BOOK REVIEW: ‘Royal Arsenal – Champions of the South’
I’ve mostly shied away from historical books about the Arsenal over the years, simply because they have always seemed to be rehashes of what is generally accepted to be the timeline of how our wonderful club came to be in existence.
But the revelatory pages of ‘Royal Arsenal – Champions of the South’ tell a different story to what has already been written — and how! In this treasure, no stone has been left unturned to shed light on various anomalies and the major findings unearthed well and truly set this book apart from what has been gone before.
Examples of the exhaustive research baring fruit include the correction to the hitherto acceptance of the circumstances surrounding the notion that Nottingham Forest gave Arsenal their first set of red shirts; a significant update of how the club turned professional in 1891, and how the name Royal Gun Factory FC may have been more apposite than Royal Arsenal FC (the latter being chosen to “represent the whole factory on the football field”). The location of the initial Dial Square FC game is also revealed, while my favourite link (tenuous though it is) to the club in the book concerns a certain Isambard Kingdom Brunel!
I suspect, like I did, readers will find the chapter entitled ‘Success’ particularly interesting, especially the details of an historical 10-1 massacre of Tottenham in 1889 that “so traumatised” the lily-livered opponents that the teams did not meet again until 1896!
The writers (Arsenal historians, Mark Andrews and Andy Kelly, along with editor Tim Stillman) have succeeded in presenting enlightening historical information (borne out of an almost forensic examination of mothballed facts) in an engaging style; a happy balance between statistics and narrative can be difficult to attain but, hats off, they have the measure spot on.
If you were ever in doubt about the majesty of the mighty Gunners, those uncertainties will be banished good and proper once you have read ‘Royal Arsenal – Champions of the South’. For anyone with more than a passing interest in the Arsenal this is a fascinating tome.
Patrick Barclay, the chairman of The Football Writers’ Association, argues that “historians are the lifeblood of football” and, thanks to the diligent work in this Arsenal archive, the club’s magnificent history may well live forever.
Far be it for me to tell you how to please friends or family of the Arsenal faith at Christmas, but I can at least suggest you don’t look too far beyond this blockbuster.
Up the Gunners!
Arsenal Historians, Mark Andrews and Andy Kelly, along with editor Tim Stillman, uncover how Royal Arsenal grew to become the Champions of the South – encapsulating the football lives of the founders, players, administrators and supporters of the forerunners of The Arsenal Football Club.
Along the way, this hard back book chronicles how the football club emerged as an offshoot of the Dial Square cricket club, which was established after the 1886 cricket season had ended to keep the men occupied. The location of the initial Dial Square game is revealed, how the supporters responded to their team, and we reveal the club’s first programme writer – a very well-known late Victorian era poet.
The real story of how Royal Arsenal became professional is a fascinating tale of how working men repelled the rapacious landlord of their ground, and at the same time, put one over the old boys’ network who ran the local Football Associations. A history of intrigue, underhand dealings, drunkenness and sham-ateurism in Victorian era Plumstead.
Their book Royal Arsenal: Champions of the South is available to buy from Legends Publishing.
CARL ELDRIDGEFollow @EldoMedia