take back control

Exploring The Relationship Between The ‘Wenger Out’ Movement and Brexit

In their infernal anger at Arsene Wenger, some among the ‘Wenger Out’ movement have resorted to the tactics of Brexit. We ask whether this is a clever move, or one likely to alienate their fellow fans.

by Will Magee
07 April 2017, 2:30pm

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Though we may not agree with their aims and motivations, few could deny that the tactics of the Vote Leave campaign were remarkably successful. The clearest evidence of this is that Britain is already half way to sacking off the European Union, the polls suggest that right wingers have carte blanche to further privatise our schools, hospitals, air and organs, and the fact that people have seriously been discussing having a great big war with Spain. We didn't even know we wanted to go to war with the Spanish last year, it wasn't even on the cards, but a few strategically placed billboards later and we're ready to fix bayonets and storm the beaches at Benidorm. We thought the Spanish were our friends a few months ago, but then someone whacked a great big lie on the side of a bus, and now we're ready to weaponise the expat community, forcibly annex the Costa del Sol and turn the Alhambra into a holiday home for Prince Charles.

Whatever Vote Leave did in terms of manipulating public opinion, it has worked an absolute treat for them. Accordingly, it would make sense for the next delirious popular rebellion of our time to take a leaf out of the book of its triumphant predecessor. That next delirious rebellion has already begun, of course, and its name is none other than 'Wenger Out'. Indeed, it appears that the Wenger Out movement is way ahead of us here, and that some of those who stand beneath its laminated A4 protest placards have already begun to adopt the language and tactics of Brexit in a bid to further their cause.

Though this may seem like a snarkish assessment, a classic humourist hot take by an agent of the insidious MSM, the relationship between the Wenger Out movement and the Brexit campaign is plain to see. Ahead of Arsenal's FA Cup match against Lincoln back in early March, there was a substantial demonstration against Wenger's management, with a few hundred fans – still a relatively small proportion of the matchday attendance, mind – marching outside the Emirates before kick-off. In among the megaphones, protest scarves and customary band of internet celebrities and Arsenal Fan TV regulars, there was also one specific slogan which caught the eye. Right at the front of the march, in a perfect spot for the waiting cameras, several fans held a banner aloft which read, in bold red letters: 'WEXIT'.

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Now, one might claim that this slogan has little real significance in terms of linking the protest to the decision to bin off Europe. In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, the '-xit' suffix has become fairly ubiquitous, with Frexit, Czexit and Scoxit only a few of the fatuous and irritating portmanteaus coined in the time since. That said, those portmanteaus all pertain to political schisms directly comparable to Britain leaving the European Union, as opposed to, say, an urbane sexagenarian finally calling time on an illustrious spell managing a North London football club. Why those protesting against Arsene Wenger would associate themselves with the Brexit movement, even in so cursory a fashion, is a question worth a little more analysis than the arbitrary decision to add '-xit' to the political process of, say, Scotland disowning the UK.

So, why should Arsene Wenger's potential Arsenal exit be termed a 'WEXIT', exactly? Much like the European Union, Le Professeur is often accused by the Wenger Out movement of being unaccountable, anti-democratic and even dictatorial in his approach. While one might fairly counter that professional football, unlike a federal Europe, has never had any pretensions to being a democracy, it's perhaps understandable that fans have become frustrated with a situation where – just as Vote Leave suggested was the case with the EU – Wenger is given a considerable sum of money each week by people he is not directly answerable to, many of whom are unhappy with the results.

What's perhaps less understandable is the undercurrent of anti-European sentiment being directed at Wenger. Just as Nigel Farage and co. played on our longheld national prejudices against our continental neighbours, some Arsenal fans seem to feel that Wenger's nationality is part of the problem, this despite the fact that nobody minded him being French when he won those three Premier League titles between 1998 and 2004. So, in one particularly colourful rant on talkSPORT, a fan with fairly obvious Wenger Out sympathies stated that he would be willing to personally pay for a taxi to drive Wenger to Paris, this despite the fact that Wenger has lived in suburban North London for the last two decades (and is originally from Alsace, anyway). There is something innately, fundamentally Brexit about this sentiment, which although not shared by all the Wenger Out hardliners – for some of them this is all just about sovereignty, okay – is nonetheless depressingly prevalent on social media and beyond.

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While the 'WEXIT' banner is the most obvious homage to Brexit on the part of the Wenger Out movement, it is certainly not the only example of how some amongst them have attempted to co-opt the Vote Leave platform. In a move reminiscent of the Nigel Farage 'Breaking Point' van and the mendacious 'Fund our NHS' battle bus, someone on the Wenger Out spectrum has used their hard-earned money to fund a matchday campaign van with various anti-Wenger slogans on the side. These include the catchline 'TWENTY YEARS IN EUROPE AND WE'RE STILL WAITING', which could easily be a Vote Leave comment on attempts to reform the Common Fisheries Policy as opposed to a criticism of Wenger's failure to win the Champions League. One other slogan which grabs the attention is 'IN WENGER WE TRUST', which despite being fundamentally inane is still highly memorable, maybe even for that very reason.

Vote Leave were highly successful in terms of sloganeering, with their 'Take Back Control' mantra certainly trumping anything the Remain campaign could come up with. The Wenger Out movement have clearly attempted to replicate that success and, with battle vans, their own distinctive hashtag and feverish presence on Twitter and Facebook, they are basically using the exact same strategy to get their message across. Add to that their willingness to leaflet, petition and appeal to private donors, and a movement which can still only muster a small proportion of matchday fans starts to resemble a political campaign to the final detail. They even have a group of hardcore activists who are willing to go that extra mile to fight for their ideals.

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It should be noted that, much like Vote Leave, the Wenger Out campaign is a disparate grassroots movement made up of people with a variety of different grievances. It's unclear to what extent the protests against Arsene Wenger are centrally organised on any given matchday, and as such each individual involved has responsibility for the tactics they use. Not everyone in the Wenger Out camp would be willing to dress up in full kit and sit outside London Colney on a Tuesday morning, but some would, and there is a distinct whiff of Brexit to those fringe figures. Not everyone who wants Wenger to leave Arsenal would be up for haranguing him on social media every day, and there are obviously many reasonable fans who are sick to death of the lack of progress in recent times, as well as the predictable and repetitive nature of the results.

That brings us to perhaps the most important comparison between the Wenger Out movement and Brexit, namely that both are hugely divisive and have a remarkable power to alienate. There is a legitimate argument to be made against Arsene Wenger continuing at Arsenal, in that he is an extremely well remunerated manager with an excellent group of players who is currently underachieving with the resources he has. Just as there were fishermen who had fair reason to want to leave the European Union, there are Arsenal fans who are entitled to feel Wenger hasn't done enough to earn a new contract with the club. In fact, while not all of them are willing to parade around with 'WEXIT' signs on the concourse outside the Emirates, these supporters may well be a quiet majority at this point.

The issue is that, just as with Brexit, the voices which shout the loudest within the Wenger Out movement are usually the least responsible with their rhetoric. Just as the discourse of leaving the European Union has escalated to the point where Michael Howard is suggesting we could batter the Spanish, so too are there people deriding Arsene Wenger with the sort of mindless and pathetic spite which is only going to permanently estrange their fellow fans. Just as there are millions of people in the UK who, when they see some frothing Brexiteer hurling malice in the direction of Europe, feel like disengaging from politics, so too there are surely thousands of Arsenal supporters who, even though they might have fallen out of love with Wenger, are turned off by the behaviour of the movement against him. Ultimately, when Wenger does leave Arsenal, the club will still need a fanbase. Much like Brexit Britain, agitation by a vocal minority will do nothing to heal the deep rifts at its heart.

@W_F_Magee