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Opinion

A must read: #BoycottArsenal – An Autistic Perspective

1 month ago
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On Monday 24th June, the news we were all dreading was confirmed.

Rafa Benitez would not be renewing his contract at Newcastle United.

Only a few weeks earlier we had dreamed that new owners were finally coming in and Rafa would be staying but this proved to be false hope. Rafa had gone and Mike Ashley had made his latest mistake as owner of Newcastle United.

A couple of weeks later, Steve Bruce was confirmed as his unpopular replacement. The club then broke its transfer record to sign Joelinton and brought Andy Carrol home on deadline day. Even by our standards this has been a bonkers summer.

When plans to #BoycottArsenal were announced by the Magpie Group I was massively torn about what I should do.

Growing up with Asperger’s Syndrome and learning difficulties, football has played a massive part in my social development. I have not always found social interaction easy but my interest in football is something that has allowed me to make so many friends and help me build up those skills. That sense of belonging is something I really value. Those who know me will know that I will happily talk about football for hours if I have an opportunity.

I regularly travel up from London to attend home matches and had already booked my train tickets for the Arsenal match.

Football is not like any other business. If I have a bad experience at a restaurant, I would avoid going there in the future. We have a unique emotional attachment to our football club, a bond which is not easily broken. Making a decision like this is even harder for someone with Autism when we are often reliant on structure and continuity to function.

In the end I found that I was not ready to give up just yet but my anxiety had increased significantly. It was clear looking at social media that the fan base was massively divided over the boycott and there was a great deal of hostility between our own fans.

I struggled to sleep on Saturday as I was a worried about what might happen. I knew that there were plans to protest outside the ground and I was anxious that I may be abused by some fans as I approached the turnstiles. Fortunately there were no problems and I was able to enter the ground with no problems. I want to say thank you to the protesters for making sure that this did not happen.

I estimate that there was between 43-46000 fans at the match. The boycott clearly had an impact but struggled to gain the support of most of the matchgoing fanbase. The atmosphere was strange and it felt like there was a feeling of apathy throughout the ground.

The second half certainly did not give me much cause for optimism. It felt a bit like the Alan Pardew era where there was no shape and a reliance on individual talent to see us through. Lee Charnley’s hostile programme notes should tell you all you need to know about the people running our club. Personally I was just relieved that my own day had gone without any problems.

I wish the Magpie Group the very best of luck. I certainly don’t blame anyone who does not want to go to matches now. The club is a mess from top to bottom and it is hard to be optimistic. I urge the group to also look at other forms of protest which we can all get behind.

The saddest thing about all this for me is how the fanbase is now divided. We all want the same thing, a successful Newcastle United which is run by people who treat us with dignity and respect. Lets all work together to make that happen.

You can follow Kieran on Twitter @KJR90

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