Certain footballers will always receive a hero's welcome when they return to play against their old clubs.
Manchester United alumni Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham will always receive rapturous applause from the Old Trafford faithful when they return with new employers. When John Fashanu transferred to Aston Villa from Wimbledon in 1994, he actually refused to play against his old side—and the fans who used to chant his name continued to do so.
Robin van Persie, however, will receive no such warm welcome on Sunday when he returns to the Emirates for the first time since his £24 million transfer to Manchester United.
They call him "Van PurseStrings" for abandoning the London club. One good season and he moves away after years of standing by him through injury-plagued campaigns, they protest.
To make matters worse, RVP has played a key role with his new side. The Premier League top goal-scorer's 24 strikes have been instrumental in the Red Devils' record 20th title. He has scored in 16 league games, and his goals have made the difference (i.e. earned a draw or a win) in 11 wins and three draws. He has effectively earned them 36 points on his own.
On top of having to endure the prospect of their former hero returning in rival colours, Arsenal fans must sample the bitter taste of the Dutchman return as a champion. To make matters worse, this will be recognised by Arsenal's players forming a guard of honour.
The traditional military mark of respect is used in football as a gesture of sportsmanship to the league champions the game after they win the title (should they win it before the season is complete).
Arsenal received the salute from Manchester United at Highbury in 1991 in recognition of their 10th league title. They received it again at Anfield in the penultimate match of the 1997-98 season (in a game that Liverpool actually went on to win 4-0).
Manchester United first gave the guard of honour to Chelsea in 1955, but did it again at Old Trafford in 2005 after Jose Mourinho's side bested them to the title. The fans booed, but the team graciously complied. Chelsea returned the favour in 2007 at Stamford Bridge, where Blues fans sang through the gesture, presumably trying their best to ignore it.
The guard of honour isn't just a peculiarity of English football. Barcelona famously gritted their teeth and formed a clapping corridor before a clasico at the Bernabeu in 2008. To make matters worse, they lost 4-1 on the day and finish third in the league that season.
Of course, the guard of honour is merely a tradition, and Arsenal are not obliged to do it. There was talk of whether the Gunners would actually perform it, in light of how fans would react to toasting the success of Robin van Persie. Yet Arsene Wenger has—quite rightfully—insisted that the salute be carried out, as a matter of respecting the customs of English football (via The Telegraph).
Wenger has also asked home fans not to boo RVP on his return (via The Sun). It is extremely unlikely that they will comply with this request, and there is discussion of the Emirates faithful making their displeasure even more explicit.
Fans in online forums have reportedly been urging one another to "do a Poznan" during the guard of honour, meaning they would turn their backs on the emerging United players to convey their disgust with a certain Dutchman.
At the risk of offending those still smarting about RVP's transfer, these fans need to grow up.
The guard of honour is a gesture of respect. And in life, you tend to gain more respect by showing it.
Such a sore, unsportsmanlike gesture would simply not be befitting of the general good nature of Gunners fans.
Yes, he left the club for a fierce rival, but he also gave them eight seasons.
Players move clubs all the time. Why should RVP be persecuted? If you were offered a lot more money to take a job at a company where you would be a lot more successful, would you turn it down? Would you not owe it to yourself to progress your own career path?
Being humble in defeat is an essential part of sport, and something that should not be forgotten on Sunday. The fact that star players tend to move on to other clubs is sometimes frustrating, but it must be accepted.
Arsenal fans do not have to be happy about giving the guard of honour, and they do not have to give Robin van Persie a hero's welcome. But now is not the time to be a bad loser, lamenting the loss of a player who could have inspired greatness. Now is the time to pay respect, and for Arsenal's squad to draw the inspiration to have another team give them the guard of honour in the near future.
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