Interviews with members of the Arsenal board are extremely rare and, if they do happen, are carefully choreographed and carried out in the quieter period between the end of one season and the start of the next.
There is obviously a convention that board members at Arsenal remain in the shadows, concentrating on matters off the pitch while the playing staff take care of things on the pitch, and there’s a great deal of sense to that.
Of course, I would love to know what Stan Kroenke thinks of our hammering in Munich or whether Ivan Gazidis really gives a monkey’s that we are, in all likelihood, destined for another pretty underwhelming season in terms of silverware.
But, in truth, a boardroom packed with loquacious loudmouths would heap unnecessary pressure on the players and the manager and, frankly, would lead to a great deal of discord, however revealing it might be to fans.
While the season is in full swing, therefore, the board must be a great deal more subtle if it wants to get a message out and the half-yearly financial report issued by the club this week seems, to my eyes at least, to have been the vessel for them to do just that.
Half-hidden among the facts and figures which show the club has made – after tax – a profit of about £10.3million was a call from the board for unity among the fans.
Sometimes as Gunners we wonder whether, in the splendid surroundings of the boardroom, the feelings of discontent and frustration are really felt and whether, quite frankly, members of the board care.
In his report, it seems the chairman, Sir Chips Keswick, confirms that he is acutely aware of the tempestuous mood on the terraces and the language he uses is woven with calls for calm and unity in such a way that seems to go beyond the subliminal.
The full report can be found here but consider some of these quotes:
- “In closing I should thanks everyone for their support so far this season. Our fans have been first class at every game, home and away. It looks like the closing months of the 2016/17 campaign will be very competitive when we all, as supporters, can really back the team and make a difference.”
- “We are very focussed on producing a positive and exciting closing run and with the support of our fans I believe together we can achieve a successful and memorable end to the season.”
- “We are looking forward to another exciting finish to the season.”
- “The Premier League season has been intensely competitive across the top six positions. At the time of writing, we sit fourth place in the league and, with thirteen games remaining, there is everything to play for.”
- “Everyone, including, Arsene, our players, board and staff share our fans’ disappointment at our first leg result against Bayern Munich but we will approach the second leg with professionalism and a desire to reclaim pride.”
- “Unity has always been one of Arsenal’s strengths as a club. We are very focused on producing a positive and exciting closing run and with the support of our fans, I believe together we can achieve a successful and memorable end to the season.”
For many fans, Sir Chips’s take on the closing stages of the season will seem a million miles from the feeling on the ground. You’d have to go a long way to find a fan who is truly optimistic about our chances in the league or European competition, and, indeed, the optimism exuded in his statement fails to reflect reality.
No one would dispute Sir Chips’s call for the fanbase to unite behind the team in a way that might really make a difference but I found it odd that he came back to that point on more than one occasion, with the faintest whiff of chastisement about it.
For me, it was about as strong a message as the board dare give short of actually conducting an interview in which they say “chin up, chums, it isn’t all that bad”. The feeling of angst among fans is getting through, it seems, and this is the board’s way of recognising and responding to that.
Whether it is helpful to the debate or whether it comes across as patronising and missing the point is open to your own interpretation, but it appears to me to be the board reaching out to fans without actually reaching out, a way of them getting a message through to the front line without taking any fire.
‘We hear you, loud and clear’ seems to be the message from above, but whether they are moved to do anything about it is another question, and one that I expect will go unanswered for a few months to come.