Let me start by asking you two short, simple questions that should make you immediately recoil in horror in disgust. Would you like to be a Birmingham City fan? Or maybe Portsmouth might be preferable?
Give yourself a few minutes before reading on. Wipe up the vomit, settle the heart rate, relax. I shall now elaborate.
You see, this week Twitter has been alive with a great deal of chatter about Arsenal’s latest AGM. Arsène Wenger made a rather controversial comment that effectively popped all of the foaming-at-the-mouth frustrations of yer typical Gooner into one neat little capsule when he said that qualifying for the Champions League was like winning a trophy.
In that respect he’s quite the expert at winning trophies then. Phantom trophies, perhaps. Trophies that require no polish, no shelf to put them on, but trophies all the same.
It’s a topic that has become readily associated with Arsenal in recent years. Is it more important to reach the Champions League than it is to win some silverware? Indeed it seems to be a topic that divides many football fans. The arguments are clear and obvious; reaching the Champions League has so many benefits in terms of profile, finance and ability to attract new players whilst, as a fan, there can surely be no better feeling than seeing your team lift a trophy. I say ‘surely’ because, well, I’m assuming that it feels great.
What angry Gooners often seem to ignore when grumbling about Wenger, is that he’s single-handedly paid off huge chunks of that stadium debt every year by turning a profit in the transfer market. Perhaps he’s had no choice but to do so. Regardless, his record of combining profit with unbroken top 4 positions is unique in English football. It is a spectacular achievement and one that must bring huge satisfaction to his paymasters in the Emirates boardroom, despite the lack of a trophy for seven years.
Yet this issue crystallises the different ways in which club owners and club fans view football nowadays. Obviously that difference has always boiled down to money v glory but in the past those two things tended to go hand in hand.
In the mind of Arsène Wenger that continues to be the case – the glory of hitting the top 4 season after season should be celebrated like a trophy. Financially it means infinitely more to the club than a dozen League Cups. Yet clearly the fans see it differently. Perhaps not all fans, but enough to make any edition of 6-0-6 unlistenable after any Arsenal defeat.
So how does this reflect upon Newcastle? It scarcely needs to be pointed out that we haven’t won a major trophy in a long, long time. Yet as a club we are probably in as healthy a financial position as we’ve been for a long time and finishing 5th last season felt fantastic.
We’ve got some cracking players at the club and things generally feel good. But where is it all headed? Is it enough to be ‘healthy’? We had Brugge in town last night and the steady build up of atmosphere in the city on a European night is always a great feeling. But is that enough in itself? Healthy finances, good players, regular top 6 finishes in the league, regular European football – are they the kind of ambitions we should be having?
After a match recently, a few of us were engaged in a debate about whether we’d swap with either Birmingham or Portsmouth. Obviously both clubs are struggling away in the league just now but there’s no escaping the fact that both clubs have won a major trophy in the last five years.
It goes without saying that I wouldn’t wish the absolute hell that Portsmouth have been through lately on any football fan, nor would I wish any kind of affiliation with Birmingham City on any football fan either. But it’s a question that does bear some thought – would you swap?
Would you swap the last ten years of Newcastle’s history for that of Portsmouth? Would you exchange (mostly!) top flight football and relative stability for that one gigantic Wembley moment?
It’s not as straightforward a decision as it might first seem!