The Arsenal Shirt – A Review
This book, painstakingly written by James Elkin and Simon Shakeshaft, provides the reader ( preferably a Gooner ) with the extensive origins of the Arsenal shirt through the years to the present day.
Upon receiving my copy of this rather generously sized tome, the first thing I noticed was its presentation. The sleeve, featuring the home jersey of the 1971 Double season, was lustrous to the touch and invited my wandering fingers to open the book and thus begin my journey. The hefty weight only adds to the feeling of significance this book carries – though it isn’t exactly primed for a perusal in a packed train cabin.
As a jersey buff, I understand the degree of fanaticism that the authors must have in order to compile a lexicon of this magnitude. There are inevitable grey areas that I understood more thoroughly the more I read, as I became aware of the recycling of kits during the fifties, sixties and seventies which made certain kits more elusive.
The book begins with a foreword from the man who has more knowledge of our famous jersey than perhaps any other – Kit Man Vik Akers. Along with his son Paul, he has overseen the many demands that come with this illustrious but taxing role. His words only serve to remind the reader of the class that is maintained through tradition that Arsenal have and how the scribes endeavours have served up every incarnation of the shirt we all adore. It certainly whets the appetite.
What follows is an extensive look – jersey by jersey – of each version of our home and away kits from 1927 to our present day Puma kit. Each shirt is a match worn edition by various luminaries of the Cannon and is accompanied by a thorough description of the shirt, the highlights that the shirt has experienced and how its appearance came to be. From when the crest first appeared on the tops to each material that was used, no iota of research was wasted.
A person reading this book that has no interest of such things would question why these minor details need be included but as the book serves such a niche market, the finer nuances are an aperitif to each page. The reader of this book will undoubtedly have an interest in not only Arsenal but a passion for the jersey, so for the writers to include such delectable nuggets of trivia is a stroke of the masterful.
It isn’t only match-worn shirts that are the fare for this book. Cup Final tracksuits, Goalkeeping jerseys, direct quotes from bona fide Arsenal legends and absolutely laden with facts and information to impress your fellow jersey anorak ( forgive the clothing pun ), the book hits you from all angles in order to maintain freshness with a rather limited topic. It succeeds.
These shirts that have experienced the best Arsenal moments each have a tale to tell and even with a few paragraphs, it is illustrated well. The authors realise this book is not designed to have you sitting in your armchair at 3am, transported to another world. It is a book that can be picked up in those ten minutes before you perform the school run. Sit down at the coffee table with your choice of hot beverage and enjoy another sliver of the Arsenal journey. Each page brings with it another shirt you wish you owned, together with its story and beautiful photos. Some shirts you will drool over more than others ( my particular favourite would be the gold ’02 shirt worn by Henry or the ’89 shirt by Mickey Thomas ) but each one – whether it reaped accolades or not – acts as a novella of sorts. A singular jersey in this book sates the curiosity and does just enough to make you revisit. Quite an achievement by the writers. The chapter surrounding the lesser-known shirts that made fleeting appearances had me unashamedly enthralled as I mused on how to obtain them!
As a child, Roald Dahl was my author of choice. I devoured each book he had written and can still clearly remember the plot and characters of each one. What added to this ability to vividly recollect was the illustrations by Quentin Blake. Each book came with a fantastic set of illustrations that were rocket fuel for a young child’s imagination. The photos of each match-worn shirt – some still had pitch marks or Vieira’s famous Vaporub patch – coupled with photos of the player wearing the shirt made envisioning the rigours the shirt endured easier. My imagination was just as active reading this book as when I was reading George’s Marvellous Medicine, but for far different reasons.
This brilliant creation by Shakeshaft and Elkin enables me to portray my avidity for anything Arsenal related in a far more civilised manner than my incoherent babblings. It also allows me to learn more about a select subject that isn’t widely available in book form. The way the book is written is generous enough to allow for my short attention span and welcomes me back warmly every time I read another shiny sheet.
This fine addition to your bookshelf would be at home in your magazine rack for a light leaf through or equally in a coffee shop to laze away a Sunday in a comfy armchair. I just wish it was around when I was ten years old when I visited my rather peculiar hairdresser and his antiquated collection of ‘Horse and Hound’. It certainly would’ve distracted me from his crazed eyes and the sound of rusty clippers buzzing around my ears.
Shakeshaft and Elkin have created a book that manages to hold you despite its niche subject. For some like myself, it provides reassurance that there are others out there who suffer the same enthusiasm for what some may consider a ‘geeky’ subject. For regular Gooners, it is a short bus trip for the mind to transport you to Old Trafford in 2002, Wembley in 1930 or Anfield in 1989. With such brilliant descriptions, images and quotes from legends of our club, it has the lot.
A perfect gift for the Gooner in your life. I enjoyed every word and photo.