Just as the rough and tumble of Northern Irish politics has produced unbelievable weeks of amazing twists and turns, so the 2020/2021 English Premiership season threw up a challenge which I faced for the first time since I began supporting my beloved Gunners in 1969 as a primary school kid - I couldn’t stand watching them!
Maybe its the fact I’m approaching my 62nd birthday, God Willing, and can’t cope with the stress of yelling at the television, or jumping up and down out of my ‘TV chair’ during matches.
Even in the dark days of the mid-Seventies when Arsenal slipped down the old First Division table after completing the historic FA Cup and First Division ‘Double’ in 1971, which had followed European silverware the previous year in the form of the old European Fairs Cup, I still faithfully watched them on the Saturday evening BBC’s Match of the Day on an old black and white TV in Clough Presbyterian Manse, in the north Antrim hills.
In the 1974/75 season, we finished 16th in the First Division, narrowly avoiding relegation in the following season by finishing 17th, before climbing up to a more respectable 8th in the 1976/77 season - ironically, the same position we ended up in the Premiership in 2020/21.
For the meantime, gone is the glory era under Wenger when a top-four Premiership finish was taken as guaranteed, along with Champions League qualification - and finishing above our closest North London rivals, Spurs.
As we prepare for the 2021/2022 season, it will be the first time in around a quarter of a century that there will be no European football at my beloved Gunners.
There’s even butterflies already when it was announced our opening game in the new season will be against newly-promoted Brentford - a real potential banana skin game! Losing that match to Brentford is akin to the time lowly Wrexham knocked us out of the FA Cup, and especially I’ve never got over 1973 when Second Division Sunderland dumped us out of the FA Cup semi-final!
That also ranks with the previous season’s FA Cup final defeat to Leeds United when tears flowed from the cheeks of that 12-year-old John Coulter, who was subsequently told by his dad, the local Presbyterian minister, not to start any trouble with the Leeds fans in the Sunday school the following morning!
The Gunners have been a huge part of my life since primary school days. Indeed, before becoming a born again Christian in 1972, I would quite openly have defined my religion as ‘Arsenal’, not ‘Presbyterianism’!
My collection of Arsenal football shirts dating back to the 1970s fills up an entire section in my wardrobe. I bought my first Arsenal kit from Highbury in 1970 - a fiver got the shirt, shorts and socks then! And for the recent Father’s Day I got as my ‘surprise present’, yes, you’ve guessed it - the new Arsenal away jersey.
I’ve embarrassed myself in front of clergy and fellow Christians that I’ve invited around to my home to watch games involving Arsenal by, in the heat of the moment, forgetting my Christian faith and Christian visitors and suddenly screaming the most foul abuse at the TV, only to turn and see the shocked expressions on the faces of my guests!
Family members keep advising me - why do you keep watching Arsenal when they make you so ‘wound up’? We lost 13 Premiership games in 2020/2021 - two of them because of own-goals! My honest opinion is that 10 of those 13 defeats were avoidable - 30 valuable points flushed down the Premiership loo!
The banter with chums around my home village when they saw me out for a walk wearing an Arsenal shirt or scarf was - are you wearing that for a bet, John?
Perhaps I am hankering back too much to the era of the Invincibles, when we completed the entire Premiership season unbeaten - when a draw was shock result for the Gunners! There were many, many matches during 2020/2021 when I would have gladly settled for a point!
So what’s the solution in a sporting era of ‘spend, spend, spend’? We have the players, we have the manager, we have the backroom staff, we have the ground, we have the fans - what we need is our ‘mojo’! We need to start believing as a club that we can emulate the Invincibles.
The club needs to reinvigorate the spirit that every game in 2021/2022 is a cup final. Yes, I know we face the difficult challenges brought on by the pandemic and I’m sure the effects of lockdown and having to play games without the fans did affect the teams - they may be superstars, but they are also human.
Perhaps Arteta needs to be given a bigger spending pot to bring in new talent, or a big name to boost morale. But the Charlie Georges, George Grahams, and Frank McLintocks who won the famous ‘Double’ in 1971 were not paid mega-bucks for their talents - they all believed in the passion of the shirt.
Time is a great healer, I’m told! I will get over 2020/2021 with the eighth place finish, being dumped out of the Europa League semi-final by our previous manager, ending the season with only the Community Shield as silverware, and only finishing a squeak above Leeds United, but Spurs again finishing above us in the Premiership is the most bitter medicine of all.
The solution? Restore team pride in the Arsenal shirt. What we need as a cure for Arsenal’s woes are not highly paid players; what we require each week is for our glorious Gunners to be represented by a team of individuals who play as a unit, and view pulling on the Arsenal jersey as some of the greatest moments and privileges in their lives.
Then, and only then, will the glory days return to the Emirates - and I can stop my bad habit of pacing the floor of our living room, screaming very unChristian verbal abuse at players and a manager who cannot physically hear me!
In my humble view, passion plus pride equals performance! Then again, I’m only a fanatical fan! Bring on 2021/2022 and confine 2020/2021 to the history books.
Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter
Listen to commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 10.15 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online.
I’ve embarrassed myself in front of clergy and fellow Christians that I’ve invited around to my home to watch games involving Arsenal by, in the heat of the moment, forgetting my Christian faith and Christian visitors and suddenly screaming the most foul abuse at the TV, only to turn and see the shocked expressions on the faces of my guests!ReplyDelete
Now that's a line that made me laugh. We soccer fans know the experience so well. My son mimics my tantrums with a pronounced Belfast accent.
John - no mention of the 3-1 defeat to Swindon in the League Cup final of 69!!!!ReplyDelete
Don't mention Don Rogers who became a Swindon icon following their surprise defeat of Bertie Mee's mighty Arsenal.ReplyDelete
Ian Ure played in that game, I remember him and Rogers due to footballers on cards in each packet of Bubble Gum. Rogers, who prior to then had never heard of, springs to mind because I considered him a newcomer to my collection. A couple of years later Man Utd signed Ian Ure. I sent off to Typhoo Tea for his picture, which would have made my United collection complete. They sent me Ure, replescant in Arsenal strip in front of the North Bank .... argh😢😢😲😣😣argh.
Nothing against the Arsenal, John, but maybe you underestimate the significance of money? It guarantees nothing of course, but must be seen as a necessary (OK, not sufficient) condition for success.ReplyDelete
I agree it was different to some extent in the old days, but still it's hard to imagine that the 71 team weren't motivated by money.
Eamon Dunphy's book "Only a Game" is brilliant on the subject.
Same 🔝 ⚃ finishers in the prem next season. Different order ?ReplyDelete
One thing about the Gunners ; they have always been garbage in Europe. Didn't know they were so bad in 1977, they were in Cup finals from 78-80 # Terry Neill
Count your blessings, John. You have never experienced relegation from the top flight as we Leeds United fans for a total of 21 years in the second tier and even three in the third tier for the first time in you history.
But I have always had a soft spot for the Gunners. You should have kept Viera for another three years; he would surely have delivered you more titles and even a Champions League trophy.
The Gunners need a proper British and Irish spine down the defence; your defects in that area are driving Martin Keown and I guess Tony Adams and Dave O'Leary to apoplexy!
Sorry to have to inform you John; your beloved Gunners" will not be back in the near future. The days of Bertie Mee and, to a certain extent Arsene Wenger have gone. From a Man Utd point of view so have all my football memories, Matt Busby, Frank O'Farrell and Tommy Doc not to mention Alex Ferguson. Your Arsenal, like my United are a cog in a massive capitalist wheel and unless your owners (economic masters who I detest) own half the worlds oil or have massive influence in the USA its a hiding to nothing. I do empathise with you as a football fab.ReplyDelete
I was never too keen on Arsenal - Thought the double winning side of 71 were brilliant but hated them for beating Liverpool in the FA Cup final.ReplyDelete
Then they pipped Liverpool for the title in the last minute in 89. Was more annoyed at Liverpool, on that occasion for having folded.
I hated them for beating Leeds to the title on the last game of the season. Got revenge the following year!ReplyDelete