How all the stories of Arsenal’s history tend to repeat the same mistake

By Tony Attwood

There are moments when doing research into Arsenal’s past that one finds a fact which has been completely overlooked.  Not, I must admit, a major fact, but nevertheless a fact which really ought to be mentioned.  That’s the case we have here.

William Jeffrey was born in Dalerby, a small village in Lincolnshire in 1868, who played as left back, right back and goalkeeper for Arsenal in the season 1893/94.  His goalkeeping came during the periods when Charlie Williams was dropped for letting in too many goals (see my previous article).  So immediately the question is raised: was this just a one off – a situation in which the regular keeper was playing so badly that the club needed someone, anyone, to fill in?

In fact William Jeffrey’s  is one of those players from the early days of football who suffer from having had one person write a few lines about him.  Those lines turn up on web site after web site, repeated word for word.  Which is ok, except where the original piece is wrong, or rather has an omission of significance.   If you have read of William Jeffrey on any other site, you’ll realise that there’s a story that hasn’t been told before (at least as far as I know).

Jeffrey’s list of clubs is long, and it looks as if he rarely played for much more than a season with each.  That in itself is not unusual for the period.  The list runs

  • West Manchester (not related to the current West Manchester FC)
  • Horncastle (see note below)
  • Lincoln City
  • Boston Town (not, I think, directly traceable to either of the current Boston clubs)
  • Grimsby Town
  • Gainsborough Trinity (who were in the Midland league at the time)
  • Lincoln City
  • Burnley
  • Woolwich Arsenal
  • Southampton St Mary’s

The earliest news I have found of him comes from his Horncastle days, and there is a report of a match in January 1885 in which Jeffrey played in goal for the club.  Here is an extract from that site’s report of the game.

“A sharp shot was direct for the Horncastle upright but the ball , striking the cross-bar it rebounded into play only however to be again propelled forward. Jeffrey however caught the ball and immediately threw it out of danger, a piece of play for which he received the well earned plaudits of the spectators.”

And that’s the clue – he was not just a full back, who suddenly filled in, in goal, for Arsenal.   He was also a goalkeeper from his earliest days in football.

In 1891/92 William Jeffrey made seven appearances for Burnley at right back, but (in another story repeated on site after site, but really any clear original evidence to back it up) Burnley had a huge squad (the site everyone has copied puts it at 50) and he spent the whole of the following season eking out an existence in the reserves and in friendly games.

For his one season with Arsenal Jeffrey played 22 league games and four FA Cup games scoring no goals.   Nine of his league games and two of his cup games were in goal – the rest were mostly at left back, but included a couple of appearances at right back.

In November 1894 he left Woolwich and joined Southampton for their first season in the new Southern League, and is reported to have played most of the season, as the team finished third in the league.  (There was no promotion to the Football League as the Southern League was seen as a rival to the Football League, rather than a feeder).

However despite his seeming success with the club he left at the end of the season, and is not recorded as playing with any club after that point.

Nothing more is known of him, except this tantalising fact (which again is omitted on the web sites that mention him). In 1933 a book was published in England called “The boys with educated feet” by William Jeffrey.  It is listed in catalogues of unavailable books as being about association football.  Was the author same man?  He would have been 40 then, and would have hung up his boots – so it is possible.

I suspect the only way I am going to even get half an answer is to see the book in the British Library – unless any reader can tell me.  The only other person who stands out as a possible author was the head coach of the USA team that famously beat England in 1950 (Bill Jeffrey).  What makes me think this is not the William Jeffrey who played for Arsenal is that the world cup hero has a web site, and there is no mention of the book there.  He is a famous man in American football, and surely his book would be listed among his achievements if it were by him.

The book itself was clearly a success as it went through three editions in the 1930s – which increases hope that apart from the copy in the national archives there might be a copy elsewhere (I gave up my British Library ticket after I got my research degree, and I doubt that they would give me another, unless the rules have changed!)

Elsewhere on Arsenal History, and on Untold Arsenal…

10 Replies to “How all the stories of Arsenal’s history tend to repeat the same mistake”

  1. How about this for a mistake that has been copied over and over again:

    His name is William Walls Jeffery!! And he was born in 1866.

    Even the great Fred Ollier got his name wrong.

    I’ll post more of what I’ve found later.

  2. Andy – I carefully avoided his middle name, because I wasn’t sure. Dean Hayes has him as William Wallis Jeffrey, but Wiki and other sites go for the Walls. I wasn’t sure where to turn for the definitive – I mean he could have been called “Walls” couldn’t he. If he invented ice cream or something.

  3. OK, here we go. I’ve used the following to come up with the life of William Walls Jeffery (note the spelling of the surname):
    Arsenal – A Complete Record 1995 by Fred Ollier (I trust Fred implicitly)
    Football League Players’ Records 1888 to 1939 by Michael Joyce (again I’ve yet to find fault with this book)
    Who’s Who Of Arsenal by Tony Matthews (I only trust information in this if I have double or treble checked it) for 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901 censuses and probate records for 1911 censes for birth & death records
    Wikipedia – I wouldn’t quote this as a reliable source.

    My starting point is Fred Ollier’s book. He has William Walls Jeffrey born c1868 Dalderby, Lincolnshire. He joined Arsenal in March 1892 (I can verify this with my own research). He played 51 friendlies during 1892-93 and 5 FA Cup games. This blows Wikipedia out of the water straight away. Ollier gives Jeffrey’s pre-Arsenal clubs as: West Manchester, Lincoln City, Grimsby Town, Gainsborough Trinity and Burnley. Michael Joyce adds in Horncastle after West Manchester, Boston Town after Lincoln City and Lincoln City again after Gainsborough Trinity. Tony Matthews has added in dates for some of these clubs.

    This is where I reckon he played: West Manchester (c1885), Horncastle (c1886), Lincoln City (c1887), Boston Town (c1888), Grimsby Town (c1889), Gainsborough Trinity (August 1890), Lincoln City, Burnley (August 1891), Woolwich Arsenal (March 1892 – May 1894), Southampton St Mary’s (1894-95). No one has any record of where he went after Southampton.
    In addition, Ollier tells us that he was 5’ 9” and weighed 11st 9lb.

    Now for his name and where he lived
    Firstly, there were no births of William Jeffrey registered in Lincolnshire between 1866 and 1870. There were two births of William Jeffery registered in Lincolnshire between 1866 and 1870:
    William W Jeffery registered 1866 in Horncastle (2.5 miles from Dalderby)
    William Charles Jeffery registered 1868 in Sleaford (30 miles from Dalderby)

    If we follow William W Jeffery on the censuses we have
    1871 William Walls Jeffery aged 5 born in Dalderby living with his parents in Haltham close to Dalderby.
    1881 William Walls Jeffery aged 15 born in Dalderby living with his parents in Scrivelsby, Horncastle
    1891 William WA Jeffery aged 24 born in Dalderby, visiting in Roxholme, Lincs
    1901 William W Jeffery aged 33 born in Dalderby with his servant.
    1911 William Walls Jeffery aged 43 born in Dalderby, single, living with a servant and (presumably) her daughter in Waddington, Lincs. He was a farmer. This census is interesting as it is filled out by Jeffery himself thus confirming the spelling of the surname.

    He died on 25 August 1932 leaving £1398 13s 6d in his will. A fair amount of money back then.

    It would be interesting to find out why he spent virtually all of his life in Lincolnshire except for a five year period that took him to Burnley, Woolwich and Southampton.

    The unusual middle name of Walls made the searches much easier.

  4. And another reference book that gives his name as William Walls Jeffrey is Arsenal – History & Full Record by Scott Grant & Colin White. This is another fantastic book that was published in 1988.

  5. Jeffery played for Boston Town against Arsenal on 19 April 1889. Boston won 4-1. Also in the Boston team was their captain Bill Julian who joined Arsenal shortly after this game.

  6. yes…he is william walls JEFFERY. the name walls is from his great grandfather walls jeffery, who was given the name walls because it was his grandmothers maiden name.the original walls jeffery was born about 1755 in lincolnshire and there are dozens of his descendents with the name walls, either as a first or second christian name. I have been researching walls jeffery and his descendents beacause I am one of them…..and so far I have found no connection withe ice cream!

  7. William Walls Jeffery was connected with my family via my great aunt, who was his housekeeper. After he hung up his boots he became a gentleman farmer, taking on the Manor Farm at Middle Rasen in Lincolnshire. He continued to be involved in the game, though, and was a referee for local matches, as well as working as a groundsman. His obituary stated that he was a ‘referee of repute among local clubs and his death will be mourned throughout the district’.

  8. Re the book titled “The Boys With the Educated Feet,” I recently saw this book for sale on eBay (not by me).

    It makes it clear that this book was published / written by the former Penn State, USA college soccer coach and USA national team coach Bill Jeffrey (who was originally from Scotland) and not by the William Jeffrey that played for Arsenal. In this regard, the player’s photo on the front of the book has on a jersey that reads “Penn State.”

    Here is the link to the eBay listing of the book:

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