If you’ve watched an Arsenal game recently or attended any matches, it’s easy to notice a shift.
Obviously, there is Mikel Arteta’s revolution happening on the pitch, the team is as fun as ever and is rightly top of the table, but there has been an entirely different switch within the stands at the Emirates as well.
The team and their supporters are more connected than ever before and probably the most that it’s been since the Gunners’ move from Highbury. The club that “lost its soul” is getting it back and a group of young Arsenal fans are making that change happen. In Block 25 of the Clock End stand a group of black shirts. These young men are all members of The Ashburton Army, a supporters group that started with the goal of “improving a much-needed atmosphere” as Jack describes it.
He’s the leader and founder of the group that’s re-energising the Emirates and he was gracious enough to answer some of my questions about the group and where they plan to go.
The Clock End’s boys in black: a look into Arsenal’s ‘ultras’
Across Europe, many teams will have sections of the stadium that are known to be home to the ‘ultras’. You’ve got Borussia Dortmund’s ‘Yellow Wall’ and Celtic’s ‘Green Brigade’, for example. These are iconic clubs with well-known fan cultures to boot. England as a whole hasn’t really grabbed on to the concept of ultra fandom; they’ve got reputations of hooliganism and violence.
When I asked Jack what the Army is doing to avoid these kinds of stigmas, this is what he said:
“A lot of people are confused with the two [ultras and hooligans] and don’t understand the actual meaning of the word. Ultras are considered fanatic fans, who will back their team throughout any journey, win lose or draw the support and noise will always be there. If like me, you understand that meaning then yes, we could consider ourselves ultras. The group was formed on the sole purpose of improving the atmosphere and bringing a glimpse of that fanatic life and lifestyle to Arsenal. Over the last year especially you can see it really come to life. The group is growing, we continue to better ourselves from the previous week and fans outside of the group are starting the participate a lot more than before.”
You can see the impact that these young fans are bringing to life, with the Clock End roaring at every opportunity. Exemplified by this “limbs” scene from Arsenal’s NLD opening goal:
In hearing from Jack about the group’s genesis, it is very encouraging to hear about the club’s help with this process:
“Myself and a mate reached out to the club in attempt for them to understand our points of what we wanted, and it seems like the club were on board with the idea of improving a much-needed atmosphere.”
Jack described the atmosphere as “flat, soulless and ultimately terrible considering the size of the club” when he first started attending matches regularly in the 2015/16 season which depicts the disconnect and growing toxicity at Arsenal during that time.
The Ashburton Army have also been responsible for tifo and other displays at matches, and I asked Jack what went into those kinds of events for the group:
“Like any club around Europe or the world, displays must go through the club first for approval and majority of the time they are brilliant. They listen clearly to the idea and what the meaning and message behind it portrays and represents. Sometimes our idea may not be approved but with slight changes and altering the Tifo/design we get the final product. Then it is all about working on the display and putting hours into it to be successful on the day.”
The fact that the club is listening and allowing for the group to flourish with these displays shows how they want the fanbase and atmosphere to grow and improve.
These acts by the Ashburton Army, other groups like REDaction Gooners, along with other supporter-led campaigns like Louis Dunford’s ‘The Angel’ being sung before kickoff have changed the atmosphere. The Army isn’t done yet, with big plans for the future.
With over 200 current members, they plan to grow even more over the next year in membership along with working with the club to create regular tifo displays while still ensuring quality every time. Funding is a big part of that. They’ll be standing out even more within the Clock End with new flags and banners being made. The group have a good road map for their future with their goals changing every year to enable them to keep growing.
Jack was inspired by the idea of fan culture and how fan groups are formed and able to influence the culture of clubs. He is now transmitting that passion to the club that he loves, and Arsenal are reaping the rewards.
Thank you so much to Jack for taking the time to answer my questions, and be sure to give the Ashburton Army a follow on Twitter @Block25AA.