Jim Furnell was born 23 November 1937 in Lancashire, and started out playing for Burnley aged 17 before moving on to second division Liverp0ol in February 1962 where he became the first team keeper.
He moved to Arsenal £15,000 or £16,000 (depending on the source you read) on November 22 1963, signed by Billy Wright. Wright spoke about getting up a 5am to secure the deal, and needing Furnell to help Arsenal win the league. There was also talk of Shankly at Liverpool taking Dave Bacuzzi in exchange or part exchange but this didn’t happen, and Bacuzzi stayed until 1964.
At the time Bob Wilson was on Arsenal’s books playing as an amateur while finishing his training as a teacher, and it was Bob who was replaced by Furnell with Bob returning to the reserves. Bob, as you would imagine, took it all very decently. “I half expected to be out,” he is reported in the Daily Express as having said. “I know I have a lot to learn, but then I have a long time to learn it in. After all, I have only been at Highbury for four months.”
Furnell played his first match on his birthday, 23 November 1963 in a 5-3 win against Blackpool and effectively became the successor to Jack Kelsey for the next five years. That league title never came however and in 1966 Wright made way for Mee – although with Furnell still in goal.
Bertie Mee kept Furnell in goal and he played in the 1968 League Cup Final against Leeds United (we lost 0-1), but then, was dropped after the following match, and Bob Wilson regained his place. Jim Furnell’s last game was on 24 February 1968 against Manchester Utd at home.
Arsenal lost that match 0-2 – it was the 8th in a nine league match run without a win. Bob Wilson’s first game that season was the ninth game of that run – a 0-2 home defeat to Wolverhampton but after that there was improvement including a five game winning streak at the end of the campaign. Arsenal finished ninth.
with Bob Wilson starting in goal at the beginning of the 1968/9 season it was clear that Jim Furnell’s time was up, and he moved on as the chart below shows. The final column gives the number of league matches per club.
Jim was sold in September 1968 for £8,000 to Rotherham United; he had played 167 matches including cup matches for Arsenal in total.
After two years with Rotherham he moved to Plymouth Argyle in 1970, and became something of a cult figure, staying with Plymouth for over five years before retiring from playing at the end of the 1975/6 season.
In 2003, Jim Furnell was named as goalkeeper in Plymouth’s greatest all-time team, by the club supporters.
After that Jim Furnell was goalkeeper coach at Plymouth before joining Blackburn Rovers as a coach in 1981. He served as a coach there until his retirement in 1998 at the age of 60.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal FC: crowd behaviour at the early matches
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