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A Symbolic Day for football: Why Friday's Protest was about more than just 'Kroenke Out'

Updated: Apr 27, 2021

By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)

(All images from @charlie.maywood on Instagram)

5:45pm, Friday 23rd April 2021. Thousands of Arsenal fans flock down Holloway Road towards the Emirates Stadium. A home that has been void from their lives for almost 14 months.

6pm, Friday 23rd April 2021. Thousands of Arsenal fans now flood around the Armoury, just outside the Emirates Stadium. Banners reading; 'We won't ever Forgiv$, we won't ever forg$t', 'Love the club, support the team, hate the owner' and perhaps most poignantly,

"Kroenke, I wouldn't even wish you on Spurs."

Red flares are being let off everywhere. Explicit mosh pit chanting begins, and lasts for several hours. Calls for Kroenke's head are followed by wider disdainful chants directed towards broadcasting companies and continental footballing organisations.

8:15pm. Despite Arsenal's third from last home game of the season commencing, fans remain outside the stadium in protest, rather than retiring to a pub to watch the game. Fireworks are set off, chants remain in tact and flares are still lighting up the dimming North London spring air. Fake crowd noise on the Sky Broadcast is obsolete, as the Gooner Faithful provides the atmosphere from outside the four stands. This is far bigger than just Arsenal.

Almost 2 years ago now, in the Summer of 2019, I wrote a piece on the last notable protest towards this football club's ownership. At a time where fans were hugely frustrated at the lack of investment from KSE, JustArsenal sent me to the 2019/20 home kit launch, an event which coincided with what was supposed to be a widespread 'Kroenke Out' protest. However, what transpired was far from that, as I wrote back then:

"I arrived early, around 8ish, expecting a widespread protest outside the stadium directed at our owner and huge numbers of fans queuing to get into the Armoury first to purchase their kits. Instead, maybe a dozen or so fans stood in a straight line waiting to get into the store, with no sign of an uproar of ‘Kroenke Out’ banners. By about 9:15, I was already in the store and in another short queue waiting to splash £60 on our beautiful new strip. £60! Surely another reason for more fans to be marching around the stadium enraged.
Yet, as I emerged from the store, all I was greeted with was a few kids kicking a ball around and a football freestyler, who appeared to have been employed by the Club as the event’s entertainer. There were many people sitting around, having already bought their kit, waiting for the club to lay something more on for them. It felt as though the launch and day which had had so much anticipation was already coming to a premature end."

What was clear was that despite fans generally feeling a sense of frustration around KSE's lack of financial investment, this feeling was from from strong enough to provoke any significant revolt, and that the club still had us comfortably under their commercial wrap. We still bought the kits, we still attended games and we made no substantial outcry at our blatant decline. At the time, I put this down to a general sense of apathy at the club:

"It all felt a bit subdued. The low turnout, the embarrassment of the eventual protest, which consisted of a fan with a megaphone and three others chanting ‘we want our Arsenal back’, all contributed to this. A nice day, but one that ultimately sought to emulate the current ambience at the club; an odd mixture of anger and bleak apathy."

Upon reflection, the issue was probably that there wasn't enough anger. Whilst KSE were insistent on (and still are) implementing a self-sustaining business model, they hadn't attempted anything as damaging to football and fans as joining an elitist and anti-competitive tournament. We also hadn't yet suffered two mediocre mid-table seasons. Whilst some fans may have been beginning to feel somewhat apathetic, the frustration at KSE was merely frustration, it wasn't quite vexation. Many could argue against opting for a self-sustaining model, but it isn't inherently evil, so tempers hadn't boiled over yet amongst supporters.

22 months on and things have escalated drastically, and all in the space of a week. Despite the European Super League collapsing in spectacular fashion, fans weren't ready to let Stan Kroenke off the hook. And rightly so. What he tried to do is truly unforgivable.

Friday's protest was not only an indication of fans' frustrations at Stan Kroenke and an attempt to urge him to sell up, it was also an indication of fans' frustrations at the wider neglect of supporters' interests within the game. Ticket prices are astronomical, broadcast subscription packages are absolutely extortionate and fans are increasingly left irrelevant in decision-making process' within their clubs and the sport in general. A sport which was built by the working class has become increasingly inaccessible for so many. We have been reduced to nothing but a consumer of a commercial product.

Until now, owners, broadcasters and footballing bodies have been able to get away with this commodification of football. Despite prices in all aspects of the sport being driven up, fans stay connected. Owners have essentially exploited working class people's love for their clubs. They know they will keep coming back because they cannot stay away. They will blow their wages to follow the team they've always supported. Football is everything for so many people.

Well, owners finally crossed the line. The footballing world said no to the latest drive into pure commercialisation, and this protest was a symbolic moment in this attempt to move back towards football as a sport not a business. Fans have for too long been marginalised. They've been neglected. On Friday, Arsenal fans spoke for football fans all over the world. We will no longer take this. Our voice matters, because, without us, this game is nothing.

Whilst I'm not optimistic about the core premise of the protest coming to fruition- I don't see Kroenke selling despite the supposed interest from Daniel Ek- I do feel it was a big moment for football. The fans want a greater role in their clubs. They want fan ownership. They want less focus on commercial gain and more focus on protecting the sport from venture capitalism and making the game theirs again.

For too long, football has not been our sport. Owners, broadcasters and footballing organisations have ripped the soul from the sport. It's important we continue to raise our voice in the way we did on Friday night. Football without fans is nothing.

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