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The last time we were top of the league at Christmas and went on to win the title was in 1947. 

Few, if any, in this bar, save Dr F.’s interlocutor in the previous, most excellent post, will remember that Christmas. American crooner Buddy Clark topped the UK pop charts with An Apple Blossom Wedding, Cambridge University has just admitted women into full membership and Princess Elizabeth had married her Greek prince just a month before.

Life was drab, austere and wearing. Rationing was still in effect, and London was bombed out and exhausted. The devastating V-1 rocket hit in 1944 at Highbury Corner was a fresh memory. (It is why the Corner isn’t a corner anymore.) At the stadium, the North Bank terracing and South Stand were newly repaired from bomb damage during the Blitz.

When league football had resumed after the war, we were a shadow of our great pre-war sides. We flirted with relegation for most of the 1946-47 season; the 13th-place finish flattered.

Refresh, revive

Yet manager George Allison was putting elements for a revival into place, buying Welsh left-back Walley Barnes, veteran England wing-half Joe Mercer and the mercurial Scottish winger Ian McPherson from Southampton, Everton and Notts County, respectively. 

Jimmy Logie, a Scottish inside right of the small and skilful ilk who had signed for the club in the summer of 1939 (timing is everything!), had made his league debut, playing ahead of right-half Paddy Sloan, newly acquired from Tranmere Rovers. Laurie Scott, signed before the war but unable to get a first-team game, also made his debut. George Swindin, later to manage the club, became the undisputed first-choice keeper.

Ronnie Rooke joined mid-season from Fulham, an unlikely recruit, 35 years old and a lower-league journeyman centre-forward. Yet he blossomed in red and white. A relegation-averting 21 goals in 24 league games in 1946-47 would be followed by 33 in 42 in 1947-48, the only 30+ goal haul between Ted Drake in 1934-35 and TH14 in 2004-05. 

Rooke formed a prolific striking partnership with another centre-forward, Reg Lewis, who like Swindin and the Compton brothers had played a handful of games for the 1937-38 title-winning side.

Time was also wearing away the remaining older heroes of the 1930s. Cliff ‘Boy’ Bastin, the Robert Pires of his day, and Bernard Joy would retire in the close season. Bryn Jones, bought in 1938 to replace the incomparable Alex James, but another who lost their best years to the war, started to be phased out; so, too, George Male, the greatest full-back of 1930s, although there would be a twist to his tale.

Whittaker’s world

Allison, too, retired at the end of the 1946-47 season. Adding the final touches would fall to his successor, Tom Whittaker, the third manager of the Herbert Chapman dynasty. Whittaker had qualified as a physio after injury cut short his Arsenal playing career in 1925 when he was 27 years old. His innovations in Arsenal’s conditioning of players and rehabilitation of the injured as first-team trainer were critical to Chapman and Allison’s success in the 1930s. 

As the new manager, he replaced Sloan, later the first Irishman to play in Serie A, with a less attacking wing-half, West Ham’s Archie Macaulay. That let him deploy Mercer, now captain, even deeper, to orchestrate the team Partey-like from in front of a defence of Swindin, Scott, now England’s right-back, and Barnes, shortly to be Wales’s left-back, with Les Compton between them. 

Allison had converted Compton from a middling right-back in the reserves into the reserve first-team centre-half. With Joy’s retirement, the position became his own. Thirty-five and the club’s longest-serving player, Compton was about to embark on the Indian summer of his career, including in 1950 becoming the oldest player to win a first England cap. 

Whittaker’s adjustments were transformative. A defence that had leaked 70 goals the previous season conceded just 32 on its way to the title, keeping 21 clean sheets in 42 games.

Whitaker’s other signing was a young, two-footed winger, Don Roper, from Southampton. Like McPherson, Roper could play on either wing. The pair provided flexible cover for Les Compton’s younger brother Denis, first-choice on the left wing but frequently unavailable because of cricket or a dodgy right knee injured in a collision with Charlton’s goalkeeper in 1938.

Flying start

The 1947-48 season got off to a perfect start, with six straight wins, opening with a 3-1 win at Highbury over Sunderland (highlights https://www.britishpathe.com/video/arsenal-3-sunderland-1-soccer-seasonss-flying-star/query/arsenal ). Six more wins and five draws extended the unbeaten run to 17 games. 

It ended on November 29 at the Baseball Ground. That Derby County won with the game’s only goal was down to Swindin’s keeping. The Pathe newsreel of the game doesn’t show a single Arsenal attack.

Yuletide arrived without further mishap and was celebrated with a 3-1 Christmas morning win at Anfield. We were top of the table, three points clear of Burnley after 22 games and seven ahead of Preston North End, who had played one game more.

Two days later, ‘Scouthland’, as the match programme described our visitors (the people take their name from a sailors’ stew that is a contraction of lobscouse since you ask), won the return fixture 2-1 on a wet Saturday that turned Highbury into a quagmire, our first home defeat. Whittaker was still playing Chapman’s pass-and-run game using his modified WM formation. Lesson one for Arsenal is that ‘they cannot tip-tap their way to success through heavy going’, opined the Daily Herald.

Cup shock

Another unexpected home loss came on January 10, in the FA Cup 3rd Round against Second Division Bradford Park Avenue (highlights https://www.britishpathe.com/video/VLVA2B58EHMHBXFRX3N5K5PF1F4CT-ARSENAL-VS-BRADFORD-IN-THE-THIRD-ROUND-OF-THE-FA-CUP/query/arsenal ). However, the league points continued to accumulate. Defeat would not strike again until the end of February, a 4-2 reverse at Villa Park.

Three more defeats would await before the end of the season, two at Highbury, including against Chelsea in mid-March that started a stuttering run-in. A side with an average age of 30 was running out of steam. We won just three of our final ten games but had a nine-point cushion to fall back on.

The first of these three wins was a 7-0 thumping of Middlesborough at Highbury on Good Friday, with Rooke getting a hat-trick and Denis Compton a brace. 

The next day, we played Blackpool — in Blackpool — fielding nine of the team that had played 24 hours earlier, and lost 3-0. On Easter Monday, we were at Middlesborough, where the identical team that had won 7-0 three days previously drew 1-1. 

Three games in four days over the Easter holiday involving just 13 players. Rotation? Bah! We used only 19 players all season, with seven playing at least 40 games and another three more than 30.

Title secured

Two weeks after Easter, it was off to Leeds Road, Huddersfield. A 1-1 draw earned the point that secured a sixth title with four games to spare. However, the team did not know it until they saw the newspapers at Doncaster Station on the way home. Second- and third-placed Manchester United and Burnley had lost and could no longer close the gap.

The season wound down with another loss to Derby and scoreless draws at Portsmouth and Manchester City but ended with a spectacular May Day thrashing of relegated Grimsby, 8-0 at Highbury.

George Male, who had played three games for the club’s first side to win the First Division in 1931 and was an ever-present in the 1933, 1934, 1935, and 1938 Championship sides, was given a valedictory game against Grimsby. Though deep into his thirties, he played eight times in the 1947-48 season when Barnes or Scott was injured, making him the first person to play in six title-winning seasons. After hanging up his boots, he had a long career as an Arsenal coach and scout, discovering Charlie George. 

We had led the league for all but three days in September when we were second on goal average. We ended seven points clear of the Mancs and Burnley: P42 W23 D13 L6. GF 81 GA 32. At home, W15, D3, L3; away: W8, D10: L3.

Lessons from three-quarters of a century ago? Avoid lengthy injuries to key players, and don’t lose away games you can’t win.

-0-

Outside the train window I could see a vast expanse of olive groves interspersed with stretches of gently undulating pastures, deserted but not desolate. I had fallen asleep with my head leaning back towards the empty aisle seat next to mine, and as I opened my eyes the landscape outside was the first thing I noticed. Still, it took me a few seconds to realize that the train was not moving, and the air inside felt much warmer compared to the artificial chill that had accompanied me all the way until Córdoba. And that made me realize that I must had fallen asleep shortly after the train left the Córdoba station. As the fog of sleep started to lift, I realized that the idea for the blog that came to me just before I closed my eyes was starting to slip away. Panicking, I reached for my MacBook inside the bag that I had left lying next to me, placed it on the small table in front of me, opened and typed my password, opened my favorite writing app, and started to type. It couldn’t have been more than a minute from the moment of panicky realization to opening the writing app, but by that time the idea I was so desperately trying to capture in concrete words and sentences had already evaporated, along with the somewhat dreamlike state of mind I woke up to.

Frustrated and angry at myself, I simply started to write “All or Nothing” repeatedly on my screen. I was supposed to have finished a review piece for the blog by the day before, hoping to enjoy the rest of my Andalusian week without a sense of failing in my responsibilities to constantly gnaw at my heart, but I hadn’t written a single line and still had no idea how to start.

I was startled by a booming voice coming from the seat next to me, “All or Nothing sounds like a good name for a screenplay. Do you write for the movies?” The accent was unplaceable, the articulation too gave nothing away. What came through clearly was a sense of bemused irony expressing itself as a good-natured bonhomie. Even though I always had an immense dislike for next seat neighbors looking at my laptop over my shoulder – whether stealing a glance or shamelessly staring at the screen – the disarming humor in that voice I found rather charming.   

I clearly remembered that this aisle seat remained empty even after the train had left the Córdoba station, as it was all the way from Seville, as were the two seats just opposite mine across the table. Maybe he had boarded the train in Córdoba and strolled around for a while in the mostly empty compartments before setting on a seat. I turned my face around to take a good look at him: a tall gentleman, impeccably dressed in a finely tailored three-piece dark blue linen suite, wearing a black beret that added a hint of flamboyance to what otherwise seemed to be a deeply serious man. Even though he must have been at least in his seventies he exuded a sense of considerable physical strength. His eyes – the right eye looked slightly larger than the left one – had that glint of amused expectations that betray all incorrigible conversationalists. 

I answered, “Not at all, it is meant to be a review for a television series about a football club. Well, technically speaking they call it a docuseries nowadays.”

“Not very imaginative, is it?”, he smiled.        

“You mean docuseries, the neologism?”

“That too, but I was thinking about ‘All or Nothing’.”

“Well, the idea is in elite sports you must give everything, all of yourself. Anything less than that would get you nowhere. There is no middle ground, no room for mediocrity.” I tried my best.

“Oh, there is always room for mediocrity. We are a very mediocre species.”

“Not my club. Arsenal always strives for excellence in everything. This documentary really shows that. How in every aspect of running the club we are continuously trying to get better.”

“Better at what?”

“Everything. Football.”

“I see. My impressions were a bit different – it seemed to me that Arsenal was presenting a narrative that that they are trying to completely revamp their organizational culture.”

“Oh, so you watched the whole series too?” I could barely contain my surprise.

He smiled and told me that though he did not follow football that closely, he was curious about developments in Arsenal. He was initially reluctant to explain why but I persisted. The train was still standing, and I didn’t feel like reading or going back to sleep, and the idea of a somewhat enigmatic old man talking about Arsenal I felt would be a pleasing enough diversion.

“Okay, but first me let me get my afternoon drink.” He said with a hint of exasperation. He raised his left hand with a gesture that seemed to be ushering in someone from the back of the compartment. And a few seconds later I saw a dining car attendant appearing pushing a trolley. Both the attendant and the trolley were a throwback to some unknown past, as unplaceable in time as were my companion’s accent and gestures. I had already drunk one of those mini bottles of tolerable red wines that were served in the train along with the meal, and so felt no desire to inquire about the options. My co-passenger on the other hand was busy in an animated conversation with the attendant who had started to mix well-measured liquors that he poured into a cocktail mixer from multiple bottles. He swiftly poured the resulting mix right into two martini glasses in front of my thirsty companion and vanished equally swiftly.

“Try this, it’s my invention. Well, rather a variation of mine on a popular theme in the key of Gin.” He offered me a glass with a flourish of his hands.

We clicked our glasses, and I took a sip. “It’s delicious. What is it called?”

“I haven’t named it yet. My friend Jean-Claude mockingly calls it Bunueloni.”

“Strange name that.”

He seemed mildly offended.  “Strange would have been good. I like strange. But it’s rather banal if you ask me. Just like All or Nothing.”

“You mean the name of the series? Or the full documentary across all the eight episodes.”

“Both.”

“It is definitely not banal to us Arsenal fans.”, I protested.

“Your generation is very easily impressed. Herbert would have been aghast at this mania for vicarious proximity.”

“You mean Herbert…Chapman?”

“Oh yes, I met him first in Paris and then in Brussels in the late twenties, a few years before he passed away. So early…” he said rather ruefully.  

It started to dawn on me that I might be drinking cocktail offered by a complete stranger who at the least was benignly eccentric but could also be not entirely harmless.

“Must be a very interesting story. I mean how you met him. Must have been quite a coincidence.”

“Not exactly. But I cannot really take any credit for that. You see Herbert was a man with rather progressive and dare I say modern ideas, especially for an English football manager of his time. He used to come to the continent now and then, and he was a close friend with this Austrian called Hugo Meisl. Hugo was a football manager too, and his brother Willy was a sport journalist. Willy knew Jean Epstein, and I met Herbert with the Meisl brothers in one of Epstein’s parties.”

“And you two immediately hit off talking Arsenal.” I made no effort to hide my incredulity. I didn’t know anything about any of these people he was talking about, and I had a vague suspicion that those names were as made up as his story.

“Not at all. He was interested in learning about the mechanics of shooting films, and that was all I mostly used to think about in those days. My English was non-existent, but Herbert spoke workable French, and even a few words of Spanish. So, we ended up talking a lot about cinema, eventually moving on to football and Arsenal. He was almost in his fifties, but he had as much spark in his ideas as any of us. Quite the character… ”

“Exactly! See, he was a man ahead of his times…bringing in so many innovative ideas into the game…white footballs, floodlights, numbered shirts…I am sure he would have appreciated that the Arsenal he had helped to build remained so … inventive.”

“You think All or Nothing was inventive? The whole thing was a cliché…full of platitudes masquerading as insights.”

I was offended. Yes, over the span of eight episodes there were quite a few cringeworthy moments, but there were also enough scenes where the way Mikel and his coaching team interacted with the players, tuning their approach, demonstrating empathy while demanding the absolute best made watching the series worth the time. It was also reassuring to see that the club seems to be in just the right hands after years of chaos and rumors about lack of discipline at every level.

I told him that. I also told him that to many of us Arsenal fans the series was inspirational, especially the young fans who are in difficult circumstances in their lives. For them to learn about the challenges overcome by their heroes in such a direct and accessible manner was something to cherish.

The bemused smile was back on his face. “Do you know about Gerard Keizer?” He suddenly changed the course of our argument. 

“No, another of your friends? I know there is no Gerard Keizer anywhere in Arsenal…”. Eccentric and annoying, I thought to myself. Maybe I ought to stop this conversation.

“And you call yourself an Arsenal fan! He was one of Herbert’s discoveries. He was Arsenal’s goalkeeper in their first league winning season, and later he became a legendary figure in Dutch football. And I think then a smuggler for a short while after the war…how amusing!”

“What has that got to do with All or Nothing? Look, Mr..Mr..” I realized that none of us had introduced each other to begin with.

He spared me any further embarrassment. “You can call me Luis. Some even say Don Luis, but that’s not necessary. ”

“Thank you Luis!. You can call me…”.

“Faustus. Yes, I know.” I dared not ask how. And then continued, “After the war Gerard once borrowed kits from Arsenal for the Ajax team who had no money at that time and so they played a few matches in Arsenal colors.”

“Luis, if I may, that is completely irrelevant to a contemporary TV series about the inner workings of Arsenal.”

“I thought that was a crucial flaw with All or Nothing, Faustus. The desire to present Arsenal’s inner workings as completely disconnected from their past. As my friend Carlos used to say, ‘Novelty for its own sake is an anachronism.’.”

“Carlos the jackal? You sure had some interesting friends.”

“Carlos Fuentes. It’s a pity you haven’t read him.”

“Luis, let us stick to the topic, please. Well yes, the documentary shows how Arsenal is trying to completely revamp and rebuild the club in a comprehensive and holistic way, at every level. So, it is hardly surprising that they would focus more on the present evolution, the process of changes, and less on their past.”

“You misunderstand me. I am sure the club leadership and hierarchy are doing the right things. At least trying to, but their efforts can be discussed meaningfully only through the prism of the outcome. They should not need a documentary full of curated feel-good moments as an eight-hour long apologia. And if they were to make a documentary it should at least have the merit of making the audience see things that they would not otherwise have.”

“If you really disliked it so, why did you watch it all the way through? In memory of your friend?”

“I didn’t say I disliked it. It might have been irrelevant and a bit fake, and not even a good fake, but it was fun in a gossipy kind of way. Also, the editing was excellent.”

“The editing?!” Exasperated, I felt it increasingly difficult to keep up with this stream of ideas and observations. A second glass of bunuelino had magically appeared in front of both of us, the silent car attendant with his retro uniform had served those when I was busy arguing. We cheered silently, and this time I took a long sip. The train still hadn’t moved, the air inside though was starting to get colder and fresher again, and the drinks made me drowsy too.

“Yes! Did you realize how it must have been impossible for some of those players who are so obviously vocal leaders on the field to be completely silent in the dressing room in the break or after poor performances? The players could not have been acting to a script, they are not trained actors and if anything, at least their reactions come out as direct and authentic. And yet, at the same time it is fake because evidently a lot of the in-between interactions are edited out. Smoothly and seamlessly, and I must say those must have been some expert editing.”

“Like Ødegaard, you mean? Yes, he was very surprisingly silent throughout the series. I thought he was just camera shy. But even if what you said was correct that doesn’t really devalue the series. Obviously, the club is not going to give away all its secrets in a documentary. It will present an edited version of itself, naturally! Like we all do to the outside world.”

“Answer me this Faustus, why make this documentary at all? Beyond reassuring the Arsenal fans what purpose does it serve?”

“Luis, it is also about the attitude of excellence. It shows how a group can evolve together towards a collective greatness. Or at least strive to.”

“Now we are back to clichés … how is that different than hundreds of other such sanctified documentaries purportedly about the inner workings of big organizations? What was unique about All or Nothing: Arsenal? Why would anyone watch it say a couple of years from now?”

“Why does everything have to be unique? We are enjoying this cocktail that you claim to have invented, but to me it tastes like just a sweeter version of Negroni, delicious but nothing original.”

“I did say it was a variation on a theme in the key of Gin!” He broke out in a smile.

“Well, that documentary too was a variation on a theme in the key of pleasant and harmless entertainment.”

“As long as you recognize that. You know, there was one episode where I thought there was potential material to make it truly original. I think it was called ‘The Exit.’”

“Original? How?” I started to guess he would suggest that the whole episode could have been narrated purely from the perspective of Aubameyang and those close to him to kind of a fugal counterpoint to the consistent Arteta-centric tune of the rest of the series. But Luis had other ideas in mind.  

“I would have directed it as a sequence of chamber pieces where the manager and the captain both try genuinely and honest to meet with each other and sit down to discuss and clear the air, but there was always one unforeseen distraction or challenge after another stopping them from ever actually meeting.”

“Sudden distraction? Like illness in the family or traffic delays.”

“May be. Or an unannounced military exercise in the practice ground. Or a revolution on the London streets. Or uninvited guests in Arteta household. Or… ”

And he kept on reciting one implausible scenario after another in a tone that took on a rhythmic cadence. I started to drift off to sleep as his voice took on a faintly metallic quality and I could no longer understand the individual words. Suddenly I heard a piercing sound and woke up startled.

The train was moving in full speed through a tunnel. The aisle seat next to mine was empty again. There were an elderly couple now on the seats opposite mine talking to each other animatedly. My MacBook was not on the table, but I was assured to find it still lying inside my bag. With the aftertaste of sleep in my mouth I slowly stood up, disappointed that the dream didn’t go on just when it was starting to get interesting.

That’s when I noticed the empty martini glasses, lying on the corner of the table, rolling precariously to the edge. I reached out my hand to stop them from falling on the floor.

I don’t read many autobiographies, especially sporting autobiographies which are inevitably ghost written (this one enlisted help from Amy Lawrence and Henry Winter) and often lack intellectual challenge. There are exceptions but that’s not what I’m here to write about.

A few weeks ago our own Clock End Rider was kind enough to supply me with a ticket for the game with Forest. On my way into the ground snaking past the Armoury and up the staircase leading to the outside concourse I saw a familiar figure making his way to the match. I had to blink because I had only ever seen him immaculately attired in a (very expensive) suit. It was David Dein and he was dressed as casually as I was although without the nod to scruffiness that I managed to affect. I’d met David a few times many years ago and felt obliged to waylay him, if only to wind up my good friend Countryman100 who accuses me of flagrant namedropping! I ask you, how unfair can you be? Just as I was saying to Rishi Sunak the other day…

My encounters with David were not, in truth, etched deeply in his mind, but he was courtesy itself. We talked about Highbury, his book and the return of Arsene to the ground. I was just going to delve into our mutual interest in the resettlement of prisoners (of which more later) when he was hijacked by a number of young lads wanting selfies with a man that they must have been told about by their Dads.

‘See that man there son? He used to run Arsenal. He brought Arsène Wenger to the club.’

My task in this article at its most basic level is to review David’s book, ‘Calling the Shots’, but I’d like to do a little more and frame a debate about what Arsenal, and indeed English football, owes to a man who has been described to me as ‘the best networker in world football’.

Let me begin with a brief précis of David’s life. David was born in North London in 1943 to a Jewish family. His beginnings were modest and he developed a business trading sugar, which became very successful but then saw him him heavily defrauded by a business partner. He built strong links with Africa. His love for Arsenal began through being taken to games by his uncle. Like so many of us the spark which his uncle ignited burst into flame and in 1983 he was successful enough to buy 16.6% of the club. Famously, Peter Hill-Wood described his investment as ‘dead money’. How ill-judged was that comment!?

Dein eventually built up his shareholding to over 40% but had to reduce it because of the aforementioned business problems he encountered. He sold his shares to Danny Fiszman, a diamond merchant and (then) friend, another member of the wealthy North London Jewish community who have strong links with both North London clubs.

It didn’t take long for Dein’s influence to be felt within the club although when he joined the board he was rather different to his fellow directors. Arsenal had always been a patrician club with an innate class and dignity and what Dein came to feel was a lack of ambition. His involvement at the club began in a flat period, and there was clearly a culture clash behind the scenes as Dein tried to produce a more successful club. He was heavily involved in the decision to bring in George Graham as manager in 1986 and enjoyed a very warm relationship with him.

I was privy [Name drop alert] to see them both together when I did a bit of work with Dein in 1993 and there was a nice, easy rapport which suggested informality and ambition to me. Dein was masterminding the Bond scheme which met huge supporter opposition when it was first mooted. When I first met Dein, I mentioned my work on the Gooner. The temperature dropped several degrees, but I asked him if he had engaged with the fanzines, who were generally crusading organisations then, trying to press for better conditions and fairer prices. Ultimately he reached out to supporter forums much more and in turn those forums came to realise what incredible value the Bond scheme represented. Arsenal were starting to achieve great success and to pull significantly away from their great North London rivals down the Seven Sisters Road. Dein always speaks warmly of Tottnumb and enjoyed a close relationship with Irving Scholar, but as an Arsenal man our success gave him huge satisfaction.

It is interesting that Arsenal at that time were an amalgam of an evolving and increasingly ambitious football club mixed with a fairly stuffy institution. The driving force was the VICE chairman. PHW was a figurehead, affectionately thought of but not a power broker in the world of football. While the book begins with the end of Dein’s involvement with the club (to be dealt with later in this post), the most interesting part to me was his relationship with Arsène Wenger. The story of their first meeting, Charades at Dein’s house, and the burgeoning relationship is lovingly described. Dein describes friendships with all sorts of people, inside and outside football, yet he claims unequivocally that Arsène is his best friend. He drove Arsenal to recruit someone who was largely unknown and facilitated Wenger’s complete overhaul of the club. Sometimes in autobiographies one gets a sense that the writer praises a collaborator and in so doing bathes in strong reflected glory. This book doesn’t do this. Dein gives a paean of praise to Arsène, his only criticism being that he is miserable company after Arsenal had lost!  The reality, I think, is that they were an incredibly well-matched partnership. Wenger brought a stream of incredible players to the club, sometimes at ridiculously low prices, when he was working hand-in-glove with Dein.  Contrast this with the situation post-Dein. After 2007, Arsenal made fewer outstanding purchases and over time paid more money for less gifted players. Of course, the impact of the debt taken on to build the new stadium at Ashburton Grove had a big influence on our transfer horizons, but as time went on I believe Arsène became less and less confident about purchasing players. He badly missed Dein’s influence and faith in his ability to recognise a player.

The closure of Highbury and move to the new stadium with its consequent financial pressures created big tensions in the Arsenal boardroom. Legend has it that Dein favoured hiring Wembley (I’m so glad we didn’t!) and he began to feel that Arsenal required an overseas investor to provide the firepower in financial terms that we needed to compete with Chelsea, United, and Manchester City. He met Stan Kroenke, but that relationship seemed to sour and Kroenke was not bothered about buying Dein’s shares. He sold them eventually to Alisher Usmanov, who Dein saw as more ambitious and a better communicator of the ambition Dein wanted us to show – and an Arsenal supporter! Relations with Fiszman, Arsenal CEO Keith Edelman, and the Kroenkes deteriorated, and Dein left the board in 2007. He couldn’t face going back to the club for months until Karen Brady’s dad insisted he return with him a few months after his departure. He has been a regular ever since.

He recounts the conversation where he implored Wenger to stay with the club when the Frenchman wanted to resign. Say what you like about David Dein, but his primary desire has always been to see Arsenal become a very successful football club. He has 10 seats and six Club level memberships and gives match tickets to people he meets through the Twinning Project he has created with UK prisons. The head of maths education at the prison where I chair the Monitoring Board tells me Dein offered him a seat when he heard he was an Arsenal fan.

The other theme of the book is Dein’s work in helping to devise and create the Premier League and his work with the FA, where he was hugely influential on the International Committee. Without being indiscreet he does suggest that Sven Goran Eriksson’s reputation as a ladies man was well deserved! The trauma of Hillsborough affected him significantly and persuaded him that the game needed to move rapidly into the 21st century. He can fairly be described as one of the architects of professional football in England.

It must be said that in discussing the book with [Name drop alert] Bob Wilson, who likes and admires Dein, he did tell me that opinions at Arsenal are very divided on the truth of Dein’s assertions, particularly those relating to why and how he left in 2007. But perhaps that’s to be expected, as Mandy Rice Davies once implied at the Old Bailey!

Whatever the exact truth, there is no doubt in my mind that David Dein is one of the most influential figures in the history of Arsenal Football Club alongside Herbert Chapman, Tom Whittaker, Sir Denis Hill-Wood, Ken Friar, George Graham and, of course, Arsène Wenger. Without him it is possible that so much of the success we enjoyed between 1987 and 2006 would never have happened.

Dein is supposed to have made £75 million from the sale of his shares to Usmanov, having already made a substantial sum from the earlier sale to Fiszman. Not bad from an initial investment of £292,000, that dead money that PHW felt had been wasted while a vain man pursued an ego trip. When I saw him walking quietly across to Club Level before the Forest game, I saw an Arsenal fan off to see his team, not a brash entrepreneur sweeping into the club. I wanted to ask him about his prison work which is appreciated enormously by the prison authorities in the UK and by the prisoners themselves. He has visited 167 prisons in the UK and regularly spends time with Lifers and those on the longest sentences. It’s not a glamorous way for a multi-millionaire to spend his time but it means a great deal to David and he creates really positive feelings among a group that don’t receive much positive public attention for fairly obvious reasons, particularly in the Daily Mail!

Dein will always divide opinion. Many people see a man who has made a fortune out of Arsenal and doesn’t deserve any sympathy for his effective dismissal from the club feeling that he was undermining the board. Others, and I am firmly in that camp, might remember someone who came to sit with bond holders as they selected their seats in the new North Bank, or who took huge interest in improving facilities (he has a thing about better quality toilets!) or who spent half an hour talking with me about how we could upgrade the match day experience at Arsenal. He might have completely ignored my suggestions but at least he listened!

I’ve touched on the direction of the book and the key themes. Given the journalistic expertise that was harnessed to produce it, I found the style a little too conversational. When you are as well-connected and such a good networker as Dein, there is inevitably a progression from famous person to famous person that were and are still in David’s orbit. That can get a little tedious [unlike name-dropping in a Goonerholicsforever article — Eds.] but it also does explain how he gets things done so effectively. It is significantly more interesting than Arsène’s autobiography, and is quite revelatory about the backstabbing that seemed to take place in the Arsenal boardroom. It’s nowhere near a classic sporting autobiography but it will interest most Arsenal fans, those over the age of 35 particularly.

Dein will be remembered above all as a huge influence on the game of football, a man who rose from humble beginnings in North London to shape the whole structure of club and of international football. Ultimately he was an Arsenal fan who through his own talent and hard work lived his dream. And so many of us have been much richer for it.

Qatar? Why??

We are pleased to mark England’s opening game (sans the One Love captain’s armband) of the 2022 World Cup by republishing a thoughtful piece by TTG that was first published on Gunnerstown after a dialogue over the controversies that have surrounded this event since good ol’ Sepp tentatively pulled the card bearing the name Qatar from its envelope (https://gunnerstown.com/arsenal/2022/11/21/qatar-why-a-gooners-honest-take-on-fifas-controversial-world-cup/).

Let me introduce myself. I have been an Arsenal supporter since 1958 and a season ticket holder for over thirty years. Five generations of my family have supported Arsenal stretching back to my paternal grandfather who watched them play in Woolwich. I’ve written for the Gooner virtually since its inception and am now the Rewind correspondent because I’m so old I can remember games that no-one else can because they weren’t born!  Since his death in 2019, I’m one of a number of people trying to extend the legacy of that wonderful Gooner, Dave Faber on a website, Goonerholics Forever. 

I’m writing at Paul’s request because we have decided to put up a banner on our blog questioning the choice of Qatar to host the World Cup. You may be starting to get sick of the debate about Qatar, and are anxiously waiting for the fun and football to begin but I wanted to tell you why most of the Goonerholic fraternity are so opposed to what we believe to be a terribly flawed choice.

Can you imagine if the tournament had been awarded to Cyprus which is of a comparable size? What would be your first reaction? I suspect it would be that it was a very dubious choice because Cyprus is a relatively small island. Cyprus is of course divided into two different regions controlled by different countries but it has a strong football culture, a thriving domestic league and is improving as a force in international football. I suspect the size of the island would militate against it being chosen to host a global event where thirty-two nations were gathering. Could they be accommodated comfortably at reasonable prices? Well Cyprus has superb accommodation and a great tourist infrastructure.

Imagine that Cyprus had a very dubious human rights record. Imagine it banned people of an LGBTQ+ persuasion. Imagine if it had a very restrictive view of the rights of women. Add to that the fact that migrant workers were found to have died in huge numbers (human rights organisations suggesting that the total runs into thousands) and their families were subsequently treated with scant regard with very little compensation and who during their ill-fated period in Cyprus were housed in appalling conditions. 

I imagine the likelihood of Cyprus being chosen would be fading now. It might reduce still further if Cyprus was considered to be too hot to play the games in during the height of summer and virtually the whole global football programme would need to be disrupted with the consequent risk of burnout and serious injury for international players. I suspect their bid would be off the table now.

What could possibly persuade FIFA who have as their remit the stewardship of the biggest sport in the world to choose a country that is about 100 miles long, fifty miles wide with no ready prepared stadia and a country where human rights abuses persist on a significant scale according to Amnesty International’s latest report? Cyprus would never be considered to host the World Cup so in the words of our slogan: 

Qatar? Why??

A lot of information about the circumstances of Qatar’s  bid have emerged quite recently and were not available when the tournament was awarded to Qatar. Netflix’s excellent ‘FIFA Uncovered’ and the investigative journalist David Conn have demonstrated clear evidence of bribery by Qatari officials to obtain the rights to stage the tournament. It was an award that was made at the same time as Russia were awarded the 2018 competition. The acknowledged best bid for 2018 was England’s (it got two votes and one was ours!) and the USA bid was considered by most objective observers to be immeasurably superior to Qatar’s. Both successful bids appear to have been successful because the hosts bribed corrupt FIFA officials.

Expenditure on stadia in Qatar that will almost certainly not be used again is estimated to be £200 billion. Remember the large number of immigrant workers who have been brought in, in very primitive conditions for peppercorn wages to build the stadia which are unlikely to leave any meaningful legacy for the Qatari people who don’t have a domestic league which can utilise these stadia. 

The World Cup was conceived as a global football festival showcasing the best aspects of the game. There is no doubt that a Middle Eastern nation should be considered as a potential host but surely this should be one with an existing football infrastructure. The construction of these stadia which have to be air conditioned to make playing football in them remotely possible, is extraordinarily unsustainable in environmental terms, as is the need for spectators to fly continually from other states to watch the matches because Qatar does not have the facilities to house them. How can world leaders gather to consider anxiously the future of the planet at COP27 when a few weeks later the Qatar World Cup is allowed to proceed? 

Ordinary football fans from all over the world have been priced out of attending because of the cost of travel and accommodation. The topic of sportwashing is a controversial one but the strong inference is that FIFA have awarded the World Cup to Qatar simply because they were bribed to do so and turned down much better and more suitable bids which meet the criteria that FIFA set for hosts of the tournament.

We also feel the pressures on women and members of the LGBTQ+ community who might try to attend is an infringement of basic human rights that cannot be ignored and is again at odds with the ethos of a global football celebration.

Qatar, far from being a suitable host nation are about as unsuitable as a host nation could be and we feel it is important to draw attention to this now when there is maximum focus on the event. Football has too often turned a blind eye to circumstances which should have made fans think seriously about the moral background to the game. Qatar 2022 may well produce wonderful matches with brilliant players performing superbly but that still wouldn’t make it a viable or appropriate tournament. It is more likely that top stars possibly Bukayo Saka, William Saliba or Thomas Partey might suffer burnout come March or succumb to serious injury because of muscle fatigue. Multiply that situation across the world game and one really has to ask moral considerations aside, if it makes any sense at all to transport the world to Qatar in November and December so Qatar can buy a showcase for its dubious merits as a place to visit. 

But let’s return to that phrase ‘moral considerations aside’. The world of football can’t put moral considerations on the back burner while we watch a few football matches. Of course, one can object to all sorts of examples of sportwashing and there are other situations which must be highlighted, some of which exist in our own league. But the case against Qatar 2022 is so overwhelmingly strong that it may go down in history as one of the worst moments in the history of football.

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May 22nd, 2022. Arsenal thrash Everton 5-1 at a sun-soaked Emirates Stadium as we are pipped to the final Champions League spot by our fiercest rivals. But the mood remains upbeat. Throughout the 2021/22 season, Arsenal supporters are beginning to see Mikel Arteta’s fabulous process show significant signs of development. Despite being consigned to another season without the prestige and honour of dining at Europe’s top table, the consensus is that if Arteta continues to be backed by the board, as he was the previous summer, another season of progress would follow. 

Going into the new season, the main priorities were signing a top number nine to replace the departed Lacazette and his grand total of 2 NPG (non-penalty goals) from the previous season as well as the hapless Aubameyang who was shown the door by Arteta the previous January. Also on the agenda was a central midfielder, ideally a number 6, to lighten the load on the imperious, but injury prone Thomas Partey. Our first major signing was slightly left-field, but exciting nonetheless, as we plucked Fábio Vieira, a 22-year-old attacking midfielder from Porto. The fee was said to be in the region of around £34 million. He was to be cover for Martin Ødegaard and he fitted the age profile as well as Arteta’s penchant for left-footed attackers who drift inside from the right. Our next signing was a very exciting one, as we picked up Gabriel Jesús from champions Manchester City for £45 million. This was the centre forward Arteta had been craving. A false nine who would regularly drop in between the lines contributing to our build up play. Whilst Jesús may not have been hugely prolific for City, he was by no means a regular starter and was often deployed on the wings by Pep. The Brazilian was certainly a signing that got Gunners fans off their seats. 

With some crucial early business done and dusted we headed into pre-season full of confidence. As a result, we won all seven friendlies. Towards the end of pre-season, we again turned to Manchester City, this time for a left back as we pinched Oleksandr Zinchenko to provide stern competition for Kieran Tierney. But it was a player we had signed three years previously who was making waves. We had signed William Saliba in 2019 but he had been out on loan in France ever since. Now aged 21, Arteta seemingly deemed him ready to fight for his first team place. In he went to the starting eleven for the first game at Crystal Palace. A ground where we had struggled in recent times. Once again, we were chosen to kick off the season away on a Friday night. A strong defensive performance brought about a 2-0 win. White and Saliba impressed immensely. “It was only Crystal Palace though.” Comfortable victories over Leicester and Bournemouth ensued, preceding a pair of 2-1 home wins against Fulham and Aston Villa with late winners being required in both. So, what did it all mean? We had won all our opening 5 games of the season for the first time since 2004. Still, “we hadn’t played anyone decent”. It wasn’t like Liverpool failed to beat both Crystal Palace and Fulham or Manchester City had dropped points to Aston Villa.

On to our first Big Six encounter of the season. United away. A huge chance to lay down a marker against a rival away from home. We thought we had got off to a great start with Martinelli putting us ahead early on. But it was harshly ruled out for a foul, and we went on to lose 3-1 in unlucky circumstances. Obviously, such joy-sucking parasites as Gary Neville and Richard Keys fed on this loss like malnourished vampires, playing up to the narrative of “they can’t do it against a decent side”.  However, we quickly recovered, swatting aside the Brentford Bees before the international break. (Because apparently we really needed one of those). 

Into October. It looked to be a titanic month for The Arsenal with nine games scheduled, five in the league, four in Europe. Now let’s not forget, we were widely expected to drop off in this period. Did we? Let’s have a look. (Spoiler alert, we didn’t). First up was the NLD at home. The 3-0 loss at the Toilet Bowl just five months previously was still a sore memory, but we could put that to bed here. And we did. A Partey screamer preceded a Kane equaliser (pen, obviously) before a Lloris howler allowed Jesús to tap home to restore our lead. We then saw the hilariously bad Emerson Royal get a straight red before Xhaka stuck in a third. We probably would’ve scored more if Conte didn’t respond by bringing on 5 defenders. 

On to Last season’s runners-up. Despite having a poor start to the season, Liverpool’s visit to North London signalled another chance to show the world that we could mix it with the big boys. And mix it we did. Martinelli gave us the lead inside a minute before a Saka brace, sandwiched by a pair of Liverpool equalisers. It was a game that showed our attacking prowess, with Martinelli tearing Alexander Arnold to shreds, but also our resolve after being pegged back twice. This was the moment people began to believe. Apart from Gary Neville who was still adamant we would finish 12th and Cristiano Ronaldo would suddenly wake up aged 25 again and fire Man United to the title with 18 games to spare. I digress.

We scraped past Leeds at Elland Road before succumbing to a 1-1 draw at Southampton. Oh well! Got to give the rest of the league a chance, I suppose. We ended the month by thrashing Nottingham Forest 5-0 at the Emirates as we ended that marathon month still two points clear at the top. Oh, and we were also still top of our Europa League group. So much for dropping off!

We had two final league games before some of our players jetted off to the desert to play in a World Cup in the esteemed football loving nation of Qatar. It must be true – Sepp Blatter said so! First up, Chelsea at the Bus Stop. We won. We do that quite a lot these days. It’s quite nice. Makes you wonder why we didn’t do it before. We then lost to Brighton in the Donald Duck regional cup with our second stringers, before beating Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-0 at Molineux. We also won our Europa League group meaning we qualified automatically to the Round of 16 and avoided the danger of a play-off tie against one of the big boys from the Champions League (unlucky, Gary!). So, what does it all mean? After 14 games our record looks like this: played 14, won 12, drawn 1, lost 1. 37 points from a possible 42. Our best start to a season and the 3rd best across all clubs. Every side with at least 37 points at this stage of the season has gone on to win the league. 

So, is it now time to reassess our aims and objectives for the season? In August, the aim was undisputedly a top four finish. And bar a collapse of epic proportions we will achieve that with distinction. The 70-point mark is generally the bar you need to reach for top four points meaning we would likely only need around 33 points from our remaining 24 games. We are currently on track to finish on 90+ points which would be a greater tally than the ‘Invincibles’. Obviously, we have to accept that the remaining two thirds of the season will probably not be as plain sailing as the opening third therefore we may not reach that, but should we be aiming for a higher target? It is likely we will finish in the top 2, we are top of all the metrics; expected goals, expected points and the like, which suggests this is no false position. We are top because we deserve to be, because not just our results but our performances have merited it. 

I think Arteta will be telling his players, privately, to go for it, but as far as the press are concerned, he will be keeping it coy. It is not easy to manage an overachieving group of players, your aims are always shifting, we’re breaking new boundaries almost on a weekly basis. There are parallels to the 15/16 season here. Several Big Six sides are underperforming (Liverpool and Chelsea), some of them are in perpetual transition (Man United) and some are infamous trophy dodgers (no prizes for guessing who I’m referring to here). One is performing as expected and one is shattering all former expectations. Of course, the key difference here is in 15/16 all the big six had a year off which allowed Leicester to do what they did whereas this time the league is much stronger. And it would be much less of a shock if Arsenal won the league compared to the reaction when Leicester won it. But a shock it would be, nonetheless. It’s like comparing the shock of winning the EuroMillions to seeing your dog get up on its hind legs and start reciting Shakespeare but who knows what awaits us post-Christmas. 

I think the aim is now the title. “Reach for the moon. Even if you miss, you shall land among the stars” seems an appropriate saying here. If we finish second no one will be calling for Arteta’s head despite some disappointment. If you offered any rational Arsenal fan a second-place finish in August, they would’ve snapped your hand off. But what would you rather have, a second-place finish and no trophies or fourth place and the Europa league? Which hints at progress more? I would argue the former. 

It’s difficult to give the players less than 9.5 out of 10 for the season so far. I can’t see how Arteta can justifiably be given less than full marks. Let’s hope we keep up this incredible form post-Christmas.

COYG!!

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