A few days after her annual visit to the George Armstrong Memorial Stone at London Colney, Jill Armstrong, the daughter of one of Arsenal’s greatest ever servants made a decision. Having recently entered the world of twitter as @touchofpowder and tweeted some pictures of her dad in action she discovered instantly the high regard and fondness an Arsenal on-line community still had for Geordie. The decision was to revive a project she had embarked upon 13 years earlier when her father was so cruelly taken from her and her family and from HIS club.
In the months after Geordie passed Jill has asked his friends, colleagues and fans to send her their recollections, fond memories and tributes, with the intention of building a ‘Memory Book’ that her and her brother Tom’s future children, Geordie’s grandchildren might read in the future. Such that they might know the man, the family man and the sportsman their grandfather had been. A man who stood for all that was good, honest and true in life and in the world of football. A world in which he had excelled first as a player, secondly as a coach and ultimately as a legend of the one club he served for 27 years, The Arsenal. In a modern era of football so devoid of loyalty, honour and respect, Jill wanted the grandchildren to know their ‘Granddad’ lived his life with those traits embedded in his very being.
In 2001 everyday life had to take over and a precious personal mission became too personal and to painful and files slowly filling with letters and cards from his peers and players he had coached began to gather dust on a shelf in an office. Letters and cards, added to the cards from the flowers sent by 86 or the 92 league clubs and many more for funeral. A study from where Geordie ran his affairs, when not at Colney or Highbury. His den where he had reassured the likes of Cole and Vernazza of his belief in their talent to succeed at Arsenal or worked tirelessly to find new clubs for his boys not destined to perhaps destined to make the grade at Highbury but just as important to him none the less. A room left intact, almost as shrine to him, in which his 1971 team mates reminisced and raised many a glass to their friend, on the day they said goodbye to the finest of them and the first to leave.
In November, the decision made Jill wondered who she could trust to help her revive the project and perhaps write a blog or an article about her father, Geordie Armstrong. Luckily for me one of the first fans with whom Jill has interacted was Peter Nelson @Gooner1947 and when she asked him Peter suggested she speak to Dave Seager. Peter I will forever be in your debt for that one moment of kindness, to think of me in a community of quality writers, far better equipped than I.
When Jill first called me and described what he has intended 13 years I immediately urged her to not consider a few blogs about her father but to be true to her original desire to create a book as a true legacy. When she then asked would I be keen to do it, my initial reaction was an honest one at it went something along these lines; “Jill I would be honoured and would love to do it but in all honesty I write blogs as a hobby and do not consider myself qualified for so prestigious a task. Surely an Arsenal journo like Steve Stammers or John Cross would bite your arm off to write a book about Geordie Armstrong?”
The response; “Yes Dave but I have discussed it with my mum and we are agreed that we don’t want a journalist to write the book we want the passion of a fan to capture him!”
On the 6th November 2013 I met with Jill and Geordie’s widow Marje in a Costa Coffee in Cambridge. We chatted for nearly 2 hours and all got on famously. Jill showed me a folder with old newspaper clippings, along with tribute letters sent to her, meant for the book that had never materialised. As I turned the inserts I felt my fingers had no right to be there as my eyes scanned letters from Wenger, Brady, Wilson, Dixon, McNab, Sexton, Rice, Mackay and more. Jill asked me if I thought I could take on the project and my thoughts were simply did I deserve to. Where would I start and who would I turn to for support? Jill and Marje reassured me that most of Geordie’s team mates were family friends and would support me and they insisted I took the folder home with me. As I left that day it was the fact they had trusted me with the file having just met me that gave me the resolve to somehow repay that colossal faith.
At home that night I thought and thought about how to approach the project and where to begin but of course the answer was in my hands. I would continue the journey that Jill had begun in the winter of 2000 and tell the story of her father, an Arsenal legend, through the memories of those who knew and loved him. I would endeavour to paint a picture that captured Geordie through the tributes already in the file and through interviews and conversations with those who played with him, watched him, worked with him and who he coached.
By the end of November I had interviewed John Radford, Bill McCullough, Jon Sammels, Eddie Kelly, Don Howe, Frank McLintock, George Graham, Graham Rix, Wilf Rostron and Peter Simpson. Liam Brady, who my son was named after had taken me on a tour of their old haunts and bought me a pint and Bob Wilson had invited me to his house for coffee. Yes I was pinching myself daily. By December I had a publishing contract and I contributions from the likes of Campbell, Vernazza, Hillier, Hughes and Sidwell.
I was constantly challenging myself and continually having new ideas for chapters, one solely made up of fan contributions which I had mocked up as a gift for Jill, Marje and Tom for Christmas, another filled with interviews with right backs he terrorised and a fabulous section made up solely with tributes from journalist who watched him in his pomp. I could go on but I don’t want to spoil all the surprises as I hope you will want to read the book. To share my journey and either enjoy remembering just how good ‘The Greatest English Player never to play for England’ was or discover for the first time just what being a legend of Arsenal really means.
The result of my fabulous journey with contributions for over 70 footballing icons is now in print and the hardback book will be available on the 18th of October or slightly before I hope for pre-orders. I sincerely hope that any Arsenal supporter young or old will enjoy the read. Yes is it is primarily a tribute to Geordie but there so much including a few stories and moments in our history not previously shared. If you loved Arsenal and all that is wonderful about our great club, I genuinely believe that if possible your love will be depended and enriched when you put the book down.
I will be joined by Arsenal legends at many events in and around the stadium for signings beginning at 11am on the 18th but if you cannot be there please click here and order your copy.
Thanks so much for all those who had encouraged and supported me over the last 11 months. I sincerely hope the resulting book is worthy of that support but the fact that Jill Armstrong and Geordie’s family feel I have captured the essence of the man is reward enough in itself.
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