Dr James Alexander Paterson was an Arsenal player who in many regards should be remembered by us all not just as an Arsenal man but also for his gallantry in the first world war. But also he became a key part in unravelling the story of the deliberate falsehoods that were told (and are still believed by some) about the club’s early days.
Jimmy Paterson was born on 9 May 1891 in London, but moved to Scotland where he trained to be a doctor, while playing for Rangers with whom he won the Scottish League.
During the first world war Dr Paterson was appointed Medical Officer with the rank of Major, and served on the front line. In 1917 as he was awarded the Military Cross for acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations.
His citation stated, “Under an intense hostile bombardment, he dressed the wounded and cleared them from the road, personally seeing to their removal to the aid post. He then returned and cleared the dead from the road, setting a fine example of coolness and disregard of danger.”
Post-war Dr Paterson moved to London, making his debut for Arsenal on the left wing against Derby on 30 October 1920, with Leslie Knighton as the Arsenal manager.
And Knighton is important in this story not just because he was the manager from 1919 to 1925, but also because in 1948 he published his autobiography “Behind the Scenes in Big Football” in which he remorselessly attacked Sir Henry Norris who as chairman of Arsenal had rescued the club from insolvency in 1910, moved the club to Highbury, appointed Knighton as manager in 1919 before removing him in 1925 after two disasterous seasons, appointing Herbert Chapman in his place.
After Knighton retired from football management he published his autobiography, with extracts serialised in a Sunday newspaper, and it was these extracts that created the image of Henry Norris that many have today: the man who somehow fixed Arsenal’s promotion in 1919 and subsequently stole money from the club.
By then however Norris and Chapman had both passed away; but through this book Norris was condemned as a con man. Norris’ rescuing of Arsenal, and indeed his war record in which he rose from having no rank at all, to Lt Colonel, and the award of his knighthood, were ignored.
Indeed it was Knighton’s reference to Jimmy Patterson in his autobiography that first alerted me to the fact that quite a lot of what Knighton claimed in his autobiography (written we must remember, 25 years after he left the club, and without any access to the club’s archives) was actually utterly untrue.
For Dr Patterson (a league winner in Scotland with Rangers, as noted above) was undoubtedly Arsenal’s best player during Knighton’s time as manager. Yet in Knighton’s autobiography, Dr Patterson claims that he was so short of players (because Norris would not allow him to buy anyone), that he was at one stage even forced to play the “brother-in-law of the club’s physio”, to make up the numbers. That brother-in-law was the war hero, and Scottish League winner, Dr Jimmy Paterson.
Sadly Jimmy Patterson’s role with Arsenal was further misunderstood by Bernard Joy in his influential book Forward Arsenal! where he mistakenly reported only that Paterson had played for the amateur side Queens’ Park in Glasgow, ignoring the fact that Paterson had won the league twice as an integral part of the Rangers team.
What Knighton also omits to say is that in 1920/1 under his management, Arsenal won only two of their first 11 games. Dr Paterson then made his Arsenal début against Derby on 30 October 1920 and with Paterson in the side the club went unbeaten in the next seven, winning five.
Jimmy Patterson retired from playing in 1923/4, but then on 13 February 1926 he was persuaded by Herbert Chapman to play once again – following a set of injuries to other members of the squad. He played his final game on 6 March 1926 away to Swansea, making in total 77 appearances for Arsenal.
He is a player we should remember as one of those who helped Arsenal avoid relegation in 1925, and who gave loyal and unstinting service both to his country and to Arsenal FC.