Larry Ryan: Digging up the past to reanimate Arsenal

Larry Ryan: Digging up the past to reanimate Arsenal

Nostalgia is bigger than it used to be. A great fear of what’s coming down the tracks has turned the world towards the good old days.

Disney has bet its future on streaming you its past. Double denim is seemingly grand. There’s an acid house revival. Roy of the Rovers is back. We’re revelling in how Sonia used to make us feel. Cork are celebrating the last double, just in case another one doesn’t come along next year.

It is the form of recycling big business is most invested in.

From haute couture to Hollywood, what need for new ideas when you can tart up an old story — and God knows it’s a formula that has served this page well.

We have seen the rise too of ‘toxic nostalgia’, this urge to make things great again, to recapture some golden age, whatever the human cost. It invariably tends to involve a desire to go back to dealing only with people just like ourselves.

Sports marketers prefer to talk about ‘authentic nostalgia’, as they go all in on the past.

‘Heritage brands’ like Fila and Champion are bouncing back. Adidas is pillaging its own archive for jersey designs. Many Premier League shirts — Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Newcastle — are homages. When Manchester City played the Community Shield in a 125th anniversary retro shirt, there was dismay it was a one-off.

The ‘vintage’ shirt secondary market has exploded, wearing an old kit now the easiest way to prove you’re not a ‘plastic’ Johnny-come-lately.

In one of the more notable episodes of illusory nostalgia, the Tampa Bay Rays launched a range of ‘70s throwback’ uniforms, even though the franchise first fielded a team in 1998.

Fittingly, the sports film of the year was Asif Kapadia’s Diego Maradona, with its compelling eighties archive access.

Evidence, that in an age of sanitised high definition reality, we ache for something grainier, grittier, more real.

The most cynical movie raid on the past is yet to come, evidently, after the announcement this month that James Dean is to be ‘reanimated’ to star in a new Vietnam movie called Finding Jack.

“The family views this as his fourth movie, a movie he never got to make,” said director Anton Ernst, before rehearsals begin with the icon who died in a 1955 car crash.

If anyone shells out to watch it, Dean’s comeback may offer a ghost of a chance to others.

“This opens up a whole new opportunity for many of our clients who are no longer with us,” said Mark Roesler, CEO of CMG Worldwide, which owns the rights to Dean’s image and many other historical entertainment, sports, and music personalities.

Arthur Ashe and Jackie Robinson are among their deceased sporting clients. As is Johan Cruyff, “a client since 2018”, according to the company website. Perhaps Johan didn’t drive such a hard bargain in the two years after his death.

Now here, surely, is an untapped opportunity for sport — football in particular.

As Manchester City’s new investors, US private equity firm Silver Lake, pointed out this week, as it threw a much-needed €400m into the pot, football is just another arm of the “premium sports and entertainment content market”.

City’s group chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak panted:

“We and Silver Lake share the strong belief in the opportunities being presented by the convergence of entertainment, sports and technology.”

If that’s not an opening for Cruyff’s people to issue a come-and-get-me plea, when Pep eventually moves on.

Some TV companies already beam holograms into studio, for post-match interviews with gaffers. And Liverpool, never likely to be far from the forefront of wistful reminiscence, this week cast a CGI Bob Paisley in a video clip from sponsors Standard Chartered.

But there must be scope to go further.

“This technology would also be employed down the line to recreate historical icons such as Nelson Mandela to tell stories of cultural heritage significance,” says Ernst, of the means used to reincarnate Dean.

And what better way for a club to mine what Jose Mourinho likes to call its ‘football heritage’ than by bringing a former gaffer back in from the cold of his grave?

After all, there are plenty of faceless coaches to handle the nitty gritty, to put out cones and devise pressing triggers. What clubs crave most is the frontman for a philosophy, to sell the supporters something to believe in.

Programmed with the club’s ‘values’, a reanimated gaffer should be able to convincingly explain any setback to Sky’s David Jones.

Others, of course, have a much more urgent need than City or Liverpool.

From retro jerseys to a flood of books and films celebrating former glories, Arsenal is a club gorging on nostalgia born of deep existential crisis.

They mourn Highbury and clean sheets and ooh la la and chest-beating skippers; a time before VAR, fan TV, and terror every time their keeper has the ball at his feet.

Chief among their issues with the Unai Emery was his inability to communicate what he was trying to achieve — which wasn’t ideal since there were no clues on the pitch either.

They want their Arsenal back and who better to give them it than someone who was there in the first place?

Arsene Wenger may not yet be on this market but how about double-winner Bertie Mee or 30s giant Herbert Chapman for a rebuilding job?

Likewise Manchester United, no strangers to nostalgic appointments, have Busby ready to step in, with Fergie his natural successor one day.

As for other crises, Howard Kendall is available to sort Everton. While Bobby Moore can belatedly take the Hammers job that was his due.

Of course, should this take off, it probably means several more centuries of Mourinho, touring those clubs less wedded to their heritage, ‘reenergising’ them. Crank up the nostalgia, the future may be even gloomier than we feared.

Build it around Brendan

‘The Brendan voyage’ read the front of last Monday’s sports section, after Borris-Ileigh’s Munster final win.

That is what the finest county players do, bring clarity and belief to a community’s odyssey, lift a club to new heights on their own backs.

In turn, the raw energy and emotion released in those final moments in Páirc Uí Rinn last Sunday surge through the GAA’s grid, powering bigger-ticket days.

In their tougher times, Borris has often leaned, too, on Maher to say all the right things. And he has always obliged.

In the week before the final, he shared the frustrations of the club player, at their ludicrous schedule. It followed the CPA’s walkout from the GAA’s fixtures taskforce.

At times, the fixtures wrangle seems like a Gordian knot, but only if you needlessly complicate things with underage, and colleges, and divisions, and maybe football.

Instead, for clarity, build it around Brendan. Nine or 10 matches for Tipp and maybe seven or eight more meaningful ones for his club — in a best, or worst, case scenario, whatever your outlook.

It should hardly be a puzzle beyond Pythagoras to space those out into a sensible season.

Reason would have to play a part.

Maher also talked last week about his dealings, as a teacher, with autism and how it gave him perspective on defeat.

Perspective would have to return to the county game. And managers accept that you might sometimes lose a player to an injury with the club.

Just as Borris had to accept losing Maher last year, when he was injured with Tipp.

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