Author maps out moments that shaped Arsenal’s history
08:55 09 October 2014
A new book examining Arsenal’s history – out on Thursday – breaks down the club’s history into 14 ‘dramatic’ events.
Red Letter Days is the third book by outstanding Arsenal writer Jon Spurling, a history teacher from Kent. He claims it was his sixth formers who gave him the impetus to look at the club’s past in a left-field way.
“I talk to the kids about turning points in US history during the 1920s by isolating key events. There are tens of thousands of events, but a few non-negotiable ones,” he explains.
“I whittled down to around 20 events in Arsenal’s history and then was ruthless, looking at the event behind the event, if you like, to get it to 14.
“Take Anfield ’89 when we won the league; that game is seen as a major moment in Arsenal’s history and rightly so.
“But I examine a game we played there earlier in that same season in the Rumbelows Cup.
“We drew 1-1 but we played them off the park. Brian Marwood had a goal disallowed late on for no reason. Even the Liverpool players seemed to accept it was a goal.
“Strangely this match seems to have been virtually erased from everyone’s memory. People just seem to have forgotten about it.
“I can’t even find the goals on YouTube, but we were exceptional – that was the game that those Arsenal players finally realised they could go to Anfield and get a result. Fortunately, I still have the goals on a battered old VHS tape…”
Like Spurling’s previous works, Red Letter Days is exhaustively researched and reveals forgotten snippets in the club’s history; reports of manager Herbert Chapman pining to move back to Huddersfield in 1929 (it never happened) is one of many tales unearthed…
Dozens of quotes taken from interviews of long-dead Gunners add depth. Spurling’s insatiable hunt for new material saw him persuade national journalists to hand over cassettes of interviews from 30 and 40 years ago.
He also spent “many an hour” in Islington Central Library, examining old microfilms of pre-war newspapers.
“My eyesight may have been damaged but it was worth it,” he laughs. “I suppose I feel a responsibility to do this.”
In addition, he secured valuable interview time with more recent Gunners such as Patrick Vieira, no mean feat in an age where player accessibility seems a dim and distant privilege.
“Getting hold of players up to the mid ‘90s is quite easy, but for those who have played since it is much harder – a sign of the times perhaps,” he laments.
In a seemingly never-ending stream of Arsenal books, this is an absolute gem. Spurling’s books are a cut above. His love for the club and extraordinary knowledge shine through.
“I believe Charlie Buchan’s arrival in 1925 was the greatest, most important, signing in the club’s history – that’s a big statement but I will stick with it,” he declares.
“Without him, David Jack would not have come. Alex James would not have come too. But they did and we later dominated the English game.”
And the greatest game?
“Well, I have always said if I could go back to one game in our history it would be the first FA Cup semi-final versus Stoke in 1971,” he says.
“Peter Storey was outstanding. The volley he scored, then the equaliser to pull it back to 2-2 at the end... I would consider his the most underrated performance in the club’s history – another big statement!”
And the 70s, he adds, is a microcosm of Arsenal’s story.
“It absolutely sums Arsenal up; we started in a blaze of glory, fell away again, then rebuilt at the end of the 70s and got to four cup finals, before falling away again quickly.
“I do believe that there is something inherent in Arsenal that means we never quite ‘go for it’.
“The only time we did – in the 30s – when we spent big and maybe took risks, we were the most successful team in the land …”
n Red Letter Days: Fourteen Dramatic Events That Shook Arsenal FC by Jon Spurling (Pitch Publishing) £18.99, is out today.