Open Letter to those oatcake eatin' Potters

Dear Stoke:
Well, we’re at it again, aren’t we? Another chapter in the seemingly endless psychodrama that is the Stoke-Arsenal hate-fest. In this corner, we apparently have the knuckle-dragging Orcs of Stoke, making up in stitches and scars what they lack in teeth or manners; in the other, we have the ostensibly effete Gunners, sipping chardonnay and escargot while eschewing the hoi polloi and nitty gritty. Each of us comes from central casting, falling into a script so predictable that even Jerry Bruckheimer slaps his head in stupefaction. For each of us, it’s a role we seemingly have no choice to but to play, each hating the other when, perhaps, we should be hating the script itself.

A study in caricature…

By now, we each know the drill. 2010. Shawcross. Ramsey. From there, no amount of explanation or apology from either side will encourage the other to budge. Thankfully, Shawcross will miss Saturday’s clash. I say so without any hint of schadenfreude on my part, no shred of relishing the pain Shawcross must be in after back surgery. I’m not so certain of my role in the universe as to be doling out karma. Yes, it was a crunching, horrific tackle, but none of us knows anything about intent, and we should all therefore keep our yaps well and truly shut, rather than demonising each other about an event so gut-wrenching that even the erstwhile villain was ushered away in tears. It’s been almost five years now. If Shawcross hasn’t apologised properly, that’s his burden. If he has apologised properly, it’s on Ramsey to acknowledge it in order to lay this feud to rest.

Beyond that, though, there’s the larger socioeconomic issue. Even moreso than any other London club, Arsenal seem to embody a certain je ne sais quoi, a certain élan, that stands in stark contrast against the oatcake-eatin’, working class stereotype that is Stoke-on-Trent. Yeah, I was using a few Frenchified phrases there to further highlight the idea that Arsenal for most of the last twenty years just hasn’t been British enough; worse, they’ve been sissified, while the Potters have been dehumanized, reduced to rabble, with the Shawcross-Ramsey tragedy highlighting, symbolising, and exacerbating the chasm. Shawcross, through no real fault of his own, is an Orc—tall, gangly, intimidating. Ramsey, somewhat more culpable, is a dilettante—increasingly ostentatious hairdo, flamboyant if not entirely productive (of late) style of play.

Each, then, serves as a caricature to his opponent’s fanbase. We Gooners can demonise Shawcross and, by extension, the Potters who stand by him. You Potters can demonise Ramsey and all he seems to represent. Meanwhile, each club seeks that which it lacks: Stoke, in signing Bojan, Ifellay, and Shaqiri, looks to add a more-creative flair to its attack. Arsenal, in signing Gabriel and Čech and recalling Coquelin, looks to add more grit and tenacity to its defense.

At a risk of revealing myself to be just another of those effete, elite Gooners, I’ll appeal to Søren Kierkegaard: “when you label me, you negate me.” Neither of us is the label or stereotype we’ve been assigned by the other. Not fully, at least. The more we resort to and rely on those labels, the more we negate ourselves. I’ll say this: the only Potter with whom I’ve had any real conversation with was driving a car far fancier than any I’ll ever own, and on it was strapped a road-bike that I couldn’t pay for even with several weeks’ salary and that he used for ‘recreation’, not transportation. In other words, somewhere between the stereotype and the reality, there’s enough complexity to contemplate. If any among us is too complacent to engage in that contemplation, well, that’s their own cross to bear.

By daring to suggest that Gooners shouldn’t hate Potters and vice-versa, I suppose I’ll lose support or interest from other Gooners. Meh. Let’s set aside all of the complicated socioeconomics. It’s just football.

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