Arsenal Oct 1916: a tragic death, a slow recovery

By Tony Attwood

I’ll begin this section of the story with an amusing and trivial note: on 6 October 1916  an Army Order removed the requirement for soldiers to wear moustaches.  I have no idea if this order had been enforced up to this point – I’ve not seen any references to men being punished for being clean shaven, but it is possible that it happened.  Amidst the horrors of the war it reminds me, at least, just how different a world it was 100 years ago.

And after that moment of lightness we have the saddest news as on 7 October 1916 Dick Roose, Arsenal goalkeeper, and one of the most flamboyant and famous players of the era was killed in action serving his country.

Dr Leigh ‘Dick’ Roose was born 27 November 1877 in Holt, near Wrexham, the son of a minister.  He was educated at Holt Academy where HG Wells was a master and later graduated from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and studied bacteriology at Kings College London.

He started his football career at Aberystwyth in 1895, and was then signed for Stoke from which era the picture below was taken.

As he moved from club to club he gained the reputation of being a super-hero in goal, not only through being a good keeper but also being a highly eccentric player.  His clubs not only took in Football League teams, such as Stoke and Everton, but also in 1910 Celtic for whom he played one game – the cup semi-final, which they lost to Clyde.  During this game he is reported to have shaken the scorer of one of the Clyde goals to congratulate him on the quality of his shot – which may be why he only lasted one game with the club.

From 1900 he played for Wales and won 24 caps – his last cap being during his time at Arsenal when he played against Scotland in March 1911.

Dick Roose joined Woolwich Arsenal as a goalkeeper from Aston Villa in September 1911 – it was planned to be his final season in football.   His transfer was as much a publicity stunt as anything else, for Roose was just about the most famous footballer in the country at the time – an absolute showman whom the crowds would turn out to see.  Henry Norris was looking for every way possible to boost interest in Woolwich Arsenal at the time, so signing the most famous player in the country – even if he was at the end of his career – was a good way to do it.

Roose was not only a dare-devil performer, (he would swing from the cross bar, and on occasions even climb on the crossbar), he’d also turn away from the game and chat to the crowd, comment to the crowd on how he was going to save a penalty before  the ball was struck, and then bow and wave after a save.

Roose had played for Woolwich Arsenal as with all his clubs, as an amateur, which rather than meaning he got no money for his games (as “amateur” implies) he actually got far more money than the professionals.  For what he was paid was “expenses”. While the regular players got a wage, he was paid for getting too and from the match – and quite a few other things as well.

Prior to Roose’s arrival, Arsenal’s last home crowds had been 15,000, 3,000, 8,000. The 15,000 was against Everton who were top of the league.   For his first game against Middlesbrough on 16 December 1911 a crowd of 11,000 turned up, which was more than normal for a match against a mid-table team in the depths of winter.  (These games kicked off at 2pm or 2.15 to allow for the light, and  many men found it hard to get to the ground after the morning shift, in time for the match).

Roose then had a break but returned in February and 14,000 attended for the game against Bolton, 12,000 were there for the game against Man C, 15,000 against WBA and 15,500 for the match with Man U.

After that Arsenal ended the season with games against three distinctly inferior opponents and crowds were, as normal with such clubs, smaller.  Of the last three clubs Arsenal played that year at home – all with Roose in goal, Preston and Bury were relegated and Notts C missed relegation by two points, and the crowds were 8,000 and 10,000 (twice) – still better than would have been achieved without him.

What these figures show is that Roose did have some impact on the crowds at the Manor and in total it gave in the order of about a 10% increase over what might have been expected.  The cost of the player’s “expenses” would have been far exceeded by the extra gate money.

Incidentally it also shows that the old tale about Woolwich Arsenal’s prime problem being low crowds because of the remoteness of the ground from central London was only partially true.  If we look at March, by way of example, Arsenal’s away crowds were  8,000  (Oldham) 5,000 (Sunderland) and 10,000 (Everton).  At home they got 12,000 (Man C), 15,000 (WBA) and 15,000 again in the first match in April (Man U).

Arsenal were getting higher crowds at home than away – an interesting perspective to add to what happened in the years thereafter.  It seems to indicate that the decline in numbers was due as much to Arsenal’s performance and the decline in employee numbers at the Woolwich Arsenal factories as anything else.

But back to Roose.  He played 13 times for Woolwich Arsenal, his last game being 27 April 1912 at home to Notts County.  Arsenal lost 0-3, which was a sad send-off for a personality goalkeeper.  Overall Arsenal won seven of the games he played in goal, drew one and lost five as the club ended the league 10th in the first division.


 Thus his playing style was described as eccentric, daring and genius.  At the time keepers were allowed to handle anywhere in their own half, but most stayed on the line, as the last line of defence.  Roose was one of the few who took advantage of the rule by running out of goal with the ball and throwing or kicking it accurately to an attacker.  Reports suggest he was also not averse to violently shoulder charging the opposition out of the way so he could run forward with the ball.

He played in an era where the delicacies of today’s game did not exist, and keepers were not protected (and nor were the forwards who came up against them).  Goal mouth incidents were more akin to rugby than football; Roose was big and powerful and is said to have used verbal aggression as much as physical.

Indeed it is reported that he could punch and kick the ball further than other keepers of the era and had amazing reflexes as well as a certain recklessness in his style of play.  He was in short, Gordon Banks, Pele and a street thug rolled into one and many reports suggest that the rule change in the summer of 1912 which stopped keepers from handling outside of their own penalty area, was directly a result of Roose’s exploits.

Jimmy Ashcroft, the Woolwich Arsenal keeper in the early years of the century, wrote in praise of Roose.

“Last season when Stoke played Arsenal at Plumstead, I watched the Reds swoop down on Roose like a whirlwind. There was a scrimmage in goal and Roose was down on the ball like a shot with a heap of Arsenal and Stoke players on top of him. It was all Lombard Street to a penny orange that the Reds would score. Presently from out of the ruck emerged Roose clinging to the ball, which he promptly threw away up the field. I’ll bet that the thrill of triumph which went through him was ample compensation for any hard knocks he received.”

This picture shows Roose in 1905.

Roose also left some of his own thoughts in print.  In the four volume work Association Football and the Men Who Made It he wrote,

“A tall man able to get down to low shots is certainly preferable to a short one, for he can reach shots that no little man can get near, and if his bigness in stature is combined with weight he will find occasions on which his height and weight will prove of great advantage to him; yet he should not come under Dryden’s description: ‘Brawn without brain is thine.’ He should possess quickness of eye and hand, activity and agility, and be as light on his feet as a dancing master. It’s not much use for a man who can only move ‘once in about two months’ trying to defend a space 24 feet wide and 8 feet high against shots coming in from all possible directions, and when there is only a fraction of a second allowed to get a ball and get rid of it, by either kicking, catching or throwing out, or punching away with forwards on top of him.”
To a goalkeeper alone, is the true delight of goalkeeping known. He must be an instinctive lover of the game, otherwise goalkeeping will take it out of a man if he is not devoted to it.”

But we must remember that Roose earned his livelihood through being known. He encouraged stories about him as it upped the fee he could command as an after dinner speaker, and it is not clear just how many of the more famous stories told of him were actually true.

The Football League (at least according to the legends Roose spun around himself) only tried to take him on once, by questioning his increasingly outrageous expense claims that made him the most highly paid footballer in the League.  He presented a list of costs including buying a newspaper to keep himself amused when his team were attacking, and the cost of two visits to the toilet.   Making the report public he dared the League to take on one of the few men who on their own could attract the crowds.  They declined the fight and backed off.

At least, that’s how Roose let it be known that the story played out.

He was also known to feign injuries like broken fingers and yet play on “for  the sake of the team”.  He was in fact the absolute showman – and even more so when he started a scandalous affair with Marie Lloyd.  He was also known to shout, swear and pick fights on and off the pitch much to the dismay of those trying to uphold the good name of the game.

In 1916 he joined the Royal Fusiliers and was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the first major action that he saw in the trenches.  He died tragically on 7 October 1916 in the Battle of the Somme and his body was never recovered.

On the same day as one of Arsenal’s most famous players died, Arsenal were themselves playing a London Combination match – this time against Southampton.   It was a 3-3 draw.

Meanwhile, returning to more mundane matters, during the autumn Henry Norris was back in Fulham holding (usually very short) meetings of the council and he agreed to continue in his role as Mayor for 1916/1917 – all elections having been suspended for the duration of the war.

On 14 October Arsenal played Luton and ran out the winners 2-0, although the crowd was far from impressive – just 5100 coming to the game, it was above some of the crowd numbers that were now being seen.  The following week, on 21 October Arsenal’s mini-revival was seen to be at an end, with a defeat to Portsmouth away, 0-1, again in front of 5,000.

The following Wednesday the Borough of Fulham held its last meeting of the mayoral year.  Henry Norris used the occasion to counter the rumour that had circulated that employees of the Allen and Norris building company would be given exemption from military service by the military tribunal if they cared to apply for it.

It was a rumour that was as silly as the earlier one that a club house used by members of the Belgian refugee community was being used as a secret rendezvous for German military personnel.  At the sight of a single German the Belgians would have gone running to the authorities for protection.

As for Norris, he had been absolutely at the forefront of recruitment of soldiers from the moment war was declared.  What’s more his football clubs had been denuded of players by his formation (at his own expense as noted earlier) of the two football battalions.

But this latest story came about, as the Fulham Chronicle reported, because the members of the council (which as noted above was not only made up entirely of Conservatives) was not now called upon to stand for re-election during wartime and were simply pushing matters through on the nod.  The council was entitled to do this, given that the electorate in their wisdom had chosen to vote to give the Conservatives a majority in each ward, but it probably wasn’t very sensible.

The Fulham Chronicle focused on two topics that it felt the council should be devoting more time to: Fulham’s housing shortage, and a dispute over rents on the Driscoll Estate.  Rent rises were controlled under the Rents Act of 1915 and the newspaper suggested the council had not been informing the local citizens of their rights.

These stories were typical of those in local newspapers in this part of the war.  The news from Europe was dismal, and censorship of the war news other than great victories was comprehensive.  There was hardly any other news around so the papers found what they could to give their readers some reason for buying the four page broadsheets.  Printing bland government statements hardly sold newspapers, so something else was needed.  Local scandal was all they had.

Meanwhile on 28 October Arsenal returned to winning ways with a 1-0 home win over Millwall, in front of 8000.  It meant Arsenal had now won two games out of four in the month – making October something of an improvement on the opening month of the season.

Here are the details…

Match Date Opposition Venue Result Score Crowd
6 7/10/16 Southampton H D 3-3 7000
7 14/10/16 Luton H W 2-1 5000
8 21/10/16 Portsmouth A L 0-1 5000
9 28/10/16 Millwall H W 1-0 8000

The series continues.  Meanwhile here is what we have published so far…

The Henry Norris Files Section 1 – 1910.

Section 2 – 1911

Section 3 – 1912

Section 4 – 1913

Section 5 – 1914

Section 6 – 1915

Section 7: – 1916


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *