The Oxford Union welcomes a variety of well-known guests every year to deliver talks and answer audience questions. It is unlikely that anyone has provoked more uproar than Arsenal full-back Hector Bellerin following his recent appearance. The Spanish international provided insight into the life a young footballer, mental health issues within the game, racism, charity and the Alexis Sanchez situation. All those issues were secondary, however, to the most important and profound issue of the evening: Arsenal Fan TV.
Hector Bellerin, Arsenal Fan TV, and Modern Football Fans: The Oxford Union Fallout
Bellerin was nothing if not honest when asked for his assessment of the popular Youtube channel. Since many segments taken out of context have been floating around, here is the quote in full:
“I think it’s so wrong for someone that claims to be a fan and their success is fed off of failure… so how can that be a real fan? I think they’re just people hustling, trying to make money their way, which everyone is entitled to do. But for us players, it doesn’t affect us. Listen, if people want to have fun with it, have fun, but for us… when you grow you just realize what’s important for you to listen to and what not to take.
If a coach comes to me and tells me ‘you’ve done something bad, you’ve done something wrong’, I’m going to take that advice. If I hear someone from Arsenal Fan TV saying ‘this guy needs to do this, this guy needs to do that’ I’m not going to listen to him. But they’re entitled to their opinion, the way they want to do it, and if people find it funny go and watch it.”
Bellerin’s comments were met with immediate backlash from the AFTV community. Middle-aged men headed to their cars, turned on their cameras, opened twitter and let loose, suggesting Bellerin has achieved nothing in his career.
However, Bellerin hit on a number of points here which many Arsenal fans have also expressed. Arsenal Fan TV is no longer a platform for everyday fans to voice their opinions, but a reality TV circus hijacked by a select few for their own benefit. It has come to represent some of the worst elements of both the Arsenal fanbase and the culture of the modern fan. This piece is not a takedown of Robbie Lyle, the creator of AFTV, or the platform itself. Robbie often comes off as level-headed and reasonable, a man who truly believes he is giving ordinary fans a voice.
Feeding Off Failure
There can be no doubt that when Arsenal lose, AFTV does better. A quick scan of their latest uploads will prove that. Failure has also helped launch some of it’s biggest stars. These individuals gained an audience through their extreme reactions and diatribes. The more extreme and outlandish the better. The appeal of these characters extends beyond angry Gooners; fans of other teams often tune in to watch the meltdowns unfold with glee. More views means more money and exposure. These numbers add up to equal an uncomfortable truth. The worse Arsenal do, the better it is for Arsenal Fan TV and their stars.
That’s not to say the platform is set up to explicitly take advantage of the defeats. Yet, it would be naïve to suggest that certain regulars are not aware of the potential social media clout a fiery performance after a loss can give them. Bellerin is not criticizing all Arsenal fans, as those seeking a reaction would suggest, but a tiny minority who sense the opportunity to take advantage of bad results to grow their “brand”. The Spaniard notes that these individuals are entitled to make money in whatever way they see fit. That doesn’t mean he has to listen to them.
A Sense of Entitlement
The fallout from Bellerin’s comments has brought some of modern football fandom’s worst aspects to the fore. Twitter, the preferred platform for so many football fans, has a character limit which lends itself to quotes being taken out of context and a potentially toxic atmosphere. A few days in and a number of Arsenal fans were convinced that Bellerin had said “fans don’t matter” (which he clearly did not). AFTV’s online celebrities had happily whipped up these sentiments based on false information. The fact that Bellerin values the opinion of his manager more than these social media experts was apparently too much to bear for their inflated egos. They seem to be happy to go on camera and hurl abuse, but when the tables are turned it becomes a different story.
The sentiment that, because the fans pay to watch, they are above reproach also made the rounds soon after. It would be a sad day when one’s devotion to a team was measured in the amount of money spent. Furthermore, no amount of money that others spend should prevent Bellerin from holding an opinion and voicing it; it just doesn’t make sense. Just as fans are entitled to their opinions, so are players. Some fans follow the AFTV stars because they “speak the truth”, yet when a player opens up and speaks candidly (a much rarer occurrence), they are lambasted for it. Something doesn’t add up.
Bellerin, Arsenal Fan TV, and What Really Matters
It’s a shame that the rest of Bellerin’s talk has been overshadowed by the two minutes he spent discussing AFTV. His insight into life outside of football is fascinating. Contrary to popular opinion, many of the world’s top players have diverse interests; Vincent Kompany has a business degree, Juan Mata is a trained journalist. Bellerin’s own forays into fashion, marketing and technology are signs of intelligence and forethought, and should be applauded. Footballers are ordinary people too.
He also discussed mental health inside the game, a topic which often slides under the radar. Yohan Cabaye, for example, failed to live up to his potential because of a hard-fought battle with depression. Instead of raging over some comments regarding a small section of fans, maybe its time to shift focus to the much larger issues at hand.
A Game of Opinions
Ultimately, football is a game of opinions. They make the sport what it is, enable a thriving culture, and even give writers on this website a job. Every fan has a right to an opinion. So does every player. A big following, a vitriolic rant, or heaps of money spent doesn’t make one’s opinion more valuable or right.
Douglas Adams wrote, “All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others.”
Instead of lashing out at Bellerin for expressing the uncomfortable truths about their platform, maybe its time some of Arsenal’s celebrity fans looked in the mirror.
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