Don Roper: 10 years of magic at Arsenal

Don Roper: the key dates…

  • 14 December 1922 Don Roper born in Botey, Hampshire
  • 11 August 1947: Dan Roper signs from Southampton  (See background article here)
  • 23 August 1947: League Debut for Archie Macauley and Don Roper.  Arsenal 3 Sunderland 1.
  • 4 September 1956: Final Arsenal match for Don Roper
  • 8 January 1957: Don Roper goes back to Southampton
  • 8 June 2001: Don Roper died.

Donald George Beaumont Roper was seen as a schoolboy by Southampton, playing for Bitterne Nomads, in the Hampshire League and soon turned professional with Southampton in 1939, (and not 1949 as Brian Glanville wrote in a rather eccentric obituary in the Guardian).  He started playing for the club during the second world war – including some games alongside Ted Bates who later became his manager and was the source of a life-long rift between Roper and Southampton.

After one post-war season, and having played a first class cricket match for Hampshire against Cambridge University in the summer of 1947 Arsenal signed Don Roper, with George Curtis, Tom Rudkin plus £10,000 going in the opposite direction.

The transfer was a very difficult one, not least because Arsenal absolutely did not want to lose George Curtis (who will be the subject of a future article).    It is reported that Tom Whittaker went to Southampton eleven times during the war years and during Roper’s one post-war league season at the Dell to watch the player and to try and ease the negotiations along.

Roper immediately became a first team player, playing 40 league games and scoring ten league goals (plus one in the cup) in the amazing 1947/8 season as Arsenal won the league under Whittaker.  This was the season in which Arsenal went the first 17 matches unbeaten, playing most of the home games in front of 60,000.

But on 29 January 1949 he was injured in a cup match against Derby and although the team initially did well without him (winning the next three games scoring 13 goals with only one against) and a run of seven games without a win took its toll, as Arsenal ended up 5th.

1949/50 was a season of shuffling the team and Roper started the first match as centre forward before moving to left wing, and then back to centre forward.  But injury struck again and he only played one match in the run to the Cup Final and just a smattering of games in the second half of the season.   (Interestingly many reports seem to copy each other by saying that he was moved from right wing to left wing, and that he was “dropped” for the cup final, but the situation is far more complex than that).

By 1951/2 he was back to his wing position – playing sometimes left wing sometimes right, and he played in Arsenal’s cup run to the FA Cup final – in which the team was disrupted by an injury to Walley Barnes.

But finally in 1952/3 he got his second league winner’s medal, and played 41 of the 42 league matches.

He continued playing as a regular for Arsenal until 3 December 1955 – a 4-0 away defeat to Birmingham, and he played no more that season.  He played four games near the start of 1956/7 with his final match being a 1-2 home defeat to Preston on 4 September 1956.

He played 321 matches for Arsenal in total, scoring 95 goals and then (mistakenly as it turned out) went back to Southampton (then of Division III South) in January 1957 as club captain, playing in a team with Terry Paine.

But in his third season back at the club a split arose between Roper and Ted Bates after Bates reneged on a pledge that Roper should have a job as a trainer with the club at the end of his playing career.  It was a nasty end to a relationship between the club and one of its top players of all time, and with Southampton refusing to back down, it was never healed.

He finished his career by moving from Hampshire into Dorset playing for Weymouth and Dorchester Town, finally retiring from football in 1963 and moving on to work for an engineering company.  In his later years he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and died in 2001 aged 78.   He was survived by his widow, Joyce, and two sons, Donald and Leslie.

Here is his league career…

Years Team League games Goals
1940–1947 Southampton 40 8
1947–1957 Arsenal 297 88
1957–1959 Southampton 80 32
1959–1960 Weymouth
1960–1963 Dorchester Town

His obituaries refer to him as a quiet and modest man with a huge appetite – but also make reference to things like “losing his place to Freddie Cox” in the 1950 cup final – but as a the review above makes clear, until he did drop out of the first team, he never lost his place on selection issues – only because of injuries.

Here is his Arsenal career…

Season  League Games League Goals
1947/8 40 10
1948/9 31 5
1949/50 27 7
1950/1 34 7
1951/2 30 9
1952/3 41 14
1953/4 39 12
1954/5 35 17
1955/6 16 4
1956/7 4 3
Totals 297 88

There is a recording that includes him playing: Arsenal v Chelsea 1952

The  books

Some other sites from the Untold team 



5 Replies to “Don Roper: 10 years of magic at Arsenal”

  1. Something appears not quite right about Don Roper, Tony.
    You report he was injured on the 27th January 1948 but only 18 days later I saw him score a stunning first half goal in a 3-0 win against Burnley. He played right wing that day.
    And Arsenal won the Championship that season, not 5th.

    Comment from Tony: Thanks – there were two slips there, I have corrected them.

  2. What was the reason he didn’t play in the 1950 cup final? Was he injured or dropped?

  3. @Patrick,
    Not absolutely sure but I think the heroics of Freddie Cox in the lead-up to the Final were such that he became a certain choice.

  4. Don scored two goals direct from a corner – away at Charlton and home in a friendly v Hibernian
    Am I right?

  5. Don’s birthday today – 14 December 1922.
    He came to my school in the summer months and taught us cricket. I remember very clearly him teaching me the forward defensive block. No space allowed between bat and pad! Liked him very much
    Graham P

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