By Tony Attwood
The information we have on Joseph Cooper is limited in the extreme, and indeed even what we have is contradicted in some quarters.
First, his name. It seems to have been Joseph Cooper, but is also noted in one source as Joe, but then seemingly noted on the Wolves heroes site as Jeremiah Cooper. David Instone who runs the site has been very helpful in sharing information, and I am very grateful. He’s agreed that since our numbers for appearances etc tally, it is the same guy. So he might have been Jeremiah or Joseph, we are not sure.
This is what the Wolverhampton site says…
“Strong running inside forward, always thirsty for the ball, Jerry Cooper was a member of Wolves first ever Football League side vs Aston Villa on 8 September 1888.
“Unfortunately a serious ankle injury forced him out of the side, and in May 1891 he left Molineux for Stourbridge Standard.
“Born in Heathtown, Wolverhampton in 1865, he played for Milton FC and Amblecote Nomads, before signing for Wolves in 1888.”
I also have two sources that give his date of birth as “1865” but also one citing “15 January 1866”. But one source is always dubious! The place of birth is agreed however – Wolverhampton.
As for his footballing career there is no Milton FC on record today, although there is a Milton Utd in Oxfordshire – but its web site has no details of the club’s history. (As a passing note I do wonder why – whether the club is 10 years old or 120 years old, surely it is worth recording the club’s origins).
There are a lot of other Milton’s around the UK – well over 30 in fact – but if the player was born in Wolverhampton and came to Woolwich Arsenal from Wolverhampton, the chances are he played first for a club in that area.
However the nearest Milton I can find to Wolverhampton is about 30 miles to the north – now part of Stoke on Trent. There is a youth team that plays there – Milton Utd (formerly Milton Warriors), and that is about as far as I can take that link.
Moving on we get more luck however. The book “Vain games of no value?” has a mention in passing of Amblecote Nomads alongside Walsall Town Swifts (whom Woolwich Arsenal played in the second division), Wolverhampton Rangers etc – so they were obviously from the area also. It is the only reference I can find for the club.
Moving on once again we have Joseph playing 24 games for Wolverhampton Wanderers and scoring six goals. Then he got his injury, and here again the the Wolves Heroes web site however provides us with information – he played for another team – Stourbridge Standard – another club from the region who were in fact founded before Wolverhampton and WBA, in 1876.
Thus the gap of three years we have between his leaving Wolverhampton with the injury and then joining Woolwich Arsenal in October 1893, included a period of making his way back from injury, with a local team.
So he finally reached Arsenal – quite possibly like so many before him coming to Woolwich to find work in the munitions factories, and then signing up for the local club.
Joseph made his debut for Woolwich Arsenal in a friendly on 23 October 1893 against Roston Bourke’s XI. Arsenal won 4-3 and Cooper scored a goal.
On 30 October 1893 Cooper got a second game – this another friendly, a 1-0 win over Wolverhampton. Maybe a coincidence, or maybe part of the transfer arrangements between the two clubs. Under the rules at the time, registration of a player remained with a league club until they formally released the player – so Joseph would have been registered still to Wolverhampton. Perhaps the game was part of the de-registration deal.
Arsenal’s next game was on 4 November, an FA Cup match against Clapton which resulted in a 6-2 win, with two goals from Cooper – he was obviously getting the hang of Arsenal by now. And so inevitably he was retained for his first league match – a 1-0 victory over Ardwick on 11 November.
However he didn’t retain his place at number 9 and only returned at the end of the year for his second match – co-incidentally against Ardwick.
In all Cooper was the third of six different centre forwards that Arsenal used in 28 league games in their first season in the Football League. Their highest scorer was Henderson with 12, who never once donned the centre forward shirt, while Shaw got 11 out of 17 games.
In the end Cooper played six league games – two at centre forward, two at inside left and two at inside right, but he did not manage any league goals. He did however play again in the FA Cup on 27 January 1894, in a 1-2 home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday.
His last game in the league was the final match of the season at home to Burton Swifts which Arsenal lost 0-2 on 14 April 1894, making it six league games, two cup games, and seven friendlies all told. The records show that he did not reappear for any matches, friendly or otherwise, in the following season.
But a little context is needed here, for the turnover of players at Arsenal at the time was extraordinary – at least by today’s standards.
Of the eleven men who had the honour of playing in Arsenal’s first ever league match on 2 September 1893, not one started the first league match of the following season, and only two of those starting XI for ’93 actually played in the league at all for Arsenal in 1894/5 – the second league season. Change was much more common than stability.
The mysterious Roston Bourkes XI did however reappear as they turned up in 1894/95 for David Howat’s benefit match on 12 November 1894. Arsenal won 6-2 and the game was attended by 1200 people.
And that, I am sorry to say, is all we have.
Our last six articles:
- Reg Tricker: signed by Chapman, helped in his first win over Tottenham.
- John Storrs who played in our first season, but then vanished.
- “Billy” Heath – the man who scored the first ever penalty in the Football League
- Patrick O’Brien: more info than previously put together, but still not much on this Arsenal man.
- John Hawley: a life saver who played for Arsenal at a most difficult time
- Robert Buchanan; an Arsenal man for two seasons who died tragically young
- Arsenal in the 70s
- Arsenal in the summer
The index to both are on the home page.