Book Review: 'Bertie Mee: Arsenal's Officer and Gentleman'

Last updated : 25 May 2005 By Brian Dawes

Let there be no doubt that Bertie Mee provided the foundation on which the modern Arsenal was built, despite his being an unexpected appointment as manager following the disastrous reign of Billy Wright. At the time Mee's promotion from physiotherapist to manager was as unexpected as it might have been back in 1996 had Gary Lewin been appointed as successor to Bruce Rioch. Arsenal were struggling at the time Mee took over and just why they were having problems is neatly put into context by a chapter quite aptly entitled the ‘Big Sleep'. This concisely assesses the mess the Club was in when he took control, but also explains how a once pioneering Club fell to those particular depths.

Bertie had a Footballing career which if anything was even less auspicious than Arsene Wenger's. This, his upbringing, his Army background and later his pioneering work in the Health Services, before running Arsenal's treatment room went a long way in determining the style with which he managed. He was already a leader in his field when he took over the mangers job but that was not broadly appreciated outside his immediate professional circles. Such an unusual route to football management might have made his subsequent success seem even less probable. However his natural ability to organise meticulously and control emphatically were crucial. As was his ability to make clever appointments and then both listen to his colleagues and to trust them.

Ironically Mee's strengths as a manager were also his weaknesses and although pretty well everyone respected the man, he was clearly not universally loved. Which for me makes this particular biography all the more interesting and entertaining. Throw-away descriptions, such as Leeds United being likened to the Daleks, the infamous Lazio street battle, how Frank McLintock came to leave us, the key games, the transfers that never happened, Charlie George almost joining the Scum, the various team cliques, the rows, the divisive wage structure, the comings and goings of players and coaches plus his life and career outside Arsenal. Not to mention the how, why and when it all went pear-shaped for Bertie at Highbury. It's all in here and presented in a very readable format.

This is a story about a small man who had a huge impact, a man described as dapper, modest, humane, caring, communicative, fair, organised, consistent, authoritative but above all disciplined.

The fact that he'd been running the treatment room meant he already had an advantageous insight into the players he inherited from the lackadaisical Billy Wright. But that wasn't why he succeeded in transforming both a team and a Club into a successful professional outfit.

If you enjoyed David Tossell's previous Arsenal book ‘Seventy-One Guns' you'll enjoy this one, if you appreciate biographies and are an Arsenal fan this title will be right up your street. If like me you waited 17 long years for the Gunners to win anything you'll already know how much we all owe Bertie Mee but seeing is reafirmed does no harm whatsoever. The considerable research required for the author's earlier title presumably prompted the possibility of this ‘spin-off' and as a result we have the very welcome and pleasurable biography of one of The Arsenal's undervalued heroes, namely Bertie Mee.

Bertie Mee - Arsenal's Officer and Gentleman by David Tossell
Price £16.99
ISBN 1 84018 945 2
Published by Mainstream Publishing