By Walter and Blacksheep
The 22 June 1947 was a Sunday.
It was hot. In fact June 1947 was one of the hottest on record, and the summer proved to be a scorcher. It followed a desperately cold winter however and the wettest March we have had in Britain.
Harry Truman was president of the USA and was noted for not communicating with his public via 140 characters. He was, however, embroiled in a dispute with the Russians (‘Soviets’ then of course) who he accused of interfering in Hungarian politics. In England the Labour government of Clement Atlee were negotiating a major ‘Brexit’ of their own, this time with the soon to be independent state of India. In those days we had statesmen of the calibre of Bevan, Churchill and Gandhi – today we have Trump, BoJo and Putin.
But one event of significance not recorded by mainstream history was the birth of Tony Attwood, on this day in 1947. What follows is a short(ish) appreciation of our friend and fellow Untolder.
2115 days before the 22 June 1947 the Third Macedonian War had ended in defeat for King Perseus. Wars are rarely so good that we have three of them, so the Romans (who won) must have really enjoyed these.
I only mention this because one of Tony’s (many) interests is ancient history, and particularly the Roman Republic. On many a walk down the Holloway or Seven Sisters road he has extolled the virtues of Cicero. However, I’ve never noticed him employ one of that Roman’s most famous quotes (’ If you aspire to the highest place, it is no disgrace to stop at the second, or even the third, place’), which could of course apply to Arsenal.
We talk about lots of things when we go to football – politics, dancing, Bob Dylan, history, love, literature, TV (especially those dark Scandinavian noir crime dramas) – and even sometimes football.
Tony is a wealth of knowledge on Arsenal’s history and that’s how we first became friends. First contact was made through the blog that he created with Walter, but it was the club’s history that fascinated me. Most of the history we get about Arsenal (and other clubs) is limited. It follows a basic pattern of chronology and lists the successes and failures.
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Often this is mostly defined by trophies won (not in Spu*s, case obviously, this is listed in terms of videos made). The club history is also pretty much accepted as fact when in reality there is quite a lot we don’t (or didn’t) know.
One of our first conversations concerned not Herbert Chapman or Arsene Wenger but a largely forgotten (and maligned) figure in Arsenal’s past, Sir Henry Norris. Tony explained that much of what we know about Norris is one sided, often derived from one or two sources slavishly copied and represented as fact. In reality Norris should be regarded as one of the founding fathers of ‘modern’ Arsenal, up there with Chapman not forgotten and derided.
Tony and I connected then, over evidence and proper analysis. I am a historian, an academic historian no less, and Its part of my job to question what has been written in the past. Tony is a scientist (by nature if not by trade). He values evidence over speculation and here we are both in agreement. This blog is based on evidence (the referee reports, the scathing and witty critiques of the transfer window, the informed analysis of FIFA scandals or West Ham’s ground move are just a few examples). Users that comment without evidence are constantly reminded by Tony of the error of their ways!
On Untold and in person Tony brings a level of rigour to debates that make those debates worth reading or listening to. He is the first to admit when he is wrong and is big enough to change his opinion when presented with evidence. I don’t read newspapers any more, and certainly avoid most football websites; I read Untold because it is balanced, intelligent and well written.
Tony was instrumental in the ‘Arsenalisation’ of the Emirates; he helped seed the idea of the statues we have around the concourse. I may have suggested we create an Untold banner but without Untold (obviously) or Tony’s enthusiasm and sense of what can be done, it would have remained just that, an idea.
In everything he does concerning Arsenal (especially in the History Society that is part of AISA – the Arsenal Independent Supporters Association) you can see the love Tony has for the club. By contrast to some of the opinions expressed by comments posted on this site he can be critical of the club. We walk back after games and he is honest about what he has seen, and about the way the club conducts itself. But he is always positive and reflective.
Tony gives me a much-needed sense of perspective on Arsenal and football in general. After all he may have been a season ticket holder for so many years the impression of his bottom is visible in his seat, and he may also write and co-edit one of the most popular blogs on the club, but he lets go. Football is a hobby; if you take it too seriously then you miss the point. It is an escape from life not life itself, Bill Shankly was wrong about that.
If you read this site regularly then you already know that Tony writes well. If you are an AISA member (and if not why aren’t you? – join today!) then you get the history pamphlets which offer, as I suggested above, a more informed understanding of our club. You can also read Tony’s day-by-day accounts of Arsenal history. I’d direct you towards his Making the Arsenal novel, which imagines the birth of ‘modern’ Arsenal through he eyes of a journalist (Jacko Jones). I loved it and I think it really shows Tony at his best, writing with a passion for the club, its history, and a sense of fun. Take it on holiday with you this summer.
Tony Attwood is a generous man. I don’t mean he always pays in the Swimmer (where we share a pint and food before games), but that he is generous with his time. He is always helping others; offering good advice, writing letters, helping with my wife’s CV when she was unemployed, just being a sounding board when its needed. He listens, and that’s a rare talent.
Apparently he can dance quite well too.
And from Walter
As my fellow writer Blacksheep just pointed out in this article Tony is a great person in real life.
But before I get to that I want to set the record straight and with these historians on board this is important. I want to make it clear once and for all that it was Tony who started Untold Arsenal on his own. I found Tony thanks to one of my sons who could really appreciate the humour that Tony used in his first articles. I came to the site following his link and was hooked from the first article. I even remember feeling a bit homeless when Tony didn’t publish a new article for a few days and I thought he had stopped.
The first months of Untold was all Tony. I only joined him in a hesitant way later that summer. On the day of my 25th wedding anniversary my first article on Untold was published. I had answered on a request from Tony to write about a funny and terrible trip to Arsenal. Not even hoping to get a reply, Tony published the article. I must say I was over the moon to see my article published. Now I can only feel a bit embarrassed about the article.
He mailed me that day to thank me and to encourage me to write. We got in touch by mail and more and more I thought to myself: why not? I think Tony must have had a hard time at times as I am not a native English speaker and so my phrases get mixed up from time to time. But the only thing I heard from Tony was : “I hope you don’t mind I have changed a few words” in the article. I was glad Tony prevented me from making a fool of myself more than once.
When after one of those referee horror shows I wrote an article about refereeing and mentioned I was a referee the Untold referee train came on the tracks. Once again Tony encouraged me to make it my own. Of course I got lots of help over the years from other people who worked mostly behind the scenes. But my name was above the articles so I got the praise ….or the abuse.
As you can see what Tony has done was encouraging people to do something. And that is a great gift I think. I have always felt privileged to be a co-editor of Untold but if it hadn’t been for Tony his encouraging mails and messages I never would have done it.
After half a year of writing for Untold I came to the Emirates with the supporters club that now has me as their chairman. Tony insisted on seeing me and that was the start of a really great friendship not just in the virtual world but also in the real world. The way Tony welcomed me in the Emirates (and my kids who had come along) made me feel so warm inside. It still is a great memory for me.
Over the years I have learned to know the man behind the writer a bit. Not that I know him as well as his relatives. But I can say that I have learned to appreciate him as a human being. For the petite histoire I can even say that Tony has slept in my bed. Not with me but with his partner (before some of you get strange ideas about our friendship). Tony and Mandy came over to our house a few years ago and I showed him around in Antwerp. As we didn’t want them to sleep in a hotel and spent lots of money, we invited them at our house. For me and Carine it was a great few days. We had lots of interesting and some funny moments. Passing the house where then club captain Vermaelen grew up, visiting museums, visiting a real ghost town, getting locked up in a football stadium….. (I still get a red in the face when thinking about that….)
In the first years when I wrote for Untold Tony said on each occasion when I saw him that he felt bad about not being able to give me something back for my work for Untold.
I think I can say to him that he has given one of the most valuable things one can give to another person: friendship. Oh so important in today’s world….. And on top of that…. He has in an indirect way given me the friendship of other people from Untold. Tony has indirectly made it happen that I was in Wembley when we won the FA cup last month. If it wouldn’t have been for Tony and the Untold blog I would never have known Andrew who made that other childhood dream possible.
So Tony if you ever look back and think what have I done in my life…. I would say that giving friendship and making friendship happen is one of those things. If all people would be able to do this a bit more we might live in a better world.
When Drew brought up the idea of writing something for his 70th birthday I was somehow shocked and amazed. Yes I knew he was getting on a bit but Tony 70??? He looks much younger than 70. He will probably feel 70 the day after one of his dance parties but it was not more than 5-6 years when we stood on the pitch of the Emirates representing Arsenal Belgium! Another great memory I share with Tony.
As I have done so many times in my articles over the years I love writing about the person behind the writer/footballer and so I tried to do this for Tony this time.
Tony is a great Arsenal supporter (in the real sense of the word), he has changed history not just for Arsenal but also for me in person. His blog stands out compared to all the others. And he is still going strong as you can read over here on Untold every day. Keep it up, Tony!
Happy birthday Tony, here’s to the next 70 (you might even live to see Spu*s win the league then!).
PS: This article was written and published without Tony knowing anything about. Otherwise he might have told us not to do it. But we think he deserves this more than anyone else.