Ashley Cole: This is a fan's defence

Last updated : 10 September 2006 By Rachel Willcox

Being an Arsenal fan hasn't been the easiest recently and not just because of results going against us, but the whole situation that a couple of our players have decided that Arsenal Football Club is not good enough for them and they want away. One was homesick and struggling a little but the other was an alleged gooner throughout his life. I can't say I am at all impressed with you. It seems so greedy, selfish, egotistic, pathetic, there are many words for you right now but not many of them are printable, you can have a pick at which suits you the most. Personally right at this moment in time I would opt for all of them. They all describe who you have become in their own way.

I think it is time now to explain things a little more, why I feel so betrayed by you. Someone who classed himself as a gooner, yet has betrayed the club you claimed to love.

So, what did Arsenal Football Club mean to you when you were younger? At the tender age of 9 were you all excited about being part of the Arsenal youth academy?

Did you have dreams about being part of the first team? Walking out with your team at Wembley on FA Cup final day! Were all your friends and family proud of you and encouraging you? See at that age, you were a fan like the rest of us.

I am only 8 months younger then you, brought up in London with a family of Arsenal fans, so it was only natural that I was going to be one as well. We grew up around the same time, in the same city and had the same love for the same club.

For as long as I can remember I have been fighting battles with friends of rival clubs, one of my friends from school was a Manchester United fan and he often teased me, saying Manchester United was the better club. To me this just was not true, Arsenal were the better club. I didn't care who had scored the most goals or who had won the most silverware, this isn't what being a fan was all about. The passion, loyalty and the pain of following so closely with a team that you will always stick with, through thick and thin was what it was about. I used to/still do defend Arsenal with every little bit of my heart because of what they mean to me.

The team I had been given to support was Arsenal Football Club and as I grew up my passion got more intense. My first proper memory of Arsenal was 26 May 1989, I was 7 years old at this time and often found it tough to understand all the rules of the game. Every Friday we would all go down to a local club, most of my family would go down. This is the only time I really remember the place, we needed to beat Liverpool at Anfield by 2 clear goals if we were to win the title, it was within touching distance for the first time in 18 years. My dad was very nervous, I remember wondering why he was so nervous, I now understand but at 7 you don't see things the same way adults do. Most people seemed to have written us off completely, because of Liverpool's record. It was the closest title fight for a long time and even up to this point in time, I don't remember one going quite so close. Its amazing when I look back on it and think of how so many people are brought together because of a football team. Winning that game was like we'd won the lottery it was amazing, my dad was so pleased I thought that this was what it was all about. You follow your team and they give you benefits of being so loyal and faithful.

As the years rolled on my determination and loyalty for Arsenal Football Club went from strength to strength, I cannot deny at times it was tough. Football was often seen as more of a male sport, none of my female friends knew much about football. I think that was a reason I used to make friends more with the boys, was easier to talk to someone if they understood what you were talking about.

I often found it tough trying to convince people that I knew my football, I wasn't just a fan because I could look at the legs or I fancied a player in the team. I was a true fan, someone who has laughed with the club, been angry at them and cried with them. I don't know what it is but there is just something in your mind that when your team is playing well and things are going good for them, things are going good for you too. Its an attachment, your heart, soul, spirit and mind all belong to your team. People who do not understand or like football will not understand what I am trying to say. To them it may sound extremely mad, like I may need some help or something, but until you have been in this situation you cannot comment on what it is seriously like to be a fan.

I thought you were one of these people, one of us, a gooner. Someone who understood how it felt to be a fan of a team, who knew what it meant to fans to win the North London derbies. You were adored by thousands of people every week, people appreciated you and favoured you because you had proved at that time that you were a pure dedicated gooner. You would work hard to get what you wanted, this was your beloved club and you were proud to be part of it.

I am wondering Ashley, what happened to that person?

Players have very short careers compared to some occupations, I realise that and understand that to be a player you must stick to strict diets, fitness regimes, curfew's. Shouldn't it all be worth it though? Being able to pull on the red and white of Arsenal, running out onto the perfect green grass of Highbury. Living a dream that so many fans have, being a lucky one.

So where did it all start to go downhill? Was it David Dein 'apparently' offering you £60,000 a week and then saying 'Oh, I am sorry we have decided to only offer you £55,000 a week.' Am I missing something here or did you meet Chelsea behind our back because of £5,000? Do you realise Ashley, that most people don't make this kind of money in a year and you were being offered this a week. Your job isn't dangerous, yes its short lived because age catches up but it isn't like you have to say goodbye to your family because your being shipped off to Iraq and you don't know if you will ever see them again. Will you be alive next month, next week, tomorrow, these are the heroes in my book, these people risk their lives to protect others.

Maybe to you it felt like David Dein was betraying you by taking back the promise of £60,000 a week, that £5,000 less was a real punch in the stomach and going to see Chelsea was the one way you could really get back at Arsenal. The thing is Ashley, you haven't just hurt, angered, upset the club, its the fans too and what have we ever done to you?

The word innocent in the dictionary has the following meaning: Not guilty of a particular crime; Free from sin; Blameless - need I go on?

To me this is not a word that matches you, you say Arsenal fed you to the sharks, extremely drastic in my opinion but what do you think you done to us? The people who supported you constantly, who literally paid your wages.

You seem to be under the impression you are the only innocent party in all of this but that isn't true, we are the innocent one's, the fans. This brings me to the conclusion that you no longer understand what it is to be a real fan anymore.

Do you even remember how it all felt when you were younger? I suppose as you get older and realise you have the chance to be a great footballer, having the opportunity to get paid all sorts of ludicrous wages, things change in your head.

Maybe not straight away, at first it was probably great, having a professional contract at your team, getting your opportunity to shine from Mr Wenger in 1999. How did it feel to play the debut for Arsenal? Was it exciting? Did you feel you were living a dream? Something you could only wish for as you kicked a ball around with your mates in the school playground.

I can imagine it, I can imagine how happy my brother or my mates would have been if they had the opportunity that you got, knowing you had the skill, being able to work on that and having a manager there to help you work on your strengths, rather then just working to improve your weaknesses (believe me Ashley, you do have weaknesses).

Did any of this go through your head when you decided to go behind your clubs back to meet Chelsea? Did you not sit back and think oh my god what am I doing?

I have heard you deny knowing of Kenyon and Mourinho's attendance at the hotel and for a while I held sympathy for you, thought well maybe the board were a little wrong to be saying one thing and then doing another. I am not saying I thought it was a good idea to go behind our back and sell yourself to Chelsea but I can understand why you wanted to leave at that time, you were hurting. Okay, lets say that you really didn't know the Chelsea cavalry was going to be there, lets say you were naive enough and led by your agent to think it was just a meeting with the super agent, why didn't you walk out there and then when Mourinho and Kenyon walked in. Why did you sit there and listen? Would you have even told Arsenal if it hadn't been for the fact someone had tipped off the news of the world? I wanted to believe you at one stage, Arsenal blogs were putting you down saying how you were a traitor and we need to get rid of you, even at games I refused to join in the boo's and the jeers because I felt you deserved a second chance, everyone makes mistakes. I even wrote to you in support, just because I felt you shouldn't feel like everyone is against you. Shall I tell you how it feels now though, when you realise one of your favourite players who you thought would be loyal to the club and the fans, discards you and treats you like nothing, it felt like one of your mates who you had followed and supported for years, had stuck a knife into your back and was twisting it.

Chelsea were our rivals, you knew that we could never compete with a team like that in the transfer market, not in a million years.

As an Arsenal fan, I would be delighted to work with the teams name on my back, to have the satisfaction of when asked 'Oh where do you work?' For the answer to be 'For Arsenal!' My loyalty and love for my club would get me to a stage where I would work for them for nothing, just to be able to help out. I realise that you cannot live without money, its what makes the world go round, although the more you have the more you seem to want.

The situation you found yourself in was your doing Ashley, no one twisted your arm behind your back and told you that you had to go to that meeting or stay at that meeting. Why is it you feel you have to blame our board for this meeting? You done something wrong and you deserved to be punished for it, if I had gone against something in a contract where I worked, do you think they wouldn't punish me? They would probably sack me. Why should you be any different? Chelsea also deserved to be punished, just because they have the money does not mean they can do what they like. Why are we the one's guilty of hanging you out to dry when Chelsea 'apparently' blamed you and your agent in the FA Enquiry, saying you were the one who called the meeting. Why is it so easy for you to forgive Chelsea but the club you claim to love has received most of your vile venom. Or maybe its because you know that Chelsea are right? Did you contact them first?

That's the only way I can see how you could forgive them, they wanted to blame everything on you so they wouldn't get into trouble. Have you forgotten these things? I certainly haven't, I can remember it like it was yesterday. I was still sticking up for you, how stupid do you think I feel now after all this?

I was sticking by you because you were our player, you obviously felt aggrieved by the boards actions but even then it was no excuse for meeting Chelsea, let me put it another way to you. I, as an Arsenal fan, write a letter to an Arsenal player asking for a signed picture, they decide they cannot really send a signed picture because there are too many people sending letters, they are inundated with them. So Arsenal send me a letter and some fact sheets on that player instead, do you think I would write to players of other teams to see who would send me a signed picture? Then to actually change my allegiance because the Arsenal player never sent me the picture but another player from a different team did.

I know to you that may sound minor but to someone who isn't lucky enough to be given an opportunity to be in your situation, a signed picture from my team is what its about. I expect you don't think this is the same situation at all, not the point you would like to make. Well the funny thing Ashley, that is exactly what it is, you found yourself in a situation and instead of discussing things with Arsenal you throw your toys out of the pram and run to Chelsea. You are probably still denying even wanting to join Chelsea (At that time) but let me tell you something, your move to Chelsea hasn't proved you to be an innocent man, its proved to me that you were always after that Chelsea move. To be honest, if I had been in charge of whether we sold you or whether you stayed with us, I wouldn't have sold you just to be awkward. Just to make you see that you are not the be all and end all in this world. Just because you click your fingers and stamp your feet, does not mean you will get what you want. You were lucky that Mr Wenger is a decent man, do you think if you pulled the same trick with Chelsea, Mourinho would let you be sold? I wouldn't kid yourself on that, he wouldn't have let Gallas go if it wasn't for us wanting to get rid of you.

You are a fantastic left back, you work hard in a game and you try to play the game the way the manager wants you too but if it wasn't for Mr Wenger or Arsenal Football Club, do you really think you would be the player you became?

Who was it that stuck by you & supported you when you were having a rough time with England? Who was it that gave you encouragement in all fields of your game? Or are you naive enough to believe it was all your work? Your work was a stepping stone across the river but it wasn't a bridge, you needed that lucky break as well as the hard work. You can work your socks off but sometimes luck is not on your side and delivers fatal punches, you put the work in and was fortunate to receive the opportunity.

Do you think us Arsenal fans didn't suffer? You made a joke out of our club, you hit it severely hard with all your might. We defended you constantly, we admired you, felt you knew what loyalty was all about but in the end you are walking proof that football is not always about loyalty, honour, honesty. A player who was adored by thousands week after week, singing your name, cheering your movement & passing, we were shot down by the one person we believed would never betray us, You!

Are you wondering why fans have turned against you? Do you even care? I cannot believe you still think that you are the only one in this whole charade that is free from guilt. We supported you through everything you done, all I want is answers from you that explain the truth, but I am not sure you even know what the truth is anymore, you have been trying to convince yourself that what you done was because the Arsenal board caused it, well you can try convincing yourself all you like but I bet deep down even you realise it wasn't just the Arsenal board, you just decided to use them as your scapegoat. Thinking it would get you out of trouble, thinking the Arsenal fans would be on your side. Do you really think you are bigger then our club? Thinking we would all side with you rather then the club we have all supported for years?

As a fan this is the way I see your story: Rather then expressing your unhappiness in the normal way a player would, i.e. asking for a transfer request, instead you trotted off to a London hotel to meet with super agent Pini Zahavi. Once there and realising Mourinho and Kenyon were there as well, what did you do? Did you stand up and walk out? No, you listened, then when you were found out, Arsenal decided to complain to the FA, which is the same thing that most people would have done and I was pleased with Arsenal for sticking up for themselves. You got fined but you didn't like that at all so you started moaning and whinging, which got you further into trouble with the Arsenal fans. You wouldn't admit you were in the wrong even though there was proof, to this day you still deny it. Then suddenly it was all our fault, we hung you out to dry, our board was to blame for your meeting. This book you are releasing is supposed to have all the reasons in it that you feel we left you out in the cold, the reasons why you decided to join our rivals. Must be one hell of a book. I really cannot be pleased for you or even wish you well, the mere mention of your name now, makes me cringe. I am sick and tired of your antics.

I am looking forward to the day in May that Chelsea have to travel to our new 60,000 seat stadium, whenever your name is mentioned or you touch the ball there will be boo's ringing out from every section of Ashburton Grove.

People who once cheered your name will have so much hatred for you that the boo's will cause one of the most hostile atmosphere's you have ever experienced. The place we thought you would call home for your playing career will no longer welcome you. That is providing you don't suddenly pick up an injury and watch the game from the bench or be conveniently left at home.

Did Arsenal Football Club or the fans ever mean anything to you? For along time you meant a lot to us, we sung your name with passion and commitment, we paid to have your name and number printed on our shirts. You feel like Arsenal slammed the door on you, is that it? Well Ashley, I have news for you, the way your feeling about how Arsenal treated you is nothing to how I am feeling right now, the way you treated us. Do you really think we could ever forgive you?

Is that what your book is all about? You think that will explain everything? How you put your tail between your legs when the going got tough and ran over to Chelsea. Oh the big nasty men at Highbury, how cruel they were to you. Giving you your break, paying you thousands of pounds per week, helping you realise your potential so you could get the opportunity to play for England!

I will never understand your actions and I will never understand how you could show us such disrespect and disloyalty, I would never read your book, I wouldn't even waste money on it because there is nothing in it that will explain to me why you ditched your team. The same people you have punished are the same one's who have stood by you, even after your meet with Chelsea most fans tried to let bygones be bygones and get back on your side, after all you were still an Arsenal player and penning an extension to your contract helped some fans to get on with you. But this was to be short lived, before we knew it – you were again rubbing dirt in our faces, you had decided to publish a book to tell your defence, hmmm I personally think that is the time you really overstepped the mark. So whose idea was the book? Yours? Your agent? A publisher? Lawyer? If it was your idea then I would not only be surprised, I would be disgusted.

When you sit down after a game with Chelsea, after wearing the traitorous colours of Arsenal's bitter title rivals, ask yourself this, was it all worth it? Was it worth going behind the backs of people who trusted and respected you? Does the money make it all sweeter? Because after all that is what it was all about, if you deny that then I refer you to how this all started - a certain £5,000.

Well least that was your excuse for how it all started anyway or was that just another excuse to try and make yourself feel and look better in all of this?

Don't be surprised people hate you, if I was you, I'd just get used to it.