Vile and unfunny: Wenger deserves our respect, not offensive songs which shame the English game
01:27 GMT, 5 November 2012
Vile chants: Wenger
As Arsene Wenger set off down the touchline towards the Old Trafford tunnel at full time on Saturday, his old nemesis Sir Alex Ferguson set off after him.
With the help of a brief jog Ferguson got there just as the two men disappeared from view. No doubt a handshake and some commiseration followed. It had been an afternoon without consolation for the Arsenal manager.
One wonders too, though, whether Ferguson also felt the need to apologise on behalf of those supporters who had subjected Wenger to a new and not particularly clever line of abuse at several points during the preceding game.
To some at Old Trafford, Wenger has always been a “paedophile”.
Referring to some ridiculous internet
rumours that circled when Wenger took over at Highbury in 1996, the
Arsenal manager hears it every time he stands on the touchline at
Manchester United’s stadium.
‘Sit down you paedophile’ is how it goes. Charming. On Saturday the song had been updated.
‘Are you Savile in disguise’ was the question asked of Wenger by the vocal minority. It was a song also sung by some West Ham fans during Arsenal’s recent visit to Upton Park.
While at least providing some proof that even the idiots can read newspapers, the song will have embarrassed and irritated Ferguson.
The United manager’s attitude towards Wenger has not always been consistent over a decade and a half of rivalry. There isn’t a friendship and there never will be. He has, however, made his objections to the mistreatment at Old Trafford of one of the great modern managers very clear over the years.
Floored: Arsenal were well beaten at Old Trafford
Ferguson has spoken of it in press conferences. He has written about it in the matchday programme. He has even sent letters to the homes of season-ticket holders.
He and his football club have made it admirably apparent that they find the whole thing unacceptable and offensive. Sadly, none of it has worked.
Old foe: Ferguson
That much was clear on Saturday afternoon at Old Trafford and indeed in Manchester city centre afterwards, as the song was repeated by groups of drinkers enjoying their weekly evening out a little too much.
The subject of what is appropriate and what is not when it comes to behaviour at football matches is moot. There has, at times, been some over-reaction in the media to some of the subjects that are turned into song on a Saturday afternoon.
Songs about building bonfires and signing on at job centres are as established and familiar as they are largely harmless.
Nobody wishes to turn a visit to Old
Trafford, Anfield or indeed the Emirates into an experience akin to a
trip to the theatre. The edge, humour and depth of feeling that has
always characterised an afternoon at an English football stadium has
already been threatened by seated stadiums, rising ticket prices and
peculiar kick-off times.
It is, however, hard to defend the defamatory and offensive rubbish that Wenger has to deal with every time he steps off the team bus at Old Trafford. Paedophilia, after all, is not very funny.
On Saturday it wasn’t just the United supporters who were culpable. No doubt they will be quick to point this out.
From the away section came the chant: ‘You’re just a Dutch Jimmy Savile.’ This one was aimed at United striker Robin van Persie, a player formally of Arsenal and once arrested – and never charged – on suspicion of rape back in Holland.
Hero to villain: Van Persie (left) was also on the receiving end of mindless chants
That was seven years ago but memories are long in football when it suits the cause.
Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand briefly referred to the subject in a post-match interview on Saturday. He accused the Arsenal fans of having no class but then appeared to backtrack a little, referring to the songs as ‘banter’.
Maybe Van Persie is able to dismiss it just as glibly. Maybe Wenger is, too. It’s doubtful, though.
Wenger, we should note, is 63 now. He has served Arsenal admirably over the years he has worked in north London and his influence on English football and the development and growth of the Barclays Premier League should be clear even to those who are happy to deride him each weekend.
Wenger is more than a football coach. He is a man who has done much to shape our sport in its modern form. Frankly, he deserves better. Ferguson understands this. Why can’t everyone else