Jack Lambert, one of our greatest ever players, was born on this day in 1902.
Jack was an enigmatic player both in terms of what we know about him, and in terms of his own personality and was one of our greatest goalscorers ever.
He played local football for Greasborough and Methley Perseverance, before being rejected by The Wednesday after a trial run, then playing non-league with Rotherham County, playing without getting very far with Leeds, and finally managing to get a run with Rotherham United in the 3rd Division North, where in getting 13 goals in 44 games he looked as if he had found his level.
There are now two rival stories as to what happened next. One says that Leslie Knighton, paid £2,000 for him in January 1925. The other is that Herbert Chapman had seen him while managing Huddersfield, and so, on moving to Arsenal, he signed him £2000 in the summer of 1926. The latter seems much more likely, since if Knighton had broken the alleged limit of £1000 per player he would have played him at once, especially in a season when Arsenal were struggling for goals.
His record at Arsenal is one of the most interesting that you will ever see. The following figures relate to league matches only.
Tragically, Jack Lambert was also the first player in Chapman’s side to be regularly booed by supposed Arsenal fans.
But this early problem for Jack was forgotten by many (although I think not by Jack) when he broke the club goal record with his 38 goals in 34 league games, including seven hat tricks, as Arsenal won the league for the first time.
His final appearance was in September 1933 and in October he moved on to Fulham where he played for two seasons before retiring as a player aged 35.
He then moved on to become coach of Margate, who at the time were run as a nursery club for the side, before moving back to Arsenal in 1938 as coach of the reserve side (according to one report) or the youth team (according to another). Tragically he died that year killed in a car accident in Enfield (although yet again there is a disagreement as an alternative source says that he was not killed until 1940).
So why did Chapman stay with a player who had had no previous record of success in the top division, and who had been rejected by other clubs? One answer probably comes from the fact that at the time the reserves played in a regular Saturday afternoon league which unlike today was not a league for young players. Arsenal regularly won the Football Combination in the 30s, and it was here that Jack showed signs of the standard that Chapman had known him capable of.
There is another point: Jack Lambert’s first real goal scoring return came in 1929/30 (18 goals in 20 games) when Arsenal came 14th in the league, which means that his goalscoring saved Arsenal from relegation that year. But that was also the year Arsenal won the cup, and Jack played in all 8 FA Cup matches, scoring five goals, including one in the final.
So why did people turn on him. Reports suggest that he was incredibly nervous as a player, saying on one occasion, “Even the thought of setting foot on the pitch, fills me with dread.”
He is now forgotten by most Arsenal fans, but his name and his sadly short life should be remembered.