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Len Wills: 195 league appearances for Arsenal 1949-62; his only league club

Leonard Edward “Len” Wills was born on 8 November 1927 and first played for Eton Manor FC, and amateur club formed by several well-to-do families to support young men and boys in the East End of London – the notoriously deprived section of the city, in the early part of the 20th century.

The club eventually moved to Hackney Marshes and had some success as an amateur team in 1930s.  Apart from Len Wills the club also boasts having Alf Ramsey as a player.

Len Wills joined Arsenal as an amateur from Eton Manor in March 1946, but had to leave the club in 1948 to do his National Service in the RAF.  Len then returned to Arsenal in October 1949 and made 209 first team appearances – 195 in the league.

In October 1953, when Joe Wade was injured Len Wills took over at right back, having played thus far in the reserves.  His first game was away to Tottenham Hotspur on 10 October 1953 – Arsenal won 4-1 in front of 69,821.

The win continued a remarkable turn around that season, for having recorded 6 defeats and two draws in the first eight games (ending with a 7-1 defeat to Sunderland) and had sunk to the foot of the table, Arsenal produced four wins and a draw in the next five – of which this was the fifth game.

Clearly Len was a success for he carried on through that season and 1954/5 as the regular right back.  Although however this was not a time of success for Arsenal, for they lost the next game 2-5 at home to Burnley but then went on another run of five wins and a draw in the next six.

But then the earlier form returned, and Arsenal were at best patchy, ending up 12th in the league, and knocked out of the FA Cup by Norwich.

In 1955/6 he continued as a deputy right back playing 15 games, but was used slightly more in 1956/7 when in addition to a couple of games at number 2 he moved to left back for a couple of matches and also played 14 games at right half.

This bit part approach carried on in 1957/8 with 18 league games made up of appearances at right back, left back, left half, and right half.

Everything was dependent on who was injured and thus in 1958/9 there were 33 games all at right back as Arsenal reached their highest point during Len’s time at the club – finishing 3rd in Swindin’s first year in management.

1959/60 saw 33 league games and 3 FA Cup matches played, once more in a mixture of positions and in 1960/61 he started the season as the regular right back, playing 24 games all told.  His final game was a home match against Cardiff  City on February 11 1961 which Arsenal lost 2-3  in front of 33,754.  Arsenal finished that season 11th.

In the following seasons Dave Bacuzzi and then Eddie Magill took over as preferred right back, and having not played a first team game in 1961/2 Len left the club on a free transfer, playing for a short while for Romford.

In all he played 208 league and cup games for Arsenal, scoring 4 goals. His one medal came in the 1953/4 Charity Shield victory over Blackpool.

Reports suggest he later ran a sports shop in Southgate, in Middlesex, and also worked in the hardware and DIY business.   He lives now in retirement in Epping.

The books…

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