Book Reviews: Unofficial Club Histories

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togTogether: The Story Of Arsenal’s Unbeaten Season

By Andrew Mangan and Andrew Allen

When a book opens with a quote from Robert Pires, it has to be good. I mean, you really can’t go wrong with the words of one of the pivotal players in the most glorious of any Arsenal season. 2003/04 will in time, acquire the sort of status as 26th May 1989 or the seminal gigs by The Sex Pistols or Stone Roses; if everyone who claims they were there was there, there is no way they took place where they were supposed to.

Written by Arseblogger and cohort Andrew Allen, this is the tale of The Invincibles through the eyes of supporters. Arsène almost foretold events but it is a myth put to bed early in the book’s narrative; it was an aspirational observation as opposed to the definitive statement of intent it has become. That the truth is outed with a put down if the footballing walrus makes the point all the more delicious.

Even though it is a season which never leaves our consciousness, there are too many nuances for us to immediately recall. Or perhaps, want to is a better phrase. I never want to remember Francis Jeffers as an Arsenal but hanks to the Andrews, I’ll never forget his wing-nutted glory. Cheers for that one fellas, even if the fox in the box’s parting shot is the most accurate he managed in his Arsenal career. The hit and miss nature of the transfer business is highlighted by Jeffers sitting next to Bergkamp on the Arsenal bench around had time Cesc joined the club. It is a source if wonderment of how easy it is for a manager to get things right as easily as wrong in the transfer market.

The season follows chronological with a brief report of each game accompanied by the salient stats of line-up, score, crowd. These are no simple romp through the action though, observations about the events of 90 or so minutes interspersed with comments made to the print. Reactions to Luis Suarez’s crimes are comparable to the press explosion over the events of the Charity Shield in August and the battle of Old Trafford. Essentially so, these are reported at the times the Football Association chose to react. It gives the sense of reading the dvd of the season and in this media age, the images of events are dredged from the memory banks be they watching Internazionale tearing Arsenal asunder at Highbury, Martin Keown’s contorted aerial visage inches from Ruud van Nistelrooy or Robert Pires’ deliciously curled goal at Anfield; that is as indelible an image of the season as you can conjure.

That for me is the beauty of the book; you don’t have to think hard for your imagination to wander such as the lyrical lilt of the narration. Congratulations to both Andrews on that. It was a season of pleasure and pain; the Champions League exit at the hands of Chelsea is still one of the worst defeats during Wenger’s reign, more so because Arsenal had done the hard work of the score draw at Stamford Bridge and subsequently taken the lead. I guess its proximity to the FA Cup semi-final defeat left it a case of rubbing salt into the wounds.

Did I mention transfers earlier? The were some interesting thoughts on the likes of Senderos, Sidwell, Aliadiere and Pennant from Wenger at the AGM; his observations for public consumption proved wide of the mark. I wonder what his private thoughts at the time were? More so, will you shudder at ominous portents of the arrival of a then Monaco player. Arsenal were apparently trailing Sebastien Squillaci back then. A shame he didn’t give them the slip.

I would recommend that you buy either the Kindle version of Together: The Story Of Arsenal’s Unbeaten Season here or the hardback edition here.

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endThe End: 80 Years Of Life On The Terraces

by Tom Watt

 

It always helps, I think, for a book to be written by a supporter, particularly when writing about something as evocative as the North Bank. The terracing passed into the history books at the final whistle blew on 2nd May 1992, demolished as easily as the Southampton defence was by Ian Wright that day. Not only did Highbury say farewell to a cherished part of the ground, we didn’t know it but that match was the last when David Rocastle would don an Arsenal shirt, in a competitive match anyway. Part of the fabric was torn from the club that day, a player who wore the badge with pride and a culture that had been part of football since its creation, given it vibrancy and extracted a terrible toll over the years, waited for the bulldozers and wrecking balls to come.

The North Bank was, for many, a spiritual home. It bore witness to the good times and the bad at the club, just about survived the Luftwaffe raids during World War II but was undone by the Hillsborough Disaster and the subsequent well-intentioned but misguided report by Lord Justice Taylor. Football was about to change and a lot of it before our very eyes.

You can call the stands of a ground what you want but in the age of all-seater stadiums, the use of ‘Ends’ simply does not work. The North Bank, like The Kop and Stretford End, are synonymous with terracing and a different footballing world. No revisionism or corporate ‘isations’ will ever change that.

Tom Watt took the chance to remember the terracing through the memories of those who cared about it, who lived their lives on it, protected by the roof as much as open to the elements, and those whose lives played out under its shadow. It reflects the culture of the game, the club and the impact that the community which thrived in its environs. The terracing meant the same to its denizens and was different to everyone. Of camaraderie forged in bad times which have stood the tests of time to those which have faded into the mists of time.

Those of us who lived in the age of terracing, who stood on the concrete steps, huddled against the rain, canned like sardines on the big nights. They say that variety is the spice of life and a terrace reflected the breadth of Arsenal’s support with binmen and brickies the equal of accountants and lawyers, all unified in one aim: willing twelve men to victory. Tales regaled of derring-do, of the violence of grounds at that time, of that in the town centres across the land. Of drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll. Of parties and solicitors in drag (a genuinely fascinating tale told by two of the finest legal minds I’d encountered at that time) but mostly of life and how we lived it.

You don’t get that in the seats now; the edge, the atmosphere, they have all gone or changed irreparably. I admire those who seek to reinvigorate today’s crowds but it will never be the same, it can never be the same. It has to be now and better if safe-standing ever takes hold.

But we lose something in the process, the bad – and terracing could be awful, the North Bank was no different in that sense – but in our memories, the good tends to shape a romantic vision of the past. I had long left the North Bank by the time it closed its doors, readying itself to make way for a mural but The End brings it back to life every now and again. A book written by and for people who cared.

Click on the link to buy The End: 80 Years of Life on the Terraces: 80 Years of Life on Arsenal’s North Bank

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The Day We Went Arsenal Cover smallThe Day We Went To Arsenal

by Martin Daley
Published by DB Publishing, an imprint of JMD Media Ltd

David and Goliath is how the tie would be described now with Carlisle United assuming the role of the minnows in the third round of the FA Cup. When the two sides met at Highbury, Arsenal were sitting were in a dismal run of form and had registered their first win in seven games with two unanswered goals at Hillsborough. Top at the start of December, they had slipped to third. Carlisle United meanwhile were second in the old Third Division (North). Promotion beckoned for Bill Shankly’s men and at the end of the season, they would finish in third.

Martin Daley’s tale weaves the FA Cup third round meeting into the social fabric of the city at that time. A journey that follows the team as they seek to bring Shankly’s vision to life and offers a telling contrast between football now and then. If there was a chasm between the two clubs then, football now is on a different planet. The simple things highlight this, a new kit for the players for the match at Highbury and the agreement of Arsenal to allowing a change to pre-match routine to accommodate Carlisle’s desire to show off its heritage with mascots. Stunningly, Shankly used to address the crowd before each game and talk through recent events; an audio commentary of the programme notes from the manager. It just would not happen now; it didn’t happen much then either to be fair. Shankly’s apprenticeship for Liverpool is evident as the story unfurls.

Having beaten Barrow and Southport in previous rounds, the Carlisle players travelled south with those injured not left out either, included in the squad’s biggest day out. The build-up to the match includes the tale of how Shankly took his players to a local cinema and introducing them all, worked the audience into such a joyous frenzy that the second half of the showing was lost to cheering. If nothing else, you take the sense of occasion from that.

Arsenal by contrast were defending the FA Cup they had won at Wembley the previous May and were expected to win. The first weekend in January saw the 58,000 at Highbury to witness a goalless draw. Carlisle, part-timers and all, had given themselves a fighting chance of one of the great cup upsets of the time. I am sure that the name of Walsall passed many a lip between the two games.

Matches that took place in the same week; we used to do that in football, be capable of organising games which took place in a short space of time. Contingency planning, I would guess the buzz-phrase is. The replay was set for Thursday, half-day closing in the Cumbrian city and played in the afternoon. This was after all, a time before the ubiquitous presence of floodlights. There was to be no shock this time though. Two late goals saw Arsenal run out 4 – 1 winners. This, though, is not about that, it is about times long ago when football could impact on a community, the essential ingredient missing in the modern game with its global outlook.

The author has captured the essence of the day, of the occasion beautifully in this book which you can buy here.

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The Real Arsenal: From Chapman To Wenger
by Brian Glanville
Published by JR Books

Brian Glanville does not hide his support for Arsenal and in this book he seeks to offer an alternative history to the official, sometimes saccharine, versions put forward. He succeeds by concentrating as much on the personalities as the events, book-ending with the two most influential managers in the club’s history.

A pre-amble through the days of Henry Norris and the machinations that put Arsenal into the position of requiring a saviour, arriving in the form of Herbert Chapman. Stories abound regarding the wranglings over transfers, the stipulations put into place over criteria for players physiques, the shenanigans which unfolded to circumvent such strictures.

Through Chapman and his successors, to the present day, the book is a chance to give shine to Glanville’s knowledge of the game and the access he has been granted to players throughout the years. The affinities and personal allegiances are not hidden as the author seeks to right wrongs in print, notably those contained in Bob Wall’s book.

This is no exercise in sweeping failings under the carpet, no matter who made the mistakes. Billy Wright’s ill-fated reign is given short shrift, not on a personal level, purely a footballing one. The bright spot of the period 1969-72 provides welcome relief from what followed until Graham and more recently Wenger, shone the searchlight of success once more onto the club.

As you would expect, the book is extremely well-written, the eulogies on the jacket testament to the regard in which Glanville is held. This is a highly recommended book to be read by all Arsenal fans.

Click to buy The Real Arsenal: From Chapman to Wenger – The Unofficial Story.

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ARSÈNAL – The Making of a Modern Superclub by Alex Fynn and Kevin Whicher

The story of Arsenal for more than a decade has been the story of how Arsène transformed the club on and off the pitch, alongside David Dein until that house of cards came crashing down with Dein’s shenanigans with Stan Kroenke and then Alisher Usmanov. The friendship between the two is highlighted in the prologue with the pair conversing following Dein’s departure. This book seeks to tell the ‘inside story’, following the growth of the club in the Premier League era.

Setting the scene by looking at the state of the club when Dein joined the Board in the early 1980s, the authors take you through a well-paced journey of the reigns of Neill, Howe, Graham and Rioch, plotting their rises and falls – alongside Dein’s rise to being the power in the Boardroom – through to the arrival of Wenger at the club, including the near miss of hiring him a season earlier following George Graham’s downfall. Rightly, at this point, they ask whether the Scot would have been sacked if his team had been winning in style. Alan Smith’s contributions shed light on the player’s thoughts in the time leading up to the demise of Graham whilst the circumstances that allowed his dubious business practices are also under the spotlight.

Wenger arrived and the positive influences that he has brought to bear are recognised, as are his faults. His meticulous nature with regard to physiology and style can be both positive and negative in the single-minded belief he has. That is however, perhaps his greatest strength.

The strategies devised on and off the pitch are given equal attention, a clear path tracked from the origins of the vast sums of money coming into the game from broadcasting deals through to the finances required to build The Emirates, from the UEFA Cup qualification to the titles and cups won and lost.

The off-the-pitch struggles in making the move to The Emirates are well documented, from the planning applications and hurdles that seemed insurmountable through cashflow problems in the early stages, finishing at the project’s completion. The authors cut no corners in an accurate assessment of the fact that the Board undervalued the deals, for naming rights and the sponsorship.

Commendably, none of the protagonists of the Arsenal story are eulogised. It is an honest assessment of their actions and no-one is beyond criticism. Yet the authors never stray into ‘mudslinging’, mistakes are analysed constructively, praise passed where due. The only people who will probably shift uncomfortably whilst reading the book are the Arsenal Press Office.

The strength of the book is allying Fynn’s knowledge of the business of football with Whicher’s passion for the club. Neither like what Arsenal has become as a business; both recognise that the club is not unique in losing its ties with the fans, the inevitability of the environment in which the clubs now operate. Whether you will agree with all of their interpretation of events is debatable but instead of blithely making assumptions, the authors have provided the evidence to support their views.

With some aspects such as Dein and Fiszman’s falling out not fully explored because it is a private matter that neither has chosen to speak of publicly and with property development likely to carry on for the next few years, there is more to be told. As a starting point, this book should definitely to be read by all Arsenal fans; it is a clear and concisely explained journey that sits comfortably alongside the best books about the club.

Click here to buy ARSÈNAL – The Making of a Modern Superclub by Alex Fynn and Kevin Whicher

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(Devoted To Sport)
(Devoted To Sport)

Arsenal – A History From 1930

An interesting variation on the usual history style books, this is a collection of newspaper cuttings, culled from Mirror Group Newspapers. No narrative is added to the scanned front and back pages, leaving the unexpurgated news reports of the day intact. Those who remember the ‘Arsenal Reports’ from the late 1980s and early 1990s will be familiar with format, albeit not in the nicely bound version of this tome.

Despite covering nearly eighty years, the focus is heavily on the ‘Wenger Years’. The past decade comprises the material for over half of the book. In some respects, this is disappointing given the rich heritage that Arsenal has but understandable in others, for example pages not scanning correctly or being illegible over time.

The book opens with the Sunday Pictorial from Sunday, April 27, 1930, and an A4 reproduction of the Graf Zeppelin over Wembley and the news that,

The King, after an earlier announcement that he would be unable to see the game, made the journey from Windsor when the weather improved and was accorded a tumultuous ovation

The style of journalistic writing may have changed but the tabloid element has not, ‘Arrest Ghandi!’ screams the headline above the FA Cup Final for that day. In this day of CGI and computer graphics, The Daily Mirror of April 25, 1932 proves that the new technology does not necessarily mean that they are an improved, showing that the referee and linesman could not possibly have seen that the ball was out of play before Boyd centred for Allen to score Newcastle’s equaliser in the previous Saturday’s FA Cup Final. The white dotted lines are just as, if not more, effective as their modern counterparts.

Major games in the clubs history are covered and you get some opinion columns such as Stan Halsey’s from April 1950 commenting about how ‘Arsenal didn’t need any luck’. Reflecting the paucity of silverware, the 1960s are barely mentioned other than a 4 – 1 drubbing of Manchester United in 1965 and 1969s 3 – 1 win over Wolves that ensured European qualification for the following season.

The modern era is better served and not limited to Cup Finals or League Title wins. Dennis Bergkamp’s signing merits a page on its own along with the wild rumour that Arsenal and Spurs were going to battle for Paul Ince’s signature if his move to Internazionale fell through. Pires, Reyes and Henry’s arrivals get similar treatment. Individual match reports of wins over Middlesbrough and Birmingham sit somewhat uncomfortably next to the 5 – 4 at White Hart Lane, 4 – 0 in Eindhoven and 5 – 1 in the San Siro. Birmingham seemingly included for containing Robert Pires’ 50th League goal for the club which is as good a reason as any in my book.

If I do have a gripe, the reports for losing finals are missed out but not en masse. Zaragoza (1995) and Barcelona are included but Galatasaray (2000) is not; Ipswich [1978] is there but 1980 is wiped from the map in its entirety as is Luton [1988] and Chelsea (2007). The latter is baffling as the victory over Manchester United at The Emirates six weeks earlier features. A pity also that the semi final victories over Tottenham through the ages are missed out.

Inconsistencies that perhaps the publishers will iron out in future editions for this book deserves to be sitting on bookshelves as a contemporaneous record of the clubs history. You can purchase directly from Historic Newspapers at their site, Devoted To Sport.