zero atmosphere and just whinge. Finally, it costs a fortune, crap food and beer at eye watering prices, the highest ticket prices in world football.
Proust said that "remembering things in the past is not necessarily remembering how things were", and I understand that. However, how many of us over 50, wouldn't like to jump in a time machine every Saturday?
By Ian Byrne