Football books sell. It is why we have such a choice of Arsenal titles in recent months. Books about your favourite clubs, players even, have a magnetic attraction. More people, it seems, write about the Arsenal than any other club and so there should be no surprise at the number of books about the Gunners that have hit the shelves in recent months. There have been some crackers too, from Arseblog’s Together through to Dave Seager’s much anticipated Geordie Armstrong On The Wing in tandem with Geordie’s daughter, Jill.
The former is a celebration of Arsenal’s undefeated Premier League season from the supporters viewpoint, and today (Thursday as I write) saw the release of Amy Lawrence’s excellent view of that same historic campaign through the eyes of those who planned, directed, and delivered an unequalled achievement in modern football at the highest level.
In fourteen gripping chapters Invincible, well what else would you call it, relives an historic season through interviews, match reports of the day, and a subtle guiding hand from the rather less than impartial, but always objective, Amy. Her access to the characters involved enables this season to be relived by those of us fortunate to have witnessed it, but reveals the things we didn’t know, or have since forgotten.
The perfect foreword is provided by Arsene Wenger. Under pressure, certainly, at present, but the man who put together the squad that would fulfil what seemed an absurd target.
“I knew I had a special team in 2003-04 at Arsenal. It had always been my dream to go through a season without losing, even though it is not a normal ambition.”
And so to part one of the book, although the temptation to jump to and fro to capture special memories is great. I wanted to get to Liverpool at home and Totttenham away as soon as possible. Try instead though to follow it as written because the introductory chapter introduces the rivalry that existed between Manchester United and us, and puts into context that infamous Ruud van Nistelrooy penalty miss, and the subsequent events. Read Martin Keown proclaiming himself as Patrick Vieira’s minder. That speaks volumes about Martin, and the sheer physical presence of that team. This is not a strictly chronological account, but a well constructed appreciation of the characters and events that impacted so many of us for life.
Again by means of setting the scene David Dein waxes lyrical about the decision, not taken when George Graham left in 1995 but when his successor Bruce Rioch departed little more than a year later, to appoint Arsene Wenger to the post of Arsenal manager. Regardless of what has happened since, Dein’s recollections and his role in the appointment warrant an acknowledgement of his vision at that time.
The characters introduced, and the context set, let yourself follow the unfolding drama through the words of Sol Campbell (re Thierry Henry) “He was very delicate sometimes, like an artist. I’m sure he would be like some kind of Picasso.” Or perhaps Freddie Ljungberg, “I didn’t understand a word Ray Parlour in his cockney accent was trying to say when I first got there, but I learned, because everybody tried to interact with each other in their language.”
Before long you will find yourself at the pivotal part of the season, and the author rebuilds the feelings when successive cup defeats to Manchester United and Chelsea were followed by a half-time deficit to Liverpool in the Premier League. No quotes about this, you will have to buy the book, but I feel a chill down my spine one more time. Will anybody who witnessed the events of that week ever forget what was arguably Thierry’s finest half in an Arsenal shirt?
I cautioned against jumping ahead of yourself earlier, but if you cannot resist then you might care to read the early chapters and then leapfrog to chapter ten. Here the capture of the ultimate prize in English football is also set in context. Be prepared to join Pat Rice on a journey from 1971 to 2004. For this old boy it evokes wonderful memories of a night spent on the Shelf watching us secure the title for the first time in my life. Who then would have dared to dream we would repeat the achievement?
And that is the essence of the book. No matter your age in 2004, prepare to have deep rooted memories brought back to the forefront of the mind. I sat reading my idols words as they would have spoken them. Skillfully strung together, and still provoking the odd emotion that no man should admit to.
If you were there in 71 and/or 2004, buy the book. If only now do you appreciate that we probably had four of the six best payers on the planet back then, buy the book and read their words. Let me make it simple. If you are an Arsenal supporter, buy the book.
Campo Retro Classic Arsenal Shirts At A 20% Discount
Still on the fence about getting that 1979 Cup Final Shirt? Maybe the ’71, or the ’94 Copenhagen classic? You can get 20% off classic Arsenal shirts at Campo Retro. Check the range out here, and use the discount code FLASH20 this weekend to secure a great deal on your favourite shirt.
Thanks all. Sunderland preview to follow on Friday. Have a good end of week, ‘holics.