Arsenal supporters’ group to make protest march before Aston Villa game
The ‘Black Scarf Movement’ are angry at the way loyal supporters are being priced out of the Emirates
No trophy, disgruntled fans, a manager under pressure as expectation levels continue to fall... and now a fans’ ‘protest’ is planned before Sunday’s home game with Aston Villa.
Some are even making parallels with the dark, dark days of the early 1980s, when underachievement on the pitch and disgruntlement off it led to heated protests outside Highbury.
That is way off the mark, but the Black Scarf Movement (BSM), a shadowy organisation among Arsenal’s many supporters groups, claims it is capturing the mood of many who feel disenfranchised with the club’s corporate direction. It has a website – wherehasourarsenalgone.webeden.co.uk – more than 1,000 followers on Twitter and double that on Facebook.
Sunday will see hundreds of fans make a peaceful display of public disaffection – but the BSM is quick to point out a few falsehoods.
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“This is NOT a protest despite what has been said by some, this is a walk to raise awareness of the depth of feeling among Arsenal fans,” said a BSM spokesman
“And we really have to hammer home to some fans that this is not an anti-Wenger protest of any sort, this has nothing to do with what is happening on the pitch even though we feel as frustrated as anyone at the way our season has panned out.
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“We have actually had quite a few abusive messages sent to our website mistakenly thinking we are anti-Wenger... that said, nearly all are from abroad, with a large number from India!
“In fact, this is not even a ‘sack the board’ protest... but the club has to understand things have to change. Too many fans are losing touch with their football club and that is wrong.’”
While green and yellow are the colours of protest at Manchester United, black and yellow have been adopted by Arsenal fans over the past year. There has even been talk of an FC United-type Arsenal club being formed if things continue as they are.
The BSM has slowly become more visible on matchdays, with their distinctive, eye-catching scarves, hats and pin badges becoming a regular feature in the pubs around Emirates Stadium.
An estimated 500 supporters – although that figure could rise significantly – is expected to meet on Blackstock Road at 3pm on Sunday before walking past the old Highbury Stadium and congregating outside the Emirates.
The BSM add: “We do not feel that some people within Arsenal Football Club fully appreciate the depth of feeling. Many fans, who have been there through for the club through thick and thin – and many people don’t realise we HAVE had thin times in our recent history – feel that the club has been quick to discard them.
“This may sound callous, but we simply are not bothered about the 15-year-old kid in Taiwan who watches the club from afar. Yes, he is an Arsenal fan, but he wasn’t there when the club was struggling with a poor team. Many people following the BSM were – we have become their voice.
“The thing is, the club knows the lad in Taiwan will still pay for his membership even if he never uses any of the benefits. He is a revenue stream all the same.”
The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust recently voiced its displeasure at the 6.5 per cent rise in ticket prices for next season, claiming more ordinary supporters risk being priced out, a view even echoed by Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis.
The BSM also has long-term concerns: “So many people have been there during the bad times but now are scared they won’t be able to afford to go anymore... money is tight for everyone at the moment.
“Personally, I have been a season ticket holder since 1987, but my new season ticket is over �1,000 and I am barely able to afford that. Many friends simply can’t and that is sad.
“It means that I won’t be buying a programme anymore, or getting a beer and burger in the stadium... it’s just out of my price range, and with each passing season more fans are feeling the same. This simply cannot go on.”
The BSM recently held a meeting with Arsenal officials to put forward its argument. The spokesman added: “We have to say we were encouraged that they met us and listened to us. A dialogue has been opened and we welcome that –we have big concerns and frustrations and the club noted them and took on board some of our points. What happens from here? We don’t know, but we aren’t going away.”
Former Arsenal manager Terry Neill, who has no involvement with the BSM but was the focus of one of the last major fans’ protests back in 1983 prior to being sacked, said: “The club have put up prices and that is hard for fans, but then they have to remain competitive, because there is more pressure than ever before to be successful.
“If we want to see trophies back at the club, they need the money to do it... it is a tricky situation and I have sympathy with Arsenal fans,” said Neill.
Back in 1983 Arsenal had won only one major trophy – the 1979 FA Cup – in 12 years, and were not to win another one until 1987.
“I just hope any kind of protest, march, walk or whatever is conducted peacefully and intelligently. Only afterwards can we assess the impact and whether it was a success,” added Neill.
“This is clearly borne out of many frustrations, all of which are understandable, and the fans have a right to voice a democratic view.”