by Mark Hamilton
I know what you’re thinking; this review is going to use all sorts of la-di-dah terms such as iambic pentameter. It isn’t, no matter how tempting it is to plumb the depths of my education and scoop forth the English Lit studies which sank in. Perhaps seeped would be a better term. If ever an education was wasted…
I can think of several other thoughts which are probably going through your head but a closed mind is a very lonely place indeed. Broaden your horizons and take in something different but very easy to relate to. Most were turned off the poetic literary form at school with the endless hours of studying the classics. It’s the marmite of literature; you either love it or hate it.
Football has a chequered history with the poetic form. Years back, I recall the creation of the post of Football Chant Laureate. You would say it was jobs for the boys except well, it wasn’t, the winner selected from a Barclaycard sponsored competition if I recall correctly. It’s not the most inspiring of starts to a career and to be honest, I’m not sure the position remains filled or if it even exists. May be we should care more about such things but on the list of ills which beset the game, not having a Chant Laureate is going to rank fairly low in the list of problems to solve.
To fill the breach, each poet must step forth and Mark Hamilton has composed sixteen poems based for the most part, around Arsenal failing to win games. Perhaps the rawness of failure brings his muse to the surface; it works in “Arsenal VII” where the despair seeps through following the defeats to United and Chelsea at The Emirates in the space of five days in May 2009.
“Arsenal VI” means a goalless draw will never feel quite the same, apportioning the role of lover to the crowd; a relationship not quite at its depth but certainly on a downward spiral,
“How like a lover is the crowd!
They feign indifference at first, seem hardly
watching the game; but a passion breaks through,
petulance, recrimination, hurt:“
By the same token “We can see you sneaking out” is more lyrically recalled in the Hallowe’en win over Tottenham at The Emirates in October 2009,
“The celebrations begin, a bouncing sea of red in the sun,
a merciless chorus of victory song
that spurs the spooked Tottenham fans
out and away before the game is done”
“Arsenal XVI”, last season’s FA Cup win at its core, is all the more enjoyable for imposing images of faces onto “ every man, every woman” in north London’s pubs, the freedom of euphoria and relief,
“ So let the soul expand
from triumph’s dizzy air:
breathe it, hold it, ingest it
to your core…”
The Arsenal poems are augmented by others about differing aspects of life. “Creation” captures the beauty and imperfections of the universe in the same way suburban hell surfaces in “Bishop’s Stortford, Herts” as readily as the “Commuter’s Lament” and “This Train Terminates” the bleak midwinter of the office worker.
Anyone who expects a series of works which read like a limerick may be severely disappointed; the poems have a challenging structure. Football is a challenging topic, after all, with the rawness of feelings it inspires. You can buy “The Arsenal And Other Poems” by Mark Hamilton for 99p (yes, less than a quid) here
The Official Arsenal Book Of Records
by Adrian Clarker & Ian Spragg
Roy Castle may have believed that the fastest, slowest, tallest, smallest all had dedication and were record-breakers when I was a kid. Dedication. You can find all of that in a different view to the smaller trivia books which are in the marketplace right now.
The Official Arsenal Book Of Records is an expanded version of these, neatly segmented into the old days, i.e. pre-Premier League and those since 1992. It will come as a surprise to those who deride Arsenal pre-Wenger to find that we were actually quite a successful club, proving the cyclical nature of football long before Liverpool adopted that mantle. The club’s successes domestically and on European fields are recorded and enhanced by a strong raft of photographs, one of the benefits of being backed by the club.
From inception through Chapman, Mee, Graham and Wenger, you can travel the club’s history without needing to guess the links or seek information through voluminous lists of title winners and league performance. It’s helped by co-author Adrian Clarke’s closeness and obvious love for the club lining up well alongside Ian Spragg whose pedigree includes a spell with The Times.
Of the modern era, it’s a well-planned book, well laid out and easy to read, the perfect gift for Arsenal fans of all ages. You can purchase The Official Arsenal FC Football Records by clicking here
by Chas Newkey – Burden
The market for Arsenal-related books shows no sign of abating with a fair number of Miscellany-type products already on the shelves. Is there room for another, you might ask. If there is, this is surely it, handily sized for small birthday or Christmas presents without daunting the younger readers. That in large part is due to the experienced guiding hand of Chas Newkey-Burden, whose experience in producing this type of book is probably unrivalled.
Who said what and when, about whom; you can sing along with your favourite chants and then remember the proper versions where some extra words were added in. It’s a collection of statistics, condensed match reports, lists and general trivia in 168 fun-packed pages, that make the book the ideal present for young Arsenal supporters who want to devour the club history in bite-sized chunks.
You can purchase The Official Arsenal Supporters Book here.
Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly Arsenal Gift Book (Ed. Simon Inglis)
In an age of materialism and shallow celebrity, the modern footballer has it all. The tabloids feed off them and vice versa in a mutually destructive relationship, for those who crave the attention will be eventually roasted on its fires or are a part of the salacious roasting that takes place. It is refreshing to read of days gone by, not through the rose tinted spectacles of a former player but through the articles of the time.
Synonymous with an era long since ended, Charles Buchan’s Arsenal Gift Book (Ed. Simon Inglis), is a selection of articles from Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly covering the period of its existence in 1951 before being cast to the publishing winds in 1973. The book opens and closes with successful periods in the clubs history . Following on from the League title in 1953, there would be no honours until 1970, title and cup dreams fading to sepia as the years wore on. That this is from a different age is reflected in John Thompson’s recollections of the story of the magazine, There was a certain dream-like quality in reading Lord Londonderry’s description of how he had become a director of Arsenal because of a conversation over dinner at Buckingham Palace with the Master of the Horse, who happened to be Chairman of Arsenal; a reputation as the ‘Establishment’ club seemed well deserved.
The contrasts between the players of then and now could not be highlighted more starkly than the images of Joe Mercer in his butchers shop in Hoylake. Or reading how Cliff Holton had joined the RAF as a tool-maker when a delay in producing documents meant he was at home to receive news that Arsenal ‘were interested in me‘. This should be a required book for all current ‘stars’ of the game. Next time they argue over five thousand pounds on a sixty thousand pound per week deal, perhaps consideration could be given to Mercer and his peers who struggled to earn those sums in a career, even allowing for decimalisation and monetary inflation.
If the journalism reflects a more respectful time, players such as Derek Tapscott relish the chance of signing, surprised that such a club would be interested in them. It reflects the standing of the club in the game, they were honoured to be part of Arsenal. The latter years continue the style of reporting, more human interest than analysis. Frank McLintock asks ‘How do you explain to a five-year-old that the bottom had just fallen out of your world‘ following on from the 1 – 3 defeat to Swindon following on from a couple of pages of how Arsenal could not possibly lose the game.
There is little analytical or investigative reporting into what was actually going wrong at the time; that simply was not the magazines style although one article from October 1968 qualifies as such a piece and finishes by showing how cyclical football really is, Perhaps too we will see some Arsenal-raised youngsters coming off the assembly line into the First Division. This will be a new and refreshing thing to behold. For in this era of inflated transfer fees dominating an often lunatic market, Arsenal’s cash is no better than the next club’s when it comes to buying current success.
It would have been easy for the book to be interspersed with commentary between the articles. As it is, the editorial foreword and postscript are accompanied by an excellent contextual introduction by Jon Spurling leaving the articles to be reproduced, providing a marvellous flowing timeline in the clubs history.
The book can be bought online for £14.99 from Played In Britain and is thoroughly recommended as a present this Christmas.
Gunners Lists by Chas Newkey-Burden
Trivia books is a boom market for football these days, the trick is to come up with something different and to be fair, a book of lists is a bit of that. 250 of them comprise the content, ranging from the serious and useful to the, well, trivial for that inner anorak.
Top ten high scoring seasons sits naturally with the meanest defensive seasons. Come from around the world? Pretty much the four corners of the globe are covered off in here so you can count how many of your countrymen have played for the club. Got something you need to know about Wenger or the time at The Emirates? It’s here.
The ubiquitous celebrity lists are here, including the obligatory Paul Kaye list. Kenny Sansom tries a bit of the lovable Cockney geezer humour with the inclusion of Gus Caesar in his Top Ten Arsenal players because old Gus was a character. No, Ken, great name, crap defender.
Of course there are a couple of glarers in the errors department – no 1990/91 in the top defensive seasons and Siggi Johnson played more games that Albert Gudmonsson – but over all the accuracy level is pretty high which makes this the perfect small gift for Junior and older Gunners alike.