Book Review: Bob Wilson - My Autobiography

Last updated : 18 November 2003 By Brian Dawes

We both suffered when his flu hit team-mates lost on a Wembley swamp to the underdogs Swindon. I was in Brussels to watch us go three behind against Anderlecht and was on the North Bank to enjoy the return leg in the most memorable of all matches at Highbury. A match where we won the Fairs Cup to take our first trophy after seventeen long trophy-free years. Also from the North Bank I saw him make a tremendous save against George Best and I'm delighted to see it is described in the book as his favourite save, because it's always been one of mine. Being locked outside of White Hart Lane was as close as I got on that famous Monday night in 1971 but that hot sunny day at Wembley in the same week more than made up for the lock-out despite seeing Bob concede at his near post to Steve Heighway.

In 1972 I saw Bob Wilson writhe in agony in the Stoke semi-final and was also there for an emotional farewell in his last match against QPR in 1974. As a keeper Bob was a brave lunatic, a nervy almost twitchy individual in his early days, who became one of the Arsenal legends as his confidence and stature grew. Injury meant he retired far too early but we've both been to many an Arsenal Final since. I've seen him celebrating an Arsenal goal alongside photographers at pitch side in a not dissimilar manner to Lee Dixon at Cardiff. Except Bob the TV man was supposed to be a neutral at the time. But he's an Arsenal man you see and just like me he can't help himself, even when his job dictated otherwise. If ever Arsenal were appearing on the box in a highlights programme and you'd managed to avoid the result Bob's smiling face was invariably a dead give away if we'd won. Until I read this book I hadn't realised just how Scottish Bob Wilson was, but it seems he has always been a passionate Jock despite his middle class Chesterfield accent. Not that he'll ever be able to convince the Glasgow press though.

Bob, as an Arsenal keeper, had a unique style that verged on the suicidal. So maybe it's to be expected that his autobiography should also have a unique style in that it's totally unlike any ‘football' autobiography I've ever read. It's starts as a story about a young boy who never knew his elder brothers because they'd given their lives for their country in the Second World War. Nether-the-less Bob has meticulously researched their stories because his family is and always has been a major part of his life. It's also a story about a boy who was offered a chance with Manchester United but whose father ruled otherwise because he wanted Bob to have a proper education instead. It's about a maturing young man at Loughborough College who became friends with future Olympic athletes. It's about his life as a teacher and his determination and struggle to make it as a goalkeeper, ably supported by Megs the love of his life. It's amazing just how long it took Willow to break through to Arsenal's first team, especially as many of us were always convinced that he was a superior keeper to Jim Furnell the man he eventually replaced.

This book is no ghost written, words put in the mouth, sensation-seeking money-spinner. Bob describes the unity and camaraderie of the nineteen seventy-one squad in a manner that only an insider could. His many years in front of the TV cameras are a major part of his story and his competitive nature is as evident in the television studios as it was between the posts. Bob Wilson also managed to combine his teaching and footballing skills as a pre-eminent coach to the goalkeeping fraternity and was obviously extremely happy in this role for many years. A role incidentally that enabled him to continue his long association with Arsenal.

The most emotive chapter of Bob's book however is what really amounts to a moving tribute to his daughter Anna and her long fight against cancer. This section of the tome is highly emotional and gives full perspective to what is and isn't of paramount importance in all our lives. As a result of Anna's brave struggle throughout the trials of hospitals, recuperation, continuous surgery and eventual demise Bob and Megs together with Anna's husband and other close relatives chose to honour her memory in a way she would certainly have appreciated. They set up a very worthwhile charity to help others placed in similar situations. Anna's battle and love for life persuaded Bob and his lovely wife Megs to initiate the Willow Foundation which is a charity that provides memorable days out for those struggling against the stacked odds of a terminal illness. A worthy cause which I would urge you to investigate here.

I've never met Bob so would just like to express my thanks for all the good times as a player and coach for Arsenal. Also this is just to let you know Bob I thought your book was of the same high quality as your keeping. As Michael Parkinson wrote in his introduction, far more eloquently than I ever could ‘The job the hobby, the hobby the job. One lucky man. Forget all those other books by and about football you might have read. This one is not only different it's outstanding'.

Bob Wilson: My Autobiography
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Price £18.99

Available from any half decent bookshop who will obtain it for you if you quote this reference ISBN 0 340 83032 8 Or order from your favourite online bookstore.