The other day I was folding down the comforter on my bed and noticed that with it, I’d pulled a heavy, small metal object. It looked like a gun. Er, what was a gun doing in my bed? I looked a little more closely. It was actually a spray nozzle for the garden hose. I smiled. Someone noticed ours was broken and left me a little surprise. It must have been under my pillow, but got caught in the comforter.
Growing up, my family had a fun tradition of sharing pillow surprises with each other. A pillow surprise was given when you came across a little something that you knew someone would appreciate having as a gift (fancy soap, silly socks, a t-shirt), but it was not near the person’s birthday or Christmas. The pillow surprise would be wrapped and carefully placed under the recipient’s pillow to be found when they were going to bed.
Most of my siblings live in Kentucky, but I have one sister who lives in Lombard. She has done an excellent job of keeping the tradition alive, and the concept has spread to my husband and kids as well.
Not too long ago, I found a different surprise under my pillow, a book called Arsène Wenger: The Unauthorized Biography of Le Professeur, by Tom Oldfield. Since I had just finished re-reading Nick Hornby’s classic memoir Fever Pitch, I was ready for a new book. I’m pretty sure my husband informed the pillow fairy and maybe even picked up the book on her behalf. Assuming the pillow fairy is a her. (One can’t be completely sure.) I had seen the Oldfield book at the bookstore when I was looking fruitlessly for the Dennis Bergkamp autobiography, but something about it being an unauthorized biography stopped me from buying it myself.
Fever Pitch is a hard act to follow, so I read without the expectation that Arsène Wenger would be the ideal follow up. As it turned out, I enjoyed the book very much, for reasons I’ll explain. But it’s not a great biography. The first few chapters described Arsène Wenger’s childhood, his time as a player, and how he came into coaching. That part was very enjoyable. I’d never known that history, so it was interesting to hear how he came to Arsenal, how he was perceived initially, and how he came to prove many people wrong who thought he’d be a failure as a manager.
I enjoyed reading about his first few seasons at Arsenal, but at some point it dawned on me that the entire biography from there on was going to be a blow-by-blow of each season, nearly game by game. What happened in the game, what happened off the field (but in the public record), what Arsène said at the press conferences. In short, more a biography of Arsenal during the Arsène Wenger years and less a biography about Arsène.
Interested in Arsène Wenger, husband, father, human being? Too bad. We hear exactly one detail: a daughter was born. One sentence. About his personal preferences, we do not know whether he prefers scotch to Irish whiskey, he practices yoga rather than tai chi, if he’s more a Theatre or Opera Man, if he enjoys a Cuban cigar after dinner.
What that tells us is that Arsène Wenger has impeccable friendships. No one willing to spill to the unauthorized biographer. Or perhaps, impeccable legal counsel. An author afraid of pushing the limits for fear of running afoul.
Either way, good for you, Arsène. Would have enjoyed those details, but sometimes things need to be left to the imagination.
Still, I read the book to the end. Partly because that is what I find I have to do; when I start reading I must continue until the book has been read. Sometimes this is very quick, but sometimes it keeps me on the same book for months as I read a sentence or paragraph a day until it’s at last done. This one actually went quickly because I wanted to read about the seasons to see if it could spur a memory of when I started watching Arsenal (it was likely while Emmanuel Adebayor was still with us) and when I became hooked (it was while Adebayor was at Man City).
The book gave me a new perspective on the “Wenger Out” fan type that is always agitating for Wenger to be sent packing. Here is my hypothesis: The “Wenger Out” crowd are those who have the best memories for details. I had a sense of how they must feel while I was reading, in short succession, many Wenger before- and after-game interviews, with Wenger talking about the team’s cohesiveness, their mental strength, how he “didn’t see” a foul committed by his team, again and again and again. Those fans with good memories must experience those statements with the same weariness I had when reading the book. But for those of us who are more forgetful week to week, every time he says it, it seems fresh and new and special.
Being forgetful is probably quite a gift, I realize now, that keeps an Arsenal fan like me happy and in anticipation mode, not in here-we-go-again mode. That may be the best pillow surprise of them all. Thanks, pillow fairy!
In current Arsenal happenings, tomorrow is the first game in the group stage of the Champions League. Arsenal play Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia, at 2.45 p.m. in the States. The game will air on Fox Sports 2, a real bummer because I don’t have that station. Not to mention that the game is happening during the work day. The Champions League often forces me into a bar. (Sacrifices must be made.)
The other teams in Arsenal’s group (Group F) are Olympiakos and Bayern Munich. In the group stage, Arsenal will play each team home and away across a 3-month period. The top two teams in the group will continue on to the round of 16. During the time that Arsenal are competing in the Champions League, they’ll continue to have Premier League matches, several against top sides, which raises the stakes since player fatigue and rotation are a common result. Only four English teams participate in the Champions League, so other teams can form some advantage in the Premier League over those competing so regularly outside of the League. (Several other Premier League teams compete in the Europa League and face similar disadvantages, often without the squad depth of the top teams.) For more information on the Champions League competition, see my page, Leagues & Cups.
We have tickets for one of the Champions League home matches in the group stage and, if we’re so lucky to go on in the competition, may be able to attend one of the later matches as well. It’s a very exciting competition, and I can’t wait to experience it firsthand.
Here’s hoping that Arsenal are able to finish in one of the top two positions. I can’t depend on the Pillow Fairy to deliver this result.