Copenhagen’s not so wonderful, wonderful book

ERIC BROWN reviews a fan’s flawed account of an Arsenal triumph in Europe

Written by a fan for fans, I’m not sure Layth Yousif’s The Miracle of Copenhagen was intended to be comical. But it certainly gave me a good laugh.

It tells the story of Arsenal ending a long wait for European glory by landing the Cup-Winners’ Cup against the odds in 1994. Not only through the eyes of the freelance journalist author, but also in interviews with other Arsenal fans, journalists, players and management.

A miracle of sorts: Alan Smith with his hands on a trophy for Arsenal in 1994
A miracle of sorts: Alan Smith with his hands on a trophy for Arsenal in 1994

This means it’s a real mixed bag of the excellent, the mediocre and the awful.

Gunners fans eager to get their recollections into print have little of interest to contribute. You don’t really need to read one after another saying: “I can’t really remember much about it now.”

Stewart Houston, Arsenal’s assistant manager at the time, throws the book a lifeline with his insightful views on the run which began in Denmark, at Odense, and ended in the same country of fairytales with narrow victory over favourites Parma who included Gianfranco Zola, Tino Asprilla and Thomas Brolin in their side.

Alan Smith’s goal won the trophy and his comments are also highly informative. Also those of respected journalists Amy Lawrence, a long-time Gooner and Observer writer, and Patrick Barclay.

Yousif clearly has a “thing” about Patrick. Barclay’s outstanding writing talents were recognised with the SJA Sports Journalist of the Year Award in 1993. We all admire his prose but Yousif must be his No1 fan. During the course of this book he describes Barclay as: “legendary”, “illustrious”, “one of the most knowledgeable football journalists”, “a doyen of journalism”, “esteemed”, “perceptive”, “studious”, “insightful” and “a legend”.

Phew. And we were sure that Paddy Barclay is not a “legend”, but that he does really exist. The glowing endorsements seem a little over the top in one publication supposedly about Arsenal. I hope Paddy has the decency to blush when reading it.

There are too many interviews with fans. More Houston, Smith, Lawrence and, yes, Barclay would have greatly enhanced the book. And it cried out for some input from manager George Graham and defensive stalwart Tony Adams. If George Armstrong’s daughter can be quoted, why not those two?

Reading through the book, it was difficult to avoid the odd guffaw. An occasional mistake can be tolerated but this book should be distributed to every aspiring proofreader as a test case.

Some of the best-known football names are mistyped or misspelled and have not been spotted in the editing process: “Lusi Suarez”, “Bruce Grobellar” and “Zinedene Zidane” for starters. Even Arsenal’s own are not immune from the spelling virus: “Eddie MdcGoldrick”, anyone?

Copenhagen is described as Denmark’s third largest city and George Graham credited with introducing the midfield “screen” player to the game in front of defenders. I seem to recall Nobby Stiles being rather good at it when England won some trophy at Wembley in 1966. And I’m pretty sure he wasn’t the first. Copenhagen, to save you looking it up, has a larger population than Denmark’s nine other biggest cities combined.

At one point in the book, Alan Smith is quoted as saying: “It was there to be it”, and Smith is later described as “the football young players should aspire to be.”

Then there’s: “We got back the following more to Highbury.”

Maybe Yousif has been badly let down by his proofreader. Assuming the book was proofread at all. Only diehard Arsenal fans will be able to wade through the litany of errors with enjoyment undiminished towards a glorious climax by an outfit without Ian Wright and featuring workhorses Ian Selley and Steve Morrow in midfield.

Yousif hints he may be considering writing another book. I’d advise him to employ a competent and diligent proofreader.