Yes We Can?
If there is anyone out there who still doubts that Arsenal is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our football club, today is your answer.
It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around burger vans and programme stalls in numbers this club has never seen; by people who sat refreshing Arsenal.com for three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voices could be that difference.
It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, North Bank and Clock End, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – supporters who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a bunch of corporates and fairweather fans: we are, and always will be, Arsenal.
It’s the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many (I’m looking at you, Hansen) to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.
It’s been a long time coming, but today, because of what William Gallas did on Wednesday, in today’s press conference, at this defining moment, change has come to Arsenal.
A little bit earlier this evening I received an extraordinarily gracious call from William Gallas. He fought long and hard in this campaign, and he’s fought even longer and harder with the demons in his mind. He has endured sacrifices for Arsenal that most of us cannot begin to imagine – namely his sanity. We are better off without the service rendered by this ‘brave’ and ‘selfless’ leader.
I commiserate him, as I commiserate Alexandre Song, for all they have failed to achieve, yet I look forward to working with them to renew this team’s promise in the months ahead.
But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to – it belongs to you: the Arsenal fans.
Cesc was never the likeliest candidate for this office. He doesn’t come with many trophies or much experience. His campaign was not hatched in the halls of Clairefontaine – it began in the streets of Cataluña and the living rooms of Barnet and on the training pitch at London Colney.
It was built by hard work and board members who dug into what little savings they had to give £5,000 and £10,000 and £20,000 to the cause.
It grew strength from the young man who rejected the myth of his generation’s apathy; who left his home and family for a job that offered bitter cold and plenty of kicks; it grew strength from the not-so-young people who took in a perfect stranger and help him acclimatise to life in this country; from the thousands of Arsenal supporters who cheered, and supported, and proved that more than one hundred years after its founding, a club run by fans and for fans has not perished from the Premier League.
This is your victory.
I know you didn’t do this just to sort the captaincy issue and I know you didn’t do it for Cesc Fabregas. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of Arsene’s reign – the threat of Aston Villa, a midfield weaker than balsa wood, the worst financial crisis in a century.
Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Arsenal fans waking up in the streets of Islington and the suburbs of Hertfordshire who risk being mocked by Spurs fans, Chelsea fans, and more.
There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how they’ll face their co-workers on Monday morning, or reconcile themself to the existence of Emmanuel Eboue, or forgive Adebayor’s latest indiscretion. There are new players to buy and new staff to be appointed; new partnerships to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair.
The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one month or even in one season, but Arsenal – I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you – we as a club will get there.
There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won’t agree with every decision or policy Arsene makes as manager, and we know that buying can’t solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.
And above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this club the only way it’s been done at Arsenal for 122 years – block by block, pass by pass, crunching tackle by crunching tackle.
What began four years ago with Arsene’s decision to do things his way cannot end on this winter night. This victory alone is not the change we seek – it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you, without a new spirit of togetherness, a new spirit of support.
So let the players summon a new spirit of passion; of service and responsibility where each of them resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only themselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this recent crisis taught us anything, it’s that we cannot have a thriving Carling Cup team while the first team suffers – at this club, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people: Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our team for so long. Let us remember that it was a manager from this club who first carried the banner of ethical football to the Premier League – a club founded on the values of self-reliance, creative liberty, and team unity.
Those are values that we all share, and while the Arsenal fans have won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lee Dixon said on Match of the Day 2: “We are not enemies, but friends… though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.”
And to those Arsenal fans whose support Arsene has yet to earn – he may not have won your vote tonight, but he hears your voices, he needs your help, and he will be your manager too.
And to all those Arsenal fans reading tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around laptops in the forgotten corners of the world – our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of Arsenal leadership is at hand.
To those who would tear our club down – we will defeat you. To those who seek beautiful football and financial security – we support you.
And to all those who have wondered if Arsenal’s beacon still burns as bright – today we proved once more that the true strength of our club comes not from the might of our centre-backs or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: attractive football, sensible finances, opportunity for youth and unyielding hope.
For that is the true genius of Arsene – his Arsenal can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.
This week had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that’s on my mind tonight is about a man whose been an Arsenal fan as long as he can remember. He’s a lot like the thousands of others who logged on to this blog to make their voice heard in this captaincy debate, except for one thing – Steven Rogers is 106 years old.
He was born just a generation past the club’s birth; a time when there were no Jumbotrons in the stadium or prawn sandwiches in the crowd; when someone like Cesc Fabregas couldn’t be captain for two reasons – because he was 21, and because of his nationality.
And tonight, I think about all that he’s seen throughout his century with Arsenal – the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that Arsenal creed: Yes, we can.
At a time when Herbet Chapman was called mad and his innovations dismissed, he lived to see Chapman stand up and speak out and add those white sleeves. Yes, we can.
When there was despair in the changing room and depression across the pitch, he saw a team conquer fear itself with an Unbeaten Season, new players and a new sense of common purpose. Yes, we can.
When the cranes arrived at Highbury and takeover threatened, he was there to witness a stadium rise to greatness and a club was saved. Yes, we can.
He was there for Alan Sunderland’s winner at Wembley, Charlie George’s sliding celebration, the tragic death of David Rocastle, and a preacher from Strasbourg who told a people that “we shall overcome”. Yes, we can.
A man broke our all-time goalscoring record, Highbury came down, a team was created by science and imagination. And this year, in this season, he logged on to a poll about Arsenal’s captaincy, and cast his vote, because after 106 years with Arsenal, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, he knows how Arsenal can change. Yes, we can.
Arsenal, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves – if Cesc should still be here in two, or even three seasons time; if I should have a son lucky enough to see a Cesc Fabregas-led side in 2015, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?
This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment.
This is our time – to put our players back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of beautiful football; to reclaim the Arsenal dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth – that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism and doubt, and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a club: yes, we can.
Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless Arsenal Football Club.