Written by: @Mike_Mmcdonald for gunnerstown.com, 13th Oct 2021.
When I was asked to review ‘Arsenal for Everyone’ I was a little nervous as it’s probably the 7th book I’ve ever read and I’m not 6 years old. I read articles, tweets and such all the time but even after reading The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro (brilliant), I always find myself too energized to sit and read books. I didn’t know how I was going to do this and do it justice.
I opened ‘Arsenal for Everyone’ and sat there for 3 hours getting through 2/3rds before my daughter’s constant text request for Dunkin Donuts got the best of me. I’m not sure you understand the achievement that I feel in sitting still for 3 hours. The book was gripping.
On my way to Dunkin Donuts, I listened to the author, Dave Seager, talking to Arseblog about the book. I couldn’t stop thinking about the contrast to my life problems and those I’d read about and was now hearing Dave and Andrew chat about.
I had an overwhelming feeling of gratefulness.
This aligns with how I’ve been feeling lately. My family and I talk about what we are grateful for on a daily basis around the supper table. I recommend this as it adds true perspective.
So, my first thought about ‘Arsenal for Everyone’ is that it’s not really just a book about Arsenal or football. You could comfortably glean a life changing perspective from it even if you’d never watched football. Although ‘Arsenal for Everyone’ is a book about the stories of multiple disabled Arsenal fans and their ‘Arsenal story,’ it truly is more. So much more. There are so many highlights.
My first observation was that those in the book have similar experiences to me, but their memory is often more vivid as their senses are heightened by their unfortunate lack of having all the senses that I’m blessed with.
I loved the story of Redmond tiptoeing downstairs and checking Ceefax and swapping stickers in the playground. I resonated with Thomas Clements and how he felt when he entered the stadium for the first time yet was taken with how again, his senses are more alert than mine, therefore his memory is more intense. I can still smell the hamburgers on Avenell Rd if I close my eyes and let my mind wander but I’m jealous that Thomas has a keener sense for those onions, but probably also for the police horse deposits too!
At the same time that I could relate to much I read in this book I was captivated by many stories that I can’t relate to.
One in particular where Michael Watkinson describes what it’s like being a deaf fan at the Emirates. “During the game, it gives me goosebumps as there is no sound, yet I feel the vibrations in the stadium from the fans singing, the chanting, the jumping up and down. It is an amazing feeling which is so difficult to understand and is perhaps unexplainable.” Wrap your head around that!
There are so, so many great stories like…
How Wayne Busbridge became addicted to Arsenal, as he was treated like everyone else for one of the first times in his life. He talked about Arsenal fans on the train arguing with him and saying, “Well you wouldn’t know anyway, you’re blind!” That was refreshing to hear that type of banter as 2021 gets too offended as it tiptoes around not hurting feelings. The banter made him feel part of something and we all have similar stories.
Personally, I loved the story of Danny from ‘A Bergkamp Wonderland.’ I enjoyed finding out more about his disability as I have much admiration for what he’s achieved for the fan base.
I was fascinated at how Lyn Clarke grew up as a Spurs fan in a Spurs family but switched to Arsenal talking about the class of ‘The Arsenal.’ Such admiration too for a lady with no balance, diabetes, fibromyalgia, neuropathy and terminal cancer and living in a world where catching Covid would kill her. Puts whatever we deal with into sharp perspective, right? The class that attracted Lyn you will find in so many stories in this book. That Arsenal choose to go above and beyond the Premier League requirements for disabled fans. It made me feel so proud to know that we are still this club.
This is epitomized by the Arsenal Sensory Room which is designed for our autistic fans. A room that makes the game day experience manageable for them as much of it is too overwhelming otherwise. We are a club that spends considerably more money than they will ever take in, inviting only five or six families per game into the sensory room, shows that class and desire to care for a group that others largely ignore. To add to this, I learned that we are the first club to partner with SignVideo to enhance experience for the deaf. All these ‘above and beyond’ features are embodied by this quote….
“Market forces may prevent us always having the best team, but I am in no doubt that we are a club with the best values traditions and class in the country”
There is so much more from the story of kissing Vieira to the rage I felt from the stories of bullying disabled fans. I loved finding out how blind soccer actually works too. Not what I thought.
If you simply want to love your club with a fresh love then you need to buy this book for no other reason than to understand the role of Alun Francis, Arsenal’s Disability Access Officer and the quite unbelievable story of Allan and his personal commentator. We use the word ‘inspiring’ to describe a performance in a game, the time we met a famous person or a movie. It’s not that these moments aren’t inspiring it’s when you stumble across an entire life that inspires, how can you use the same word to describe meeting Emile Smith Rowe after a game as you would use to describe Nicole Evans-Dear and her drive to complete the London Marathon even though it took her 4 days. Would you do that? If you started and were in the level of pain, she was in then realized that the Marathon was officially over, would you continue? Meeting Smith Rowe is exciting. Nicole Evans-Dear is inspiring.
This book is inspiring because the stories are inspiring. Truly inspiring. The real thing. Dave Seager needs huge credit for this being so well laid out. He also needs credit for taking the time to do this in the first place. A few minutes of spotlight for a group that often get treated as ‘the least of us’ shows his goodness. Liam would be proud because his Dad is a difference maker.
The star however is the people in the stories. This is Dave’s wish. We get one shot at life and spend too much of it complaining about whatever has rubbed us the wrong way. Read ‘Arsenal for Everyone.’ You might be changed. Even for just 30 minutes as you ponder and compare your Arsenal experience to theirs. My guess is you will have a fresh admiration for disabled people and a fresh appreciation for your own life too. How can you not reflect with great admiration at Keryn Seal having accepted being blind yet playing for England 120 times. How can you not be inspired by Nicole Evans Dear whose husband Phil states,” We don’t need easy, just possible, and together we make everything possible “
This book will humble you.
To quote Dave Seager, “In all honesty, at times, it made me feel quite inadequate.”
That’s enough from me. I could honestly wax longer but this is a flavour of an important book. I loved it and feel it is a book that every Arsenal fan can enjoy and any non-Arsenal fan struggling with gratefulness would find inspiration from.