Book Review: The Real Arsenal Story

I'm as sure as I can be that this title is the only Arsenal history that is dedicated to the earliest days of the Club, and it takes the story from our very beginnings at Dial Square up until our move to Highbury. Previously Arsenal's early history has been reduced to an odd chapter within a full Club history, which means that this title is both an essential and fascinating addition to any serious Arsenal library.

It is a meticulously researched work that is based around some key individuals who were critical to the development of the Club, particularly David Danskin and his associates Fred Beardsley and Bill Julian. The story which is written with the kind assistance of these players' descendants is about these early football pioneers and their team mates. It describes how, not only Arsenal, but football itself developed in the early days of the game. Descriptions of the early laws, the changes to the rules and the manner of imposing them are quite fascinating. For example can you imagine two umpires nominated by the competing teams officiating the match? This was at a time when the referee, a supposedly impartial figure, stood off the pitch and only intervened on the rare occasion when a dispute arose.

The author Alan Roper has done a sterling job and includes numerous match reports, which include games against teams who were later to be essential components of the modern game. Newton Heath and Small Heath now better know as Manchester United and Birmingham City being just two such examples. Matches against local rivals Millwall Athletic make fascinating reading as much for the off field antics of the fans as for anything else. The Cup history may surprise some when they find teams such as the Gordon Highlanders winning the Irish Cup or the fact that no less than seven Scottish teams were involved in the F A Cup back in 1887.

I found it a tad annoying at times when the author meandered off at a tangent to describe events other than football. But on reflection these place the footballing era covered into a more defined social context. Descriptions of industrial accidents, early industrial strikes, slums, Woolwich ferry disasters and many other topical events all serve towards this intent. Whilst mention of Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel murders plus ongoing wars, which obviously greatly effected the prosperity of the Arsenal workers, serve further to make us realise just how long ago that our Club was founded.

The book contains an endless procession of fascinating aspects of the early game. Some, which readily spring to mind, include the emergence and move to professionalism, descriptions of notable individuals who were big, or in the case of ‘Fatty' Foulke, very big in the early years. Also mentioned are the tactics and formations that were employed and the changing players dress code. The lack of heading and the reasons for it, such landmark rulings as the adoption of the corner kick, cross bars being allowed, one handed throw ins, matches played prior to the penalty rule being introduced also get a mention. Pitch conditions, match day transport, training, our earliest grounds and the reason we changed them. Our earliest F A Cup matches, playing in dangerous conditions and a whole load of other entertaining and fascinating snippets.

Meetings that determined the future of the Club are well documented and shareholdings are also listed. One fact I find quite amazing is that Tottenham Hotspur once owned 100 shares in our Club. How things have changed! One thing that hasn't changed is emphasised by Arsenals earliest brushes with the Associations and I find it amusingly reassuring to know that that's one thing that probably never will.

The Real Arsenal Story: In the days of Gog
by Alan Roper
Published by Wherry Publishing
£20.00

Being a small publisher you might have trouble tracking this title down so the publishers are selling it direct (plus £3.00 postage in the UK). Half decent bookshops however should be able to obtain it for you if you offer them the following information; ISBN 0 9546259 0 0

Wherry Publishing, 51 Longdells Hills, Costessey, Norwich NR5 0PD

Other bookshops that will be stocking the title include

www.soccer-books.co.uk and http://www.sportspages.co.uk

A paperback edition is also planned