(Left to right,Jon Sammels, Frank McLintock, Steve Kell & James Durose-Rayner)
Sunday 1st of March, I made way to The Arsenal Supporter Club, on St.Thomas Road at the. I’d left early from Bow, to get there for the Book signing event of author James Durose-Rayner and his new book I am Sam (reviewed here and here). I had been speaking to James for some months about the book on twitter and via email and promised to come down for the event to get a copy.
I Am Sam on display
The book is part fact, part fiction, with Amazon describing the book thus:-
High-flying sports-media mogul and David Beckham doppelgänger, Mr. Arsenal is living every football fan’s dream: he’s loaded, has his pick of the ladies and drives a flashy sports car. And to make his life even sweeter, he’s been chosen to work on coverage for the 2014 World Cup. Tasked with producing a short documentary, Mr. Arsenal, stumbles upon footage from Mexico 1970 and a high-profile spat between television pundit and Manchester City coach Malcolm Allison and Tottenham Hotspur player and captain Alan Mullery. On further investigation, he unearths a reference to a half-forgotten player named only as ‘Sammy’ and referred to as the one who was ‘left behind’. Determined to discover the man behind the name, Mr. Arsenal quickly becomes obsessed with the tragic story of this once top-flight footballer whose brilliance has been all but lost in the annals of sporting history; a player who was once one of the highest paid and most successful players in Britain: Jon Sammels. As Mr Arsenal revisits Sammels’ professional heyday in the late 1960s and early 70s, the impact on his own life is extraordinary.
Anyhow, the event started at 11am and finished at 1pm. James would be there along with 1970-71 Double captain Frank McLintock plus Jon Sammels. For those of you who might not know him, Jon Sammels was a central midfielder who played for Arsenal between 1963-1971. He left the club after the Double season of 1971, after he became a target of the boo boys even though the year previously he had scored the winning goal in the Fairs Cup against Anderlecht.
If you want anymore information on Jon Sammels check Goonerholics blog post here, or the excellent David Tossell’s Seventy-One Guns: The Year of the First Arsenal Double or even Jon Spurlings Rebels for the Cause: The Alternative History of Arsenal Football Club.
Jon Sammels talking with Supporters
Anyhow, I’d gone there on the proviso I’d meet James, get a few questions, have a beer and chat and that was it. Unfortunately, the Arsenal Supporters club was half full by the time I got there and standing room only after half an hour as all three were busy signing copies of the book.
A fairly long line for Jon, James and Frank signature….
Anyhow, I spoke to James and said I’d email some questions and then edit them in. I promised to meet Gary Lawrence and Glenn Abbott and have a few (cheap) pints in the Arsenal Supporter Club. Glenn told a very funny story, about how his mate got into a ‘altercation’ with a Wolves fan at Highbury in the 1970’s. A young, small female WPC picked him up and took him out the ground. Glenn said after the match, they went to pick him up from the station. Asking him if he was ok, he responded ‘i’m in love.’ The fan and WPC have since been married for 40 odd years.
After 1pm, Jon, James and Frank said their goodbyes when Gary started singing the song fans used to sing when Sammels played:-
I’d walk a million miles,
for one of your goals,
Loads of fans started singing it and applauded Jon. Jon looked genuinely touched. A really nice moment to have shared actually.
Me and Glenn, ticketless, but in high spirits from a great day, went to the pub and watched a glorious victory over Everton. Anyhow, below are the questions I asked James. At the bottom is a question to win a signed copy of I am Sam signed by James, Frank and Jon.
1. Can you give us a background of yourself. What you do? Where your from? Why you support The Arsenal?
I am originally from the next village but one to where John Radford came from. A couple of villages away from where Alan Sunderland lived, and as a 17/18 year old I worked alongside lads who had gone to school with Graham Rix. Basically I was brought up in a mining community and on leaving school that’s what industry I went into.
After the [coal miners] strike [of 1984/5] I ended up getting married and I needed to earn more money therefore I ‘jacked’ in my job and went into specialist civil engineering, sinking shafts and constructing tunnels – mainly with explosives.
I worked alongside Andy Crosby’s (ex Reading Ast. Manager) dad (Keith) in 1991 when he was badly injured one Sunday night whilst constructing a deep tunnel. It should have been me as I was initially doing the chopping out with an air hammer, however Keith took over and we had a huge roof collapse and a huge boulder came down on his head. He survived – just – but he never worked again. If it had been me it would have broken my neck and possibly killed me, however the size Keith was – he was a powerlifter – saved him. I had similar experiences myself and looked for a way out – not because of the danger – but because the ratio of the money stroke danger stroke horrible fucking working environment didn’t stack up right. Journalism was that route, albeit technical rather than tabloid. That was 22 years ago.
Why do I support The Arsenal?
I became interested in football at 5 or 6 years old – all my family are Sheffield Wednesday and that was the route I was going down until my uncle gave me a Panini sticker book and on page 1 was The Arsenal and I thought Terry Neill looked like my dad. From thereon in a used to be glued to the vidiprinter every Saturday evening and catching what report I could from the next days papers. Arsenal was my life.
Back to my uncle. He was a goalkeeper who was offered a trial by Arsenal in 1969, but who turned them down. Why? He was Sheffield Wednesday.
Me – I would have walked over broken glass to play for The Arsenal.
2. What inspired you to write the book? Especially with a character like Jon Sammels, that some fans won’t totally know about?
I always wanted to do a football book, but something different.
I could have written a 200-page Jon Sammels full colour book in 4 or 5 weeks and had loads of photo’s and quotes and clippings – as I could with most players of that era, however the market for something such as this is quite limited. A true Arsenal fan appreciates the history, unfortunately there are a lot of Arsenal supporters Club that are only interested in what is happening now. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you really need to appreciate history of the club to understand what makes The Arsenal the club it is.
I loved the 60′s as it was a great time. The music and the style was fantastic, and at that time London was alive and the centre of the world and my club – The Arsenal, were part of that, and the team that Dave Sexton had finally got believing in themselves were to form the catalyst for something quite brilliant. I therefore wanted Arsenal in the 1960′s and the player I decided on was Jon Sammels. He looked like one of The Small Faces and was a player who divided opinion. Thoughtful, skilful and someone who possessed an explosive shot. However he had issues in that he was perhaps too sensitive and thoughtful, something which the author of ’71 Guns’ David Tossell recently commented to me about.
I needed to write a football (Arsenal) book that would appeal to everyone – women included. A story to tell a story – fiction based on fact?
I started writing, but I wasn’t happy at what I was writing. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the way I wanted it to go. What I was writing was ‘dark’ and aggressive and from the research I did – and I did – I couldn’t have continued writing it that way. The man Jon was/is changed the way I was thinking. Jon is a sincerely nice guy, and the last thing I wanted to do was to hurt him. I deleted the lot and decided to go down a different route.
I therefore created an Arsenal supporter – the ultimate Arsenal supporter that 99% of Arsenal supporting males would want to be and it would be he who would eventually tell the story. How do you do that? Read the book.
The man Jon Sammels is changed my line of thought. He did exactly the same with the main character in the book. Being nice, perhaps doesn’t cut it it at the top end of football as you need an edge. However being nice is something most of us look for in our partners, our friends etc. It is an admirable quality and a quality no one should be ashamed of. Jon Sammels is nice – so much so he would never ever say anything bad about anyone and therein lies the answer of why a biographical account of Jon could never be written as it wouldn’t be objective. A fictitious character with a forthright personality could however, and that’s where Mr Arsenal came in.
3. How has the book gone down with fans and critics?
The book has gone down really well, however a writer of books does it for the passion and pleasure, never the money – something that John Radford seemed a bit intense about yesterday! It is never about the money. If I could have given the books away I would have, however the publisher would have certainly got the hump!
All I wanted out of this was for Jon Sammels to get something nice from the Arsenal fan base.
I told Kev[in] Whitcher of The Gooner magazine in a recent interview after I had spoken at length with Jon about one thing and the other – ‘I felt both upset for him and to a certain point embarrassed that I was an Arsenal fan’.
Yesterday Jon pulled me to one side after the book signing and told me, “I have to thank-you for all the nice things you said about me in the book.”
That Les, was worth more than anything!
4. Jon Sammels came to the signing with his son and as he was leaving, the ‘mature’ fans started singing :-
I’d walk a million miles,
for one of your goals,
As a mark of remembering Sammy. He seemed quite emotional about. How did Sammels find coming back to the Arsenal?
As for all the fans singing his song and applauding him – he was really choked up about it all.
It was never ever about me, it was about Jon Sammels getting the recognition he deserved – and from the Arsenal supporters.
This was exactly what I wanted to achieve!
5. Final Question. What is the future for ‘I am Sam’? Is there a follow up? If so, when?
There will be a follow up that has more or less been written. I loved the characters in the book so much needed a continuation and I mentioned it to the publishers that I AM SAM would form the first piece to an Arsenal-based trilogy, with ITV 7 to be the next out – followed by ‘North London is Red’ or ‘Red London’, although I haven’t thought that far ahead as I am committed to writing several other books along with doing my day job of writing a 68-page magazine every month.
Anyhow that concluded the interview. Just like to also give a big thanks to all the staff at the Arsenal Supporters
To win a copy of ‘I am Sam’, answer the following question correctly and email me the answer at firstname.lastname@example.org with your address. The draw closes Tuesday 10th March at 12pm GMT.
Which club did Jon Sammels join in 1971 after leaving Arsenal?