Podcast 91: Football Theme Parks
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If you are a regular listener to our podcast, you will be painfully aware by this point that the goings-on at Arsenal Football Club have become something of an obsession recently. This has happened for a variety of reasons, but mainly is the result of some deep-seated psychological trauma. Ian supports Spurs. Ian has always supported Spurs, Ian’s dad supports Spurs and Ian grew up less than half a mile from White Hart Lane. Ian considers supporting Arsenal to be a pathology worthy of study at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
For my own part, I must admit that I became somewhat fixated by Arsenal – or more specifically, Arsenal supporters – on the 26th January 2013. It was a notable day in the modern history of the club in one key respect: this was the day that saw the first flourish of an anti-Arsene Wenger banner at a stadium and, duly, the first intra-supporter fighting between Arsenal fans. Why it particularly registered for me was that 26th January 2013 was the day that a late Theo Walcott goal saw Arsenal win 3-2 to knock Brighton and Hove Albion out of the 4th round of the FA Cup.
I was not at the game that day: I was busy (drinking). However, when I returned to the station that night, a full five hours after the final whistle at the Amex, Arsenal support was still very much in evidence. Elements of Arsenal’s travelling faithful were still engaged in fisticuffs and one particularly enlightened Gooner was singing, “Brighton’s a shithole, we want to go home”, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he could have gone home, come back and gone home again in the time since the match ended. Worse still, I was hungry (drunk), and the plague of Romford locusts had completely stripped Marks & Spencer of food. There wasn’t an olive, stuffed vine leaf or falafel to be had. It was more than any reasonable man (me) could be expected to bear.
We have been trying to limit the outward effects of this toxicity from our output but the candid (and let’s be honest, largely uprepared) nature of our podcasting has seen it rear its ugly head of late. A fortnight ago we even went so far as to enter into an agreement that we would not mention Arsenal that week, before immediately talking about Arsenal for 25 minutes.
Obviously, this has to stop. We are not an Arsenal podcast, however tempting that avenue increasingly looks. So instead, we have opted for a new format: an ongoing, episodic post-credit feature in which we attempt to lead Arsenal to glory on Football Manager. Specifically, Football Manager 2013. Why this version specifically? Well, for starters, it depicts the season where I discovered that Arsenal supporters are my natural foe. Moreover, it represents the season at the end of Arsenal’s trophyless barren spell of 2005-2013. And, most crucially of all and truth be told, that’s the version we had.
The season-opening match should be appended to your podcast in the near future, after which you will most probably only be hearing about our exploits on that forum. However, I thought it would be a good idea to write a piece for the site outlining the problems, solutions and objectives with which we enter this auspicious posting. Many of these have been cribbed from hours and hours watching ArsenalFanTV on YouTube, which I would have done anyway and so represents no great burden on my part.
MEET PLUMSTEAD HIGHBURY
Plumstead Highbury is the hero of our journey. Born on 26th May 1968, he celebrated his 21st birthday on the day that Arsenal won the League Championship at Anfield in 1989. Highbury, a lifelong Arsenal supporter, has never worked in football before this appointment, instead spending much of his working life as a barrister and QC. His favourite drink is Green Chartreuse. His favourite ever Arsenal player is Perry Groves. He smokes a pipe. Cometh the hour, cometh the man: and that man’s name is Plumstead Highbury.
Arsenal’s big problem is that they have continually failed to replace their best players. Thierry Henry’s mantle had been taken by Robin Van Persie, but as Highbury joins the club in the summer of 2012, Van Persie had left to join Manchester United. The previous season, Van Persie had scored 37 goals in 48 games. Lukas Podolski has been signed as a replacement, but the smart money is on him failing to match Van Persie’s goal tally. The most pressing concerns, however, are a defensive midfielder and a goalkeeper; neither Patrick Vieira nor David Seaman having ever been adequately replaced by Arsene Wenger.
Highbury’s primary approach will be to hunt for these players’ natural replacements by searching the rosters at the clubs where Arsenal signed these stalwarts in the first place. Failing that, he will try and identify the key traits that made those players great and find their best embodiment in modern-day soccer: they don’t call Joey Barton “the white Vieira” for nothing. Highbury’s primary objective in the transfer market is going to be to aquire a new spine for the first team.
In reality, things rarely run this smoothly. Seeking a disenchanted Vieira-type at AC Milan, Highbury finds only Mathieu Flamini and card-carrying midfield psychopath Nigel De Jong. Even Joey Barton is unavailable, spending a year’s cultural ambassadorship in Marseille. Instead, Gary Medel arrives from Sevilla for £14m. Medel has a high work-rate and a preference to play in front of the defensive line, both qualities that Highbury was seeking for his team. The fact that Spurs were also trying to sign the Chilean served as a delicious cherry on top. The state of play at Juventus, Thierry Henry’s former stomping ground, was just as bleak: Nicolas Anelka, anyone? Instead, Highbury opted for Fiorentina’s £16m Montenegrin forward Stevan Jovetic. Jovetic has skill and versatility in abundance, so hopefully goalscoring shouldn’t prove beyond his abilities.
On the hunt for the next David Seaman, Highbury found that QPR were reluctant to sell Rob Green, so Stoke City’s Asmir Begovic will have to do instead, for a buttock-clenching £16.5m. However, on the plus side, a peek at the Under-18 team may yet have revealed the new Tony Adams. Can a young player assume such a mantle simply by dint of their manager deciding that they will? There are two answers to this question: one is a very long ‘yes’ with a but, the other is a very short ‘no’ with a because.
Making way for all this indulgence were Gervinho and Andrei Arshavin. Arshavin was leaving on a free at the end of the season anyway so Highbury shuffled him off to Inter. Gervinho, who had made the grave mistake of questioning Plumstead Highbury’s experience, was moved on to pastures new at FC Porto. Highbury is a quixotic and unpredictable man, but there is method behind what might otherwise appear to be a clash of personalities: Gervinho is primarily a winger and Highbury does not particularly like wingers. They play out wide whereas the goal, as Highbury always points out to his players, is in the middle. Arsenal’s supporters are notoriously hard to please and have been critical of both of these decisions, which is bloody typical.
Arsenal’s backroom is festooned with people but there’s not a great deal of passion for the club in evidence. With some notable exceptions – Steve Bould serves as Assistant Manager, Liam Brady is in charge of youth development and both Gilles Grimandi and Martin Keown are scouts – few ex-players help add their experience and knowledge to the mix. This had to change. Brian Marwood, Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn were all brought into the coaching setup straight away to impart their wisdom. Meanwhile, fishing’s loss proved to be Arsenal’s gain as David Seaman put his rod away and arrives as the new Director of Football. Most importantly of all, childhood Arsenal fan and all-round tactical mastermind Tim Sherwood arrived from Tottenham on the eve of the first game of the season. Highbury stumped up £35,000 in compensation for Sherwood, who had been managing the Tottenham reserves. If Seaman’s role is to be Highbury’s eyes and ears on the world of football, Sherwood’s will surely to be the heart and, occasionally, anus within the Emirates dressing room.
Arsene Wenger’s tactical approach is frequently lambasted for being predictable and old-fashioned. Plumstead Highbury’s first goal in winning over suspicious fans must be to prove himself a tactical innovator. Highbury makes one absolute guarantee: as long as he is the Arsenal boss, the team will always play with at least two strikers, spearheading his bold X-W formation. It’s like Herbert Chapman’s W-M but taking additional inspiration from Generation X and with less M, which as Highbury explains is the least tactically important letter of the alphabet.
Under Plumstead Highbury, Arsenal will no longer be content with 4th place and qualification for Europe. Now the goal will be to win every single competition that the club enters, no matter how reckless, stupid or unsustainable that may prove to be. It promises to be all three of those things.
The season kicks off on Saturday 18th August 2012, with the visit of Arsenal’s nemesis Stoke City to the Emirates. Join us on the podcast to find out how they get on. It’s our new weekly feature which is almost certainly going to end in igniminious failure and a colossal sacking, maybe even before the transfer window closes. Place your bets now.