The story of the come-and-get-me plea

In this protracted vacuum of idle nothingness, it’s amused me to once again notice the proliferation of bonkers transfer-only phrases. You know, those ones that you never hear for the rest of the year, but suddenly become common currency. Tim Stillman spotted it too, all that pouncing and swooping, (‘Pouncing on the tabling swoops‘) as did Rory Smith (‘Cracking the transfer code‘) too.

All of which reminded me of my absolute favourite off-season-only phrase, namely Joe Bloggs has issued a come-and-get-me-plea. In my mind this takes some beating. But what you probably aren’t aware of is its provenance, so I thought I’d share it with you. And the key is in the word ‘issuing’.

You see, back at the tail end of the Victorian era they were very keen indeed not only on inventing sports but also on codifying the hell out of them. So it’s perhaps no surprise that as soon as players realised that they could move between clubs for financial gain, the good men of sport wanted to make a rule for this. By the mid 1890s the summer air rang with the sound of itchy-footed footballers pleading for other clubs to come and get them. It quickly became a cacophony. It got out of hand – men walking down the streets, ringing bells, shouting at the top of their voices, agitating for transfers on every street corner. It was mentioned in parliament.

So before long, football’s guardians had decreed that you were no longer simply allowed to yodel all summer about being come and got. If you wanted to do it you needed a licence. And to get a licence, you needed to head to the FA to get it issued. Hence issuing a come-and-get-me-plea.

Footballers would queue up along Lancaster Gate and would be allowed entry to the Plea Issuing Chamber one at a time. A form would be filled in, rubber-stamped, then a messenger would scurry deep into the bowels of the organisation to issue it. And here’s the amazing thing – in a world before the internet and telephones, the FA had, in order to expedite such pleas, built a subterranean narrow-gauge railway with branches heading to London’s newspaper powerhouses on Fleet Street. The messenger would attach the come-and-get-me-plea to a special vehicle, which would then zip off to its destination in record time. Now that the plea had been issued and delivered, it could be published in the press.

I hope you found this interesting. I may even extend the series*

*I won’t.

Anything happening out there?

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A come-and-get-me plea train. Image courtesy of Transport Trust

Arsenal’s strangely enjoyable close season

“For the first time in a while, I will be very active”

With these dozen words, spoken at the tail end of May, Wenger has kicked off a fascinating close season. I didn’t think I’d be enjoying it one bit, but I appear to be doing just that.

How so? Given that as much of the current transfer eddy is whirling around players who might depart as it is around players who might join, you’d have thought the whole rumour mill would be too hair-tearing for words.

I think the difference this summer is that the perception of change is in the air. Wenger’s mentioned it, Gazidis followed that up in his AST Q&A (“It is very clear we had some shortcomings and in this close season we are going to see some turnover of players”). I’ll eat my Kenny Sansom flat hat if we tread as cautiously as we have done in the last few summers. It feels like there’s stuff happening. Real, actual stuff. (No disrespect meant, Carl. You’re welcome too).

From a PR perspective as well as a team perspective, it’s like a waft of fresh air. Even if most of it is hot air, it feels pleasant enough on the face.

Does it matter if the speed of incomings is faster elsewhere? Not really; these things can take time. So long as the business is done then it would be churlish to moan. Sure, it would be better to have the squad trimmed and tidied soon rather than frantically sending faxes (they still send faxes!) at 11.55pm on 31st August, particularly if we’re talking of a squad that could see four or five go and four or five come in.

What about those linked with going? Cesc would be a mammoth loss so that needs sorting sooner rather than later, if only to size up a replacement. I’m glad he’s happy at Arsenal but there’s a clear ‘but’ in there. If there was a magic potion to make this particular story not drag on all summer, I’d have a swig.

Nasri, well we shall see. As I said before, it’d not surprise me if he got what he wants from Arsenal – or most of it. Whether he deserves it or has earned it, well that’s open to debate. But I think keeping him, right now, is the easier option than selling and replacing him. So we shall see.

Clichy looks gone. He’s a good left-back but is he the best? I guess the proof would come six months after he’d gone once we’d had the chance to measure up his replacement. He’s certainly not as good a left-back as his predecessor.

As for signings, central defence – tick. Striker/winger – tick. Both areas have players linked.

Goalie? I doubt it. I think Szczesny is number one and Fabianski his back-up.

The other area that needs some old heads is central midfield. We’ve not been linked with that many players there. Larsson? Hmm. That doesn’t feel like an upgrade, it feels like a sidegrade.

Anyway, excuse me while I get back to NewsNow and Arseblog News.

My mouth is parched in this transfer desert

What a goldfish I am. Despite an end of season that spent most of its time reeling from one calamity to another, I appear to be hankering for the new one already. When will I ever learn?

To be fair though, some bits and bobs need to happen before I can get genuinely giddy. Namely a scythe cutting through the chaff of the squad, coupled with the club storing the wheat in a silo where nobody can steal it. Continuing this dismal analogy, Wenger is the combine harvester, in case you were wondering, and Eboue – bear with me here – is a bale of some description. I think I’ll shut up now.

So with transfers in mind I was reminded when looking at Wikipedia, which means it must be true, that the window doesn’t open until July 1st. Does that mean we can’t announce signings till then or we can’t negotiate them? Looks like we might have an entire month of conjecture to chew on before things get going. That’ll be fun.

Arshavin and Vela have been in the news. The former has apparently ‘vowed to beat Wenger’s axe’, and I’m all for that. On what basis? Well I do think he’s declined since those heady days in 2009, but he’s still mercurial and at the very worst would be a potent impact sub. On top of that, the squad needs to be augmented, not overturned. There are plenty ahead of him I think need to move on, but we shall see.

Which bring me neatly onto Carlos Vela. The Baggies have said, if they signed him, they could not guarantee him a first team place, which tells me rather a lot – or at least, reinforces what I already suspected. For me, he’s one of the merry band who definitely need to search for those famous footballing ‘pastures new’. For his benefit, for ours. Sorry Carlos, but there you are.

OK, checking out. It’s a bank holiday and it’s pelting it down with rain. Drought? Haha!

PS – this Fifa stuff is fun. Remind me, how did this lot take charge of football?

Season overboard

Fulham 2-2 Arsenal

So that’s finished then, and as books go, I didn’t much like the ending. I had high hopes there’d be a satisfying twist three quarters of the way through – we were hoping for one – but it finished rather predictably and it was heavy going to boot. I should have just read the last page back at the beginning of March and spared myself the effort.

Despite some fine team performances, overall I’ve found this particular team tough going at times this season. It’s been littered with groundhog days. Our tactical approach, too, has come under more scrutiny than it has ever done. I keep thinking back to Philippe Auclair’s comment on the Arsecast about how the tempo of the side has been wrong for so much of the season: slow build-up, lack of pace, an inability to change tack, predictability. It’s nice when it works as it’s meant to (so in that sense, a bit like my back. I don’t notice it when it’s working but I start grunting when it doesn’t).

That said, there have been positives, particularly in players bursting through, and at the end of the day and despite all the gloom we have a shot at the Champions League as some kind of reward. It’s not a trophy but consider the horror of the alternative: The Europa League. Several teams spent most of Sunday actively trying not to qualify for that.

Wenger is trotting out the usual line about the team being augmented where possible, within the constraints of our budget, and only if players are available, and is urging people not to ‘go overboard’ (twice in his recent email), but infuriating though it is to hear that, there are good reasons for him to give nothing new away and he’s right about the overboard bit.

There’ll be a fine balancing act going on behind the scenes already, you suspect, trying to keep the nucleus of the side together, so he’s hardly going to come out rattling his sabre. Persuading Cesc, Nasri, Clichy et al to stay on the one hand, while also nudging a few of the non-playing, under-performing malcontents through the door in a timely way on the other requires some diplomacy. Not to mention opening negotiations with potential newcomers.

So from a PR perspective the boss isn’t saying exactly what we want to hear, but he rarely has.

Anyway, I can see the squad changing quite substantially if the public mutterings of Bendtner, Denilson &c are anything to go by. In the cold light of the last two months it’s easy to think the whole thing’s gone to pot, but in the grand scheme of things it hasn’t. We have a nucleus of excellent players, most of whom will stay. But a blast of fresh air will open up a few eyes and clear out a few cobwebs. I’m all for it and it needs to happen.

Moans aside, I’ll be pounding the credit card to renew my season ticket. Despite impending joblessness, it’s something I would find it very hard to ditch, I sit with a good circle of mates and after 17 years as a season ticket holder the habits and routines are weaved into the fabric of my year. I do however – like many – have real concerns about the affordability of football in general. The upward pressure of player salaries carries on regardless and rather than the club finding different ways to manage that – smaller squad, renegotiating commercial deals, or just saying no to players – it’s the fans who pay the price. Any increase is particularly acute at Arsenal where prices are already among the highest – they may even be the highest – in Europe.

Missing a wedge of those games is unavoidable though – time and small children dictate it – and I will be cutting back on all other aspects of football spending, partly in protest and partly to save a bit of money. No merchandise, no programmes, no food at the ground. Enough is enough.

Take a moment, too, to look over at the ‘autocratic owner’ model pursued by some clubs to see how different things could be. Chelsea won the double, but sacked their manager a year later. They’ve had 6 managers in 8 years. Trophy signings come in over the manager’s head. No patience, no long-term building. True, they’ve been very successful in that time and we have not, but for all the downsides of the way Arsenal goes about its business, I’m glad it isn’t run that way.

Finally, Wenger. The tide has turned against him in many quarters. And it’s clear he has a big job on his hands to convince the doubters that his latest Arsenal side can be better than perennially third or fourth. Last year, I thought that he deserved patience to get it right. In hindsight, the hoped-for progress has not happened.

However, even though things are more acute this summer I’m still behind him. I sense that changes – of personnel, of approach, ideally of both – are afoot. Wenger cannot live on past glories forever but I would love to see him – rather than someone else – turn this group round and polish the disparate parts into a more consistent, hungrier and more ruthless side. What is success though? It doesn’t have to be a trophy, but it does have to be progress. Properly addressing problem areas. Getting rid of the underachievers. Bringing in a few experienced and hungry players, who are in their prime and could make a palpable difference. All this stuff has been written time and again, this season, the last one, and the one before that, but it’s truer and more urgent now than it has ever been.

The pressure is on him like never before. Over to you, Arsène.

Arsenal: Downsizing to fourth

Arsenal 1-2 Aston Villa

So that’s the Grove done and dusted for another season, on a day when there were plenty there in person but not in spirit, and plenty more there in theory but not in reality. 60,023 in the crowd? That’s right up there with ‘great mental strength’. Poppycock.

The Gunners have been misfiring for so long that thousands of empty seats pretending to have people in them – or is it creative turnstiling – is hardly a surprise. As Philippe Auclair said on Friday’s Arsecast, since the Carling Cup final it’s been the longest hangover in the history of football, a truly miserable punch-drunk stagger from one infuriating performance to another, perforated by the odd boosting win. Top that off with a 6.5% rise in ticket prices at a time when players’ wages are going up 8%-10% a season and you’ve hit a magic cocktail of frustration that manifested itself yesterday in widespread anti price-rise chants. Six percent? You are indeed having a laugh.

It’s a PR blunder that could have been scripted by Squillaci or Almunia.

So anyway, the match. We started slowly again, let poor goals in again, putting ourselves within 15 minutes into a position that rendered a much better second half redundant when taken in tandem with some bad luck with refereeing decisions.

It’s true, we looked more dangerous when Chamakh and Bendtner came on for the hapless Squill and the hopeless Arsh and went 4-4-2. These half-time substitutions are becoming quite a habit. Food for thought for next season.

And yes, we were missing three of our best players in Fabregas, Nasri and Clichy.

But to cling to tight (Ramsey pen) or plain wrong (Chamakh ‘push’) refereeing decisions going against us or missing individuals as the main reasons we lost would be barking up the wrong tree. We started slowly and foundered on the rocks of determined defending, as we have so often done. Our build-up play for too long was too ponderous, as it so often has been. Too many away teams have confounded their form at Arsenal this season by putting in excellent performances. Coincidence? I think not.

We have won more away games than any other team this season, but at home we have dropped 20 points out of 57.

As for the lap of deprecation, I didn’t stay to see it. I took my five-year-old son to his first ever game and took the opportunity, as did many others, to make good my escape.

The little man? Well he was looking at me aghast after the first quarter of an hour. But van Persie’s goal gave him a fillip and by the end he told me he wanted to come again. Now that’s real mental strength…

The reality now is that third place – and with it, automatic qualification to the Champions League group stages – is Manchester City’s to lose. We threw away any chance we had of winning this league, then we threw away second, and we could well now have thrown away third.

The fans are in foment and the team is in end-of-season freefall. Bring on the summer and bring out the new broom.

Summer transfers: What effect will the World Cup have?

Strewth, it’s quiet.

In fact, there’s been a whiff of close season to things. Partly I suppose because we’ve got the weekend off, and partly because losing to Barcelona seems to have kicked off some early transfer speculation.

Why is this when there’s still so much to play for? Partly, it’s natural to wonder how you can improve things when you’ve been as outplayed as we were over most of the two legs against Barcelona.

And partly, perhaps, because it’s a World Cup year, when the rules for transfers seem to change slightly. On the one hand you have players that clubs are keen to sign early, before the tournament, so that their value does not rise should they show explosive form.

On the other hand, you’ve got the clubs who will keep their powder dry until the tournament is over, hoping to unearth a gem (or ensure that the player they had their eye on before the tournament does not rupture something during it).

Looking back to the last World Cup in 2006, we signed Tomas Rosicky on 23rd May – a signing that fits neatly into the former category. Unfortunately, the rest of the summer’s ins and outs were slightly less tidy.

In fact it was frenzied, late and involved Panini-like swapsies. Reyes was loaned to Real Madrid, with Baptista coming our way in return, on transfer deadline day. On the same day, we sold Cole and bought Gallas.

However, there were extenuating circumstances to events that year. We’d just lost the European Cup final, and that triggered another round of Invincible dismantling. As well as Cole and Reyes, out went Campbell, Pires and Lauren.

We also moved stadium – another sweep for the broom of change.

I don’t expect the kind of wholesale changes that we saw that summer this time round, as the squad is settled and growing. There will inevitably be some departures, but the only key player who I can see leaving is Gallas. I don’t see Fabregas going anywhere, least of all to Man City, though a summer of speculation is a dead cert.

Anyway, what I think I’m trying to get at is we might see a signing sooner rather than later – perhaps a month or six weeks from now. Wenger is the kind of manager who likes things decided sooner rather than later if he can.

He’ll definitely want to avoid a manic final day of trading on 31st August…