Today of all days

Arsenal’s history one day at a time

This series takes a look at what was happening to Arsenal and in the world around them on this day at one point in Arsenal’s past.

27 March 1909

Sunderland 1 Arsenal 0.  Not actually much of a game to celebrate, but it was still of interest because it represented James Maxwell’s final appearance for Arsenal.  After the game, annoyed by his lack of appearances, Maxwell met up with his wife,  absconded from the team, headed north and played in Scotland!

For the details of this story I’m indebted to Andrew Beattie who helped us research the tale for the AISA Arsenal History Society blog

James Morton Maxwell was born at Kilmarnock 26 July 1887 and was signed by Arsenal in May 1908 from Sheffield Wednesday, who had in turn got him from Kilmarnock in March 1907.  Before proceeding we should add that this information contradicts that on some other websites – but we have the benefit of the birth certificate, and other details, as will become clear.

There is mention of Maxwell and on the Sheffield Wednesday site, which sadly does get some of the details that we can check wrong, but the general commentary may be correct…

“The nifty winger went straight into the fist team and scored his first goal for the club against Sheffield United a month after his debut.  (Spartacus, another site that gets the basic information on the player wrong, adds that in that first season “he scored 6 goals in 27 games.”)

The Wednesday site continues…

“Competing with the great Harry Chapman for the right wing spot was always going to prove a tricky obstacle, and young Maxwell moved to Arsenal 14 months after arriving at Owlerton.”

We do know that Maxwell lived at 9, Chesnut Road, Plumstead – later to be renamed Chesnut Rise in the wholesale London street name changes of 1938 – the address recorded on his marriage licence of September, 1908 – at which time he may well have thought he was set fair as a Woolwich Arsenal man.

Maxwell however had one thing going against him from the start.  He was probably the last signing of manager Phil Kelso, who left after the end of the previous season, and so he played under a manager who never signed him.   George Morrell put him in the team for his first match at the start of the 1908/9 season, against Everton.   Arsenal lost 0-4 at home on 2 September 1908.

Morrell’s response was that he immediately dropped Maxwell, and one other player (Satterthwaite – who had himself only just emerged into the first team at the end of the previous season).

Sattherthwaite got another chance the following month, but Maxwell had to wait until March 27 1909 for his second, and final, appearance.  That was against Sunderland – a game which we lost 0-1 away.

Now we might well imagine that James Maxwell was pretty miffed at his treatment at Arsenal by this time, and, it appears, after the Sunderland match he upped and left back to Ayrshire. Done a moonlight flit, so to speak.

The story that has passed through the family is that this was a pre-arranged event, rather than a spur of the moment thought after the match.  The lady wife joined the player, with Maxwell himself saving a few shillings in train fare on the way north.

Next we find that on 12 January, 1912, The Derby Daily Telegraph, and then on 16 January 1912 The Manchester Courier, carried notes about meetings of the English and Scottish League regarding claims of unpaid player transfer fees.

Specifically, there is the comment that, “The transfer fee of James M. Maxwell of Woolwich Arsenal was fixed at £200.”    The Players’ Union were to take legal action on behalf of members (James Maxwell among them) and take the case to court.  Ultimately, the settlement was reduced to £50. Whether this, or any sum, was actually paid is not known.

So what was going on?

We don’t have details of the case but an important element within any such discussion or dispute between clubs and players would be the Retain and Transfer system which underpinned the whole way in which players were tied to clubs at the time.  In essence once a player had signed for a club he could only play for that club until released.   The club did not have to play him or even pay him, but he could go nowhere without release.   James Maxwell had no right under the regulations to get up and leave, and whichever club he went to play for they had no right to play him until they had reached an agreement with the club that retained his services.

Initially the Southern League was a way out for players caught by the retain and transfer system, but they were preparing to accept Retain and Transfer at the time of Maxwell’s disaffection, which meant that the obvious outlet for players who could not get release was Scotland – English clubs only holding the rights to a player in England and Wales – or smaller non-league clubs that were in a league that did not recognise Retain and Transfer.

The reason clubs did release players when they didn’t have to was that not releasing players gave clubs a negative reputation, and it made players less likely to sign for a club that had a reputation of exploiting the clause.

The mention of the Players’ Union in the story is interesting, as this shows that the Union was fighting the iniquitous position players were in, as a result of Retain and Transfer.

The Union itself was banned in the early part of the century, and even when it was recognised, the relationship with the authorities was difficult.  In 1909 the FA withdrew recognition of the union and later banned players affiliated to the union – making the whole situation very fraught – and also explaining why Maxwell, and indeed many others, felt it reasonable to jump ship.

The union itself survived and by 1915 had 300 members.  That might not sound many but by that time there were only around 700 players playing regular first team football in the Football League, so in such fraught situations, it is not a bad percentage of players to have gained.

The Sheffield site that we have used to garner further information tells us that Maxwell later moved back into Scottish football but again gets the details of his death wrong confusing Maxwell the footballer with another soldier – one who died at Loos.

Our James M Maxwell was indeed killed in The Great War but not at Loos.  He signed up at Kilmarnock but he was in the Seaforth’s (the army just put recruits where there were holes in regiments and numbers to be made up) Highlanders, a lance-corporal.  He survived Loos and went to Mesopotamia, December of 1915.

James M Maxwell was killed in action against the Turks (fighting with Indian troops/Black Watch in 51 Division) in the Samarrah Offensive on 21st. April, 1917. The Battle of Istabulat took place that day. His body was not recovered and no grave is known.  He is commemorated on the bruised and now battered Basra Memorial which yet stands near Nasiriya, Iraq.

He is also commemorated on the Kilmarnock War Memorial which It bears the names of three Maxwell’s. There is only one James Maxwell – he is noted as “Seaforth’s”.  Thus we know that the James Maxwell killed at Loos did not come from Kilmarnock. There was a Thomas Maxwell died serving with the R.S.F. but not a James.

So this is “our” James M Maxwell, born 26 July 1887 died 21 April 1917.  He left a wife and two children.

We would love to have more information on James Maxwell, who appears to have been a colourful character, and most certainly a man who served his country with honour and who should not be forgotten.  If you have any information please do write in.   And if by any chance you can find a picture of him, please do let us know.

26 March

This is the day to celebrate Arsenal’s journey which led them become the most successful FA Cup club of all time.  For on this day in 1927 the result was Arsenal 2 Southampton 1 in Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final number 3 –  the first semi-final since the Woolwich Arsenal days and the and the first victory in the semi-final. Hulme and Buchan scored the goals that took Arsenal to Wembley for the first time. 

That first final was lost, but on 26 March 1930 Arsenal beat Hull City 1-0 in a semi-final replay.  David Jack scored the goal at Villa Park which took Arsenal to their second final and ultimately their first major trophy.

Although Arsenal’s success from the 1930s onwards gave them more cup wins, it was as league winners that the club became recognised, winning the league five times in that decade alone (and doing it under three different managers).

But it was during the Wenger era that the club pulled ahead of the rest as an FA Cup winning team, and indeed Mr Wenger became the most successful FA Cup manager of all time, winning the trophy seven times.

Wenger’s nearest rivals were George Ramsey who won the trophy six times between 1887 and 1920, and Alex Ferguson who won it five times between 1990 and 2004.  The Ramsay figure, although valid in terms of the number of wins, is slightly misleading as in the 19th century, the level of competition was nowhere near that of today.

As of March 2021, Arsenal have won the cup 14 times and made 21 final appearances (also a record).  Their nearest rivals remain Manchester United with 12 wins while being runners up eight times.

The next nearest challengers are Chelsea and Tottenham with eight wins each, although Tottenham seem to be slacking a little of late in that their last appearance in the final was 1991.

25 March 1932

March 1932 opened with Arsenal third in the league.  Two wins and a defeat in the league saw them stay in that position in the run up to Easter, while a 1-0 win over Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final saw them progress to the final where they would meet Newcastle, in what was to be not their third cup final in six years.  

25 March 1932 was Good Friday, and that meant at the time, a rush of three games in four days – the first being Derby at home.  The win over Derby on this day took Arsenal up to second behind Everton who on this day also won, beating WBA 2-1.

We may wonder these days simply at the notion of three games in four days – but the whole affair seems to us now even stranger since clubs could not rotate their squad, and were, under League rules, forced to play their strongest teams.  This was for fear of collusion between clubs in fixing results, as Manchester United and Liverpool had been found guilty of doing some 15 years earlier.

And although Arsenal were not making progress in catching Everton, the accountants must have been rubbing their hands together, for these three consecutive home League games had brought a total of 167,871 through the turnstiles – an average of fractionally under 56,000 per game.  Sir Henry Norris had taken Arsenal to Highbury in order for the club to operate profitably, and although he had now departed, his dream was certainly fulfilled.

So it was that immediately after the Derby game, the team played West Ham on 26th.  The result was a 1-1 draw, with Lambert scoring again.

But what was particularly noticeable for WHU was that this was the only point they gained in the last ten games of the season.  They were 17th after this match, and finished the campaign bottom, letting in 22 goals in their next four games.

The players were, of course, given Sunday off, but then on Easter Monday they were back on the road to play Derby on 28th March.  After their defeat to Arsenal on Good Friday Derby had drawn against Newcastle.  Now they drew with Arsenal again 1-1, Jack getting Arsenal’s goal.  

Overall Arsenal had played six league and one cup game in the space of 26 days,winning four, drawing two and losing one.

After stumbling Everton had won four and drawn two of their last six and were three points ahead of Arsenal.  Arsenal had only won three and drawn two of the five games in the month, but there was still one game in hand and a better goal average.

Meanwhile Tottenham went through a run of winning one game and drawing four in March 1932, ending the month in 10th position in division 2.

24 March 1951

On this day Dave Bowen made his first team début for Arsenal as Arsenal beat Wolverhampton 2-1 in front of 54,213 at Highbury.  This was one of three games in four days – a traditional Easter format at this time.

The season 1950/51 saw the launch of the Arsenal career of two Welsh players, whose names ring through history: Jack Kelsey and Dave Bowen.

David Lloyd Bowen was born in Natyffyllon, near Maesteg on 7 June 1928. It is said that he won a pair of football boots won in a raffle and after that his life changed.

After training as a surveyor in south Wales, Dave and the family then moved to Northampton and he joined the local League club in 1947 – the start of a career that took him onto Arsenal, glory as captain of Wales, unbelievable success as a manager, and finally to become the man who is (I believe) one of only Arsenal player to have a stand named after him.

Dave was spotted as a player of potential by the son of Tom Whittaker while both were doing their National Service, and apart from spotting the talent of Dave, Whittaker junior also was drawn by the link formed between Arsenal and Northamptonshire’s two main clubs at the time, (Northampton Town and non-league Kettering)

Dave signed for Arsenal for £1000 in the summer recess of 1950 as a reserve wing half, and played his first game against Wolverhampton on March 24, 1951.

His first four years were made up of limited appearances (never more than 10) but in 1954/5 he made the breakthrough, with 21 games.

It was a season where the number six shirt was handed on from pillar to post.  Shaw played the first game, and got no more games that season, Gording played there for the second game, then Dave Bowen.  In November/December Forbes, the centre half took over for a while, but then he was dropped for Dave Bowen, who was finally replaced by Oakes for the last 9 games of the season.

In 1955/6 Dave Bowen started the season but was out for much of the winter with an injury, and in 56/7 an injury in the opening game took him out for a while – but at last he got his 30 games in this and the following season.

He also gained 19 caps for Wales, and captained Wales in the 1958 World Cup finals – and played in that team with John and Mel Charles, Cliff Jones, Ivor Allchurch and of course Jack Kelsey.

Wales drew all three matches in the group stages and so had a play off against Hungary which they won, before being beaten 1–0 by Brazil in the quarter finals (the Brazilian goal being scored by Pele).  As such Dave Bowen and Jack Kelsey were the first two Arsenal players to go a world cup finals.

Being part of the “Long Sleep” under the management of Swindin and Wright Dave Bowen didn’t win any cups or league titles with Arsenal, but he did play for London in the final of the Inter Cities Fairs Cup in 1958 – but was on the losing side as we were beaten 8-2 by Barcelona.

In July 1959, Dave Bowen returned to Northampton Town as player-manager for a fee of between £5000 and £7000 (depending on which report you read, but either way a nice profit for Arsenal), and after giving up the playing part of his job after the first season, achieved the impossible, having the team promoted from the fourth division to the first division in five seasons!  And this despite Northampton having what some (including me) would regard as one of the three worst football grounds in post-war league history.

(It has been written that Dave should have been given the job of managing Arsenal instead of Billy Wright.  But Arsenal had lived through the disaster of one ex-player who couldn’t hack it, and they were looking for someone more high profile – which is a great shame.  Under Dave Bowen the Long Sleep at Arsenal might have been five years shorter).

But to return for a moment to the Northampton Town ground, this was shared with Northamptonshire County Cricket Club, and as a result it had only three sides from a football point of view.  Two of these were ramshackle terraces while the main stand was in such a bad state that in the long overdue review of grounds following the Bradford fire, it was deemed unsafe (which those of us who had been in it new only too well) and was immediately demolished.

Quite how Dave Bowen managed to get the club into the first division for 1965/6 is today unimaginable, given the facilities and income the club had.   Amazingly, with the addition of a temporary stand on the cricket side of the ground, they actually got 24,523 in the ground for the match v Fulham on 23 April 1966 (it could not possibly have been safe).  But they also got the lowest crowd for a post-war league match: 942 for the 1984/5 game v Chester City – although this was long after Dave Bowen’s time at the club.

Everything about the ground was ludicrous.  When new floodlights were installed in the 1980/1 season they failed when switched on for the first time, and the match was abandoned.  The ground was finally closed on 12 October 1994.

Not surprisingly, having made it to the first division, Northampton headed back down the leagues as quickly as they had come up, as Dave had access to no finances to keep the club in the top leagues, and left in 1967, after a second successive relegation.

He was however still in charge of Wales, whom he managed between 1964 and 1974.   He rejoined Northampton between 1969 and 1972 as general manager, and later secretary, while also working in journalism (as a reporter for the People), before finally retiring.  His son Keith played for Northampton, Brentford and Colchester United.

Dave Bowen died in Northampton on 25 September 1995, at the early age of 67 – and this is where the naming of the stand comes in. The North Stand of Northampton Town’s Sixfields Stadium, the stadium that was built to replace the wreck of their previous home, is now named after him.  Because of financial misdemeanours (which eventually led to Northamptonshire County Council being wound up and the county put under direct rule by the government) the ground was never finished – and Northampton Town still play in a three sided ground.

But I must say, it is nonetheless quite moving to see a stand named after one of Arsenal’s great players.

23 March 1910

When Tottenham Hotspur tried to buy Arsenal

At the end of March 1910, the financial position of Woolwich Arsenal had reached breaking point, and on 23 March there was a major talking point: Tottenham Hotspur were looking to buy Woolwich Arsenal.

Dr John Clarke, the head of the local fund raising committee was seen on 20th March going round offering share documents to anyone who would listen in the pubs of Woolwich and Plumstead. 

When questioned Dr Clarke refused to talk about the position of Henry Norris, a director of Fulham and the deal that he was proposing, which it was suggested could involve Arsenal merging with Fulham or playing at Fulham’s ground.

Instead he dropped a bombshell and told anyone who wanted to listen that Tottenham Hotspur were looking to buy into Woolwich Arsenal.

Now I must admit that the historic evidence on this is not great.  There is a mention in a couple of newspapers in Tottenham and Wood Green of Spurs’ interest, but there is nothing official in any of the records.  But then the official records all round tell us very little and since neither Henry Norris nor Mr Leavey, who had been financing Arsenal of late, but now wanted to stop, left a diary or autobiography, we have no other source.

At the start of 1910 there were three London teams in the first division, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea (the latter being relegated at the end of the season).  In the second division there were two: Fulham and Leyton Orient, and that was it as far as London was concerned.

What no one really knew was how far fans were prepared to travel to watch a team, and at this time Tottenham seemed to have the view that having a range of clubs diminished the crowds that they could get.  Certainly they had worked hard to stop Chelsea entering the Southern League, while they (Tottenham) were in that League.

Maybe however Tottenham remembered the way in which Arsenal had come to their rescue in the summer of 1908 by voting for Tottenham when they applied to join the Football League, having already left the Southern League.  At that moment, Arsenal’s vote was the decider.

But Norris’ plan was clear – buy Arsenal and move the club to Fulham.  But what would Tottenham do?  Keep the club in Plumstead?  Move them to WHL?  Close them down?

Certainly crowds for matches between Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea were far higher than any other during the season of 1910 – for while the clubs existed on anything from 5,000 to 15,000 the London derbies would get 30,000 to 50,000.

It has been suggested that Tottenham wanted Woolwich Arsenal as a nursery club which could nurture young talent and bring it through – with the best players moving onto Tottenham.  This was attractive in that Woolwich Arsenal tended to pick up quite a few players from the armaments’ factory, and indeed munitions locations across the kingdom.  Tottenham had no such links.  This – and the desire to warn off Norris from buying the club – were the most likely reasons.

Certainly in 1910 all three London teams were looking likely to go down to the second division – and in fact only the poverty of arrangements at Bolton were keeping two of them out of the bottom two through the season.

Neither the Fulham nor Tottenham takeover happened, Norris bought Woolwich Arsenal and moved the club to Highbury which displeased Tottenham very much indeed.  But it was a story for a couple of days.

22 March 1976

Bertie Mee announces he would leave at the end of the season.

After a 6-1 defeat of West Ham two days before, Bertie Mee announced he would leave Arsenal at the end of the season.  In the remainder of the season Arsenal won one, drew one and lost five in the league to finish 17th.

The Billy Wright era had ended in May 1966, his final four matches were three 0-3 defeats and a 1-0 victory. It felt like we had gone round in a circle.

It was a terrible end to a terrible period, and even in the 1-0 victory (at home against Leicester) no Arsenal player scored – it was a Rodrigues own goal.   Worse the crowds for the last two games were 4,554 for a 3-0 home defeat against Leeds, and 16,435, for the Leicester match.  (The Leeds game was special as there was a European match the same night, and having “been there” is now something of a badge of honour among those who were there).

To put the 4554 in context, the final match at Plumstead in 1913 as Arsenal were relegated, had a crowd of just 3000.  The first match at a half built Highbury also in 1913 had a crowd of around 20,000.

Wright’s final team in 1966 was:


Court  McGill

Storey Ure Walley

Nelson Simpson Radford Eastham Armstrong

To give some idea of the chaos, Ure had played the previous match at centre forward, and Court was actually an inside left and left half.

On April 28 1970, after two defeats in cup finals Bertie Mee won his first trophy, and by then the team was:


Storey McNab

Kelly McLintock Simpson

Armstrong Sammels Radford George Graham

Although the last few years of his management of Arsenal were awful, Bertie he did provide Arsenal earlier in his reign with five cup finals in ten years, our first Euro trophy and of course the Double.   But what is sometimes forgtten is how things sank away after that.

After being being runners’ up in the league and cup finalists in 1973, his desire to run an authoritarian regime and seemed to outweigh his understanding of how to keep players happy, and in his last three years Arsenal came 10th, 16th and 17th, with the last two seasons including a real flirtation with relegation.  Indeed in 1974/5 Arsenal spent some time at the bottom of the league.

In 1974/5, after two wins and a defeat in the first three games Arsenal then had a ten match run without winning a game.  Seven defeats and three draws, giving us an opening start in the first 13 games of eight defeats, three draws and two wins.  Relegation form.

Our regular players were Rimmer, Matthews (later replaced by Rice), Nelson (later McNab) Storey, Simpson, Kelly, Armstrong, Brady, Radford, George or Ball, Kidd.  So, hardly a poor team, but this is the team that took us to the bottom.

On game 10 (a 0-2 defeat away to Leeds) we hit the bottom, and hovered in the relegation zone until game 16 – a 3-1 away win at Liverpool.  A little good spell in December / January saw us achieve two wins and two draws and get up to 15th, otherwise it was all doom and gloom – but of course not relegation.

Naturally the crowds were low as well, with only 17,845 turning up to see a 1-1 draw with Birmingham in March, followed by just 16,540 being at Highbury for the 3-0 win over Newcastle.  But he still stayed another year, and then seemingly had to be persuaded to call it a day.

21 March 1966

Martin Hayes was born 21 March 1966 in Walthamstow. Happy birthday Martin.

His may not be a name you remember but in 1986/7 he became the top scorer for Arsenal with 24 goals in total – and was in a very real sense the salvation of the club that season.

Having played schoolboy football Martin joined Arsenal as an apprentice in 1982 and played centre forward and left wing and his first game in the first team was against Oxford United on16 November 1985 aged 19.  It may be a reason for what happened latter, for Martin was one of those players introduced by one manager (Don Howe) but who then found a new man in control – although at first he appeared to flourish under George Graham, taking over on the wing from Rix.

In 1986/7 not only was he top he was also in the team that beat Liverpool to win the League Cup in 1987.  He also scored the first goal in the League Cup final the following season against Luton Town.

Then it all seemed to go wrong.  He became a regular substitute rather than a regular player – not least because of Brian Marwood’s arrival – but he was most notably on the pitch as a sub for the game against Liverpool in 1989 in which we won the league.

But there was something else about Martin Hayes that perhaps did not captivate the crowd.   I recall one game – which I believe was against Leicester, at Highbury in April 1987 where he ran half the length of the pitch on his own to beat the keeper and score.  It was a fabulous, amazing goal, but looking at the way Martin trudged back to his own half, without any goal celebration, it looked as if, for him, the whole thing was a frightful bore. Although maybe that is me reading too much into it.

He left us on 29 September 1990 to join Celtic for £650,000, having played 102 times for Arsenal, scoring 29 goals

He also won three England under 21 caps.

After the Celtic transfer which didn’t work out, he had a couple of loans before playing 61 games for Swansea City, and then moving into lower league football.

After that he moved into management, taking Dover to its famous FA Cup run in which they reached the third round.  I last heard of him in 2016 managing Waltham Abbey.

(Read Martin in his own words.)

20 March 1937

Bob John plays his last game for Arsenal

Bob’s final first team game was on 20 March 1937 in a 1-1 draw with Birmingham in front of 46,086.

And if you want a simple fact about Bob John it is that he played for Arsenal 470 times – more than any other player up to the cessation of football in 1939.

Robert Frederick  John was born on February 3, 1899  in the Welsh town of Barry, near Cardiff.   By 1920 Bob John was playing for Caerphilly (just for accuracy not Caerphilly Town which was a different team,) who came bottom of the second division of the Southern League and then left the league.   They returned a couple of seasons later but did not finish the fixtures, ultimately ceasing to exist.

From Caerphilly Bob moved to Barry AFC (again, not Barry Town as sometimes said – the club changing its name after Bob John left them) – again in the Southern League.  The club was a centre for rising new Welsh players, and they have had over 50 internationals play for them.

Arsenal signed Bob in January 1922 for £750, and as such is recorded as the most successful of Leslie Knighton’s transfers.   He made his first team début on October 28 that year in a 2-1 defeat at home to Newcastle and and went on to make 24 league appearances that year, taking over the number 6 shirt from Tom Whittaker.

By 1923 he was playing for Wales (against Scotland, 17 March 1923) and eventually totted up 15 caps – a very notable total in an era when international sides tended to play little more than three games a season.  (Oh for a return to such days).

By the 1923-24 season Arsenal had a surfeit of left halves, and so he moved to left back.  But ultimately, he moved back to his original position, and continued to play there becoming noted as both a ball winner and a passer, according to the commentators of the day.

However by this time the team was absolutely not working, and had come 20th in the league.  Leslie Knighton was duly relieved of his duties and in came one Herbert Chapman.

Bob John played in the losing cup final of 1927, and started finding himself playing in a team with Herbie Roberts, Joe Hume, Cliff Bastin and of course Charlie Buchan.   He got his cup medal in the winning final of 1930 (with Woolwich Arsenal’s first chairman Jack Humble who had been removed from the board in the Hill Wood takeover, in the crowd, and of course was in place for the whole of the magnificent 30s.  He even managed to score in a cup final (1932) although on that occasion we lost.

Having won the league in 1931, Bob John broke the club appearance record held by Percy Sands of 327 games (April 2nd 1932), before going on to get his second and third winners’ medals in 1932 and 1933.   He then became very much a senior player, and lost his place when George Allison signed Wilf Copping.  But he stayed with the club, often dropping down to the reserves in later years, but continuing to advise and support the younger players who were joining the club.  He had, after all, be there and done it.

He retired in 1938, and then joined West Ham’s coaching staff, before joining Jack Butler (also ex-Arsenal) at Torquay United.

After this he went to Cardiff City as both scout and coach, and died in his birth town of Barry in 1982, at the age of 83.  His shirts from the 1927, 1930 and 1932 Cup Finals are in the Arsenal Museum.

19 March 1992

There are players you can’t recall at all, players you half remember, players you rather like, and legends.

Jack Kelsey who died on this day in 1992, is in the final group.

He played for Arsenal’s first team from 1950 until 1962, winning just one medal – the league in 1953.  And yet he is a name that anyone who watched Arsenal at the time will remember with enormous fondness.

Jack joined Arsenal in 1949 from Winch Wen – his only other club (they played in the Swansea and District League side) – and made 352 league and cup matches, as well as playing 41 times for Wales – including in the world cup finals in 1958.

Jack’s autobiography, “Over the Bar”  came out in 1958, and is one of those rare things – a player’s autobiog that is worth reading.

But let’s start at the start.

What comes across is the straightforwardness of the guy.  He doesn’t tell us how great everything was, but instead reflects how on his first day at Arsenal he was kept hanging around for most of the day, and not given anything to eat.   How nobody bothered to introduce him to the rest of the side when he went to train with the A team.  And how utterly haphazard his recruitment to the club was.  (The ref in one game was trying to recruit him for Bolton, while the opposition left half was trying to get him to sign for Arsenal).

What I like is the way the feel of the era creeps through, even though obviously Jack was writing about his own time.  The way the military sent him off to the wrong destination when he was posted, “by mistake”.  The fact that the players were given free tickets to the Finsbury Empire (I guess in return for the Empire running adverts in the programme), and how the manager went to have a word with the manager of the theatre about an inappropriate joke about Jack in the performance one night.

I also love the casual way things are thrown in, in the autobiography.  The left half became a railway policeman, and then a detective.  As one does, or did, I suppose.

Or when Jack got his offer of a job at Arsenal, went to hand in his notice at work, and the employers suggested they might not be able to let him go!  Actually that one really took me aback.  I thought I knew my social history, but did employers really have the ability to refuse to release an employee from work?  In football yes, but in other trades?  So it seems.

Try this…

“There is one very good reason why I believe few if any star players will come to Highbury, and that is that the Arsenal do everything legally.  There have been a number of cases in which Arsenal have been interested in star players, and that interest has been reciprocated on the player’s side.  But when it comes doewn to brass tacks, and it has been made clear that there’s nothing in it for the players themselves, then interest has suddenly melted away.  Arsenal just will not pay under the counter.”

There’s also, just after this, a review of the defeat to Northampton, which shows an attitude towards Arsenal in the press, very similar to that which we have now.

Everyone who saw Jack in the “good old days” remembers him. He was one of the heroes at a time when there were not that many to be found.

18 March 1910

The liquidators are called in

1910 was a tough time for Arsenal.  The club was heading towards its lowest position ever in the league, and crowds were down.  Of course those two factors often go together – some fans only go when their team is winning – but for Woolwich Arsenal there was a bigger problem.

For the torpedo factory at the Royal Arsenal was moving to Glasgow, and unfortunately for the club, this particularly factory was the employer of many of Arsenal’s most enthusiastic and vociferous supporters.  Without them, the crowd was down, and so was the level of excitement from the terraces.

Financially, Arsenal had been supported for some time by George Leavey, who owned a chain of gentlemen’s outfitters shops, in and around south London.

He had for some time been helping the club out with loans, and in return his Plumstead shop became recognised by local supporters as the go-to establishment for their Sunday suit and the like.

However Arsenal’s need for money grew, and Mr Leavey reached the point where he felt he could no longer continue offering loans, the return of which he might never see.  Given that these loans were being used to pay the weekly wages of the players, that put the whole operation into crisis.

In January 1910 a meeting was held to discuss the financial future of the club and a committee known as The Reds Revival Fund was set up.

But Mr Leavey felt this wasn’t really going to help him recover at least some of his money, and so he called a shareholders’ meeting for 18 March 1910 to discuss the possibility of liquidating Woolwich Arsenal FC.

Andy Kelly has argued that this was in part because “Leavey saw that there was a problem with the articles of association of the 1893 limited company which stated that ownership of only one share was required for someone to stand for election onto the board of directors. This saw a board that changed year on year and decisions made by the board to keep their friends happy rather than for the good of the club. Leavey’s plan was to change this so that a much larger shareholding (e.g. 25 shares) would be required to be eligible as a director. This would give a more stable board and would only be affordable to people who had money, which would probably be successful businessmen.”

The meeting at Woolwich Town Hall was well attended, and it was revealed the club had liabilities of £12,500 and was continually losing money. He put it to the shareholders that they should: agree to attempt to keep a club in the area, agree that the club could not continue in its current financial state and that it should be wound up voluntarily, and appoint a liquidator.

The majority agreed and Leavey’s accountant was appointed liquidator and the liquidation of the club commenced.

That the club did not disappear at this point was because in the end Henry Norris and William Hall, directors of Fulham, agreed to take over the running of the club and guarantee the debts – which Norris personally paid out in full – including some relating to the redevelopment of the ground, which at this time were seemingly not even shown on the books.  But the irony of events on 18 March 1910 was that Norris and Hall turned up at the meeting as observers, but were refused entry!