The Arsenal Stadium Mystery: 70th anniversary

As far as I know there have only been two books which are not primarily about Arsenal but which make Arsenal a central part of their story: Fever Pitch and The Arsenal Stadium Mystery.

(There are of course other novels that mention Arsenal in passing, but I’m speaking here of stories where Arsenal FC is fundamental to the plot).

Both Fever Pitch and Arsenal Stadium Mystery were huge hits, both becoming movies, both being translated into various other languages. And indeed both were by writers who had success – Fever Pitch launching Nick Hornby’s career, Arsenal Stadium Mystery coming in the middle of a long career as an established writer. It makes you wonder why there have only been two.

Fever Pitch it still very much with us, the movie is on TV, Hornby is still writing and appearing in the media. But what to make of The Arsenal Stadium Mystery 70 years after its publication, just as it has been republished by GCR Books, as the launch of their series of reprints of classic Arsenal volumes?

Reading a novel from 70 years ago is always a shock if you are not used to it. The language is the same, but the style and approach are different. To readers used to today’s fiction the pace can seem erratic, the conversations stilted – and the description of a game of football is like something from another world. When we watch the movie of the film somehow allowances are made – maybe it is the monochrome approach and the clothing styles which reminds us minute by minute that this is of a different era. But with a book in a modern edition, the look and feel of the medium is 21st century. What’s inside is not – and it can be a bit of a surprise.

I say that not to put you off buying the book – far from it – but as a warning as to what to expect when you open the novel up and start reading.

By the time he wrote this novel Leonard Gribble was well into what would become a 160 book career, many of the titles featuring (as Arsenal Stadium Mystery does) the cases of Anthony Slade of Scotland Yard. And it is where he is writing about Slade and his efforts to solve the crime that the book flies along. It is just at the start where we read the opening descriptions that the difference in style is most noticeable.

But en route there is George Allison, one of the most important (real-life) characters in the history of the club (who also appeared in the movie), and cameo roles from the players. And this is one of the key reasons for an Arsenal supporter to read this book. Allison is as fundamental to the Arsenal story as any man, and yet is often forgotten behind Norris and Chapman. In the Arsenal Stadium Mystery he gets centre stage.

When Allison started as a football journalist he was one of the few London writers who would agree to travel to Kent to cover Woolwich Arsenal games, and so in the early years of the 20th century he wrote match reports of the games in various styles, under a variety of pseudonyms, for the London papers. By 1910 he had become “Gunners Mate” – the editor of the matchday programme, working for Henry Norris, and writing, in the programme, some of the most vitriolic reports on the players’ abilities ever seen in an official publication. When Herbert Chapman (of eternal memory) died, Allison took over as manager even though he had never been a professional player – his association with the club thus stretching over five decades.

Just as Allison had a remarkable life – and was perfectly willing to become part of the novel and the film – so has the book itself taken on an interesting existence. In 1950 it was reproduced as “The Arsenal Stadium Mystery – a replay” with the players from 1939 being replaced by players of 1950. When it was published in Italy during the second world war it was re-written from an Italian angle, focusing on an Italian club.

But in this edition from GCR Books we are back with the original in all its glory. It is a murder mystery of the classic type – a player from an amateur team dies on the pitch while playing a friendly against Arsenal, who were at that time at the height of their first round of glory – with five league wins and two cups in eight years.

It’s an easy read, and it’s fun. If you buy this book you are buying a classic piece of pre-war detective fiction. You are also buying a significant part of Arsenal history.

The Arsenal Stadium Mystery by Leonard Gribble published by GCR Books. To order a copy, click on the GCR Books logo on the right of this page just below “Recent Comments” or click here

Tony Attwood

The novel, Making the Arsenal, by Tony Attwood is being published in the autumn.

13 Replies to “The Arsenal Stadium Mystery: 70th anniversary”

  1. Thanks for the write up. I love novels from this era so will definitely be reading this.

  2. If I remember correctly, Cliff Bastin and Eddie Hapgood featured in the film (non speaking parts)a great bit of nostalgia and correct me if I am wrong but weren’t Arsenal the first club side to play an international team,I believe it was Austria in the 1930’s.Maybe this great thirties side had something to do with the making of the film.

  3. Just a word from the Editor about submitting comments. I am now deleting without publication all comments which are totally off topic. If you’ve written to the site and your comment hasn’t appeared, this is probably why. This doesn’t mean you have to stick blindly to whatever I or any other writer writes about, but comments about a totally different matter really don’t help any of us follow the debate.

  4. Tony, thank you thank you thank you. I am so sick of trying to ‘meet’ and chat with fellow fans in a relaxed manner on a site which posts thoughtful and insightful editorials. They all end up trashed by the philistine vandals. I know you hate censorship but without it this place would sink into the mire of yah-boo conflict.
    Is the film still available in any form? I wonder if a local cinema club might be able to get hold of it. That would be a fun night out.

  5. Excellent stuff Tony.

    I thought the Arsenal Stadium Mystery was the book of the film, whilst Fever Pitch was certainly the film of the book.

    Was the action sequence against Brentford, who were in the top division, at the time?

    Fever Pitch was a decent film but never really captured the inner thoughts & deeds of we fellow sufferers, quite in the same way as the book. I tried to get my wife to read it so that she might be able to understand me a bit better.

    They gave out DVDs of the ASM with Gold Memberships 1 or 2 seasons ago.

  6. Flint McCullough,

    I did a bit of research and it was indeed against Brentford, the last home game i believe before the war broke out.

  7. You are right that George Allison rarely receives the attention that he deserves. His great skill was that of a communicator, a man who marketed the club about 50 years before a concept was even dreamed of. What better way to spread the word than invite in film-makers to get The Arsenal in the pictures. Forget SKY’s Super Sunday, this was Arsenal on the silver screen.
    I haven’t read any old books on Arsenal for years now, but I think it was Allison who was a radio commentator before managing Arsenal. In those days the BBC split the pitch into numbered squares so listeners could get an idea where the ball was. I’m sure that Allison was famous for his enthusiastic commentary where he would liven up a dull game with exagerated descriptions of the play. Maybe someone can confirm (or refute this)
    Like Chapman and Wenger he was an innovator, years ahead of his time.

  8. Flint, you’re right about the ASM being given out as a part of the Official Membership Pack. It was a part of the Salute To Highbury DVD. I wanted to know if this box is given only to gold members, or to all the members? I actually bought it off ebay, since I’m in India & it doesn’t make sense being a member… Living in UK has its obvious perks for Arsenal supporters!

    Regarding Fever Pitch, while the movie was enjoyable, the book was great! Since reading it, I have been a fan of Nick Hornby & have read all his books, and seen the movies they were made into (Fever Pitch, Hi-Fidelity). Fever Pitch was re-made a few years ago, based on baseball. I can’t get myself to watch that though. I hope the ASM book releases here, though I highly doubt it. Would really like to give it a read.

  9. In response to some of the comments above:
    The Arsenal Stadium Mystery was written by Leonard Gribble in 1939 and was subsequently made into a film the same year. So, as with Fever Pitch the book came first.
    Regardless of where you’re living the book is a available via and now available via the Arsenal website.
    Arsenal toured Scandinavia and Belgium in 1939 beating Sweden 4-0, Denmark 6-0 and Belgium 5-1. In total they played 7 games and won them all with a total of 33 goals v 4 against. For more details you should read Forward Arsenal which will be available from GCR Books by 30th June.

  10. I’ve read ASM as a child (in Flemish translation) and it was one of the reasons (after the win against Anderlecht in Europe) for me te become fan of a club wich appeared in books. I was quite a reader and still am. Gonne see if it is still available over here in Belgium.
    Fever Pitch is also something I have enjoyed both the movie wich we have at home and with I look at every year in the off season period “when we just sit in the park and wait for the fixturelist to come out”. I’ve read the book also and it is very much on how a fan feels and lives. Albeit I do it from an other country and I envie you lot living in London and able to go much more then we from abroad.
    Must say I’ve read some other books from Nick Hornby after Fever Pitch and I really like his stile. Unfortunatly our library doesn’t have all his books.

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