Book Review: 'Arsenal All 4-1'

Last updated : 04 October 2004 By Brian Dawes

Many readers will be familiar with Bernard Azulay's regular ‘Gooners Diary', many in Ireland will recognise his column in the ‘Irish Examiner', others will recognise the style if not always the nom de plume from regular contributions to Arsenal's premier fanzine ‘The Gooner'. Bernard's style is a very much tell-it-like-it-is and write it from heart, because that's the way he is. Sometimes he sticks to the point, and other times not. Either way the issues of the week are dealt with in Bernard's own inimitable style, he agonises, worries, eulogises, hopes, panics, enjoys, carries out his superstitious rituals, walks the dog and writes his column. But what he does most of all, and possibly best of all, is to bleed Arsenal blood through and through. The emotional roller coaster that was the 2003-4 season did have a happy ending, as you well know, but was not all plain sailing by any stretch of the imagination. Real fan's live for the days when years of dross give way to an almost inevitable ecstasy as it did last season, the days when the roller coaster became an all crushing steamroller with just the one destiny. Such record-breaking brilliance must be recorded for posterity and essentially Bernard Azulay documents that agonising, exciting, heartbreaking, pulsating joy of being a thoroughbred Gooner whilst watching history in the making. Rarely does football get any better than that dished up by the Arsenal but there was also a lot going on behind the scenes.

All the things that you'd forgotten about the season are included here. There were the unsigned contracts, the hint of boardroom rifts, the injuries, the suspensions, the ongoing stadium saga which eventually reached a peak after many agonising will they, won't they moments. Our transfer activity, or more accurately the initial lack of it. The inevitable spats with Fergie, the inevitable on field spats with Manure and the subsequent spats with the FA. Our up and down season against Chelski. The surprise signing of Reyes, his instant impact and the ensuing chants. The continuing European problems that had absolute extremes of despondency set against the odd miraculous and almost unbelievable highs. There was a seriously depressing end to an FA Cup run that had stretched to three seasons. Then of course there were those inevitable crap refereeing decisions, the injuries, the international wastes of space, incredible goals and the world's greatest player. Whatever was going on there was always our beacon and guiding light, Le Boss. Along with Le Boss came the knowledge that our well being was in great hands, whatever the ups and downs we all knew that ‘Arsène knows'. It's all in the book, as are the standard Gooner trait of laughing at the misfortunes of others especially if it involves Manure, the Scum or Chelski. One of the many additional pleasures of Bernard's book is to be reminded of joyous moments like the Tiny Totts 3-0 up 3-4 down cup-tie debacle. Small beer in the greater scheme of Arsene 's record breaking League dominance but a pure joy to anyone of the one true faith. That such hilarious asides should happen while we were smashing records just makes for a bigger belly laugh.

I happen to know Bernard cares about the team as much as any fan and this comes across throughout the book. And it's not necessary to agree with everything written here to enjoy this work. Personally, for example, I don't altogether subscribe to Bernard's notion that the British based players are a fundamental necessity in maintaining the heartbeat and spirit of the Club. In my opinion although that was probably the case a few years back I now believe that our multi-national squad maintain the soul of Arsenal in the proper manner. This despite their not coming through the ranks in the time honoured tradition. But because of Arsene they understand that this foundation must be imparted to any newcomers, and thankfully it is.

There are those who might feel that Bernard likes to wander off the point take a detour around the block and then return via a circular tour of the neighbourhood. I happen to find his laid back prose, his asides and his not always going directly for the jugular a charming and relaxing style to read. You might not always want to hear the fuller details of the problems he had obtaining particular tickets or the difficulties of booking flights for Europe but this is what being a dedicated home and away fan is all about. He sometimes takes his time getting to the crucial point, just as he tends to leave his arrival at any game to the last possible second, or even later. In fact Bernard's piss-poor time keeping is legendary, almost to the extent that you wonder if he's ever seen a pre-match warm up in his life. But his desperate belated arrival at a foreign ground is all the more amusing because you know he's been in the corner of some foreign field, or town, for at least a day, yet still he has to scramble to make the kick off. Bernard gets there in the end and I'm glad he did because in years to come it will be books such as this that will really tell the story of the season rather than just the hard facts and figures.

Being an Arsenal fan is great right now, being an Arsenal fan who's not just jumped the bandwagon is even more satisfying. Being a fully-fledged, paid his dues Arsenal fan who is capable of putting it all down in black and white and able to tell it like it was must give rise to a seriously good glowing feeling. I look forward to reading this book again when we finally get knocked off the pedestal in a couple of decades time. You have to store away the good times in the memory and this version of the good times is pretty well as I remember them, well except for the bits where Mr Azulay has to ask what happened in the first couple of minutes of a match.

Not that many Arsenal books run to 272 pages these days and fewer still are written by real fans who actually attended the matches and followed all the comings and goings of the season, so this one has a lot going for it.

Arsenal All 4-1 - by Bernard Azulay the well known listee and late arrival to many matches was published 30th. September by Mainstream Price £9.99. - It's available from any decent bookshop, if they don't stock it I'm certain they'll order it in for you if you quote the following ISBN number: 1 84018 916 9 or of course you can try your favourite online bookseller. If you travel to Highbury the book is currently being sold on the fanzine stall in Gillespie Road for a bargain £9.00