Football novels are the trickiest of books to write. The plotlines tend to be far-fetched, the characters unbelievable. Of course, there are exceptions to this – The Damned United, Goalkeepers Are Different – but the list is short. Novels such as The Arsenal Stadium Mystery use football as the vehicle. I Am Sam follows suit.
Over the last year, there were some cracking books about the club, managers and players; maybe this year, the keys will fall through imagination rather than enitrely on fact.
The book itself is about Mr Arsenal, as the main protagonist and his life. It’s ambitious to label him as the man every Arsenal fan wants to be and depends on how you view your fellow supporters. His love-life is far from enviable and Maseratis aren’t that reliable.
A major strength of the book is the storytelling with the character and his travails possessing enough depth to transfer to any backdrop.
The book is set during the 2013/14 season and I’m not sure that some of the squad will be amused, no matter how funny you or I find someone calling their ferrets Arteta and Giroud. Equally, I wait with baited breath for Abou Diaby’s return, if for no other reason to call him Emily.
Initially, it’s apparent that things are getting in the way of football. A life of wine, women and Alex Song has very quickly left him homeless with his wife tiring of his antics. For Mr Arsenal, this is a sideshow, an unwelcome distraction from football. The latter part of the book works on a character level with a balance found between the two aspects of his life.
But it’s Jon Sammels who is the centre of Arsenal attention. As Mr Arsenal and his business partner, Sooty, make a programme about the 1970 World Cup, an argument between two pundits – Malcolm Allison and Alan Mullery – offers the opportunity for Arsenal and Sammels in particular, to take centre stage.
Sammels was an unusual player for his time – any time, I think – in that he was well-educated, intelligent on and off the pitch. Men were men in those days and the type of tackle which saw Eduardo sidelined by Martin Taylor was commonplace. It was a time of hard men, when players with a modicum of talent were targeted for rough treatment. Sammels was such but his lack of reaction often leading to negative views from the stands.
The popular narrative of his departure is not entirely based in truth but certainly most supporters of a certain age recognise his contribution to the success of the late sixties through to early seventies now, even if they may not have at the time.
He made no bones about why he wanted to leave Arsenal and his own book, Double Champions: Playing The Arsenal Way, is well worth reading. Choosing a player such as Sammels, one whose contribution to the time is frequently reduced to the periphery gives the book an interesting thrust.
The likes of Charlie George or Frank McLintock are the obvious heroes, easy targets if you look. Sammels wasn’t and makes, I think, for a better read. This isn’t a saccharine retelling of his time at the club and whilst Don Howe’s tactical acumen is freely acknowledged, he doesn’t come out of the book in a particularly brilliant light.
The author makes no attempt to disguise his self-confessed love of Arsenal and football in general. It’s that passion which gives the intertwining of fiction and fact a strong basis on which to build. The story does the rest.
You can buy I Am Sam here.