Book Review: The Official Illustrated History of Arsenal 1886-2003

Last updated : 07 September 2003 By Brian Dawes

The Gunners are one of the principle cornerstones of the English game and have been an essential element of the top division since the days of trams, cloth caps and baggy shorts. The history of Arsenal, whether in the era of Le Boss or Herbert Chapman, is the essence of the Club and if you're not familiar with our illustrious past you probably won't understand what the heartbeat of the Club is all about.

As Arsene Wenger has written in the foreword: ‘When I look through the pages of this book, it gives me immense pride to see my teams and players taking their place in the Arsenal story alongside the legends of the past. Part of what drives us on is to add further glorious chapters to this amazing story, and you can be sure that whatever success we enjoy over the coming years, it will be achieved in a manner that is true to the Arsenal tradition'.

No serious Arsenal fan's book collection is complete without at least one edition of this well-established history of the Club. This book, now in its 11th edition, is essential reading for any true follower of the boys in red and white, especially any fans new to the fold. First published in 1986 to celebrate our Club's Centenary this publication has been going strong ever since with updated editions produced on a fairly regular basis. Essentially the text remains the same or at least very similar to previous editions but has additional sections added as both time and trophies demand. This latest work for example has an additional 32 pages which serve to update the story to the end of the 2002-3 season.

The Club's full story is well covered in this single volume and takes the reader through from Dial Square to our very latest Cup triumph. If you don't already own one of the previous editions this book it is a must, in fact I'd recommend it as ideal gift for any Gooner wanting to discover more about the illustrious history of Arsenal, whether they be young or old. With over 200 photos, the majority of which are in colour it is certainly a very well illustrated work and includes some classic photos. These include Alex James leaving Matt Busby and others for dead, Joe Mercer on the shoulders of the 1950 Cup winners and Charlie George's winner for our first Double. This particular update is very similar to the 2002 edition, although if you have a much earlier version sitting on your bookshelves you might well want to check this one out anyway. The two most recent editions are different in shape to those prior to 2002 and have been neatly revamped in both text style and page layout, with different photographs being used in a number of instances.

The statistical records contained within each section are pretty comprehensive and cover all the domestic and European competitive matches including goal scorers, subs and end of season appearance totals. Despite the fact that so far as I'm aware neither Phil Soar nor Martin Tyler, better known as the Sky Sports commentator, are Arsenal fans the text is a well researched and a reasonably honest assessment of Arsenal Football Club's history to date. I'm quite sure that as with any history it's possible to find some minor omissions but through all the years I've referred to this book in all it's various guises I have yet to find any major errors. One day someone will come along and write an absolutely definitive Arsenal history, but until that time comes this title will remain the number one comprehensive history of our Club.

The Official Illustrated History of Arsenal 1886-2003
Phil Soar and Martin Tyler with a foreword by Arsene Wenger
Price £20.00
Published by Hamlyn in August 2003

Any decent bookseller will order it in for you if you quote the following reference: ISBN 0 600 60954 5. Or it can be obtained from the Club shops or any of your favourite online bookstores.