Reviewed by Brian Dawes
This comprehensive and reasonably priced book is subtitled 'The Club That Changed Football'. Now I'm not going to pretend that this book would be ideal for every Arsenal fan because many fans are clearly only interested in what's going on currently or what's going to happen next week. Thankfully however, due mainly to our fabulously interesting history, we also have many Arsenal history buffs. And for all these students of the Club this 234 page volume is certainly an absolute must for every Gooner who has a serious eye for Arsenal's early history.
It's perfectly clear even from merely flicking through and viewing the many tables, photos, press cuttings and cartoons that this book has been very seriously researched. If you turn to the back of the book, as you should with any serious work of history, viewing the bibliography will reveal that the sources are quite simply more definitive than any previous early history of the Arsenal. I'd even suggest that the research, some of which must have taken years to undertake is as definitive as it is currently possible to be. So much so that other Arsenal authors will have to make revisions to the standard concept on some aspects of Arsenal's early history. Which in a nutshell is why this book is a must for all Arsenal history buffs, they'll learn many new things about Woolwich Arsenal, just as I have.
Once you start reading its not hard to believe that is the best researched early history on Arsenal that has ever been undertaken, and that's impressive given that so much research has been done on this subject already. It's been well put together without becoming a humourless series of dry facts. In fact some of the characters described are almost impossible to invent. You've also got to love a book which gives the crowd at Woolwich their very own chapter, but you'll see why this is so when you come to read it. By way of example few will know that Charlie Buchan, then a schoolboy, was at the1906 FA Cup fixture against Sunderland and he paid his entrance fee by selling one of his schoolbooks. But my favourite antidote refers to a Bradford called Bond who was suspended by the FA for one month after he was alleged to have sworn in the presence of two sisters who were seated in the Arsenal stands.
Arsenal's progress in the League and Cup are each afforded separate chapters. Each season is discussed as a whole in the League section, a good decision given that the facts and figures are available in numerous other sources. The FA Cup matches are covered game by game including the Qualifying matches. Arsenal historians will be well aware, but and it may surprise some that despite this being a long time prior to any major successes for the Club we did in fact compete in two FA Cup semi-finals as Woolwich Arsenal, both of which are well covered.
The chapter on 'The men who played for Woolwich Arsenal' has done the sensible thing and concentrated on the most influential and interesting players of the period. That said, it still covers over 50 players in 36 pages, doing so in a manner that is very far from being a dry statistical rehash of facts and figures. The following chapter that covers our managers is equally well rounded.
If this book lacks anything it is probably detail about the authors, all of whom have proved very worthy in adding great value to this fabulous historical undertaking. This work clearly wasn't done for the money, despite its fine authoritative detail matching any academic work you might come across on almost any subject. It's an obvious case of writers doing something simple because they care deeply enough to make it happen. I know for example that Andy has been systematically collecting and collating data for many years and its great to see his diligent research bear fruit at long last. Tony you can more find more about by trawling the internet, or perhaps by reading his factional title 'Making the Arsenal'. Mark I know nothing about other than the fact that anyone who writes a Dissertation relating to Arsenal for an MA in Twentieth Century Historical Studies is fine by me.
As I said at the beginning of my review this isn't a book to suit every Arsenal fans' taste, but certainly a book that is an absolutely essential addition to every Arsenal History buff's library. I believe it will stand as the ultimate authority on its subject matter for many years to come.
Woolwich Arsenal FC: 1893-1915
by Tony Attwood, Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews
Published by Hamilton House
ISBN 978 1 86083 787 6
The book has been written by the founders of the Arsenal History Society, Tony Attwood, Andy Kelly, Mark Andrews. The Society is part of AISA, the Arsenal Independent Supporters Association. You can buy the book direct from the publishers on line or by phone to 01536 399 011, or you can place an order by fax on 01536 399 012