Royal Arsenal – Champions of South – A book review

I would be hard pushed to think of a conversation I’ve had with Mark and Andy about The Arsenal where I didn’t learn something new about the history of our great club. Therefore, I was both thrilled and honoured when they asked me to write a review of Royal Arsenal – Champions of the South, especially as I have always had a huge interest in the history of the club.
In addition, knowing Andy and Mark personally, I know just how passionate they are for what they do.

Along with editor, Tim Stillman, who is an incredibly talented writer and, in my opinion is the best Arsenal blogger out there, an accolade I do not bestow lightly given the wealth of talent that exists in that sphere, I believe they have managed to produce a genuinely fascinating and immersive piece of work. A book that is jam packed with historical facts, as well as retaining a readability that can often be lost in a book of its kind.
I could literally feel the painstaking process they have gone through, with every turn of the page uncovering another piece of Arsenal history, whilst dispelling a number of untruths along the way (something that Mark and Andy have done many a time during my conversations with them!)

Left to right – Editor. Tim Stillman and Authors, Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews

It begins with the birth of The Arsenal and how Royal Arsenal emerged from the Dial Square Cricket Club during a “smoking concert” (essentially the Victorian equivalent of a lads night out) at the Prince of Wales public house, Plumstead Common in October 1886. It goes on to confirm the time and location of the clubs first official game, and the truth behind the Nottingham Forest connection regarding the kit.

!888, now there was a squad

Other highlights include a 10-1 thrashing of Tottenham Hotspur on September 21st 1889, a defeat that scarred that lot so much they refused to face The Arsenal for another seven years. Also the clubs first ever FA Cup tie – an 11-0 walloping handed out to Lyndhurst; the first ever trophy the first team lifted – the Kent Senior Cup, and the list goes on. There are slices of the history of this great club we have all come to know and love on every single page.
We are not just talking mere trivia here either, as Tim alludes to in his foreword – there is information contained here that Arsenal Football Club themselves are unaware of, until now that is!

There were also a couple of things early on in the book that I found rather amusing when looking at them from a “modern” point of view, in particular the first ever full match report of an Arsenal game, a 6-1 win against Erith – a real “imagine if Twitter were around when….” moment.
Let’s just say that if Twitter had been around back then, dozens of angry Arsenal supporters no doubt labelling him an “absolute bounder” or whatever the football supporter’s preferred insult would have bombarded Bernard Beard’s timeline was back in 1887.

I have deliberately kept this review as short as possible, as everything you will learn from this book will be a lot more enjoyable to discover yourself.
However, what I will say is that Champions of the South is an essential read for any Arsenal supporter. This is perhaps best summed up by the last paragraph of the foreword from Tim:
“I hope the book persuades you of its importance and that you too become exceptionally grateful for the tireless work of historians such as Mark and Andy.”

Royal Arsenal – Champions of the South can be purchased from Legends Publishing here


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