by Tony Attwood
I’ve spent a little while wondering how to write a review of “Over Land and Sea and Lockdown” by Darren Berry.
And in wondering and pondering, the fact that there are two utterly different ways of looking at football sloshed me in the face like a wet kipper on a cold night in Grimsby; and not for the first time.
What made me think of this notion was the fact that immediately before sitting down to write this review I looked at the latest article from TeamTalk which included the comment that, “The Gunners made a sorry start to the new season, losing three straight games to pile the early pressure on Mikel Arteta. But a grinding 1-0 win over Norwich appears to have kickstarted their season.”
The premise of the article is that the world of football is blindingly obvious, and that the only evidence one needs is the evidence of one’s own eyes. One can look at the game, and see if for what it is. No need for background or theory.
But background and theory is what books allow us to contemplate and thus realise that what we see is not always how the world is. It is on this basis that we come to understand that the world is not flat as it appears to us on leaving the house, that the sun doesn’t go around the earth, but vice versa, and that television does not consist of tiny people sitting inside a box in our living rooms.
And the point of this is that if one believes that the world is as it is, then no explanation is needed, because everything is self-evident. Although in football that generally means self-evident to the journalists and fans, but rather curiously not to club managers who can’t see what is staring them in the face.
The theme of this book can be summed up with a few paragraphs like this:
"In complete control of the game. Check Hatful of missed chances. Check Humungous cock-up at the worst possible time. check. We are just so Arsenal"
It is the notion that Arsenal do this. Other teams don’t but Arsenal do, and the way to change this is to change the owner, (Mr Ek of Spotify is noted), even though that didn’t help last time.
What is not asked is why? Why is it like this? Am I missing something? Why is it only my club that is in the parlous state? Is the only way out not only to have a billionaire owner, but a different billionaire owner?
The reality is in fact, that the author is so far into his own reality, he can’t actually understand that there is another reality. That he has written an entire 194 page glossy hardback in which he reflects upon Arsenal in exactly the same way that lots of people on blogs and in the newspapers and on TV reflect upon Arsenal: that the club is unique in its stupidity and anyone with half a brain can see the way out.
In fact so far removed from actually studying football that there isn’t one moment of recognition that during the course of this season Arsenal cut its yellow card tally in half when compared with the season before. And really, if you were paying enough attention to the games to write a whole book about it, you would have thought that might have been noticed.
As a result the book is rather odd when it gets to Boxing Day. The total turnaround in results is noticed, but there is no real understanding of why and how that happened. What were Arsenal doing differently? More importantly, how did it keep happening? More importantly still, how come through the final two thirds of the season could we be the second best team in the league?
Well, that last question isn’t answered because it isn’t asked because the author didn’t notice.
This is something that seems to happen quite a lot – a recording of one’s emotions as time goes by but a lacking of insight into the wider world. And really, although that might be of interest to the psychologist, it’s not really interesting to the football fan.
As a result this is a book to read if you want to know what the people who think that everything can be explained by looking at Arsenal while noting that Arsenal are uniquely inept at signing players and knowing what to do on the pitch – without asking why is it just Arsenal?
Which is a shame because that really was one hell of a season and it is one that deserves a book. It was the season in which there were more away wins than home wins, and in which detailed analysis revealed the quite amazing reason why that was so.
It was the season in which referees that gave Arsenal lots of yellow cards got more and more matches in charge of Arsenal and those who gave few cards got fewer and fewer Arsenal games. And despite this it was the season in which Arsenal cut their yellow card level to move from being the most carded to the second least carded club in the league in one season.
And of course it was the season in which Arsenal were the second best team in the league across the last two thirds of the season (which I don’t think is even mentioned, although I may have dropped asleep near the end).
Now I know not everyone thinks these points are important. But not to them mention at all? To believe that one can understand a season just by looking at the games, and not doing any sort of analysis whatsoever?
For if one ignores the basic facts, one can’t then start addressing that most important question of all. Why?
Over Land and Sea and Lockdown by Darren Berry is published by Legends Publishing. £22.50.
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