Mesut Ozil recently posted on Instagram, amongst all the controversy surrounding Arsenal at the moment, a statement about his time at the club.
In it, he called out former players-turned-pundits who have been vocal in their criticisms of the club’s recent performances, both on the pitch and in the transfer market. In his statement, Ozil tells them to “stop talking and start supporting”.
Frankly, this is an insult, both to these former players and to the fans themselves, as this can easily refer to them too.
What Ozil is suggesting is that if you have a negative opinion about the state of your club you should keep it to yourself
This is a dangerous statement to make. Fans are rightly getting increasingly frustrated with the direction football has taken, and they absolutely deserve the right to express it.
Football no longer for the fans
Football is going in a direction that worries fans, particularly English football. It is getting further and further away from its working-class roots and nothing shows this more than the ticket prices in the Premier League.
Sticking with Arsenal, it has been reported that their average season ticket this season cost an incredible £891. Compare this to Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga, whose seating season tickets cost on average €340, or £312.
This is not just about Arsenal too. In fact, only three clubs in the Premier League have cheaper season tickets than the champions of Germany.
Why shouldn’t fans feel entitled to a certain level of commitment and passion from the players on the pitch?
Why shouldn’t fans feel entitled to the staff and owners running their club in a suitable manner?
And why shouldn’t the fans feel entitled to vent their frustration when said players or owners let them down? They pay enough money.
Add this to the astronomical wages the players receive in the Premier League to do their job on the pitch, and it is easy to see why this frustration is building up.
To take away the fans' voice will be the final step in fully commercialising the sport, where business becomes the complete epicentre of the game.
Importance of fan protests
With football moving further away from the fans, the clubs and the business people who run them need to be monitored. Without feedback, many owners run amok, doing anything to rake in more cash and forgetting to cater for fans.
This is why fan protest is necessary.
Should the 10,000 Liverpool fans who walked out in 2016 to protest rising ticket prices have sat down and “started supporting?"
Should Jamie Carragher, a former Liverpool player who urged fans to join in the protest, have “stopped talking and started supporting?"
These kinds of protests have been seen elsewhere, including in Dortmund where fans threw tennis balls onto the pitch, and once again staying in London, during an Arsenal game against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, with both cases also protesting rising ticket prices.
It is thanks to movements like these that we see ticket price caps for away matches, and clubs slowly reducing their season ticket costs.
Cases like these highlight the importance of fans and ex-players taking action in situations like these. Without these actions, what would football be today? Unaffordable, for one.
Application to performances
Why shouldn’t the protest and fan feedback reach on-field performances too? I am not encouraging abuse or hatred, but fans have a right to criticise the players and managers they pay to see represent their club.
The last Deloitte report, written for the 2014/15 season, showed that Arsenal made the most matchday revenue in world football. Fans are giving so much to their clubs and yet are still regularly taken advantage of.
Who would deny these Arsenal fans, who come in their droves to support their club, a voice? One they used last year to display their disappointment towards the players and the owners.
It is not just Arsenal fans who have staged protests towards the managers and players. In Roberto Martinez’s last season at Everton, there were several fan protests after games and outside stadiums, with people coming together to articulate their worry for the direction the club was heading in.
Now, it may not have been the ultimate decider that saw Martinez lose his job, as results were far below acceptable, but it would have pushed the process along.
When fans feel they have no voice through conventional means, and the club refuses to give fans any say in the running of their club, protests should be encouraged, not vilified.
Fans should be at the centre of football, not the owners, and sometimes the people at the top need reminding of that fact.
Fans have the power
Let’s get rid of the ridiculous notion of ‘unconditional support’ for football clubs. Just because someone is a fan of their club, does not mean they cannot criticise the club, refuse to attend games or protest against the way the club is run.
It is the duty and the right of a fan to stand up against what they perceive as wrong. Clubs need to earn support and respect from their fans, not expect to receive it for nothing.
Many players and pundits in the past have tried to push this idea of support for support’s sake. Here, Ozil has let himself and the fans down, telling everyone unhappy with the club to keep showing up with your mouth shut.
The statement “stop talking and start supporting” is ridiculous, when you consider that both should go hand-in-hand. Fans who support their club through thick and thin have only the best in mind. Perhaps clubs can listen for once.
This is not a personal attack towards Mesut Ozil, I do not believe he meant to attack fans and ex-players.
However, we must banish the ridiculous notion that any form of criticism is a lack of support. The biggest fans are those passionate enough to call out their club and players on their wrongdoings.
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