Book Review: 'The Real Arsenal: From Chapman to Wenger'

Last updated : 13 November 2009 By Brian Dawes

My personal Arsenal library now extends to well over 100 titles, excluding club handbooks, but so far as I can recall this was the first time I've kept a dictionary to hand whilst reading a volume on Arsenal's history. One relatively obscure word, by my somewhat pathetic Norf London standards, can usually be glossed over because I tend to get the general gist, but Mr. Glanville somehow induces the desire to explore the precision of all the words he employs.

In his forward the author suggests that this book for him is almost a companion volume to his very excellent work 'Arsenal Stadium History' previously reviewed here, and that this volume fills in some gaps. Much of this material he declares to have been contained previously in his columns as a football correspondent over some 33 years. Which is fine by me, because clearly the fact that Brian Glanville has had access to so many famous Arsenal names and asked the sort of questions that any seriously interested Arsenal fan might ask goes a long way in adding to the insider feel and accuracy of this particular history.

A dedicated Arsenal historian will learn little that they might regard as being additional insights although the unique angle supplied on Tom Whittaker was a bit of an eye opener. And personally speaking I can never read too much on the entertaining exploits of Sir Henry Norris, a larger than life character who in some much earlier histories of our illustrious club was very much swept under the carpet. But the mere fact that he shafted the Spurs so succinctly makes him the sort of individual who deserves to be known to a far wider Arsenal audiance. Jon Spurling was possibly the first to pinpoint Chairman Norris and his black sheep qualities as being an undervalued key force in Arsenal's development and its good to see that trend continuing within this volume. David Dein's commodity trading and its domino effect in changing ownership is another aspect I don't recall seeing covered in any previous Arsenal history.

As Arsenal histories go this one, to my mind, goes for the flavour of the Club. It doesn't pander to any players, managers or directors but rather includes the 'warts and all' aspects to be found away from the officially approved and thus occasionally more sanitised versions of the Club's history. That said it doesn't seek sensationalism and inevitably contains a balanced and considered view. Any bias shown is towards the eras best understood and most directly covered by Mr Glanville during his many years as both a fan and journalist. Thus Henry Norris to Billy Wright is restricted to some 88 pages whilst Bertie Mee to date is afforded the greater bulk of some159 pages.

To find any fault at all throughout such a delightfully crafted work is beyond picky but when he alludes to 'Tottenham Ultras' I can only assume this to be a typographical error, which should have read 'Tottenham's Neanderthals'. I will also forgive Mr Glanville his misunderstanding of the events in Copenhagen where Turkish locals armed with local knowledge, mobile phones and knives ambushed innocent English footballing tourists off the beaten track. Something I found extremely sinister and very unlike the media inflamed set piece events seen on the TV footage and far more widely reported.

This is almost certainly the only Arsenal title you'll ever read that includes reference to the poet Thomas Babbington Macaulay, the playwright John Osborne and the historian J Schumpeter whilst incorporating both Latin terms and a modicum of Greek mythology. And although just occasionally I found the modus operandi relating to the use of non English phrases a tad bete noir it won't cause nuits blanches nor alter my pronouncement that this is still a written work par excellence. Was it just me or was there a noticeable increase in the French phrases used whilst covering the Wenger era? I'll let you decide.

As Patrick Barclay of The Times has succinctly stated 'Most football writers fall into two categories: those who have been influenced by Brian Glanville and those who should have been'.

The Real Arsenal from Chapman to Wenger

Brian Glanville
Hardback £18.99
Published by JR Books
Publication date 12th November 2009

Available from all your favourite bookstores but if they need to order it in make it easier for them by quoting this ISBN number: 978 1 906779 40 5. It can also be found from your favourite online bookstores such as Amazon for as little as £12.79.