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Arsenal, Everton and Spurs Have Only Themselves to Blame for Their Decline

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Fairly confusing, this rebel business. In one place, you're the darling of the free world. In another, you're feral scum, symbolising everything that's wrong with British youth. One man's rebel is another man's pain in the arse. Murky waters indeed.

The real problem with rebels of course, is that you never quite know where they will stop. By their very nature, boundaries offer little deterrence. Break one rule, might as well break another. Which brings us to the dominant theme of the opening weeks of Premier League season 2011/12.

21 years ago, the rebellious nature of England's five biggest football clubs changed our national game forever. The chairmen of Spurs, Arsenal and Everton, Liverpool and Manchester United held secret meetings with television executives, aimed at splintering from the Football League and creating a self-perpetuating, embedded elite.

Unsurprisingly, the move didn't go down too well at FA HQ. So controversial were these clandestine meetings, that the-then Spurs chairman Irving Scholar often had to use pseudonyms to book his hotel meeting rooms.

Fast-forward to the present day. No top-flight clubs have had a more traumatic August than three of that original gang of five - Arsenal, Tottenham and Everton. Arsenal have lost two of their best players, and have made their worst start to a league season for over 40 years. Spurs are yet to spend a penny, and also face losing their most acclaimed asset. As for Everton, it has been so long since they've spent any money, their cash supply is still in shillings.

It isn't just a bad week or two either - the mood swilling around all three is that this is very much the end of an era; for Arsenal of being title contenders, for Spurs of being Champions League contenders, and at Everton, of challenging for any European place at all.

Reflecting back on the aforementioned events of the early 90s, these clubs have to a large extent, been hoisted by their own petard. All of a sudden, football became a cash cow, the playing field started to resemble the Underhill slope, and the world's best players came to graze greedily. At first, all went swimmingly. Big clubs had never generated more wealth, had never filled their grounds so frequently, and even if trophies weren't drenching Goodison and White Hart Lane every season, all seemed well in the world. Who cares if 80 clubs were being cut adrift, never having any chance to win a thing - the good times were back.

But twenty years on, the story has played out in full. The rich still got richer, and some more got left behind. Independence and deregulation suited Spurs, Everton and Arsenal back then. In the days of Sheikhs and oligarchs, it no longer does.

That's the thing with rebels - no limits. And now they are the ones left behind. It was Bowie who wrote, "Rebel Rebel, How could they know?" Maybe Messrs Dean, Scholar and Carter weren't to know it would all end this way. One thing is for sure however. By the time of the next rebellion, the inevitable European Super League, it is unlikely that the current chairmen of Arsenal, Tottenham or Everton need worry too much about pseudonyms. They won't be in the room.

Elsewhere...
Whilst packing up their laptop chargers and wiping guacamole from their chins last Saturday afternoon, Arsenal fans managed to vocalise their full-time thoughts succinctly. "Spend some ****ing money," was the cry.

I recall sitting in the North Bank back in early 1995, a bleak 1-1 home draw with Alan Ball's Southampton. Arsenal's season was fizzling out under George Graham, lying 11th in the league having been dumped out of both domestic cups the previous week, and with only the ugly sister of European trophies, the Cup Winners Cup to win (for those who don't remember , it was the trophy that invented Thursday night football.)

Following mild jeers at the final whistle the chant rang around Highbury, "Georgie, get your chequebook out." All of which suggests that not only do some things never change, but also that football fans have become far coarser over the last decade.

Graham did get his cheque book out. Glenn Helder arrived for £2.3m a fortnight later, and not even the man himself, apparently later clinically diagnosed with, "a Narcissistic personality disorder," would have spent too much subsequent time watching video reruns of his matches in an Arsenal shirt.

So money isn't always the answer. Not for George Graham back then. Not for Leeds United a decade ago, and perhaps not now for Arsene Wenger. Squillaci, Koscielny, Chamakh - the Gunners don't need more where they came from. Arsenal fans should shut up and let Arsene do what he does best.

Just before I go...
A wonderful piece in this month's When Saturday Comes discusses an often overlooked football phenomena - the age we choose our team. Most fans make the choice between the ages of 5-8, not perhaps a period where we are at our most intellectually picky.

Yet this choice is something that affects us through life - imagine choosing a spouse or a place to live at that age. Wouldn't we all benefit from an amnesty offered to us all at around 21, whereby we could swap clubs with impunity? No sneers. No snootiness. Just a second chance to give yourself a better life. Thoughts?