Anatomy of a Gunner: How the Arsenal team of 1939 inspired me to write a crime novel
by Philip Kerr
Like Glasgow, Edinburgh has two football teams that divide the city, Hibernian and Heart of Midlothian. I come from a family of Hearts supporters but growing up in the 1960s I found this loyalty strained when I went to a new school and discovered that my new friends were all Hibernian fans. Not only that, but one of them had a father, Lawrence Reilly, who’d played for Hibs and Scotland; quietly, I became a Hibs supporter, which wasn’t such a great hardship as Hibs were actually doing quite well at the time. But my grandfather, who lived around the corner from the Hearts ground, Tynecastle, and had supported them all his life, would have been appalled. Fortunately, he never found out that I’d turned traitor.
Then, in 1970, Hibs sold their best player, Peter Marinello, to Arsenal for the huge fee of £100,000 and, around the same time, my family moved to England. It seemed natural that I should support Arsenal if only because my favourite player was now a Gunner. Marinello was tipped to be Scotland’s answer to George Best. Sadly, however it’s nearly always the case that anything which begins ‘Scotland’s answer to…’ is doomed to failure, and so it was with Peter Marinello. He had only one thing in common with Bestie and that was a love of the high life. But let’s face it, the guy was just nineteen, so what chance did he have to do anything but go wrong? Marinello was sold to Portsmouth in 1973.
Ironically enough Marinello ended up playing for Hearts. But I continued to support Arsenal which was hardly difficult as Arsenal won the Double in 1970-71. Everyone remembers Charlie George’s FA Cup-winning goal against Liverpool. And it wasn’t like there weren’t any other Scotsmen playing for Arsenal then. Bob Wilson, George Graham and Eddie Kelly were all Jocks like me. That sort of thing seems important when you’re a Scotsman down south.
For a while afterwards my interest in football lapsed. I’d become a writer of crime novels and thrillers and I was more interested in books than in football.
But in 1990 I married into a family of keen Gunners and I started to support them again. Knowing of my interest in crime fiction and detective stories my late father-in-law, John Thynne – who had supported Arsenal from before the war – was always talking about a film made in 1939 called The Arsenal Stadium Mystery. He’s dead now but last year I finally got round to watching the film on DVD. It’s a creaky old black and white gem chiefly remarkable because of the several Arsenal players including Cliff Bastin and Eddie Hapgood who actually play in the film. And it got me thinking. If this was the last crime story set in the world of football, wasn’t it time that someone wrote another? So last year I did just that.
In fact I wrote two books and the first of these January Window has just been published. It’s about the assistant manager of a fictitious London club, Scott Manson, who turns sleuth when his charismatic Portuguese manager is found dead after a game. Now that I’ve written it I can’t imagine why I didn’t see before what my father-in-law realised all along, which was that football lends itself very well to the crime novel. And I’m grateful to John Thynne for suggesting it, indirectly.
The book has already been described as the best football whodunit since Pizzagate, and I can’t think of any higher praise for a Gunner than that.
January Window by Philip Kerr is published by Head of Zeus, price £14.99
The official launch of “January Window” will be done by Phillip in a box at the Emirates on Saturday!