Johnny Petts – report on our “missing” player updated

Johnny Petts (full name John William Frederick James Petts) was born on 2 October 1938, played as a number 6 (defensive midfield, known as left half) and joined Arsenal as an apprentice in April 1954 having been with Edmonton, Middlesex and London schoolboys,

He signed professional terms on 28 May 1956 and his first game in the first team was a 2-1 home defeat to Bolton  on 18 February 1958, aged 19. It was a time when Arsenal had lost five games in six – but this was the end of the sequence, and Johnny kept his place for five games, and then returned to clock up an end-of-season total of nine.

However he only got three games the following season and was always a fringe player across eight years at the club despite having won seven England youth caps.

Between 1957 and 1959 he did his compulsory national service which explains his lack of games, and despite a run of games in the autumn of 1960 he was not able to make the breakthrough.  By 1960/1 George Swindin, the manager, became desperate and used no less than 29 different first team players in league matches, but Petts got just one game.   He played 12 times in 1961/2 but then was transferred to Reading for £5,000 in October 1962, later moving on to Reading, Bristol Rovers and Bath City.

For the 1977/8 season he took over as manager of Northampton Town from Bill Dodgin, but despite a very respectable 10th place finish in the league, he moved on.  He was Northampton’s 21st manager.  Their second was Herbert Chapman – the 13th was Dave Bowen.

On 22 February 1958 he played in the first ever 4-4 draw with Tottenham, with Arsenal 4-2 up with four minutes to go.

John Brooks, the Tottenham inside left beats Jack Kelsey, the Arsenal goalkeeper and Jim Fotheringham, the Arsenal centre half, to score his side's

The team on that day was: Jack Kelsey, Stan Charlton, Dennis Evans, Gerry Ward, Jim Fotheringham, John Petts, Danny Clapton, Vic Groves, David Herd, Jimmy Bloomfield, Gordon Nutt.

Scorers: Henry (og), Clapton, Nutt, Herd.


Since writing the above I have been contacted by the Petts family and they have most kindly provided some additional information.


  • Middlesex Schoolboys; London Schoolboys;
  • April 1954 Arsenal (professional, 28.5.56) [32,0];
  • 10.10.62 Reading (£5,000) [34,0];
  • 19.6.65 Bristol Rovers (trial);
  • 3.9.65 Bristol Rovers (£5,000) [88+4,3];
  • 22.6.70 Bath City (player-manager);
  • 8.11.71 Trowbridge Town (free) (manager, 22.3.72);
  • 28.7.73 Northampton Town (trainer-coach; manager, 5.1.77);
  • March 1983 Northampton Spencer (manager) (to February 1988).

John Petts won seven caps for England Youth between 1955 and 1957 and started his career at Arsenal. Billy Wright was manager at Highbury, with the future England management structure of Ron Greenwood and Bertie Mee on the coaching staff, but Petts was largely restricted to a career in the reserves, whom he helped to become South-East Counties League champions and Cup winners in 1955-56 and Metropolitan League Cup and Professional Cup winners in 1961-62.

Following a League bow  against Carlisle United in October 1962, his spell at Reading included four matches against Bristol Rovers, one being the Royals’ 5-2 victory at Eastville in April 1964 and, having made his Rovers début against Mansfield, he later scored two of his three goals for the club in fixtures against the Stags, one of these being the fifth of six goals, after 62 minutes, as Rovers ran up a comfortable home win in March 1969.

A solid, well-versed wing-half, Petts helped establish Bristol Rovers in Division Three following the club’s relegation in the spring of 1962, and build the blocks upon which a promotion push could be established after he had left the club.

Living in Cockfosters and later in Winterbourne, he was ousted at Bath in a boardroom coup and led Spencer to the United Counties League title in 1984-85, the club winning 23 of its thirty fixtures that campaign.

The son of William Arthur Petts (1913-88) and Dorothy Jaggs (1914-84) who was the daughter of John Thomas Jaggs (1861-1930) and Nellie Ethel Baker, he married Margaret Kemp in 1958 and their two sons both followed him into football, Paul playing for Rovers whilst Gary was manager of Thrapston Venturas in the 1993-94 season. Working for many years as a company driver with Northampton-based Flair Printing, John Petts is a keen golfer and now lives near Northampton with his partner Valerie.

18 Replies to “Johnny Petts – report on our “missing” player updated”

  1. Just a couple of pieces of trivia I think.

    One of the references at Wikipedia, points to a page which mentions that Johnny Petts had a son (Paul), who also played for Bristol Rovers (and Shrewsbury Town).

    About 3/4 way down is a youth international match Wales versus England, 1955 Feb 19.

    J Petts (6) playing for England. Also mis-spelled as Potts. Home team listed as Middlesex.

  2. Wikipedia doesn’t even have as much information on him as you do. They do, however, mention that he scored 3 goals for Bristol Rovers, his only top-flight scores. They also say that he had a son, Paul Petts, who also played for Bristol Rovers, and later for Shrewsbury Town. But they don’t have a date or place of birth for Paul, either. Outside of his father, he appears to have no connection to Arsenal, but if he turns out to be easier to find, maybe he can shed some light on his father. confirms date of birth as you have it, gives place of birth as Edmonton, and confirms that he played for Arsenal and that he missed time due to national service, but doesn’t mention his other clubs.

    This site is a message board that mentions him, and suggests that he was married to a woman named Margaret, and that she was still alive as of October 2012:

  3. I am the son of John Petts and can confirm that he is very much alive and living in Northampton. John is no longer married to Margaret they divorced some years ago.

    I did play for Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury town but my career was cut short due to injury.

  4. Paul thank you so much for writing in, and I do hope you found my little resume reasonable.

    By chance this site, and Untold Arsenal are both run from Northants, and some of us do occasionally watch the Cobblers and other local clubs, when not at the Emirates.

    May I ask, if you feel it is appropriate, to pass on our best wishes to your father. If he is ever of a mind to recall any of his time in football, and would like to write something, or indeed talk to myself about it so we could record the conversation here, that would be wonderful. If so please do email me directly

    But most important of all, my thanks to you for taking the trouble to reply. It really is appreciated.

  5. I had the pleasure of working with John Petts during the 90’s . John worked for a company called Flair Press who were then based in Northampton . John drove for the company and used to come to the company I worked for in Biggleswade
    Funny thing was me being an old Arsenal fan realised that John was actually playing in the first game I ever saw at Highbury . A 0-2 defeat to Wolves . Think it must have been1958 . We had some good laughs with John , he was a great bloke

  6. Just come across this article about Jonny Petts. Brought back vivid memories of Jonny and I playing for our school namely Raynham Road Edmonton. I played left half and was captain, Jonny was right half. We both went for trials for Edmonton schoolboys , Jonny got in but I didnt. The next I recall was Jonny playing for the Arsenal against Juventus and shutting the great welsh player Jon Charles out of the game, some achievement that.

  7. I played for John at nsfc. He was a great.manager and person. I’m glad he is doing well. His other son Gary and I played a lot together.

  8. I live in Northampton and remember talking to Johnny Petts after an evening match when he was manager of Northampton Spencer in their club bar. It must have been over twenty five years ago and I seem to recall former Gunner Mark Heeley was playing for them as spoke to him as well. Both were very sociable.

  9. I played for Johnny at Bath City and Trowbridge Town. He became a good friend and I kept in touch long after he moved to Northampton.
    Went with him often to watch his boys play, I was very close to the family. He was a great ambassador for both the game and the Arsenal. I left England in the 70’s and currently I live in California with my wife.
    The truth is that no matter where I go I think fondly of Johnny Petts

  10. Hi Terry

    I remember the name from the past as I used to come to watch Bath City every week with the family.
    My Dad still lives in Northampton a few miles away from me and I will tell him of your message of which I am sure he will be very pleased to hear.
    If you wish to contact him please email me – and I will get it to him.
    Unfortunately emails and the Internet are still not in his world but we will work a way out if you would like to.
    Thank you for your kind words.

    Gary Petts

  11. I am a long standing Bath City Supporter remember both Johnny Petts and Terry Rose well. Terry had long hair and a beard. John was manager at difficult time for the club and it was a case of trying to survive on a very tight budget. Glad he is ok.

  12. Steve it’s been a long time since I read your comments on the Johnny Petts/Arsenal old players blog.
    I still follow Bath City and have very fond memories of the city and my friends in the West Country, wonderful people.
    It was very decent of you to write as you did, in a throw away age people like Johnny Petts should be remembered by some of us.
    Kind regards
    Terry Rose

  13. Steve it’s been a long time since I read your comments on the Johnny Petts/Arsenal old players blog.
    I still follow Bath City and have very fond memories of the city and my friends in the West Country, wonderful people.
    It was very decent of you to write as you did, in a throw away age people like Johnny Petts should be remembered by some of us.
    Kind regards
    Terry Rose

  14. My dad Brian Abrey played football with him at middlesex schools, Is Johnny still alive.?

  15. i went to the same school as john petts,also at the same school was tony marchi.who played for spurs

  16. played with john at reading – he was a great bloke but as i was in competition with him at the time it was difficult to be close to him. I wish him well.

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