By Korosh Musavi, @kaymoZcorner
Football. Truly the only global language, with its European and South American dominated accents. If Football was a dance, I think it would be a Tango. To me, Football is a mirror of life; a mirror of the society it’s played in. You have the lazy and the hardworking, the smart and the undereducated; the rough, the soft, the rich, the poor, the working class and the “Elite”. Each game has a unique dignity that will never happen under the same circumstances and in the same way again, even if you lined up exactly the same XI on both sides. This is the reason that even footballers playing in the grass root level of club football can grab hold of something, admittedly something invisible, after having played a Sunday League Tie. That game, that day, that tie and he was part of it. The dignity of Football is of its own because its dignity is greater than the sum of the players’ individual glories.
I’ve never seen two games being played in the same way. Each has its own face, own process and faith. There are games I fancy to watch over and over again. Like a friend I had once made and then you invite him to your place every now and then. Bottle of beer or two, speaking about the ol’ days. Chilling. Other games evoke a hate in me about them. I never really figured out what it was I hated about them. What I do know is that in the old days, I used to stand up and walk away. I couldn’t watch a game I hated. Today, I remain seated and still watch, because I’ve learned that even the ugly had a right to be seen.
A positive consequence of that was that it was now easier to recognize a good game when I saw one. There are games, no matter how high or low profile, which are talked about even decades later. Attack or defensive lines that have devastated opponents; ruthless, but fair. Games were a moment of truth. Big games were huge moments of truth. The one game for example that got me done was played in the World Cup 1982. Thursday, 08. July Semi Final tie between Germany and France. A battle, at the highest of levels of its time, fought right at the border between rough and nasty. No one was cunning. Honest men with open face want to battle it out between two of the greatest in world football with some of the world’s greatest in their ranks. Football “artists”, confident in their own abilities and hoping to win versus disciplined football “workers” with an unconditional will to win. It was one of the toughest games I’ve ever seen. I heard that Patrick Battiston only recently forgave Toni Schumacher for knocking him out so badly that day.
Every one of us will have his own stories on how they got in contact with Football. Mine began back in 1978. I was seven years old and had a dad who was electrified that our national Team (Iran) had progressed for the first time to the World Cup finals in Argentina. A tournament for which the likes of England and Germany (the then reigning champions) failed to qualify. Iran and Scotland made it all the way to Argentina. In fact, we were in Group 4 together with Scotland, Holland and Peru. Our opening match was a 0-3 defeat to Holland who went on to the finals in that year. Our 2nd game was a 1-1 draw against Scotland. My Dad was out of his mind. I had never before and never have I again seen him freaking out about something in that way. Nobody thought we could give Holland a game while they have the likes of Krol and Barca star Neeskens in their ranks; but after having drawn against Scotland, my dad was so confident for the last game against Peru that the resulting disastrous 1-4 defeat was even harder to swallow. The tournament wasn’t over, as my dad fancied the Dutch as well, but even that hope of his was drowned down in Buenos Aires on the night of the finals where Kempes and Bertoni killed the game in extra time. Looking back, it was then when I felt something I had never experienced before in my life: it was certainly then when I lost my heart to the game.
After the summer with such an exciting World Cup, I was left with a big black hole and no club football to fill it. Yes, there were some clubs and the country had a national team but it was nothing anybody really bothered about. Far more exciting were the teams we heard of in Europe and specifically in England. There were legends being told about games, bigger than life. Player who were faster than light, strikers who were atrocious like lightning and defenders meaner than the dogs from the movie Animal Farm. The “show offs” back then were different than those of today, but I was never a fan. I preferred those who worked hard and stayed modest, working with their belief in what they do instead of going for self-fulfilling prophecies and talking all day about how good they are and will be and how they’ll easily smash the very next best opponent no matter whom they may be. And it didn’t work out on the long term either. Someone once told me that the credo for an Arsenal player is: “You never give up when you’re playing for Arsenal” and the players, at least back in those days, meant it word for word. Looking at the history of Arsenal, I deeply believe that the players have been committed to this credo. Taking into account all of the cup final ties and tight league finals that we victoriously came out of or even went down in, I am more than confident that the credo is a part of our DNA. Arsenal to me has been, is and will always be the synonym for hard work, discipline, modesty, and truthfulness in conduct (even though I read a lot otherwise).
People can’t believe how difficult it was to keep up with your club in the ‘80s and ‘90s or even earlier when you were not living in that country. You didn’t have all these TV programs in every country with shows about the leagues in other countries, or numerous papers, magazines and fanzines covering teams and leagues at every corner. For a very long time, Arsenal was the unknown Promised Land for me. I had never been to England, never mind Highbury. In fact I hardly had seen a full game live before the middle of the ‘90s. I had heard a lot about the atmosphere at Highbury and mostly only read or heard about either good or bad times. I know that a lot of people going to every home and away game since the ‘50s may look at me astonished. It’s a double slap in the face, if you ask me. They laugh at you for not having been to any game which you would have adored to attend, but never had the chance. Imagine laughing at a starving baby. But through the years, I have toughened up. You can’t hurt me with that fact anymore.
My opinion is certainly irrelevant, but if there is something I was allowed to wish for football as a whole, then it would be to protect the dignity that is vanishing year by year. Season by Season. Football is far more than just to be a feature for promotion purposes. I neither can respect the political Catalan agenda behind FC Barcelona nor those expansion fantasies of a fancy drink manufacturer behind Salzburg, Leipzig or New York. It is certainly money that is ruining the game. But the agendas behind the sums are at least as dangerous. I would want the world of football to separate those clubs who were made for football, are football, make a living with football and will always be football from those of these multinational giants who are maybe there today spending big and gone tomorrow. They should make a global league of their own. I’m absolutely sure it will be exciting. With all the City and Red Bull Teams over the globe, and I’m sure there will be the one or the other Qatari-Russian-Asian Billionaire joining in with a couple of teams of their own. And once you have a tie between 2 clubs from the same continent you can call it a derby. I wished we could separate this “Promo Feature Football” from the lovely game of the people who went to grounds that had names and played opponents they distinguished by the colour of their shirt and not just their names; with players wearing normal black boots, battling ferociously for victory with all the means the sport furnishes the game with and with all the capacity the bits and pieces of their body allowed them to on that day.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m neither an idealist nor a communist, I well understand that there is a commercial side to football. If someone is spending his life for the club and the game, then he should be able to come up for his family without needing a further job, which, by the way, was the standard back in the days as everyone knows. The players mostly had a profession and were footballers in the evenings and on the weekends and yet preformed and performed well. Yes the players need to be paid properly, but I just don’t think that values going around for a single player, who’d on top of that want to earn a fantasy sum of 500K or more a week is something that is healthy. Neither for the player nor for the club, nor for the league, nor for the game and thus nor for the fans. Imagine all these moaners about ticket prices would have to actually pay the salary of those mega players with the ticket price. No commercial support, nothing. What would it cost visiting a game in which Messi plays? 15.000 for a seat with bad view? Not sure if it would be enough.
There is nothing that gets unlimitedly better if you only paid limited sums for it. I don’t think we’d see a worse off league if a player was not allowed to cost more than 20 million and was not allowed to earn more than a 100/150K a week. If he wants more he can go to the City-Red Bull-Qatari Foundation-League and enjoy the plastic fans around the globe. We have to be that strict and ask the clear question to each and every player: fan love or money. The player must know that back in the club the fans will support him even if he’s going through hard times as long as they see that he’s working his feet off. Not so in money driven clubs and teams. You don’t entertain the burger eating fan? You risk either getting booed or even worse, the so called fan stands up and walks out (on his “own” team) and goes bowling. For me it’s really hard to combine the coldness of money with the warmth of fan support and atmosphere once and for all. You can’t have both. It’s always like that in life. You can’t have everything. And just by the way, 100/150K a week is, for more than 90% of the society, a lot. A hell of a lot. No jealousy. You honestly work hard on and off the pitch and you’re most welcome to go home with the money.
Speaking about Red Bull. Everybody knows the romantic story of SV Austria Salzburg that was literally raped by Red Bull, changing their name and colours. So the fans went a long way to re-establish the club again, and by 2005 they started to climb the stairs up in the Austrian leagues right from the bottom. A decade on and they are back in the 2nd Austrian league and just a season away from meeting that club that once tried to chew them down and here they are, back and in good shape and most important of all: in their original colours. Footballs power is far more sustainable than the financial power of a drink corporation and if you need proof, there you have one.
Living in Germany and surrounded with the lovely football culture here, it was inevitable that I choose a club. Having ended up living in Düsseldorf, I went for Fortuna Düsseldorf, who were then (1985) playing in the Bundesliga and standing somewhere around 13th/14th in the table. There are loads of clubs here in the area with Bayer Leverkusen, 1.FC Köln, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Schalke 04 and BVB 09 Dortmund just to name a few. The list can be far longer if you consider the lower leagues, too, where you have loads of clubs with huge history and tradition. It was somehow a question of honour, though, not to go for a club currently on the winning string but to go for the club of the town, which from then on was to host me for life. When you give me shelter, I don’t let you down. Nothing else than Fortuna was therefore seriously an option. Of course, when your club is in the amateur leagues like Fortuna was in the years that then followed, you still follow the one or the other from the first league and in my case that’s Werder Bremen. I love the attitude and culture of the club and it didn’t really surprise me that one of Fortuna’s most famous players, Klaus Allofs, began a managerial career at Bremen as their sports director, after he had retired from his life as a player which began successfully at F95. In fact Werder, under the directive of Allofs was very successful and it was Allofs and Bremen that cultivated the Style of play the team performed, adding the likes of Micoud, Özil or Pizzaro to become world class players, while their likes helped Bremen to win different trophies.
An assessment I made years later gave me loads to think about. I, the Arsenal fan, ended up in Germany supporting two German clubs Fortuna and Werder who were a) very Arsenal-like in their culture, philosophy and style, b) have numerous fans who are admirers of Arsenal (you can ask Mertesacker what sort of standing Arsenal has in the area of Bremen). I as well know loads of fans of Fortuna who are strong Arsenal supporters. Both Arsenal’s and Fortuna’s colours are red and white. Bremen wears green and white but coming from the country I come from, I personally don’t mind the colours red, white and green which are the three colours that make our flag. Yet a lot more than the colours combine these three clubs. The fans (especially the away fans of all three are famous), the style, the philosophy. Arsenal’s style was always with class but not always as offensive as it is under Wenger but for me it’s not primarily the question if a team is offensive or defensive but moreover what the stance of the club is, fundamentally towards the game and towards sports. The bigger question for me personally was if I was looking for these excuses to justify my (club) “affairs”, or if I watched out and found clubs to support unconsciously with the Arsenal profile template I held so dear? Something I’ll probably never find out.
For Arsenal, I hope we one day have the financial resources to buy back the majority of our shares and get rid of any majority stakeholder or, even worse, an owner. I wish we were ruled by members, not shareholders. We can separate the commercialization of football into a different organization of which shares can be sold, for all I care. Look at Bayern Munich. They are not really known for their communist structure, are they? But a club itself can have nothing else than members. No one can own the Arsenal. Be proud, if you’re allowed to hold some shares (or be a member), for the period of your lifetime and be aware what a privilege it was and let the shares be sold to the next faithful, once you depart this life. This great club has attracted so many personalities of their times. Many of you maybe have experienced one or the other personality this club has had in the past. I am forever thankful having lived and experienced the world and Arsenal during the reign of Wenger. I will never forget what he did for us and all he personally sacrificed for achieving it. He is certainly that one person I’ll be telling my grandchildren about. This disciplined, hardworking, high aiming, intelligent, multi-lingual, creative, good-hearted, loyal and modest professional that stood upon his principles like no one else I’ve seen. A lot of men have made significant contribution, but Wenger’s will forever be one of the most remarkable. The best part is that as good as Wenger is, he will be only one of the countless that have served and will serve this club.