Book Review: 'Forward Arsenal'

Last updated : 09 November 2009 By Chris Parry

Forward-ArsenalGiven Bernard Joy's career as both a journalist and well known ex-Arsenal player, complete with League Championship medal, there was probably no-one better placed with the ability, obvious enthusiasm for the Club or indeed the appropriate contacts to write such a history at the time. And he certainly appears to have been well assisted by the club in their willingness to aid his research.

Some lucky enthusiasts of Arsenal's history may already have this title in their collection. But if you're not lucky enough to own an original, which will set you back about £20-40 or more for a copy in half decent condition on the second hand market, I commend you to read this if only for it's authenticity in depicting a bygone age. An age in which life, values and playing for a professional team were very different from today.

Why the title 'Forward Arsenal'? Well according to Joy 'Forward' was the club's first motto and so it seemed appropriate. There have been numerous histories of Arsenal Football Club but its only after reading 'Forward Arsenal' that you realise just how much of these histories were based on Joy's original work. Also just how many quotes have been taken from this title in the various histories of the Club ever since. Arsenal's roots are well covered although the period which featured Bernard Joy as a player are for obvious reasons covered in the most detail and with greater insight. Direct links with Arsenal's founders are even incorporated with mention of a letter received by the then manager, George Allison, from Dan Danskin who had listened to our 1936 Final against Sheffield United from his hospital bed. Once an Arsenal man always an Arsenal man, which still rings true today.

Some of the eulogising about Tom Whittaker, Herbert Chapman and the rest may seem as over the top as a Pathe News reel but that's partly because Joy's love of the club seemingly knows no bounds. So this worthy volume has a tendency to skim through the downsides and remain passionately loyal to all things Arsenal even though it's pretty clear just whom Joy didn't rate that highly due to his somewhat cursory covering of certain individuals.

As much as all things change it's also entertaining to discover how nothing is ever really new. Like the concept that Thierry Henry pulling up his socks over his knees was somehow different. But Richard Horsington (1889-90) who favoured long stockings that reached above his knees was 100 years ahead of Titi. Or the idea that football violence started in the 1970's only to find that Manor Field was closed for six weeks because spectators assaulted a referee way back in the 1895-6 season.

There's also some fabulous detail to be found such as a goalkeeper by the name of Dr. Leigh Richmond Roose who sat with his back to the goalpost and chatted to the crowd when play was at the other end. This was a man who on missing a train to Sunderland for a match chartered a special train to get him there on time. Or the fact that Henry Norris considered both Battersea and Harringay before fixing on a move to Highbury. Then there's a serious rough house of an match at White Hart Lane in 1922 caused by events that occurred in 1919. Or the story of Alex Mackie an Irishman signed in 1923 who with his first weeks wages purchased a pet monkey.

Most will know that Herbert Chapman innovated the concept of floodlit football in England, but I'd no idea that he's previously seen it in action in both Belgium and Holland. Or that by the 1950's the crowds at Highbury were messy enough to cause a massive clean up of the terraces which took four men two days to complete. Or that when this book was written the Highbury pitch was still weeded by hand. Such details are for me what makes the book so interesting.

Although original published in 1952 this title was updated in a later edition to cover our 1952-3 League Championship season. The one that saw Arsenal beat Burnley on the very last day of the season to the win the title by point 0.1 of a goal on goal difference. Shades of championships yet to come. Now 56 years later the book still works well as both a labour of love and fascinating historical document.

About the author

For those not familiar with his name this is a brief outline on Bernard Joy. Joy was a graduate of the London School of Economics and prior to the World War 2 he worked as a teacher in Hounslow. He was not just a teacher but also a rather famous amateur footballer who played for the London University, Corinthian and Casuals, winning an FA Amateur Cup Winners Medal for the Casuals as their captain. He was capped 10 times for the England Amateur team and also captained Great Britain at the infamous Berlin Olympics.

Just before and just after the Second World War he played over 100 games for the Arsenal, still as an amateur, taking over initially as centre half from the indomitable Herbie Roberts and playing as a full back in his post war days. Joy won both a League Championship medal in 1937-8 and a Charity Shield medal in 1938. He was also the last amateur player to be capped by the full England side. During the war years he worked as an Intelligence Officer for the RAF with the rank of flight-lieutenant and also represented Arsenal over 200 times in War time football. But following the war, like lots of ex-servicemen, he switched careers. Joy went into journalism and became a rather fine football correspondent for the Evening Standard and the Sunday Express until his retirement in 1976. Forward Arsenal was just one of several football books that he wrote. He died in 1984, aged 72.

Forward Arsenal
Bernard Joy
Paperback £12.95
Published by GCR Books

This edition published 2009 (original publication date 1952 updated 1953)

Available from most good bookstores but if they need to order it in make it easier for them by quoting this ISBN number: 978 0 9559 2111 7. Also available from your favourite online bookstores or directly from the publishers at . GCR will also be publishing other reprints of old Arsenal books so keep an eye on their website at or better still check back on Arsenal World where you will find reviews of all the new Arsenal publications worth reading.