By Tony Attwood
Gerry Ward was born October 5, 1936 in Stepney and joined Arsenal as a trainee in 1952 during Tom Whittaker’s regime. In his time as a junior Arsenal won the league (1952/3) but the number 11 position proved a problem after Don Roper was forced to move to outside right – which had been an even great problem for the club that year.
With Roper starting at outside right and Ben Marden seen at best a stop-gap at number 11, Gerry Ward got his chance in the second match of the 1953/4 season in a 0-0 draw with Huddersfield. He was 16 years and 321 days old, making him the youngest ever league match player until Jack Wilshere took that honour from him.
However Gerry remains the youngest player ever to start a game although it is interesting to note that the club did not sign Gerry on professional terms immediately, and technically he played as an amateur.
Gerry played the next two games as well against Sheffield United and Aston Villa but with the club struggling he was dropped. In fact despite being champions Arsenal went the first 8 matches of the 1953/4 season with just two draws and six defeats, and were clearly in need of a makeover. Worse, the last of that sequence of eight games was a 7-1 drubbing by Sunderland.
By that stage Gerry Ward had been packed off back to the reserves as the champions struggled to find form – eventually ending up 12th in the league and going out in the fourth round of the cup.
For the following three years Gerry stayed out of the first team not least because he had to do his national service for two years, but was brought back for ten games by Jack Crayston following his being demobbed in February 1957, this time playing at right half – an utterly different position following an injury to the regular number 4, Cliff Holton.
When George Swindin took over in 1958/9 Gerry Ward was given his chance and started at number 4 in the opening match of the season playing 31 games and scoring 4 goals.
After that however he hardly got a run in the team, filling in here and there, swapping positions as and when he was asked to do so. His final four season with the club saw him play 15, 9 , 11 and 2 games respectively.
Gerry finally left Arsenal in July 1963 and went to Leyton Orient having played 84 times and scored 10 goals. He had one season at Orient where he was an almost ever present (44 appearances, and two goals) . At this time he was 27, and should have been at the top of his game, but it had not worked for him, and he left Orient and played instead first for Cambridge City and then Barnet as well as being Barnet’s manager in 1973.
Quite what went wrong with such an exceptional early talent is hard to say from this distance, and I have found no commentary that explains why that early promise died away so that by the age of 27 he had slipped away from the limelight. Certainly the stress placed upon him, coming into the champions team when they were falling apart was a million miles from the ideal start. It would be good to hear from anyone who knows more.
Gerry Ward died in January 1994.