Arsene Wenger Gives The Media A Bloody Nose
Today, Arsene Wenger celebrates 20 years as Arsenal manager. It’s been an unusual era that has left Arsenal fans divided on whether or not he should have been in charge for the whole of this period. However, his tenure almost ended within weeks of his appointment.
We’re sure by now that you know the story of how Arsene Wenger came to be Arsenal manager following the sacking of Bruce Rioch. There were 50 days between Rioch’s departure and Wenger taking control of the team during which Arsenal had two caretaker managers, climbed to second place in the Premier League, saw Wenger finally presented as manager at a press conference and were dumped out of the UEFA Cup.
The football media loved it. Especially Tottenham supporting Matthew Norman who wrote for the Evening Standard.
Wenger’s first two games saw the team win one and draw one which put them on top of the table. Everything had worked out just hunky dory. And then it started. This was an era when the internet and email were still in its infancy but started to become widely used. Today we have social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to quickly disseminate information to large numbers of people in a very short time. 20 years ago it was email that fulfilled this function. Someone sent a funny email to a group of mates who would all then do the same, ad infinitum until one of them was told by their boss that they had breached the company policy for using email. Probably the most famous example was that of Claire Swire (contains description of a sexual act).
A couple of weeks after taking over, Wenger became the subject of such a chain of emails. It was believed to have started by a Tottenham fan working for a financial institution in the City of London. The content of the email was about as low as anyone could stoop, and cast serious aspersions on Wenger’s character based on his physical features. This then did the rounds and eventually it turned into Wenger having had to leave Japan due to a scandal that was about to be published by a major UK newspaper. All of which was completely untrue. Wenger was advised by the Arsenal board to ignore the rumours and not comment on them.
Of course, the media couldn’t leave it there. It’s Arsenal and they need to have headlines.
On 7 November their chance came, they had their opportunity and went for the jugular. At 10.10am a news agency called CityScreen issued a story saying Wenger had been sacked. It was removed a minute later, but it was too late. From 10.15 the major newspapers were called by someone purporting to be Arsenal’s marketing manager saying that Wenger had been sacked at 8.30am. All complete lies but, as we know, that doesn’t matter where the media are concerned.
At 1pm Arsene arrived at Highbury to watch Arsenal’s reserves play Chelsea. After spending twenty minutes talking to Peter Hill-Wood and Clare Tomlinson, the club’s new public relations officer, he decided that he would take on the press who had, by now, gathered on the steps of the entrance to the marble halls. One newspaper was ready to print a story that would have ruined Wenger, despite it being malicious fabrication.
One brave hack asked about “the rumours.” He couldn’t state exactly what the rumours were as that would have left him open to a possible slander lawsuit, so he had to resort to a leading question. Wenger, bristling with anger, was having none of it.
If someone has something to say about me they should come and say it. I don’t know of any allegations but there are three things you should know. One is that I am very happy at Arsenal, two that we are doing very well, and three that there is nothing true I need fear.
If anything is said about me that is not right, I will attack.
Peter Hill-Wood dropped his Old Etonian facade to tell it like it was:
I heard the rumours a month ago. They have become embroidered since then. They are rumours of a vicious personal nature. They are complete crap.
To show how the press close ranks, the Evening Standard finished their version of this whole sordid episode with this paragraph. Arrogance and self-importance beyond belief.
CityScreen were forced to issue an apology which appeared in the Arsenal programme against Stoke on 13 November.
Thanks to the media, Arsenal could have seen Wenger give up before he’d even got going. No doubles, no Invincibles, no Henry. Imagine that. Thankfully, he was big enough and brave enough to take them on.
Some sources state that this confrontation took place on 1st October, Wenger’s first day in charge. It goes to show how even relatively recent events can be distorted.
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