Book Review: 'Making the Arsenal'

Last updated : 18 November 2009 By Brian Dawes

This new novel is a title which features amongst it's many threads the general demise of Woolwich Arsenal F C which in 1910, the year in which this story is set, was very much a struggling football club. A club in dire financial straights and going into liquidation despite the best efforts of George Leavey the principle director. The story also, incidentally, contains a bit part for the aforementioned Allison whom in 1910 was working as a sports journalist and following the Woolwich team for reasons that I won't go into here.

All the Arsenal characters mentioned within the storyline were real and are kept pretty much within character, with maybe just the odd exception to assist plot development. Some who feature you may know, others will be less familiar to all bar the most hard-core Arsenal historians. One of the key figures featuring in the drama is the notorious Henry Norris who takes on the, almost, pantomime role of arch villain. A role that suits his real-life character to a tee. At the heart of the action is a (fictional) journalist, called Jacko Jones through whom all the various events of 1910 are hung together. These include the pre-war spy paranoia, the perceived anarchist threat, the miners' strikes and subsequent battles with police. There's Winston Churchill as the then Home Secretary whom Jacko just happened to know through his previous duties as a sergeant working in Section H during the Boer War. Also included is the Suffragette movement and the violence that sometimes surrounded it.

The plot is centred around a variety of venues that include the Daily Chronicle offices in Fleet Street were an ongoing battle of sarcasm between Jacko and his immediate boss ensues and peppers the story with some classic throwaway lines. Public houses, especially those around Woolwich, are quite naturally a home from home for journalists but also feature the odd Woolwich Arsenal shareholders meeting. Then of course there in the Manor Ground itself.

There's the odd aristocratic home in central London to visit, the War Office, the Admiralty, Jacko's parents place in the altogether more humble Wood Green, a country house and the odd football away trips that take in various Archie Leitch built stadiums. Leitch incidentally was a real-life industrial architect who was later to construct the initial Highbury Stadium. There's also a brief foray to Wales that takes in a pit strike and its ultimately predictable confrontations.

The story tends to fly off at a tangent for the odd red herring or two, but it all pulls together, albeit sometimes in a rather far-fetched manner, through our ever resourceful, often sarcastic, irreverent, sceptical and puzzled hero Jacko. Part 'Boys Own' yarn, part detective thriller the story rattles along at a pace that drags you along with it. It also catches the historical setting very engagingly with its many throwaway references to the period. Amongst other observations intermingled within the plot are those on the players and spectators at matches, the new fangled cinema, local transport, the problems and indeed rarity of long distance motor travel plus a number of contemporary authors, books and magazines get a passing mention. The general class and sexist attitudes which were later to be somewhat shattered by the First World War are a feature. But we also see cameo asides or mentions for the likes of Doctor Crippen, the John Dickman trial and the Parliament Act, all of which fit the timescale impressively.

Quite clearly the author did extensive background research to garner the feel of this particular bygone age and certainly his research on our club, on which I'm better qualified to comment, is very definitely spot on.

Making the Arsenal
Tony Attwood
Paperback £12.99
Published by Hamilton House

Available from most good bookstores but if they need to order it in make it easier for them by quoting this ISBN number: 978 1 86083 759 3. Also available from all your favourite online bookstores, although not seemingly massively cheaper.