I will always be Arsenal through and through, as one match day song goes, so was very pleased to get My Life in Red and White by Arsene Wenger for Christmas.
Some of my life’s biggest highs and lows have been Arsenal-related, and there is a brick outside the stadium with my name and the data of the first match I attended at Highbury (29 November 1998). I was lucky enough to be a season ticket holder through Wenger’s glory years, and to live right next to the new stadium, with a view from the roof terrace of both the old Highbury stadium and the new Emirates stadium. So I literally lived with Wenger’s decisions and was in awe of the dedication he had to the club as well as sometimes frustrated about his seemingly stubborn attitude towards the way football should be played, rather than always prioritising getting results. I’d also enjoyed reading previous biographies of the man (see my blog on Reading Arsenal), but there is nothing like hearing from the horse’s mouth, as it were, on what it was like to live through those glory years as the man in charge of Arsenal.
This book has a very forthright style, which I imagine reflects its author, rather than being a result of its translation from French. Wenger is very factual and doesn’t bother to sugar-coat things, and his formative years obviously have a lot to answer for here. It was fascinating to hear about his lonely childhood, where there was little outward displays of affection in his family and where life revolved around hard work and not complaining and learning not to need anything from other people. At one point he describes himself as ascetic, which is a very fitting description of a life dominated by extreme focus and hard work, to the exclusion of all else, for many decades. Clearly we Arsenal fans benefitted from his extreme single-mindedness, but I couldn’t help thinking that he couldn’t have been much fun to live with or be married to.
I really enjoyed reliving the era of Arsenal when I was going to every home game (and some away games too) – the wonderful generation of Freddie Ljungberg (my all-time favourite player), Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and so on (I once queued outside for two and a half hours one February evening to get Pires’ book signed. Yes, it was worth it), and re-living Wenger’s complete career record at the back of the book. I imagine that above all else is how Wenger himself measures the success of his life. It took me back to the rivalry between us and United, and the painful years of coming second in the league, and fondly reminded me of the weekly office chat I had with my old boss Mike (who very sadly died some years ago now), who was a lifelong Manchester United fan.
What Arsene achieved at Arsenal was truly incredible and I was so lucky to be a witness to much of it. This book will be an interesting read for all the Arsenal fans out there.