By Tony Attwood
I can remember, from my days as a child, Arsenal playing Racing Club de Paris, and wondering who they were, and why the match happened.
Such childhood memories are of course notoriously unreliable, but I do recall it seeming a bit odd. One of those things that old people knew about, not really relevant to MY Arsenal and the real business of persuading my dad to take me to a league match.
This memory comes from the end of the link between Arsenal and Racing Club; I guess it was 1962. I knew people like my dad who had served in France in the second world war talked about it, as did my granddad – Arsenal supporters all. I wish I had listened to their talk a bit more carefully.
This venture of Arsenal against Racing Club, was founded by Herbert Chapman, and like so many of his ideas, was way ahead of its time. But now it has largely been dropped from the telling of Chapman’s role in Arsenal’s history. Renaming the tube station, white sleeves, numbered shirts, the clock… they all get a mention, but these phenomenally significant games against Racing are now just part of the debris, mentioned at best in passing.
But this should not be the case, and just how important these games were I’ve now been reminded by reading “To Dearly Loved to be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris”, the most wonderful book on Arsenal I have ever reviewed.
To give the context behind these games of football let me quote one paragraph – this is about the effect of the 1st world war, and is highly relevant to the story that follows:
“The biggest scar however, throughout the post-war period for all participating countries was the sheer number of wounded and maimed ex-servicemen that the conflict had left behind: for instance it is calculated that over two million British servicemen were wounded in action during the war…”
It was out of the recognition that more needed to be done to help those left maimed and often destitute by the war, and so Arsenal and Racing came together, 12 years later, to hold a unique and groundbreaking fund raising experiment, to raise money for the injured servicemen of France.
The idea was that the clubs would play each other on 11 November 1930 and so successful was the experiment that ultimately the game was played 27 times across the years. Part way through they obviously had to stop for a second horrendous conflict but the games were then resumed. It was by far the biggest event of its kind in terms of international awareness and importance, and in my view every Arsenal supporter should be proud that our club was at the very heart of it.
When the first match was played in 1930 Arsenal had just won their first ever major trophy – the FA Cup. Racing Club had also reached their domestic cup final, but they had lost. What no one knew of course was that Arsenal’s cup victory in 1930 was the start of the club’s greatest era. Arsenal had never won the league… but they were about to – again, and again, and again (and then some).
The series of games became phenomenally famous across Europe and of vital importance to France as they twice were forced to rebuild their country. Herbert Chapman, Samuel Hill Wood (Arsenal’s chairmen) and later George Allison were all awarded the prestigious French Medal of Physical Culture for their part in developing and keeping alive the fixture. In terms of national awareness in England it was as big the Grand National. Indeed so famous did these matches become it was these games that led in part to L’Equipe starting the pressure for a European Champion Clubs’ Cup which was finally agreed in Paris in 1955.
As for the first game on November 11, 1930, at half time Arsenal were 2-1 down. And then… Lambert scored four as Arsenal won 7-2. Stories concerning this match, and all the others in the series abound. Apparently Chapman was scared witless by flying to Paris, leaping up and shouting (when the plane went into a cloud on the way to the first game) “My God the engines have fallen off,” and having to be pacified by the air crew.
In 1938 the airport in Paris was affected by fog and the two planes carrying the Arsenal players skimmed past each other, as one then went on to miss a hanger by a matter of feet.
I mention all this today because now there is a book to commemorate the series of games. And not just any old book cobbling together memories and old press cuttings. This book really is something else. Even if you had a copy and didn’t read a single word of the book (which would be a bit silly but let’s imagine you didn’t) you would love this book just for its most amazing and extraordinary range of pictures.
As you might know, I run the Arsenal History Society blog, and help produce a publication each year on a different aspect of Arsenal’s history which goes to all the members of the Arsenal Independent Supporters Association. Through this work I know a bit about our club’s history, and have seen a lot of photos from earlier days.
But this book, let me tell you, this book had me gawping. I simply can’t imagine how the author found these pictures. This is an A4 size book with between one and three pictures per page. Match photos, cartoons, programmes (even the front cover of the programme for the very first game between the two sides in 1930) and some colour pictures from the first game too…
What makes this volume even more valuable is that this is not just about Arsenal and Racing, although that is the central theme, this is also a history of Arsenal through the period, with illustrations the like of which I have never previously seen. I hadn’t previously seen the Arsenal programme for the first home match at the start of the 1946/7 season before – a season that marked the return of Arsenal to Highbury after spending the war years playing at White Hart Lane – and let me tell you, that front page article, recording Arsenal men who served their country, the sadness of passing, the joy of being back… well, you really do need to read it.
There are 250 A4 pages in this book, and I defy anyone who has any feeling for Arsenal and who gets a copy not to love every page, and not to put it carefully away after each reading, less anyone should sneak in and damage a single page by turning it over in an unnecessarily boisterous manner.
I am really happy to say that the author has agreed to me reproducing a few of the illustrations in future articles on the Arsenal History Society website, but it will of course only be a few. If you have any interest at all in Arsenal’s history, in the importance of our club in the 1930s, in the rebuilding of Arsenal after the second world war, in the way in which Herbert Chapman could seize the moment and do wondrous work on behalf of those who served their country, and could make Arsenal part of that, I urge you to buy a copy of “Too dearly loved to be forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930 to 1962.”
As I mentioned above, I can honestly say I have never enjoyed reviewing an Arsenal book more in my life.
“To dearly loved to be forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962” by Steve Ingless costs £19.99. Postage is UK 1st class £6, UK 2nd class £3. Europe £10, rest of the world £16.00.
You can order by post with a cheque to S C Ingless, 35 Leat Close, Sawbridgeworth, Herts CM21 9LZ or PayPal via firstname.lastname@example.org
Untold Arsenal and the Arsenal History Society…
The index of the major articles about Arsenal players is now complete. It comes in two parts: A to K L to Z Of course there are many other sources of articles on Arsenal players but I do like to think that the articles here add a lot more detail, and have often found stories and issues that have been missed in other reports. I do hope you will give us a try.