A Close-Up With an Arsenal Book Author

The author in question is currently finishing up the culmination of his trilogy. The exploits of the main protagonist Lee Janes in the two books that have been published thus far – ‘I Am Sam’ and ‘ITV7’ – have been just as riveting as finding out some hidden truths about the club we all support.

I got the opportunity to question the man behind these books which combine glitz, glamour, drama and Arsenal so seamlessly. The writer is James Durose-Rayner, and these questions take a look at how his latest book – number two of the planned trilogy – ITV7, came to be written…..

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Interview with James Durose-Rayner

Q – James, where did the idea come from for this trilogy?

JDR – When I was growing up we didn’t have the distractions that children have now and football (as it was with my mates), was my life. Everything revolved around it – ‘Football Focus’, ‘On the Ball’, The BBC’s vidiprinter, ‘Match of the Day’ and ‘The Big Match’ at the weekend, whilst every snippet of football was acquired from the tabloids throughout the week… and if you were lucky, Harry Carpenter’s ‘Sportsnight’ would show highlights of some midweek match, before the full circle was upon you again.

I was a 1970’s kid (Sweet’s Fox on the Run, Steve Harley’s Come up and See Me along with long hair, flares and platforms … in Junior school) and my team was the soap opera that was Arsenal – a team that kept you on the end of your seat forever wondering which team would show up at 3.00pm Saturday. You need just look at the years between 1970-1980 to understand the topsy-turvy life of an Arsenal fan.

Loving football, I have read literally hundreds of football biographies, some quite excellent and some quite pitiful.
It wasn’t until I had read ‘The Worst of Friends – The betrayal of Joe Mercer’ by Colin Schindler that I fancied writing a football-based book. In my mind, this was a much better effort than David Peace’s “Damned United.”
(Ask me why and I’ll gladly give you a damning appraisal in two sentences!)

I thought of a biographical account of a player, but I knew that I could never be able to piece together an honest account. Why? Because a player – no matter who he is, will never tell you the truth as I would have wanted it.
Therefore, I needed an angle, and it was my wife who indirectly gave it me when she had run out of books whilst we were out of the UK.
She had picked up a 1971 autobiography penned by Bob Wilson, had begun reading it and a few pages into it she slung it. “I can’t read that rubbish,” she said.
My wife takes a semi-interest in Arsenal in that she is happy for me when they win, but that is about it. As for football, she isn’t that bothered – and there was that said ‘inspiration’.
I had to write a football-themed book that could be read by anyone – male or female as well as people who don’t even like football.
The subject? Jon Sammels.

Q – It is often said by authors that a lot of their own life experiences go into the book. Are you lucky enough to be able to claim credit for any of the fantastic instances that occur in the life of main character of the book?

JDR –  I am extremely fortunate (if that’s the right word) to be blessed with varied life experiences at either end of the spectrum. And when I say that, I don’t say it lightly – and as my wife would probably tell you, my life is all about ‘extremes’ whether it be love, hate, happiness, sadness, wealth, poverty. I’ve embraced the lot and I’ll tell you now – feeling good or being ‘nice’ blows any of its antonyms or opposites away, which is one of the reasons both ‘SAM’ and ‘ITV 7’ went the way they did.

My life was similar – certainly not the same – to that of the main protagonist in the stories when I was in my late teens – early twenties, although I certainly never had the financial trappings that he has, as that would come in later life.

If I were to have constructed the characters from scratch they would possibly all possess similarities with one another and one of the things that I have learned through life is that each and every one of is so very different. This is the main reason I love to base my characters on or around real people.

Write what you know.

That’s the best advice anyone could give to someone wanting to write a book.

Q – This is one of the few Arsenal-related books out there that intertwine fiction and rich Arsenal history. Was this always your intention or did the trilogy start off with a single intention?

JDR –  I write as am writing a TV series – ask West Ham supporter Brian Allan, as that is the very first thing he picked up on.
Whilst writing ‘SAM’, and without sounding effeminate, I fell in love with the characters, and as I got towards its end I knew I had to carry it on, therefore I had it in my head that it would become a trilogy – a three-part series that would have an ending.

Q – With the current infatuation surrounding transfer links on a constant merry-go-round, did you ever worry that a book looking at a historical aspect of Arsenal would suffer as a result of not focusing on more modern matters? Or did you know that there were sufficient Gooners more than hungry to learn more about the club?

JDR – Worry, hah! My interpretation of the word ‘worry’ is much different to most, so no I was never worried. Book sales was never an angle that particularly bothered me even though ‘SAM’ went straight to the top of the Sports Fiction charts – a writer writes – or should write – for the love of writing first and foremost and never ever for the money.
As regards modern Arsenal – there are authors and potential authors out there who can or could cover that subject, much better than me.
I have said previously (to 7am kick off blog) that I could easily knock a 200 page “picture book” up on any aspect of Arsenal in just a few weeks; however, I would get no gratification whatsoever from doing something such as that and I would just see it as another task that I didn’t want to do.

Q -The amount of things I’ve learned from reading the first two books ( I Am Sam and ITV7 ) borders on encyclopaedic. How much research has gone into each book?

JDR – This is where either book could stand up to any factual book on Arsenal.
The story may be fiction, however the factual content is 100% and far more intense than any Arsenal or football book that I’ve ever read. I made a point of breaching certain subjects that have neither dared be mentioned nor that ever been covered before – but before that, you have to be certain that these things actually happened and extensive research is all part of that.
‘ITV 7’ and in particular Arsenal’s 1958/59 season was the most extensive and interesting piece of research that I have ever undertaken – and bearing in mind that I’ve been responsible for over 200 magazines and reading through the small print of numerous 1000- page contract documents and the like – that’s some statement.

Arsenal passing on Gordon Banks and John Collins and totally missing out on Dave Mackay, whilst in pursuit of John Charles’ younger brother. The Denis Law to Arsenal saga. The failed bids for Phil Woosnam and the mistreatment of Jimmy Bloomfield and his being passed over by England. The missing out on Jimmy Greaves, the tight-fisted nature of the Arsenal board… I loved it and I could have happily written an 800-page book on that season alone.
The elder generation of Arsenal supporters can often look back in time with both starry eyes and through rose-tinted spectacles; when in reality the past is anything but.

Q – The first book was an in depth look at the underrated and often maligned Jon Sammels. Was he a favourite of yours, or just a player that you felt never received the adulation he warranted?

JDR – That is a brilliant question, Dan.
No, he was never my favourite player.
Strangely my favourite player for Arsenal pre-Supermac arriving was Alan Ball – a player I give quite a rough ride to.
To me Jon Sammels was a sticker in a 68/69 Panini sticker book that I had been given.
Being only six at the time I mis-pronounced the name as ‘Jon Samuels’ and my dad informed me that not only was his name ‘Sammels and not Samuels’ – he also played for Leicester City.
When the mass marketed VHS videos of Arsenal came out during the 80’s I collected anything I could get my hands on and one match that always stayed in my mind me was the 30th November, 1970 match of Arsenal 2, Liverpool 0. Jon’s comeback match.
I’d previously read about Jon being ostracised by a section of the crowd and I found myself looking at that and other footage to see why?
(Players being ostracised by the crowd is nothing new. Possibly the greatest ball-playing winger of his era in Alan Hinton was dogged by it at Wolves, Forest and Derby – and even though Ramsey supposedly hated wingers – Hinton was capped by England)
For years I thought nothing of it until I wanted a subject for a book and Jon’s name came up in a book I was reading …..as after protracted contract negotiations he became one of Britain’s most highest paid football players in 1969/70.
That was it. The research started and the book was more or less written before I actually spoke with Jon himself who confirmed three or four things that I was unsure of.
I would tell anyone out there that ‘SAM’ and ‘ITV 7’ are a more comprehensive account of Jon Sammels Arsenal career than his own biography…. And it gives a valid reason why the player was ostracised by the crowd.

Q – The life of Lee Janes is steeped within football, but it is his domestic life that is made for the front pages! Where did he come from – true inspiration or someone you know?

JDR – No, he’s definitely no one I know.
In my head I thought of a type of person most Arsenal supporters would have wanted to be and I thought of David Beckham circa 2004 in an Arsenal shirt.
Around that time Beckham was a player who had Arsenal written all over him.
And the job – which football fanatic wouldn’t want to be in football?

And his wife and girlfriend? That took some perfecting!

I purposely made the main character an opinionated and conceited womaniser, with my idea to make people (especially the female reader) initially despise him; however there was a bit of method in my madness.

Consider the recent game versus Leicester City and the last minute goal.
All game the decisions have gone against you and the opposition end up going one up before half time due to one of those decisions, and now part of the crowd are either silent or against you. You keep continually battering away but keep getting repelled before pulling a goal back to silence the hecklers? But you know a draw will never be enough….
Then how satisfying is it to get a winner in the last minute?
Priceless.

That was the formula for ‘SAM’ and ‘ITV 7’.

Q – The last book of the trilogy – Queen of Cups – is in the works. What can you tell us about it? Is it close?

JDR – The spine of ‘Queen of Cups’ is being put together now.
It mainly covers the 1976-80 seasons – The Terry Neill years – which I have to say are as interesting as the 1958/59 season; however, as with ‘SAM’ and ‘ITV 7’ it touches on various other eras – including bits of Billy Wright’s time at the club and of course the club’s current timeline.

What the story outside of the football will hopefully show you is that the main character isn’t necessarily Mr Arsenal or Lee, but the woman he married – who rather strangely is the focus of 90% of emails I receive!

Q – The books carry a theme in regards to the Arsenal content that is sprinkled liberally within the pages, and that is the jawdropping nature of the revelatory facts. Is there any particular fact that really made you stop in your tracks? ( my particular favourite was that we were close to signing Denis Law! )

JDR – There are lots of facts that I didn’t know too.
In the 1958/59 season I was unaware that Arsenal went to Saltersgate in December 1958 with a view to buying Gordon Banks for £7,000 but passed on him.
In the late 1960’s and early 70’s we made several approaches for Peter Shilton, but the club wouldn’t part with the money his club asked for.
Two of the greatest keepers of their respective eras.
We had a failed bid for Allan Clarke and were also involved in an Ian Ure / Geoff Hurst swap, but both fell through.
What I will say is that the period between 1975 and 1980 were as – if not, more interesting than any period in the club’s history as regards transfer bids being knocked back and Arsenal making bum decisions and failing to get their man, with the ‘overall’ Clive Allen transfer saga summing up the indecisiveness of the club – as there is a lot more to the story than an Allen / Sansom swap.

James, I continue to wait with bated breath for the culmination of the first two books with the arrival of ‘ Queen of Cups ‘ and I thank you for your time and insight.

I heavily recommend ‘ I Am Sam ‘ and ‘ ITV7 ‘  for all Gooners. It genuinely has something for every taste and is wholly different to any Arsenal book out there currently. A heady mix of drama and Arsenal history and you can pick up this tasty word cocktail here!

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