Book Reviews: Official Arsenal Club Histories

The Official Illustrated History Of Arsenal 1886-2009 by Phil Soar and Martin Tyler

This book continues to go from strength to strength. Twenty three seasons on from the original version, updated to include last season – 2008/09, it remains the authoritative encyclopedia of Arsenal Football Club, almost a family member such is its familiarity.

Whilst the tinkering is now around the edges, Soar and Tyler capture each new year of Arsenal’s existence with a dispassionate eye, bringing a good balance and helping maintain the authoritative air about this book. Others have brought forward more in-depth histories of the club, officially and unofficially but few can match the breadth of topics captured. The authors continue to make salient points, an impressive feat especially as there is no evidence that either has a fan’s bias to the events covered.

This is an essential book for all supporters, mixing the facts of line-ups and results in all competitions with their own interpretation of the history surrounding them. The only absence from this is pre-season friendlies, perhaps an addition for future volumes.

The format remains split in timelines, specified periods documented and then supplemented by the statistics. Perhaps this is an area to look at refreshing in the future.

Click here to buy The Official Illustrated History of Arsenal 1886-2009.

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 Arsenal The Official Biography by Steve Stammers

Having spent two decades with London’s Evening Standard, Steve Stammers has observed at close hand the impact that Arsene Wenger has had on Arsenal Football Club. That explains to some extent why the Frenchman’s reign takes up around one third of this book. It is aimed at those who have joined football in the Premier League years and want a high speed catch up. In that respect, the book is a resounding success.

Stammers is not ignorant about the previous century of the club’s existence, far from it. The starting point of Danskin and the involvement of Nottingham Forest, throught the tumultuous interventions of Norris and Chapman, are all covered in an authoratitive manner. In educating the masses, Stammers in an excellent guide explaining the nuances that came together to give Arsenal the reputation of being the Establishment’s club.

In such a rich history, it is easy to form a common historical trail with other similar books. Although various unusual facts are drawn upon, there is more of a story feeling to this than the encyclopedic tone of the ‘Official History‘ books regularly updated by Martin Tyler and Phil Soar.

As with those books, there is an element of airbrushing over the dirty tricks which have periodically reared their ugly heads within the club’s history. Norris is not investigated whilst George Graham’s departure is treated almost as if the ex-manager were a naughty public schoolboy, found out and sent to the Headmaster’s office for his fate. In that respect, those hoping for a warts and all book will be disappointed. That was clearly not Stammers brief, emphasised by Arsene Wenger as the author of the Foreword.

Those who have supported the club for some time will probably not glean anything new from Stammers efforts. Nonetheless, as a starting point for newcomers to the game, the author’s writing style makes the book emminantly readable.

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Arsenal Confidential: The Amazing Behind The Scenes Story Of The 2007/08 Season by Stuart MacFarlane

I am not the world’s biggest fan of pictorial histories but each has a time and a place to record. This one is no different and given that for most of the season in question, a genuine title challenge was mounted, MacFarlane has chosen an interesting campaign to document.

As the club’s official photographer, he was granted seemingly unlimited access and puts this to good use. The photographs are not straightforward match shots but a mix of players at work and in their rest time, juxtaposing the two elements of the footballers life very nicely indeed.

The captions are sparing but entirely factual, leaving the reader to put their own interpretation on the events that surround those moments. A very good coffee table book that, as Arsene notes, captures the essence of Arsenal Football Club at that time.

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The Official Arsenal Encyclopedia by Jem Maidment

Looking for a quick and easy answer to the arguments online or in the pub? This one is for you. Rattling through the facts in alphabetical order, Maidment has built upon the good baseline of 2006’s version, for future volumes. Just about any link is included: the players, managers, a smattering of officials, every ground, trophy and a few of the more seriously embarrassing defeats.

It is hard for the compiler to please everyone when putting together all of the pieces in an exercise such as this one. I cannot be the only one who wonders how Glenn Helder merits a mention as anything other than a Lionel Richie impersonator, especially since Emmanuel Adebayor is airbrushed from history. Neither has won anything in Arsenal colours so it is hard to believe that the Dutchman warrants any inclusion, other than making his debut on the day George Graham was sacked.

You can look at many facts from various angles, even down to the old Football League habit of Christmas fixtures being reversed on Boxing Day. Many modern interventions are mixed with the old although whilst I am thankful that Elvis is omitted, the wonder I have is why the Metropolitan Police Marching Band is not in here but the Fans Forum is.

In a celebrity obsessed era, little surprise that the noted, famous and infamous are collected together in the Celebrity Fans section although Gunnersaurus might be considered a headscratching inclusion. Moments that we’d rather forget, including the North Bank Mural, are here so this is no airbrushing.

Having set himself up as a potentially required source, the next version may need somewhat of an overhaul rather than the tinkering around the edges that this one involved. Nonetheless, if you want the facts at your fingertips in a well-organised book, this is the one for you.

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Arsenal – The Official Illustrated History 1886-2008 by Martin Tyler and Phil Soar

When the original volume was published to mark the club’s centenary, everyone associated from the commissioning to the final product could be rightly proud that the history of Arsenal was documented in such a well researched and written manner. To the credit of Tyler and Soar, they have not let their standards drop with the ensuing updates. The now annual version covering the end of 2007-08 is no exception to that rule.

Whilst the tinkering is now around the edges, Soar and Tyler capture each new year of Arsenal’s existence with a dispassionate eye, bringing a good balance and helping maintain the authoratitive air about this book. There is a more in-depth history to be written but to capture all of the salient points as the authors do, is an impressive feat especially as there is no evidence that either has a fan’s bias to the events covered.

This is an essential book for all supporters, mixing the facts of line-ups and results in all competitions with their own interpretation of the history surrounding them. The only absence from this is pre-season friendlies, perhaps an addition for future volumes. Click here
to buy.

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The Official Illustrated History Of Arsenal 1886 – 2007 by Phil Soar and Martin Tyler

Originally published to coincide the with the club’s centenary celebrations, this book has been regularly updated since then. This edition covers the first season at The Emirates. Historical fact can often be a ‘dry’ subject for authors to tackle but Soar and Tyler convey an enthusiasm for the club that prevents the book from being laborious.

The format helps. The narrative is a mix of fact and the authors’ opinions, the text split into smaller paragraphs for each subject set within the era under discussion. Interspersing the timeline, there is a series of articles on topics such as ‘Derbies’, ‘Arsenal Ladies’, ‘The Emirates Stadium’ and ‘Beyond 1971’, that document the achievements of the players and club with an analytical eye.

As you would expect, the data is comprehensive. Each season’s record is recorded dutifully with fixtures, line-ups and goalscorers split by competition. There is enough to satisfy the requirements of everyone within these sections, except perhaps those who want to know the results of pre-season friendlies. Accompanying the thoughtful prose, the selection of photographs is well-researched capturing the pivotal moments in time.

The authors maintain a balance that is hard to achieve, with the good and the bad moments in the club’s history treated with equal import. For supporters, new and old, it is this that makes the book required reading.

By clicking on the book title, you can purchase The Official Illustrated History of Arsenal 1886-2007