Jon Sammels: remember him? ‘I am Sam’ Book Review

As requested by TotalArsenal, I reviewed the new novel ‘I am Sam’ by James Durose-Rayner.

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My first action was to Google ‘I am Sam’ to seek more information. I was a little surprised to see there was a movie called ‘I am Sam’ starring Sean Penn.

I was a regular at Highbury during the late sixties.  I remember Jon Sammels as an intelligent player with an explosive shot.  Two memories stick in my mind. The famous 35 yard shot against United, where I was more or less behind him: what a goal!  Despite an official capacity of around 63000, I think there were nearer 70000 in the stadium: it was absolutely heaving.

The other occasion was when I took a friend of mine for his Highbury debut.  Standing just to the right of the goal at the North Bank, the players were practising shots on goal prior to the game.   Sammels unleashed a powerful shot which skimmed the outside of the post.  Everyone in a 10 yard radius took cover, except my mate who was marvelling at the architecture of the West Stand.   It was a great unintended header which knocked him senseless.  The St Johns ambulance guys were great and I kept hold of the mud off his forehead for weeks…. until it disintegrated.

That said, we are talking in excess of 45 years ago.   Sammels was undoubtedly very talented, but he was also a subject of the boo boys, similar to Denilson, Ramsey etc.  I certainly liked him very much.

I am Sam – The book

I must admit I expected the book to be about Jon Sammels.  Let’s be clear from the start… It isn’t.

The book is about a David Beckham look alike ‘Mr Arsenal’ who works in media.  He and his colleagues are charged with producing made-for-TV videos about England’s failure in the 1970 World Cup, and secondly, Jon Sammels.  The book focuses on this character: his champagne lifestyle, a Maserati, two girlfriends, his ex wife, two children and a large number of family and friends including two ferrets called ‘Arteta’ and ‘Giroud’.  Undoubtedly an Arsenal supporter, throughout the story of his tangled love life, he often refers to Ársenal teams and players, both past and present, giving his forthright opinion.   I agreed with many of his comments and wildly disagreed with others (For example, Peter Marinello was a better player than Geordie Armstrong…. Please!).

For the first 60 or so pages I found the book quite annoying.   Most of the text was about this guy and his Maserati and entourage of women.   Anyone expecting to read about Jon Sammels, will be disappointed.   I actually stopped reading at this point to check I had the right book.

However, as the story progressed I actually started to warm to the main character.   By the time I was halfway through I was really enjoying this novel. The colourful character Mr Arsenal and his complicated love life interspersed with his view of players, managers, tactic etc, made it a very enjoyable read.   I read it in just 24 hours, which says to me it is a pretty good read.   I can see it appealing to both male and female readers and in particular older sports fans that will be familiar with some of the football legends who are commented on, albeit not always favourably.

By Retsub.

About the author:

Dividing his time between the UK and Cyprus, James Durose-Rayner has over twenty years experience in journalism; a member of the Writer’s Guild, he is the editor of NATM, the UK’s leading specialist civil engineering journal. His writing has been featured in over 200 magazines and his debut indie-novel, S63: Made in Thurnscoe, published in 2001, received positive reviews. The first in a trilogy, I Am Sam by James Durose-Rayner (published February 10th by Clink Street Publishing RRP $18.00 paperback RRP $11.60 ebook) is available to purchase from online from retailers including amazon.com and to be ordered from all good bookstores. For more information, please visit james-durose-rayner.co.uk and follow him on Twitter at @natm_mag

James Durose-Rayner

Arguably the Greatest nr.10 Ever: Master of Balance.

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Being a person who started watching football because of Dennis Bergkamp, I had been trying to get my hands on a copy of the new book by David Winner on Dennis Bergkamp, “Stillness and Speed”. My fiancé finally got it for me and I couldn’t wait to dig into it.

Stillness and Speed reads very much unlike what a typical football biography reads like; it is constructed of a simple structure that allows for a brilliant insight into the life and mind of the genius that is Bergkamp. Winner himself, in the preface, sights the book Puskas on Puskas as one of the inspirations behind the structure of Stillness and Speed. The book is made of chapters of questions and answers with the Dutch master, detailing his time as a child to the early years in Ajax, the lost years in Italy and finally the Arsenal years. This journey is punctuated by Dennis’ accounts of the tournaments he played with the Dutch national team, and of the in-fighting amongst arguably one of the most talented national teams in the world.

There are no headline grabbing assertions, no declarations that would propel the book to the tabloids must read list, rather Stillness and Speed reads in a vein similar to how Dennis himself would play. There is class and elegance, yet a simplicity of thought and action. Dennis comes across as a connoisseur of the game, a person who ‘serves the game’ as Arsene Wenger points out. A recurring theme in his story is that of balance. For Dennis, the most important thing is the balance, whether that is in how he controls the ball or how he controls his thoughts.

There are wonderful accounts of the goal against Argentina in ’98 and the goal against Newcastle. The ’98 goal remains his One Big Moment, the moment where he says all his life led him to. In a game where he was not at his best, he has three touches and a goal. It is incredible to read his account of the goal and how his fellow players saw the moment. There are also accounts of his FA Cup penalty miss (which, it is interestingly noted, was as close as we got to the double that year, instead Man U won the treble) and his fear of flying.

Another interesting thing that comes out is his love for the sublime with respect to playing with the football. As a kid growing up, Dennis tried to understand the nuances of ball control, and for him it was always about a challenging ball that he would control. He learnt about how the various positions of the foot hitting the ball, and the pace with which the ball would be hit would result in the flight of the ball. He said to his team mates, once he arrived in Arsenal, to never give him a simple ball. He asked them to challenge him, so he can challenge himself. It is also clear that he was a big influence on players like Pires and Henry, and the group of exquisite talent that Arsenal had in the early 2000s that went on to become the Invincibles were hugely inspired by Dennis.

It is also insightful to see how Dennis saw Arsene, considering the recent flak Arsene has taken on his lack of tactical nous. Dennis saw Arsene as a fellow lover of the game, a man with a philosophy who prepares the players to extend themselves and to play with his philosophy. At the same time, the impression I get is that for Dennis, Arsene’s style is a derivative mix of the Total Football style with pace and defensive strength (an English hallmark), rather than a simple attack-at-all-costs philosophy. It is interesting to try to reconcile this vision (which was quite evident in the Arsenal teams of the early 2000s) with the teams that have been going out in the last few seasons. On the same vein, there are passages highlighting the arguments the two of them had on football and on Dennis’ decreasing playing time as he grew older. Despite that, there is great mutual respect between the two of them.

There are colorful descriptions of Dennis as a joker in the team, playing pranks on the likes of Martin Keown; and his wonderfully coincidental meeting with Ian Wright at a petrol station when he had first arrived to sign on for Arsenal. Another very unique passage in the books details Dennis’ time in Italy, with the details coming from his teammates in Inter Milan. It is evident that the Inter team did not want to change their philosophy to Dennis’; and Dennis also did not want to change himself to the Italian way. It was a marriage that was destined to fail.

Dennis comes out as a man who believes in his vision of the game, who loves the nuances of the first and second touches to the ball, who believes in the value of a tough assist rather than an easy goal. He is a believer in coaching the Ajax youngsters in a similar philosophy, raising artists with their unique visions of the game rather than off-the-shelf developed youngsters who will play a position and are trained to do what the position demands. Dennis’ comparison between structure of a position, and structural training (Where the youngster playing on the wing for instance will always run up and down and cross, but never create using the balance of players on the pitch or the spaces on the pitch) vs. a more free expressive training in which the youngster can be a creative artist with a vision. Dennis’ love for spaces and on-pitch geometry comes out brilliantly.

All in all, it is a brilliant read; a must for lovers and students of the game and lovers of Dennis Bergkamp. My only gripe with the book is that whereas his early years and Italian years are described with detail, his time at Arsenal is more anecdotal, and the season by season transition and detail feels missing. Still, a fantastic book on arguably the greatest no 10 ever.

Written by: Umair Naeem

How DB10 re-inspired me: ‘Stillness and Speed’

‘Stillness and Speed’, by Dennis Bergkamp – A Review.

Thanking The Guardian for the picture.
Thanking The Guardian for the picture.

In terms of footballing autobiographies I am not very widely read; I think the extent of my involvement is Perry Groves’s (which was ridiculously funny in places, but amounted to essentially a collection of anecdotes) and Kenny Sansom’s, which I still haven’t finished. However, having spent four days immersed in Dennis Bergkamp’s experiences, I have emerged from my self-imposed exile from humanity with a much more satisfied glow than these other former Gunners provided, or threatened to provide. I feel now much more like I did at the end of Fever Pitch: pleased that God made me Gooner, and privileged to enjoy football in a way that only a Gooner can (and as Nick Hornby pointed out, this sometimes involves intense disappointment, frustration and hatred). If you’re looking for an objective review, you’re probably on the wrong website. I don’t want to ruin this book for anyone either, so my review won’t mention anything in great detail, as I could not do any of what was said justice by rehashing it into my own words.

Overall one of the best things I found was that the narrative isn’t a ghost writer imposing his own linguistic artistry onto Dennis’s thoughts and portraying them as his own, but rather a transcript of interviews with him and others who knew enough about him to add something worthwhile to the book (family, friends, colleagues and bosses from the teams he played for – notably Ian WWW, Thierry Henry and AW).

As I read the first few pages, I began to realise why I didn’t become a professional footballer (as I had wanted to when I was 6), or even very good at football at all: the attention to detail that Dennis put into everything, particularly football, was incomprehensible to me; and the feeling that he understood deeply something I only ever see superficially grew as the book progressed, as he spoke about distances between players, angles, manipulating space on the pitch, working for the team and making the perfect pass.

As an Arsenal fan, knowing where the book was headed even at the beginning, I was delighted to learn that he had put in more time and effort as a kid playing football on the street than I have ever had the concentration to put into football – he would aim for particular bricks in the wall he used to kick a ball against and constantly test out what happened when the ball rebounded in this way or that, or when he changed variable x, y or z.

Another impressive trait I observed was that of him not objecting to other people seeing events differently to him: he called it having their own truth, and he encouraged the authors to get the points of view honestly from others involved, such as at Inter Milan, where he doesn’t seem to have had a very good time. And although he would defend himself against some of what was said it would only be to put across his own view.

Turns out Dennis Bergkamp doesn’t like to do things the way other people do them.

That’s why he signed for Inter instead of Milan, opting against joining the Dutch trio who enjoyed enormous success there, where he would have been able to integrate pretty easily with van Basten and co, but would have become just another player scoring lots of goals: he wanted to make a distinct mark. It is also one of the reasons why, when he left Inter, he signed for us rather than the Spuds where Hoddle, one of his favourite players, had made a mark. Whatever the reason, and really the story of every human life hinges on decisions which may be made on little more than a whim, he signed for Arsenal and he has Arsenal in his blood now.

It was illuminating reading about situations at Highbury when Bruce Rioch was appointed; this was a time when the information superhighway was more of a dirt track, and one I was not connected to: most of my ‘knowledge’ of football came from Amiga games, and I was more concerned with whether Arsenal had beaten Villa or Man United than I was with who our manager was. From the time he was appointed to the time he departed, all I knew about him was that he’d been the Bolton manager when they’d knocked us out of the FA Cup. I didn’t realise he’d had a vision for Arsenal to play attractive football too.

Despite my comments about Perry Groves’s book earlier, autobiographies would be nothing without anecdotes, and once Dennis has signed for Arsenal there are a good few of them, and as a Gooner a lot of them made me giddy with excitement, as I’m sure they will you lot too.

I know I said I didn’t want to spoil it but if you don’t know the one about his first meeting with Ian Wright, you’re in for a treat; in general however it was exhilarating to see what other people at Arsenal had to say about him, particularly Thierry and Wrighty, who played up front alongside him. I get the impression that it was really at Arsenal he was allowed to become the footballer he wanted to be and his commitment to the team (whichever one he was playing for) is something that is reflected in the way he takes pleasure as much in his assists as he does in his goals.

It is lovely to relive his great goals as well though: another reminder as to why I was never going to play football for a living though as he talked me through his decision making processes and the attendant awareness of everything around him on the pitch. The goal against Newcastle still has me in awe, as does the one for Holland at the World Cup.

Discussions of his experiences at Ajax, Inter and Arsenal lend themselves naturally to delicious considerations of his footballing ideology both by himself and others, notably Johan Cruyff, AW and Thierry. Certain transfer decisions are cast into lights we may not have considered before too, which, whilst objectively uninteresting, is still of immense interest to (certain) Gooners. I was just annoyed Vieira to Juve wasn’t one of them.
I’m not a literature buff so I don’t read many books more than once, but this is certainly one I will come back to. Because of Stillness and Speed, my three-year-old can now recognise DB10 and AW, and I feel like a better informed Gooner for reading it.

I cannot recommend it highly enough, especially to Gooners.

Written by: Jozefos2013

For another review, see this Guardian link:

http://www.theguardian.com/football/2013/sep/21/dennis-bergkamp-arsenal-love-game

TA