This is it: the big day. The very big day. The biggest day of biggest days of all biggest days.
For today is the day (the exact day, the very exact day, the precise day). And already it has been celebrated by the most extraordinarily bizarre and eccentric radio broadcast about football ever.
Which is just right because 100 years ago today the most extraordinarily bizarre and eccentric piece of football journalism ever appeared on the scene.
Let me clarify, deconstruct and externalise.
Making the Arsenal – the book – begins on 16th January 1910 (one hundred years ago to the day in case counting is not your thing). It begins with an extract from the Daily Chronicle in which Jacko Jones reports of the FA Cup match between Woolwich Arsenal and Watford which Woolwich dutifully won.
The first half of Jacko’s piece considers which pubs one should drink in and where one should eat a jellied eel pie before the game. Then it moves on to a detailed discussion of the hats worn by the men in the ground, before discussing the issue of ladies in the stand and taking a side-swipe at the king and his nickname (Edward the Caresser).
After that it is on to the kit the two teams wear, and their style of play. “The players in Woolwich tend to a brusque coarseness, a disrespect of manners and a general inability to kick a ball more than three paces. Most are Scots,” he writes, by way of a warm up.
Only then do we get to a description of the game. “Rippon cannot hit a barn door (at least according to the man next to me), Lewis does not know the concept of “ball” (that according to the man next to me’s mate) and Compton’s passing can only be explained by the fact that he is colour blind (according to the man next to the mate of the man next to me).”
The report sets the scene for the book, and leads, inevitably to a confrontation between Jacko and the football editor of the paper, which in turn leads to… the rest of the book.
There’s an extract of the book on line now – a link is at the end.
Anyway, moving on to part two of my piece – the wildness of football reporting on Radio 5.
Radio 5 Live, I should explain in case you are of a non-British disposition, is one of seven national radio stations run by the BBC. It covers sport, news and gossip.
On Fridays at 7pm it has a programme called 5 Live Sport which has Colin Murray as its host – a man who has utterly failed to grasp the fact that when two people talk at once on a radio station, the listener can’t actually work out what is being said.
With him are Perry Groves, in whose world we all live, and Pat Nevin. And to discuss Liverpool they brought in John Aldridge, the ex-Liverpool footballer and ex-player manager of Tranmere.
Now I have to admit that I had no idea Aldridge was such a comedian. I was driving while listening, and at least three times I nearly came off the road I was laughing so much.
First he talked about Benitez and whether he should go or not, and commented that when he had been manager of Tranmere Rovers he had done the decent thing and resigned when he couldn’t “see the wood for the trees”. Indeed he did resign, but just before they went down. We must be fair – he had done a great job there and taken the club to previously unknown heights, but they had then stumbled and he had walked out.
This parallel is a most amusing one. Wait until Liverpool are going down, and then resign, Mr Benitez. Yes, I could go with that.
Then he moved on to the need to bring in a strong English element to the team. Of course the silly twirp running the show didn’t ask why Aldridge, as a man who played for Ireland, at the first club to put out a totally non-English team in an FA Cup Final (1986) would say such a thing. So the comment passed unchallenged. But it gave me more chuckles and the need to stop for a quick swig of water.
But then we were moving on again, on to why Liverpool were currently doing poorly, having won 10 of their last 20 games.
The answer said Aldridge, was money. And then over and over again he repeated the mantra. Liverpool have no money to spend while Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City have so much more.
He said it once, he said it again, and then again. Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City. How could Liverpool compete without money? There was no way to do it. To run a successful football club you need to spend £17 to £20 million a year, every year, and sometimes up to £30 million. Without that Liverpool can’t expect to compete.
Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, they all … well you get the idea.
He went over it time and time again, never once pausing for breath or indeed a moment to think – hang on a minute Liverpool are bust, kaput, gone, zonked, dead in the water, broke, bankrupt, insolvent, in a panic…
Or hang on a minute, Arsenal don’t spend that much and we’re doing ok. Well at least we are compared to Liverpool – even the doomers must admit that.
Never once did it even begin to hit him in the face that the reason Liverpool and Man U are in the mess they are in is because they have endlessly spent money they didn’t have, failed to develop world-wide scouting, and that they can’t be like Man City or Chelsea, because no one really fancies paying off the debts of a club that has gone 20 years without winning the league, has the banks knocking at the door, and this year has to face the anniversary of its darkest ever hour.
It was the sheer lunacy of the debate and the fact that the “chairman” of the programme did nothing to take us back to the straight and narrow world of true reporting that left my jaw hanging open.
At Arsenal we know about the occasional bad times, and while we don’t celebrate them, we remember them (at least if we know any history).
100 years ago (on 22 January 1910) Woolwich Arsenal told its supporters they were heading for liquidation. (Jacko Jones coverage of the event as told in the Making the Arsenal (the book) is now on the web site – there’s a link on www.woolwicharsenal.co.uk).
You might think that even if Liverpool and their ex-players can’t learn from that lesson, they could at least learn from Leeds.
Anyway, listening to the prattle helped me on my journey, and gave me a laugh. And so I hope the Jacko Jones telling of the Arsenal liquidation meeting gives you a laugh. It was indeed a chaotic meeting.
Making the Arsenal: book details, link to reviews, and link to an extract, plus details of how and where to buy it, are all here.
OK I know that’s lots of plugs for the book – but today is the 100th anniversary of the starting point for the book, so I hope you will excuse me just this once.
Next up: Billy the Dog’s preview of the away game at Notlob. I am told that will be a much more serious piece.
Oh and don’t forget to vote for Untold Arsenal at http://soccerlens.com/awards/2009-soccerlens-awards/
Oh, and oh again. After the last piece “Eduardo” commented that I must be wrong about Jay Em-Thomas not having a number. I took that info from the fact that on the player listing on the back of the programme he doesn’t seem to appear. Maybe I missed it (I am not at home so can’t check). But if he does have a numero, what is it?
(c) Tony Attwood
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