This article will continue my journey looking at the history of Welsh players who have played for clubs in London. I will now be looking at the Welsh players that have played for Arsenal Football Club.
The club was founded in 1886 when munition workers in Woolwich, South East London formed a football club that was then known as Dial Square, after a workshop in the Royal Arsenal complex. Although this name did not last long as it was then changed to the Royal Arsenal Association Football Club by January 1887 to include workers from the whole complex, as under Dial Square, players were chosen only from that workshop. They would undergo another name change in 1893 when the club would be known as Woolwich Arsenal. The first Welsh player of note to play for the club was Caesar Jenkyns, who arrived in 1895 from Small Heath (who would later be known as Birmingham City), having previously played for his hometown club Builth Wells and amateur clubs in the Birmingham area. He would become Arsenal’s first international player, representing Wales against Scotland in 1896 and was made club captain soon after his arrival. Jenkyns was known as one of the most rugged defenders of his era, being sent off four times during his tenure at Small Heath, at a time when such instances were very rare. He came to Arsenal after an occasion where he was ordered from the field, he tried to assault two spectators, leaving Small Heath no option but to release him. Jenkyns would only stay at Arsenal for a season before moving on Newton Heath (later known as Manchester United), he would only stay a season once again when he moved on to Walsall where he would ply his trade for five years. When Jenkyns retired, he became a publican of the George Inn in the Black Country around 1905. He would move on from this to become a policeman for Birmingham Police Force, passing away in 1941 at the age of 74.
The next Welshman to make an impact at the club was Bob John a fullback from Barry. John signed for the club in 1922 after playing for Caerphilly and Barry AFC. John was signed for a fee of £750 and would go on to make 470 appearances which place him eleventh on the all-time appearances for the club above such club legends such as Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp. He would become an important member of the team during one of the club’s most successful era’s, winning 3 league titles in 1930/31, 1932/33 and 1933/34, John did not play enough matches to earn a medal when the club won the league again in 1934/35. He would also win an FA Cup medal in 1929/30 and two FA Cup runners-up medals in 1932 and 1927, when his close friend goalkeeper Dan Lewis’ mistake cost them to lose the match against Cardiff City (John would be the one console his teammate after the final whistle, assuring him he would get another opportunity to win a medal, but Lewis never did). He would go on to win 15 caps for his country. John would leave the club in 1938 and go on a coaching career, which would take him to Torquay United, West Ham United and Cardiff City. John would eventually move back to Barry, he passed away in 1982 at the age of 83 years old.
A teammate of John’s during this time was goalkeeper Dan Lewis from Maerdy in Glamorgan. Born in 1902, he worked in the coal mines before deciding on a career in football, he arrived at Arsenal in 1924 after impressing from Clapton Orient (later to become Leyton Orient). He would remain at the club until 1931 and would go on to make 167 appearances for the Gunners. Lewis is unfortunately known as the man whose mistake cost Arsenal the FA Cup in 1927 against Cardiff City when he allowed a harmless shot to go through his grasp and knocked the ball into the goal with his elbow, this was the only goal of the game. Lewis would blame the goal on the fact that the was wearing a brand-new jersey, stating that the wool was too greasy to be able to grip the ball properly. There were accusations that Lewis deliberately made the mistake so as to allow his fellow countrymen to win the cup. He would remain as Arsenal’s number one for the next three seasons but would miss out on the 1930 FA Cup Final win against Huddersfield because of a knee injury. He would go on to move to Gillingham in 1931. He would win 3 caps for Wales. He passed away in 1965 at the age of 62.
Another Welshman who played for Arsenal in this era was Charles Jones, who born in Troedyrhiw, Merthyr Tydfil in 1899. He wouldn’t arrive at Arsenal until 1928 after previously playing for Cardiff City, Stockport County, Oldham Athletic and Nottingham Forest. He played both as a winger and ball-winning midfielder. He would go on to make close to 200 appearances for the Gunners and would win three First Division titles in 1930/31, 1932/33 and 1933/34. Some success would elude him with the Gunners when he was left out of the side that won the FA Cup in 1930 and had scant consolation when he was picked for the side that lost to Newcastle in the 1932 FA Cup. Jones would win 8 caps for his country but would have won more if the club had decided not to release him for some international matches. He would retire from football in 1934 and go on to manage Notts County for a year. Jones died in 1966 at the age of 66.
The next Welshman to come along and make an impact was Wally Barnes who was born in Brecon in 1920, as his father was stationed there. Barnes began his career with Southampton but this was interrupted because of the Second World War. Arsenal signed him after he impressed in wartime matches in 1943 but his career was almost finished when he suffered a knee injury in 1944 so serious that he was not expected to recover from it. This did not stop Barnes as he made his debut for the Gunners in 1946 and was a regular in the side that won the First Division Title in 1947/48, he would find more success in 1950 when Arsenal won the FA Cup against Liverpool. An injury would strike Barnes again in the 1952 FA Cup Final where he suffered another knee injury in the 35th minute, which contributed to his team’s loss, as substitutes were not allowed at this time, meaning Arsenal had to play the remainder of the match with ten men. The injury took him almost 16 months to recover from. He retired from the club in 1956, having made close to 300 appearances for the club mainly from the fullback position. Barnes also made 22 appearances for his country and was Wales captain on several occasions, he would be the manager of Wales from 1954 up until his retirement. He would later find employment with the BBC and was a commentator on the very first edition of Match of the Day in 1964. He was also co-commentator with Kenneth Wolstenholme for England’s World Cup Final win in 1966. Barnes wrote an autobiography titled “Captain of Wales”. Barnes died in September 1975, at only 55 years of age.
Ray Daniel, born in Swansea in 1928. Was a centre-half that was signed from Swansea Town in 1946, when still an amateur, after making his first-team debut at the age of 15 in a wartime match. Daniel would find it difficult to break into the Arsenal line up and would not secure a regular place in the starting xi until 1951/52 as he was used as an understudy to Leslie Compton. Daniel was in the starting line-up that lost to Newcastle in the 1952 FA Cup Final. Daniel played the match in constant pain as he had injured his forearm three weeks earlier and had to have it encased in plaster. Daniel was to find success the next season as Arsenal won the First Division title in 1952/53. He was described as one of the best central defenders in the country and was known for his ball-playing ability as well as his sturdy defending. Daniel made close to 100 appearances for the club before a disagreement over playing styles meant he moved to Sunderland in 1953 for £27,500, a record for a defender at the time. He was made captain and stayed there for four seasons. This was not without its controversy as his teammate with Wales, Trevor Ford stated in his autobiography that the club had been making illegal payments to players. Daniel was hauled in front of the FA Commission in 1957 to answer for his part in the scandal. Daniel was briefly suspended and moved to Cardiff Because of all this, he lost his place in the Wales and missed out on a place in the squad for the 1958 World Cup. He was able to accumulate 21 appearances for his country. He died in 1997 at the age of 69.
A teammate of Daniel’s during the League title victory in 1952/53 was legendary goalkeeper Jack Kelsey, who was considered world-class during his career with the Gunners and is considered one of the club’s greatest ever goalkeepers. Born in Swansea in 1928, Kelsey was spotted playing for local team Winch Wen, when a former player Les Morris saw him play and recommended him to Arsenal, the club signed him soon after in 1949. After a couple of seasons in the reserves, Kelsey made his debut in 1951, the first of 352 appearances for the club until his retirement in 1962. Kelsey’s time at the club coincided with a trophy-less spell for which Kelsey could not be blamed. He would go on to win 41 caps for his country, which was a British record for a goalkeeper at the time and was the Wales goalkeeper during the 1958 World Cup, where he drew widespread praise for his performances. Kelsey could truly be called a one-club man as after his retirement due to a back injury he sustained on international duty (he suffered two displaced vertebrae at the base of his spine), he took on the role of Arsenal’s commercial manager, retiring in 1989. He passed away in London in 1992 at the age of 62 years. Such was his impact on Welsh football that he was inducted into the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.
An international team-mate of Kelsey’s during the World Cup was Mel Charles, who drew praise from the likes of Pele, who described him as the best centre-half of the tournament and swapped shirts with him after the game. Charles, the younger brother of the legendary John Charles, was born in Swansea in 1935 and began his career at his hometown club. He signed for the Gunners in March 1959 for a fee of £46,750, following a bidding war with local rivals Tottenham Hotspur. The fee was the highest paid for a transfer between two British clubs. His time at the Gunners was disrupted by knee injuries and he only played 64 times, scoring an impressive 28 goals (he would mainly play as a centre-forward). He left the club in 1962 for Cardiff City for a fee of £28,000. He would win 31 caps for his country and retired in 1972. In 2009 he wrote an autobiography titled “In the Shadow of a Giant” in reference to his brother. Charles passed away in September 2016 aged 81.
A teammate of Charles’ in the national side was Dave Bowen, who was born in Maesteg near Bridgend in 1928 but moved with his family to Northampton in his teenage years and joined the football club there in 1947. He had only played a handful of games for the club before catching the eye of Pat Whittaker, who was the son of the Arsenal manager Tom Whittaker. Arsenal paid £1000 to Northampton to sign Bowen in 1950. He was signed as a backup wing half to Joe Mercer and therefore struggled to make it into the team until Mercer retired in 1954, Bowen would miss out on a medal when Arsenal won the First Division in 1952/53 as he had only made a couple of appearances that season. Once Mercer retired, Bowen became a regular in the team and would go on to make over 150 appearances for the Gunners, captaining the side in his final two seasons, he would leave the club in 1959 to re-join Northampton Town. Bowen was also captain of the Wales squad that participated in the 1958 World Cup. He would go on to make 19 appearances for his country and would also be their manager from 1964 to 1974. Bowen died in 1995, at the age of 67.
A club teammate of Bowen’s was Derek Tapscott, who was born in Barry in 1932, was one of 16 children who took on many roles in his youth, but was a bricklayer when Arsenal signed him from Barry Town in 1953. He played for the Gunners at inside right until 1958 and by this point had played in 132 games and scored 68 goals and was unfortunate not to win any honours with the Gunners during this period, having arrived just after the club had won the League and was also unlucky to be selected for the Wales team that went to the World Cup in 1958. Tapscott believes that he wasn’t picked because before the World Cup, he was approached by a Welsh team selector who asked him to leave Arsenal for Cardiff City with the promise that he would be selected for the squad to go to Sweden, he refused and wasn’t selected. Ironically, after the World Cup, Tapscott signed for Cardiff City after his father became ill. He played for Cardiff up until 1965 and continued his goal scoring exploits. He would win 14 caps for his country, but only 2 after the World Cup in 1958. Tapscott died in 2008, at the age of 75.
The next Welshman to make an impact at the club was John Hartson, who was born in Swansea in 1975 and arrived at the club from Luton Town in January 1995 for a fee of £2.5 million, which made him the most expensive teenage footballer in Britain at the time. He would be one of George Graham’s last signings before he was sacked in February 1995. A highlight of his time at the club was scoring the equaliser in the 1995 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup Final against Real Zaragoza. Once Dennis Bergkamp was signed by the club, he was preferred to Hartson, who saw less and less game time and would ultimately move to West Ham in 1997. Hartson would play over 70 times for the Gunners. He would go on to play for West Ham United, Wimbledon and Coventry City before finding success with Celtic. He would win 51 caps for Wales, scoring 14 times. He has been in the news because of the issues he has had with his health, after being diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2009 that was eradicated later in that year.
The last Welshman that I will discuss in this article is Aaron Ramsey who was born in Caerphilly in 1990. He came through the academy at Cardiff City and made his debut for the club in 2007, becoming the youngest player to ever play for the club, beating the record previously held by John Toshack. His performances were attracting the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Everton. He would decide to join Arsenal in 2008 for a fee of £4.8 million. Ramsey has gone to make over 300 appearances for the Gunners, which is more than club legends such as Ian Wright and Robert Pires and has scored 50 goals for the club to date. His career took a temporarily stopped in its tracks when his leg was broken in a match with Stoke City in February 2010 by a challenge from Ryan Shawcross. It would take him some time to regain his fitness and form and went on loan to Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City in the 2010/11 season. Ramsey has won three FA Cups at his time with Arsenal, winning in 2014, 2015 and 2017, with Ramsey scoring the winner in 2014 against Hull in extra time and in 2017 against Chelsea. He has made over 50 appearances for his country, scoring 13 goals. His performances at the European Championships in 2016 earned him a place in the Team of the Tournament whilst he also provided the most assists.
Most of Arsenal’s success have included Welshmen and the history of the club cannot be told without the legendary Welsh players that played their part in the making of this club. I hope you have enjoyed reading this article. I would like to thank the many websites for their valuable information in the making of this article.
Feature Picture Credit: http://www.blogsport.com