Category Archives: Book Review
GCR Books continues its very welcome series of Arsenal books, republishing what are rightly held to be footballing classics. The latest in the series is Walley Barnes, “Captain of Wales“.
Barnes was an erudite man who led by example on the pitch, a League title and FA Cup winner in the immediate post-war Arsenal. And yet it was a career that so nearly never happened. Born in 1920, Barnes served in the Forces during the Second World War, playing for Southampton. When Tom Parker, the then manager, left following a disagreement with the Board, his final act was to offer to find clubs for the guest players, those who were serving and based close by.
The last player he spoke to was Barnes, telling him that he need not bother naming a club, he was joining Arsenal. It was the second time fate played a hand in his fledgling career, a Portsmouth scout had spotted him playing in a non-league match whilst catching his breath on a bike ride. They don’t make careers like that any more.
Not that it was all plain sailing. A knee injury sustained in an Arsenal Reserves match threatened to end his career but Barnes recovered and would play in every position for the club during his time at Highbury. He switched from Left Back to the right when Laurie Scott vacated the role and would have won more were it not for an injury sustained in the 1952 FA Cup final. Forced to leave the pitch, Arsenal played on with ten men only to lose 1-0 to Newcastle United. The injury plagued him and he missed out on the title-winning season in 1952-53 entirely.
Having managed Wales for two years whilst injury took its toll, Barnes moved into television following the path trodden by George Allison at the BBC by presenting the FA Cup final programmes for broadcaster and the first Match of the Day in 1964.
A huge pat on the back for GCR Books in their endeavours to republish the books, this one can be bought directly from them here.
Football Ambassador by Eddie Hapgood
Published by GCR Books
“It is rather hard to try and get over to you readers what I mean about Arsenal, because, of course, I was one of them, and, in some way, it sounds like personal boasting. But we were proud of ourselves, as I suppose we were entitled to be.”
Signed by Herbert Chapman in 1927, Eddie Hapgood was arguably the first in a long tradition of outstanding left backs in Arsenal’s history.
The first encounter with the manager is recounted, Hapgood suitably impressed. Chapman’s question for the future England captain was similar to that which you can imagine Wenger asking, “Do you drink or smoke?“. Hapgood did neither and before arriving at the club was a vegetarian, something that the club were keen to end, eventually the player being more than happy to devour steaks “the size of Whittaker’s Alamanac“.
Born in Bristol, he worked as a dairyman, driving a milk cart for his brother-in-law. It was a job that he considered important enough to decline the overtures of Bristol Rovers, “there was a social distinction between driving a milk cart and a coal cart.”
The book recalls in vivid detail football of that era. The words of those of an honest man, hard-working and should be read by all players today. Hapgood gives an insiders view of the club and brings to life the histories of Arsenal which abound, offering a key insight into personnel on and off the pitch.
Hapgood would become a key member of the successful side of the 1930s, captaining club and country duing his career. During his time at the club, he won 5 league titles and 2 FA Cups, the club’s most decorated captain. At this point, Arsenal were the pinnacle of English football, illustrating how exceptional a player Hapgood was. Hard to believe that this was a man who was conned out of his £10 signing-on fee during a train journey into London to join Arsenal for the first time.
Hapgood’s international career often goes remarkably unnoticed. It was far from that. Forged in the decade before and during World War II, his debut came in Rome under the gaze of Mussolini. The Italians were prominent in his career, the opposition for his first match as England captain in the Battle of Highbury in 1934. Most controversial was the fixture in Berlin, 1938 against Germany.
The 6-3 victory for England is forgotten amid the ‘Nazi salutes‘ proferred by the team at the behest of the weak-spined politicians of the day, carried out to ‘keep the crowd in good temper‘. Hapgood and the rest of the squad were uncomfortable with the whole scenario, the captain noting that “Personally, I felt a fool heiling Hitler“.
Hapgood would go on to become the most capped England player at that time, 43 in total, 21 as captain, a record recognised by the Football Association who awarded him a £100 testimonial in recognition of his services.
Every Arsenal fan should read Hapgood’s story and so should the players. The opening quote shows what it meant, and should still mean, to play for Arsenal Football Club. Click on the titles to buy Football Ambassador: The Autobiography of an Arsenal Legend, along with The Arsenal Stadium Mystery and Forward, Arsenal!, the other GCR reprints, keeping the history alive.
Another re-run ahead of the relaunched “Book Review” page for you to enjoy and add to your Christmas list if you don’t possess it already.
Originally published in 1952 and long out of publication, this essential book on the history of Arsenal is reprinted by GCR Books. Whilst every season spawns an updated version of the club’s history, this was for many years the definitive version of that story.
As a former player Bernard Joy had a level of access that gives this history a uniqueness that is unlikely to be matched again. His experience as journalist gives his narrative whilst his love of the club is never allowed to overspill into sycophancy, retaining a balanced view throughout.
Joy began his career at amateur side Casuals in 1931, winning the Amateur Cup and captaining the Great Britain team at the Berlin Olympics of 1936. He was registered with Southend United and Fulham in the early 1930s but in 1935, he joined Arsenal.
It is utterly inconceivable that an amateur player would ever follow this career path in the modern era, let alone represent the full England international side. Yet this is how Joy’s career unfolded, playing his one full international in a 2-3 defeat to Belgium. He was the last amateur to achieve this status, a record that will surely never be broken.
In 1937-38, the regular Arsenal centre half, Herbie Roberts suffered a broken leg and Bernard Joy replaced him, winning a League Champions medal that season. As a result of his injury, Roberts retired and Joy remained first choice in his position through to the outbreak of the Second World War, picking up a Charity Shield winners medal in 1938.
Joy’s war was spent as an RAF Intelligence Officer which enabled him to continue playing football. He was to make more than 200 appearances for Arsenal during this time, continuing his career once war was over. However, like many, he lost those years from his career and at 35, he retired in December 1946 although he was to continue playing for Casuals until 1948. It is incredible to think that such a pivotal player for those seasons was an amateur. On retiring, Joy entered journalism as Evening Standard and later Sunday Express football correspondent.
Forward, Arsenal! is a superb history of the club. Contributions were directly received from a veritable Who’s Who of players and managers including Tom Whitaker, George Allison, Alex James and Charles Buchan, rather than relying upon the press of that time for the information. The detailed analysis puts modern histories to shame.
This book has long been sought after on eBay in its original form. GCR Books has made a fine reprint, one that every Arsenal fan should own. Having started with The Arsenal Stadium Mystery, Greg is planning an outstanding library of reprinted books about Arsenal, which can be viewed on their website en route to buying Forward, Arsenal!
The Arsenal Stadium Mystery by Leonard Gribble
I know what you are thinking, it is not a new book to review. It is the return of the book reviews section on the blog. GCR books do an outstanding service in reprinting historic Arsenal books. This week will see original reviews re-posted and then appearing on their own page.
For those who do not know, the story is set against the backdrop of a fictional match between Arsenal and an amateur team called The Trojans. As Mick Jones sang, ‘Somebody Got Murdered‘ and Inspector Slade is called in to save the day, which he duly does. Or rather, solve the case, for it would not be much of a ‘whodunnit’ if you were still wondering the identity of the culprit at the end of the book.
Set eighty years ago, it is almost inconceivable that such a book could be written in today’s football climate with the natural suspicion that clubs, players, managers and staff hold the media. If Gribble did not have access behind the scenes, he possessed an astute eye for observing characters, descriptions of the playing staff and their personalities entirely plausible.
Where the book excels in football literature is capturing the emotions surrounding the game, both on and off the pitch. Anyone who stood on terraces at Highbury will relate entirely to Gribble’s depiction of the stadium emptying and queues for the tube station.
Compared to today’s crime writing, the absence of car chases, swearing and sex scenes is a refreshing change. It concentrates purely on the crime, characters and their lives. Even so, the pace is consistent throughout and an enjoyable read it is too.
GCR Books are looking at other Arsenal titles so let us hope that they are able to reprint those as a decent job has been made of this one. The Arsenal Stadium Mystery can be purchased directly from GCR Books and with Christmas around the corner, a recommended stocking filler for all.
A bit of a change for ACLF book reviews, this one is aimed at the younger audience.
GCR Books has published the tale of a seventh birthday trip to Highbury to see Arsenal take on West Ham – a Hammer’s theme day on ACLF today – in 1976. As choices of first games go, it’s pretty much hard to improve on that.
The book is aimed at the younger audience and sits comfortably in that arena. Number Two son is of that age and enjoyed the story, remembering his own experiences along the way. The excitement of a child’s birthday present being is well-conveyed and the language he found helped comprehend the story, not just reading it.
It is well worth the effort of buying this for any younger family members although be prepared for pester power to come along with it; how you will wish that entry to the ground was at 1976 prices!
A Cutlured Left Foot readers can get a 10% discount on the purchase price by visiting the GCR website and entering the code ‘ACLF’ in the relevant box when ordering.
Death or Glory: The Dark History of the World Cup by Jon Spurling
Published by Vision Sports Publishing
The World Cup, the greatest show on Earth or so Fifa would have you believe.
A parade of all that is good in the game, four weeks of sublime skill, derring-do and luck, the culmination of which proclaims the victors as Champions of the World for the coming four years. There is every reason to celebrate the tournament but that is not the tale Jon Spurling tells in this entertaining book.
Traversing the globe, Spurling has lifted the lid on the seamier and less salubrious side of the game, exploring the rivalries and misfortunes that underpin Fifa’s flagship, the tales of suffering and enmity, how despots have misused the event to further or prolong their tyrannical rule.
Kicking off with the story of the 1930 World Cup, telling the tale through Argentine and Uruguayan eyes, the fanaticism of the time explodes across the River Plate into Mwepu Ilunga and the ill-fated Zaire side of 1974, their suffering and humiliation not limited to the events on the pitch in that tournament, Mobutu’s regime exacting revenge for their failure on the pitch.
Tying the 1978 World Cup against a backdrop of the Junta, Nazis on the run and Mothers of the Disappeared, Spurling provides a solid background that puts the various finals into political context of the time. Did Peru throw the match? Squad members sift through the rumours since and conclude that they were scared into submission before they had even left the dressing room, such was the ferocity of the noise from the crowd. Truth or not, it is a substantiated conclusion.
Local and international rivalries are exposed with a dispassionate eye, England v Argentina forgoes the rampant nationalism that many writers cannot avoid. The 1974 clash between West and East Germ any is similarly thorough in its dissection. It is not all historical; Algeria and Egypt’s encounter in this qualifying campaign features.
Football writing has come a long way in the last two decades since All Played Out and this book rests comfortably with the best of them. Click to buy Death or Glory! – The Dark History of the World Cup.
Making The Arsenal by Tony Attwood
Published by Hamilton House
Writing a football novel is a risky business; few are readable, littered with cliches. Even fewer are believable. A risky business then taking on the formative years of Arsenal Football Club. Thankfully this one is that rarest of books, a football novel that is well-written and thought provoking, something which you might expect from the author of Untold Arsenal.
One of the reasons that the book works well is the unusual angle chosen. Whilst based in fact, the story is contextualised with the main political events of the time brought into play. Covering the twelve months from January 1910 to January 1911, the protagonist is Jacko Jones, a journalist. Our hero is on the trail of Sir Henry Norris’ motivations for eventual takeover of The Arsenal, the twists and turns of the move, opposition and nefarious deeds captured.
The chapters are on a monthly basis, the story broken down further, almost diarised on a daily basis. The language keeps in with the times without becoming stylised. Try as I might I could not find a “Cor blimey Guv! You’re a toff and make no mistake“. Perhaps that is the greatest success of the author; the book captures a sense of the time in which it is based.
The research is thorough. A work of fiction based on fact is a matter of interpretation. On this basis, the story is a success, avoiding the pitfalls of making illogical leaps of assumption or leaving the reader wondering how a theory was reached without having gaping chasms in the deductions applied.
As for the story, we know the ending in Arsenal terms but for the actual book, I wholeheartedly commend you to purchase a copy, which you can do by clicking here