Age can limit us in our understanding of what we love the most. Without delving into the territory of gatekeeping, there is a demarcation of attachment to an event between those who were there and to those who hear about it later. Being a young Arsenal fan is strange. As a 23 year old, I was illiterate in football terms when being a Gooner meant being on top of the world. My football consciousness began while entrenched in a trophy drought, players like Bergkamp and Wright distant memories of a blurred childhood.
However, as a blossoming fan, Arsene Wenger stood as a monument to Arsenal’s past, while being Arsenal’s present. What was then seen as top four mediocrity was continually compared to a past greatness which I was never able to experience. Therefore, I have always seen value in retrospect, a value that is reflected in Caviar and Sausages.
Focusing less on Arsene as a man, Tony Kokkinos’ book details the journey of the team, the evolution of the squad’s profile and playing style throughout Wenger’s reign. Each season is given its own chapter, at the top of which is a macro view of the season, giving the overall sentiment and important stats from the campaign. However, digging deeper into the chapters sees the miniscule details of a season expanded upon to trigger nostalgia and insight. Specific goals and important events are recounted with immense detail while sometimes lacking immersion.
Because of this balance between being a document and immersive retrospective allows for different people to have very different experiences with Caviar and Sausages. For a young fan who did not experience the start of Arsene’s era, the early chapters did not quite transport me back to the 90s but did offer a great deal in terms of the narrative around the team and how that morphed into what I knew it to be in the 2010s. It wove together strands of stories I had heard from around that time and gave me a stronger view of what Arsenal was before I was born.
It was the recounting of Arsenal’s journey through the 2010s where I found myself most engrossed in the book. Though the years were not always glorious, there were a litany of moments, goals, and wins which I was delighted to be reminded of. It’s in that experience where fans will have the most joy with this book; it acts as a garnish on top of memory, allowing you to experience these journeys again, this time with heightened, forensic insight into statistics, context, and hindsight. Age will determine the point at which that feeling will kick in.
A major strength of the book is its presentation. Navigation to particular seasons is not only intuitive, but a delight. The previously mentioned structure of a short statistical breakdown followed by in-depth detailing of a season is rewarding for different types of readers. The presentation of the book is enhanced by stellar, beautifully rendered graphics which simultaneously give hard statistics as well as a look into fan sentiment.
A famously divided fanbase, a famously divisive manager, and 22 years of varying success are not easy things to condense into a cohesive story which lacks bias either way. In this I find the biggest achievement of Caviar and Sausages. This book could have been cold and unfeeling or overly opinionated, discolouring the truth of events with a particular narrative. But Caviar and Sausages makes room for all of these things while never being consumed by them. Tony Kokkinos understands that truth does not lie in plain fact or loud opinion, it is a marriage of them both.