Friday, October 19, 2007


Denton, Edelman and Wagon Wheels

Today a part of North London will come to a standstill as thousands pay their respects to an Arsenal legend. Denton makes his final journey to the great Clock End in the sky and tonight he will be supping with George Armstrong and David Rocastle. It’s fair to say that never before will there have been such a send off for a football hooligan and never again will we see it again. But then roads don’t get closed for a mere thug, people don’t travel from the home counties, from abroad just because someone who liked beating the shit out of people has died. Yes, Denton was a football hooligan. But Denton was more than that, much more. There’s not been a day gone by when I haven’t thought about him since he died and I’m no thug. For me, and many like me, Denton represents a time gone by and a club that despite all the changes we still love more than anything else.

Keith Edelman is the Managing Director of Arsenal. He sits on the board, a board that insists it is a custodian of the club and it has the club’s values at heart. Today those values are geared towards extracting the last penny they can from the fans. Edelman is the guy who proudly boasted Arsenal have the most expensive ticket prices in the country. Keith Edelman may not like this but while he was counting beans at Bank of America there were a few hundred fans who followed The Arsenal up and down the country at a time when football was not that popular. Edelman got involved in 2000, a post Hornby prawn sandwich muncher, this new kid on the block claims to speak about values from a club I was following while he was still being a swot, chewing pencils at some numbnuts university. While he was doing Management Sciences, whatever that might be, I was learning about Norris, Chapman and Hill Wood.

Last week people close to Denton arranged a meeting with Mr Edelman. The idea was to arrange a wake for the big man at the club he loved. A deal had been arranged, numbers agreed, people gave up a day from their own lives to thrash out the final details. They arrived at the club to be told Edelman could not, would not, see them. Values? Is this how you treat customers with money to spend? Respect?

Let’s talk about these values. To me and many others The Arsenal is about loyalty, trust. It’s about doing things with a bit of style. It’s about believing in your past, your traditions and staying true to what you believe in. Back in the 70’s and 80’s there weren’t many of us who made those long grim journeys north. You can bet your bicycle clips Edelman didn’t. Denton did. There were no prawn sarnies then, a Wagon Wheel and Panda Pop if you were lucky and a chance meeting with Stanley. Sponsorship, the corporate dollar Edelman is so keen on was limited to having the game sponsored by a company that produced matches.

Why did Edelman, the man who barks on about our traditions, bottle a meeting with people who wanted to send their mate off in style? He’s scared. Arsenal now want to control everything, the songs we sing, the food we eat. The reaction to Denton dying has knocked them for six. The reaction on the street is beyond their marketing models and they don’t know how to react so they try to ignore it, hope it will go away. But it won’t. I won’t. I was born Arsenal. Today as the mourners file past our new stadium they are the product of generations of Arsenal fans. They are the working class who have seen their game, their club taken from them and sold to the highest bidder but they are still Arsenal. The values of Arsenal Football Club, the traditions, the soul of our club will be on the streets to say farewell to one of their own and in return the club, through Edelman, turns its back.

Perhaps they are also scared of what people might say. The interest and reaction aroused by Denton and his death has also been ignored by the media. With Uzbek and American money swirling round the club perhaps Edelman et al fear the ‘negative’ consequences of a media glare focused on a hooligan. It would upset the pink hats, the new breed with their deep pockets. Instead of embracing Denton they ignore him and his role in the story of The Arsenal. In the 70’s racism swept the terraces of England but it had no chance of getting a foothold on the North Bank or Clock End. We had Batson, Davis, Whyte and Meade but we also had Denton. The right never stood a chance and you can thank Denton’s influence for that.

Nobody expects the club to do much. Indeed nobody wants them to do much. But a token recognition would be nice. A recognition that fans are the most important part of the club and a recognition that our worth goes beyond the pounds and pence that are now seen to define us. The Arsenal are about class, at least that is what I have been brought up to believe and that is what I say to people at work. Class is not in the big gesture but in the small things that people notice. It would be class if, today, the club could offer some gesture to Denton. It would be class if the club could acknowledge the passing of someone many regard as a true legend. Mr Edelman, Keith, you talk about the values of our club. Show them.

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