Akham Bonbirdhwaja Singh
My good friend and boss Jagadishwor asked me to do an article on Emirates Stadium in North London, and here I am in South London. In the face of COVID- 19 lockdown I had a lot of free time in England but my mobility and exploration of London has been confined to a radius of my walk able distance within three hours, to and fro, because this has to be the routine and I was doing that almost daily to keep fit. Morning jogging and some stretching exercises for one hour and afternoon three hours walk particularly in search of numerous parks that London has.
Emirates stadium would certainly be outside this zone of mine, but then for the sake of good old times and his love of the game I thought of having a look. Better known as Jalembu in footballing circle, he was such an accomplished footballer, in addition we had wonderful time together during our younger days. Later, we were together for veterans’ football again. There were many comments and criticism about playing football when we were in veteran’s category and risks involved, the critics might have been right, I even got my ACL ruptured but still I feel that the veterans’ football movement was a good activity. For that matter all veterans’ sports movement are good, virtues of being a sportsperson I need not reiterate.When one is at 40s and 50s, it is vitally important, of course beyond that too; because sports are the best way to keep the doctor away.
In England, certainly football is a fancy and passion, of course, England has given many things to the world, football can be counted as one. Today, Brazil may be regarded as the football capital of the world (Rio), but then England can be regarded as the birthplace of football. The crude game started in 700s somewhere in Greece, is said to have come to England as Roman culture.
Prior to that, the first known example of a team game involving a ball is said to have occurred in Mesoamerican cultures for over 3000 years ago. According to the source, the ball symbolised the sun. The game remained inconspicuous for centuries. A football like game was being played in the meadows and roads of England in 12th century and it was regarded as beginning of football. The first football clubs were formed in Great Britain in mid nineteenth century. There were attempts to form some rules for the game such as Cambridge draft. The first football association was formed in England in 1863. By then, some standardisation of the game was achieved though still far from the modern football, but then the shape has taken. So, right of claim of the birthplace certainly goes to England. And today, soccer is the most popular outdoor game in the world.
Naturally, the English people are fond of football. In our youth days, we were told that the English people play football even at the age of 80; may be due to their fitness or may be due to their passion for the game. As popular the game is to them, there are more than fifty clubs in greater London, so going towards Emirates Stadium, I could read the name of the districts of London as the name of football clubs, Crystal Palace, Wimbledon, Fulham, Chelsea, Tottenham etc. (Fulham and Wimbledon play in lower leagues).
The quality of game in English Premier League and UEFA we all know, they are no less than the FIFA’s world cup. The fan base of each club is so firm and broad, we have heard of diehard fans (better term them fanatics) of MU and others and up to what extent thy go. They can go for fund raising up to mind boggling amounts. The Emirates Stadium was also built with such fund raisings and loans. The construction was completed in 2006 with an expense of £ 393 mil but the “Arsenalisation” was completed in 2009 only.
Is there a football enthusiast who has not heard of Arsenal Football Club, briefly Arsenal? The Emirates Stadium or the Emirates is the new home of the Arsenals. Earlier, they had a modest stadium in Highbury but the place was not going to suit their growing stature. So, they had to build a new one at the present site, very lucky that they could get such a huge area in such a locality. Today, there are multimillion pound venues in England and elsewhere, the stadiums are colossal, one as good as the other or better in looks, facilities and conveniences, hard to pick any one as the better. But I am sure the new home of the arsenals can be taken as one of the best. The Emirates stadium of the Arsenals at Hornsey is named so by the Emirates Airlines because they have acquired the naming rights (a fund-raising technique) being the team’s sponsors; may be like the Etihad for the Manchester City (Etihad Airlines got the sponsoring rights). The Emirates is among the top 5 largest stadiums of UK (Capacity 60,000+) and lookwise also it is not bad. Of course, the Wembley Stadium belonging to the national football association, the governing body of the game in UK is better in capacity (90,000+) and looks. The commercial section has good gift shops, restaurants and other shops.
Arsenal is doing remarkably well and it is maintaining a steady position, currently it is the third best behind Liverpool and Man Utd. followed by Chelsea and Aston Villa. Since its promotion in 1904 as 1st Division club, except for a short period in 1915 till war, it has maintained its position in the division. The club is worth above 2.3 billion currently (of course Pre Covid). They don’t have Messi, Ronaldo or Neymar, but manages with likes of Pepe, Aubameyang, Lacazette, Mesut Ozil etc. their annual pay ranging from £ 7 mil to £20 mil a year, the weekly pay are even up to £ 350K -200k.They are also nurturing a batch of promising players who can be launched any time to the international arena; they are already as good as many internationals. The main revenue comes from gate fees, broadcasting fees, commercials and sponsoring etc. It is professionally managed as a company; of course all the professional clubs are now like that only. The club is now owned by Kroenke Sports and Entertainment of an American billionaire E. Stanley Kroenke.
Regarding the professionalism of the club a former player Wojciech Szczesny said about Arsenal “You can go on and make a big career, you do your best, you are professional. But if you are not at Arsenal, that bit is always missing and always will be”. Due to the name Arsenal, the arsenal players call themselves “gunners” but the fans called themselves “goonners”. But then they can be called gunners for their fast and attacking style of game. Arsenal is one of the oldest clubs in England set up in 1886 formed by the workers of an armament factory hence the name arsenal. There are three statues in three corners of the stadium, Herbert Chapman, Tony Adams and Thierry Henry, all luminous personalities who have contributed to the Arsenal’s fame.
Of course the walls have pictures of many more past players as tributes to them. Most touching is, one of the entrance gate have been named, Woolwich, the first name of Arsenal was Woolwich Arsenal Football Club, taking the name from the armament factory where its founders worked.
The professional management of finance as well as the players of course is not unique to Arsenal alone. The famous clubs are now owned by big houses and big tycoons even in other games too. In India also, some of the clubs are owned by big houses, the culture of professionalism is coming in, but a bit too slowly to catch up with other soccer countries. While seeing the annual statement of Arsenal, the gate fees accounts for a fourth, about a half comes from broadcasting rights and commercial and sponsorships account for another fourth, this is possible only through very aggressive marketing of the game.
In India too, instead of corporate funding alone if a system of this sort comes, it shall be good for the game in the long run. Of course last few years; the game has improved a lot in India too. I wish our players also one day play shoulder to shoulder with these greats. Manipur being not only a powerhouse of sports, but also a premier soccer state of the country shall benefit immensely from professionalization of soccer.
This year all the sporting bodies are in disarray due to covid 19, the organisers are shaky and all the events are put off. The players are getting pay cuts, the organisations are taking up austerity measures, some take it with grudge, some do not mind and some are angry. Arsenal is no exception, they are having a measure for 12.5% pay cut causing some heartburn, at this juncture, and one cannot resort to retrenching too. But I wish everybody take it sportingly, sacrifice to the maximum level and support each other for the sake of the game. Sweden has planned to start their games soon, the UEFA has asked its associates to have their fixtures set with a dateline, so things are getting to normal soon, I am sure the summer is not far behind.