John When my publishers Cyan asked me to write another book in the series I edit called ‘Great brand stories' I said "yes, but only if it's about the Arsenal and if I can write it with a co-author." As you've stood or sat next to me at Highbury for over 20 years, you had to be the co-author. And it was good to get two generations of Arsenal fan looking at the same issues.
Matt Much as we're doing now, we started writing the book by email. In the first chapter I tell the story of my first game, a boring 0-0 draw against Birmingham. As we walked to the Tube afterwards, like others around, you wanted to talk about the game but it soon became clear that I hadn't been watching that closely. Of course, you issued me with the threat that I'd better pay more attention or you wouldn't bring me again. Seemed to work…I've hardly taken my eyes off the pitch since. Of course the football's better to watch these days, but as a fan that's not even the most important thing. The sense of belonging, of being part of something bigger than yourself is.
John You soon get heroes, and your first hero was Tony Woodcock. Mine had been Derek Tapscott (Tappy was Welsh, by the way, so was I supposed not to have identified with him because he wasn't English?) But then there are the players with real skill – George Eastham, George Graham, Liam Brady, for examples. The players, though, who really represent the Arsenal and its values – and this is what we were interested in when writing about the brand – are the captains. That's why we chose four captains – McLintock, Rice, Adams, Vieira – to try and interview, then write about as embodying the Arsenal.
Matt Of course, I didn't see the first two, but one early memory for me is watching Tony Adams' first game. At least I think I have a memory of this – I know I was definitely at the game, but I have no clear memories of my own of it, and at the time I, and everyone else, was unaware of its significance. Though I don't remember any of it clearly, the events of that game have been discussed at such length since – Tony stumbling over the ball in the first minute and giving a goal away – that I feel like it is my own memory. Another good example of the extent to which football is a collective experience.
Back to Tony - not a great way to start, but I have much clearer memories of the rest of his career, particularly my personal favourite moment; when he scored the fourth goal against Everton in the last minute of the season when we won the league in 98. Two games, 15 years apart, 15 years that saw a total transformation in Tony both on and off the pitch.
John It's that ability to battle back from setbacks that makes a real Arsenal captain and a brand icon. It was great interviewing Frank McLintock and Pat Rice for the book – they both had that spirit. Frank gave me a centre-back's masterclass in his own living room, demonstrating how to mark players at corners. I just wanted Frank to be doing the same with the back four at the time (we'd been going through a dodgy period defensively). But Arsenal never called on Frank after his playing days – a shame, I think.
Matt Arsenal are not necessarily the most welcoming club as we discovered. Pat Rice was terrific but we got no official support to do this book even though it's wholly in favour of the Arsenal. We're just two Arsenal fans writing about aspects of Arsenal that have become increasingly important – what Arsenal stands for, how it competes off the field as well as on, the global competition.
John At least when we wrote about the competition we chose the right competitors. In that chapter we've got stuff about Real Madrid, Juventus and Barcelona. Let's hope we end up beating them all this season even if we've found domestic competition trickier. That chapter provides a background to all this nonsense about Arsenal's lack of ‘Englishness'.
Matt A favourite pub debate amongst all fans is the perennial ‘who will we sign in the summer?' question. This season everyone's focus isn't on who we will sign, but who will stay. Everyone knows that Thierry Henry is irreplaceable, and you will not find one Arsenal bemoaning the fact that he isn't English, or arguing that he should be replaced with an English striker (Marlon Harewood or James Beattie anyone?). My favourite picture in our book is the one of Henry Road, just a mile from the stadium, where a fan has meticulously added ‘Thierry' to the street sign.
John Football just has this ability to take over your emotions and capture your thoughts. We all go around replaying Arsenal goals in our heads when we should be concentrating on other things. And that's a quality that other brands can only envy – the sheer depth of loyalty, often unquestioning loyalty.
Matt Yes, but as we do question in the end, can Arsenal do more to deserve that loyalty? It's not been great at ‘customer service'. Its brand has enormous power and Arsenal could use that power not just to make more money but to do good. To build bridges to all the parts of the community that it ignores, takes for granted or gives too little attention to. That's the challenge for Arsenal as a brand.
"Winning together: the story of the Arsenal brand" by John Simmons and Matt Simmons is published by Cyan Books and is available from bookshops at £8.99. You can read more about John and Matt's book at www.winningtogether.uk.com.
A full review will appear on the site in due course.