The Arsenal Stadium Mystery by Leonard Gribble (1939)

I saved this to read at the start of the new season, when hope springs eternal in the breast of every football fan.

Arsenal, professional champions of England, are playing at home against leading amateur side the Trojans when their star player John Doyce collapses and dies later in the changing room. Nobody, just like Arsène Wenger sixty years later, saw anything amiss.

Scotland Yard are called in, and whilst the manner of murder is quickly established, Inspector Slade must unravel the relationships between the Trojan players and coaching staff in order to understand who killed Doyce and why.

As Martin Edwards’ introduction tells us, the story was originally serialised in the Daily Express and the book was released at the same time as the film of the same name. The film featured the Arsenal players and staff as themselves although only secretary-manager, George Allison, was given a speaking rôle. The Trojans on the field were played by Brentford players with footage taken from the last match of the 1938-39 season, the final official game before the league was suspended for the duration of the Second World War.

An unspectacular mystery but I liked it for its setting and they way in which Slade traps the murderer. I felt a definite sporting sadness knowing that some of these players, such as Bryn Jones, lost their best footballing years to war, although none of the eleven mentioned lost their lives.

If you know any Gooners, get them a copy, whether they like GAD or not.

Footballing Signs of the Times

It is likely that Arsenal were selected for this project as they were the team of the 1930s, winning the league five times between 1931-1938.

Bryn Jones was Britain’s highest-priced footballer at the time. Arsenal had broken their own previous record of £11k paid to bring David Jack from Bolton Wanderers in 1928 when they signed Jones at £15k from Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1938. Compare this to the proposed deal of £80m+ which will see Harry Maguire move from Leicester City to Manchester United, which would be a new record for a transfer between British clubs.

Much as British fans may now detest “soccer” as an American usage, it was originally a British term and is used interchangeably in this book with “football”.

Both teams line-up in the very attacking 2-3-5 formation. As a fully paid-up member of the Goalkeepers’ Association I believe that this should be properly referred to as 1-2-3-5 and that the popular magazine should be renamed OneFourFourTwo.

Much as football fans now hark back to the days when almost all matches kicked-off at 3pm, this game started at 2.45pm.

Eddie Hapgood handles the ball on the line, and whilst a penalty is awarded, he is not booked for the offence, nor is there any sense that he has deliberately cheated – unlike in the 2010 World Cup quarter-final when Luis Suarez prevented a goal for Ghana who missed the subsequent penalty. For what it’s worth, I’m in favour of copying rugby union and awarding a penalty goal for such incidents where it is clear that apart from the handball that has prevented a goal, nothing else could have possibly intervened to prevent it.

When Doyce is removed from the pitch following his collapse the Trojans have to finish the game with ten men. Substitutes were only introduced in 1938.

70,000 spectators watched the game. The record attendance at Highbury was 73,295 for the visit of Sunderland in March 1935. Capacity reduced over the years to 38,419 when it was made all-seater in the 1990s. Arsenal’s current home, the Emirates Stadium, holds 60,260.

As the crowd disperses they are interested in results from around the country. The teams mentioned are Chelsea, the Wolves, Everton (who won the league in 1939), Aberdeen, the Rangers, and last but by no means least the Wednesday! Who won today 3-1 away at (appropriately enough for a book blog) Reading and top the very fledgling Championship table so hope continues to spring in my heart!

Mention is made several times of the players’ knickers – presumably shortened from knickerbockers – referring to their shorts rather than their underwear.

One of the Arsenal players, Bernard Jay, who helps solve the case, was an amateur (actually the last amateur to play for England – taken from the introduction) who trained on Tuesday and Thursday evenings after his work as a school teacher.

“The game’s not what it was when I was a lad. Too much commercialism.” The concern of many football fans today but this is actually a quote from “A Shot at Goal”, a Montague Egg story by Dorothy L. Sayers.

Vintage Mystery Challenge

Fulfils “Where – Any outdoor location”

Football Fans’ GAD Book Club

If you came here from Facebook you will have seen one of these already, but in the style of “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue” here are some more:

By Agatha Christie

The Mysterious Affair at Nobby Styles

The Big Flat Back Four

The Mysterious Mr Niall Quin

The Murder at the Vicarage Road

Murder on the Leyton Orient Express

Why Didn’t They Ask Ched Evans?

Red Cards on the Table

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas Tree Formation

Evil Under the Sunderland

The Body in the Highbury

Death Comes as the Holte End

Passenger to Eintracht Frankfurt

By John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson

The Dean Court Murders

False Number Nine – And Death Makes Ten

Death Cruyff Turns the Tables

Panic in Penalty Box C

Papa Bouba Diop La-Bas

And from BLCC

Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton Albion

The Methods of Sergeant Brian Cluff by Gil Northwich Victoria

The Old First Division Bell by Ellen Howard Wilkinson


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