One life, one game, one team, one invincibles

One life, one game, one team, one Invincibles (So far)

Monday, 17 November 2014

Red Letter Days - an Arsenal book review

Red Letter Days by Jon Spurling

Arsenal Book Review by Brian Dawes

Jon Spurling is not new to writing about the Arsenal and his past works have all been great reads, so I looked forward to devouring his latest work and wasn’t disappointed. This one is called ‘Red Letter Days’ and it is a book, which to quote the sub title, pinpoints 14 dramatic events that shook Arsenal Football Club. These are milestones which have grossly impacted on the Arsenal history line and which have been absolutely fundamental, if not crucial to our Club’s development. If you’re an Arsenal fan and are not yet fully aware of them all I’d regard it as somewhat remiss of you, but entirely forgiveable because Jon doesn’t stick to just the obvious trophy winning highlights. Rather he concentrates on the key events that lead up to them.

The chapter headings are clever if not always obvious and point us towards such major characters as Henry Norris, Charlie Buchan to begin the journey which takes us through to George Graham and Wenger in the later years. Having followed the club myself over land and sea, and Leicester for many decades  I can personally attest to the quality of detail in such sections as that which described the Fairs Cup semi-finals against the emerging Cruyff’s Ajax and more importantly the classic Stoke City FA Cup semi-final and replay which lead to our first Double. These are but two examples which include so many quoted gems from the likes of Frank McLintock, Peter Storey, Geordie Armstrong which make the pages alive with insight and descriptions from key characters within the events. Although the book gives the likes of Henry Norris, Joe Mercer, Bertie Mee, Frank McLintock or George Graham the credit they richly deserve it also suggests that others such as Ronnie Rooke, Dave Sexton and Bruce Rioch, to name but three, should receive wider recognition for their contributions.

Apart from the many delightful quotes it’s the almost throwaway asides that I like best. For example would any current manager order a player, about to play his last 45 minutes of football for the Club, to down a large glass of whiskey at half time? Certainly not Mr Wenger. And almost as amazingly the very same manager late on in the most crucial game of a particular season: ‘walked down the tunnel and poured himself a double brandy.’  (to quote the text)  because he couldn’t stand the tension. I’ve not told you the names involved because I’ve no  wish to spoil what I can guarantee to be really good read for all Arsenal fans even vaguely interested in our Club’s history.

One particular paragraph I will share however, in order to illustrate that some things just never change over the years was is one: “The occasionally negative headlines irritated George Swindon so much that he went to see Whittaker about it. Whittaker’s response was, ‘I’m surprised at you George, worrying about things like that. It’s part and parcel of playing for Arsenal – always was, always is, and always will be George. I’d ignore it if I were you.’

One of Jon’s previous books, ‘Rebels for the Cause’ is, in my opinion, one of the best Arsenal books ever written so it’s no surprise to me that Red Letter days which is yet another immaculately researched volume containing many fabulous quotes and well-considered viewpoints has provided us with yet another fabulous Arsenal related title to both learn from and enjoy.


ISBN: 9781909626393

Published by Pitch Publishing

Available from all your favourite online sources and decent booksellers everywhere. But for a really good price this title is currently being offered at 30% discount by Pitch Publishing.

Waterstones book signings by Jon Spurling in the near future are on November 22nd at St Albans from 11am -1pm, November 29th at Enfield from11-1 and on December 6th at Chelmsford 11-1

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Benfica bounced for 5

As seen on BT Sports in my front room - the briefest of match reports. 

I can’t stand meaningless pre-season friendlies but I’m prepared to make an exception for Saturday's game. Our team was: Martinez in the 50 shirt, Hector Bellerin who is a better winger than defender but played well, new boy Callam Chambers who looked seriously cool calm and collected, Monreal who is no centre back and Gibbs at the back. Ramsey, Rosicky and Flamini in midfield. YaYa Sanogo upfront with the Ox and Joel Campbell as the widemen who work back. But this wasn’t a 4-4-3 maybe a 4-1-4-1 and in effect something of a rather more fluid interchangeable formation. Two banks of four when required were also the order of our day.

Flamini, who else, with our first foul. Referee Lee Mason and his white stick fail to award Campbell a penalty, he then awards Benfica a corner with the lino’s flag up for offside – he hasn’t improved. Sanogo makes it 1-0 on 26 minutes from a sweet low Ramsey cross. Bellerin lays down a marker with a great run down the right. Monreal confirms he’s out of position as a centre back. Bellerin and Sanogo combine well with a decent cross finding Campbell who hits great volley to make it 2-0 to the Arsenal on 40 minutes. The Ox takes them apart before Ramsey to Campbell to Sanogo leaves Yaya with a tap in for 3-0 on 44 minutes. One minute later Sanogo completes his hat trick, this time from a Gibbs cross. We go in at half time with a 4-0 lead having totally blitzed a bewildered Benfica in a five-minute spell.

Second half sees Cazorla out to replace the Ox who had been reasonably ok in his first game back from injury. The 48th minute sees a decent Ramsey shot saved low and the man many fools had written off as hopeless is once again in the right place at the right to prod it home. Yaya celebrates our fifth with the home crowd. Arsenel replace Ramsey, Flamani and Rosicky with Wilshere, Arteta and Coquelin on 59 minutes.

Benfica revert to Stoke tactics and score from a long throw which was flicked on to  start and end their comeback at 5-1, a Nico Gaitan header on 61 minutes. A decent save from Martinez, and a couple more followed from our current third choice keeper. A Sanogo slalom ends in a tweak that sees him limp off with what looks like a hammy. Arsenal have gone to sleep this half having won the game before the break. Alexis changes into kit and looks a seriously powerful geezer in the tight Puma outfit. Both teams made seven substitutions but I won’t bore you with Benfica’s – mainly because I haven’t a clue who subbed who when other than there being two batches of three. 

Lima misses easy chance. Multi-subs Miguel for Monreal, Akpom for Campbell and Alexis for the already departed Sanogo. Huge roars as Alexis opens with some fine showboating. We’ve closed well all the game and been good at falling back when required. Bebe (the ex-Manure failure) had two decent free kicks. Benito picked up a yellow card as he stopped a break away near the half way line. Monreal had also been carded in the first half for exactly the same offence.

Miguel hit his header against their bar from a corner. Jack limping. Coquelin hits the post with a shot as Sanchez, sorry that should read Alexis, finds him from the right. Final score 5-1. That'll do me.

Nearly forgot: our crowd were guilty of performing Mexican waves - something which indicated the type of crowd in attendance. No thank you, not for me.

Brian Dawes @Gooner48

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Stuck in a Moment: The Ballard of Paul Vaessen - a New Book Review

Stuck in a Moment: The Ballard of Paul Vaessen 

Author: Stewart Taylor

With a Forward by Tony Adams, a Preface by Gordon Taylor and contributions from Ken Friar, Terry Neill, Sammy Nelson, Fred Street, Liam Brady, Kenny Sansom, Brian Talbot, John Divine and many others.

Arsenal fans of a certain age will be familiar with the name because the then 18 year-old Paul Vaessen scored a very famous goal for the Arsenal. It was in Turin on 23rd April 1980 against Juventus with seconds remaining in the second leg the European Cup-Winners' Cup semi-final. At that time Juventus had never been beaten at home by a British Club and were intent on reaching the final with a goalless draw thanks to their away goal in a score draw at Highbury. The enormity of Paul's fine headed goal was to have lasting repercussions. Nothing was ever again to provide Paul Vaessen with the buzz to match that brief experience as a goal-scoring substitute. This was essentially his 15 minutes of fame because his short career in his beloved football was to be cruelly curtailed.

Although the long-term build up to this goal from street kick-abouts to professional footballer is well dealt with here thanks to some assiduous research this volume is way more than just a football tale. It is an important account of addiction which ruined more than one life and seriously effected many others. It is a tale of how one young top quality footballer did not anticipate and could not begin to cope with life without football. Paul’s career at Arsenal was very brief due to unfortunate circumstances and ended even sooner than most due to serious knee injury. His connections with the wrong kind of people and a drug habits that surfaced in his early teens accelerated this particular decline and fall saga. Make no mistake, this is certainly no happily ever after fairy tale ending type book, but rather a heart-breaking and tragic story.

What makes this particular title special is the caring way in which Stewart Taylor has been able to get so close to the truth of Paul’s addiction by earning the confidence of Vaessen’s close family, especially his mum, dad and brother and then relaying their take on Paul’s decline with honesty and sensitivity. Early friends, girl-friends and work colleagues have also contributed to the warts and all commentary. While well-known fellow players, coaches and management staff, including many from his time with Arsenal, have contributed quite freely. The tale which unfolds is not a pretty one because it exposes character flaws which couldn’t be overcome. It has an almost inevitably sad ending and confirms Paul’s own predictions to those close to him that he’d never live to be 40. He didn’t, he died aged 39 and the painful description of his accelerated demise is a sorrowful read, but essential in the understanding of Paul’s decline and battle to survive.

Hopefully because this well written work helps to confirm through the experiences of others that more needs to be done for the many young players who'll fail to make the grade, others will take up that baton and act upon it.

The general impression given is that Football Clubs are certainly far more aware of the psychological effects on the dismissal of young players than they were in the early 80’s, but this doesn’t really mean they’re necessarily doing enough today to combat the problems for such players. If this tragedy of one specific individual helps to enlighten the footballing community it can only be a good thing and makes this a book of real importance worthy of widespread reading within the industry.

Although Tony Adams book ‘Addicted’ was a real eye opener, this title manages to convey a far sadder story with meaningful sensitivity.

Stuck in a Moment: The Ballard of Paul Vaessen by Stewart Taylor £18.99

Hardback published by GCR Books - ISBN 978 1 9090500 6 8

Official Publication date is 8th August 2014, although it is on general release as at the beginning of June. Available through any decent bookshop or your favourite on-line bookseller. Or for the best deal I’ve found it is available here for £13.99. 

Book review by Brian Dawes @Gooner48

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

FA Cup revival, or did it never go away?

The FA Cup has been written off by many fans as something of a dead duck in recent years, myself included. Not even the romance of Wigan beating the obscenely over-spending Citeh could seemingly revive its one time dominance on the English Football calendar although in truth nothing probably ever will. Especially so given that even the Football Association themselves have devalued it by selling its soul to the corporate wannabes and mega brewery shite larger salesmen. The Super-hyped Sky dominant Premiership and Champions League have reduced this once much loved trophy to the back-waters of the English football calendar. 

Or so I thought until Saturday.

 If you've had many footballing moments as good as this then you're very lucky and it has to be said we are extremely lucky to support a Club such as Arsenal

When I was a kid, way back when, the F A Cup was one of the few live games to be seen on black and white television and as such it helped the Cup stand head and shoulders above the League as a national footballing event. A whole nation would watch it before a second TV channel arrived with adverts to offer alternative viewing. In those days of course only real football fans got tickets for the game. And Wembley’s emergence as a world footballing centre probably came about largely because of the FA Cup Final going international on the airwaves. And thus it became the internationally renowned stadium it never deserved to be. The pitch was always good, except for the odd League Cup debacle, but it’s always been an over-rated over-hyped stadium on an Industrial Estate. Still is. That said you just can't top seeing your team play there for the big one in the merry month of May.

 Many players are remembered for one specific final

Because the FA Cup has been such a very English institution since its inception in 1872 it has acquired some very English traits over the past 142 years. Not least of which is the whole giant killing thing. The whole point of the FA Cup for many is the possibility of a Cup minnow getting the better of a Cup giant. That’s a given. The Ronnie Radford Trophy came about for good reason. We all love footballing underdogs, because every season almost without fail one of them will best a footballing giant. Ideally that will be a team that we just happen to despise.

 The Cup is so big some claim goals they never scored

That’s why almost the entire English footballing fraternity was rooting for Hull this season, Wigan last season and no one gave a toss the year before. I mean when the Chavs play Pool who other than London fans and Evertonians gives a shit who wins?

Even rather average players can become all time heroes

I believe Arsenal inadvertently did the Cup proud this season because ours was an exciting final for the neutrals to enjoy. We defended poorly so the underdogs were able to set about getting everyone’s hopes up, there was some piss poor refereeing decisions where penalties were not awarded to the amusement of football enthusiasts everywhere other than Arsenal fans, extra time was an added bonus for most, there was a classic 0-2 down 3-2 up comeback, there was the spectacle of the underdog hanging on for grim death and there was a brilliant winning goal by a potentially world class player of the future, set up by a delightful back-heeled flick. What more could anyone want of a Final? Perhaps a mad keeper flying off his line in an attempt to blow it late on. No good for the Arsenal nerves but absolutely fine for everyone else.

 Sometimes very average players become heroes

It’s been claimed in the past that Wenger doesn’t value the FA Cup as much as the Champions League and Premiership and quite frankly nor should he. But having won an amazing 5 FA Cups now it is somewhat difficult to claim he doesn’t give a toss, even if he insists on playing his second choice keeper on such occasions. Mind you that could have quite simply been a ploy to retain the old one, or attract a new one.

Cup Final memories are there forever

What I learned this season was that the Cup doesn’t matter if you’re not there but matters enormously if you are. I most definitely was there for yet another FA Cup Final with Arsenal and despite thinking the FA Cup was becoming as dead as a dodo my guts still churned pre-match as they did in 1971. Plus I was as deliriously ecstatic as everyone else when Aaron Ramsey blagged the winner. If your team is actually there, partaking in the Final, it still means absolutely everything, as the 250,000+ confirmed in Islington on the Sunday.  Maybe even Kroenke has now figured it out, because I doubt very much he’s ever attended a sporting occasion to match that one. Surely that passion and pure joy must have come across even in such a sanitised area as the Royal Box.

Sometimes great players bag the winner

The FA Cup is only ever dormant for most clubs fans until they reach a final again. Maybe pretty dead for the likes of Tottenham fans though who’ve not now attended a final for 23 years, never mind Arsenal’s over mentioned 9. But even their fans will love it to bits again should they ever fluke their way to another final. 

Sometimes players create their own piece of special history

I am one lucky bar steward because Saturday’s Final was my 8th attendance at a winning Cup Final with the mighty Arsenal. To put that in perspective that’s as many as Spurs have won in their entire 120 year history of FA cup football. And they used to reckon they’re a Cup team... well they’re certainly not a league winning team are they?

 Sometimes you even forget who was in the team

No. The premature demise of FA Cup football is a mere rumour denied by the 40,000 or so Gooners inside Wembley on May 17th this year. Their absolute extremes of agony and ecstasy was testament to a footballing intuition still being very much alive and kicking.

The FA Cup is alive and well, and long may it remain so.

 It looks even better with plain red and white ribbons, or even yellow or course

Brian Dawes @Gooner48