MAKING THE ARSENAL is a novel – the diary of a football journalist in 1910 who is given the job of covering the story of the collapse of Woolwich Arsenal, its take-over by Fulham and its re-birth as a new club.
But the story is more than just football – it is a story about life 100 years ago, centred around real people and real events.
And this weekend the Guardian started a series called 100 YEARS OF GREAT PRESS PHOTOGRAPHS which includes in the first edition (published yesterday, 7 November) two pictures that relate directly to the MAKING THE ARSENAL novel.
First there is the Houndsditch jewelery robbery and the Sidney Street masacre. The Guardian gives the classic story, “Three heavily armed Latvians have killed two policemen during a raid on a jeweller’s shop in Houndsditch. They hole up in a Sidney Street house where they are discovered on 2 January.
“The police call in help from the Scots Guards. Winston Churchill, then home secretary, arrives to watch what goes down in history as the siege of Sidney Street. One more policeman dies, the house catches fire, and two bodies are found. The third man is never captured.”
That’s the official line. But in researching MAKING THE ARSENAL I found some other facts that begin to cast severe doubt as to what went on, over that period, and indeed how it related to Woolwich Arsenal. It marks the conclusion of the novel and is a new interpretation of the events.
The other picture of interest is Bill Tillett, the union leader, addressing a crowd at Tower Hill. As the commentary says, “In 1910, a hat was just about compulsory. It was essential for being properly dressed – part of the fabric and more of soceity, likie going to church….
“There are actually three differnt styles of hat pictured: flat caps, boaters, and bowlers. Now there is a perception in the south of Englandd tha tthe flat cap is northern, but back then it was just seen as a rural or working class thing, and was just as common in London where the men in the picture are.
“That’s why it was considered so outrageous when Edward VII started to wear plus fours and flat caps….
“The boaters meanwhile would have been worn by the spivs… The equivalent of wearing a boater today would be wearing diamond earrings.”
Now, if you have your copy of MAKING THE ARSENAL turn to the very first page of the story – the initial extract from Jacko Jones first article – which is all about the hats being worn at the football match. It gives you the context, and I hope, heightens the joke.
If you haven’t yet got your copy of Making the Arsenal, just click here and you can read a short article all about it, and if you so wish, place an order.
Tony Attwood 2009