Jon Sammels: wonderful player, victim of the 1960s Anti-Arsenal “fans”

By Tony Attwood

Jon Sammels played for Arsenal between 1963 and 1971 and I remember him well.  Of course in those days the amount of information we had about the club was far less than now, and I never understood why he left when, as far as I could see, he was still such a wonderful player.

Here are the basic details…

  • 23 July 1945: Jon Sammels born in Ipswich
  • 30 July 1962:  Jon signed as professional
  • 27 April 1963: Blackpool 3 Arsenal 2.  Debut for Jon Sammels – and he scored one of the two goals. He played just two games this season, but went on to play 212 games all told, including making 21 appearances in the first Double season.
  • 24 April 1971: WBA 2 Arsenal 2.  Last game for Jon Sammels. Having just defeated Leeds, West Brom held Arsenal in the 29th league game of the first Double season.  The result left Arsenal one point above Leeds with one game in hand, but knowing that the next match was Leeds away.
  • 22 July 1971 Jon Sammels sold to Leicester for £100,000

And his footballing career…

Seasons Team Lge games Lge Goals
1963/71 Arsenal 215* 39
1971/77 Leicester City 241 21
1978/9 Vancouver Whitecaps 54 7
1979/80 Nuneaton Borough

* Includes three as sub.   Jon also played nine times for England’s under 23s.

And now the meat on the bones…

Jonathon Charles Sammels  was born in Ipswich and is said to have been an Arsenal supporter as a boy.

He started to be a regular in the team in 1965/6 – for after just two games in 1962/3 and none the following year he played 17 in 1964/5.  And then 32 the next season, including playing in the friendly against Brazil in November 1965 when he scored both goals as Arsenal beat the world champions 2-0.

Jon was clearly on the way up, for after that he notched up all 42 league games (and scoring ten) in 1966/7.  But his greatest moment came in the 1970 Fairs Cup final when he scored the winning goal to give Arsenal their first ever European trophy.

However an injury restricted subsequent games and as George Graham came into the team Jon’s options were reduced although he was used as an alternative to Eddy Kelly on occasions and he did make 13 league starts in 1970/1 as part of the Double side.

Matters were made worse however by the anti-Arsenal Arsenal of the day booing him,  And so following a transfer request and 212 league starts (270 matches in total) and 52 goals, he was sold to Leicester.

Jon then became a key part in the Leicester team for seven years, and played almost the same number of games for them as for Arsenal (265 for Leicester), and won the 1971 Charity Shield with Leicester (Arsenal declining to play in the competition having won the Double).

He left Leicester on a free transfer in 1978, and after a season in Canada, and then a short spell in non-league he became a driving instructor back in Leicester.

Dave Faber, writing on gives an interesting insight into Jon…

In the wake of the Fairs Cup Final triumph a year earlier I had written to him asking for advice on striking a football (he had the fiercest shot on him) and how to improve my game. I didn’t expect a response, and certainly not a hand-written one that stretched to four pages of velum. I was already a fan, but at thirteen I was understandably overwhelmed at his kindness.

Bob Wilson is quoted in Highbury: The Story Of Arsenal by Jon Spurling in relation to not playing in the cup final saying…

Jon was my room-mate and the night before the FA Cup final, he was seriously choked up. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like for him to miss out on the climax to the Double season, after he’d been at Highbury all those years. You hate to hear one of your team-mates receiving criticism from the crowd. Fans have a much bigger influence on players than they think.

And that is it  – except for a novel call “I am Sam” by James Durose-Rayner.  It is just the third novel that I know of which has Arsenal as a theme (although not really a central theme), the first being the Arsenal Stadium Mystery, and the second “Making the Arsenal” (set in 1910 by, well, since you ask, me).  “I am Sam” is a book about a David Beckham look alike  who works in media and who is charged with producing made-for-TV videos about England’s failure in the 1970 World Cup, and in passing, Jon Sammels.  ———————–

The full anniversaries index can be found here.  

The books


13 Replies to “Jon Sammels: wonderful player, victim of the 1960s Anti-Arsenal “fans””

  1. I remember Jon well. S lovely elegant player. I could never understand all the criticism. I use to stand on the North Bank at the time. If I remember correctly not too much criticism came from there.

  2. As an American, who wouldn’t have been old enough to remember him anyway, my first exposure to Jon Sammels was, as you might guess, the film version of “Fever Pitch,” which led me to believe that he might actually have been “rubbish” and “a f***ing idiot” who should “sod off to Spurs.”

    Then I saw the Official History and 501 Goals DVDs, and saw that he was actually a very good player, and a decent guy. So why the abuse? Did Nick Hornby catch him on a bad day (when Arsenal won anyway)?

    And if the height (or depth, if you prefer) of the abuse came after his goal that clinched the Fairs Cup win, then that’s disgraceful. I can’t think of any other Arsenal player who got that kind of abuse after a big goal, unless it’s “traitors” like Fabregas, van Persie and Adebayor (Cole not having scored many goals).

  3. Hiya there – I wrote ‘I Am Sam’.

    “In passing”? “Not a central theme”?

    You’ve just got to love some of these pedantic-know your-place bloggers!

    There is more ‘background’ and ‘fact’ re Jon Sammels in ‘I Am Sam’ than in his actual biography that was ghosted by Rob Oxby in 1972 – and if you take time to read it – you will find a reason or reasoning why sections of the crowd didn’t take to him.

    Never just assume a fact, read up on it and take it in. As Jon told Kev Whitcher of Gooner magazine – ‘Everything James wrote about me is 100% correct’.

    Stevie Kell from ASFC and myself had to work hard to get Jon to come down to The Emirates for the book signing as he was unsure how the Arsenal supporters would respond to him. He was that uneasy about it. Frank McLintock was also a great help, but Frank is a class act.
    Jon had obviously been to The Emirates before, but had never actually mingled with the supporters on a one-to-one basis. He’s a fairly shy and sensitive person and that showed on him getting there. However after interacting with the supporters for a couple of hours the reception he ended up getting was nothing short of astounding and he was well and truly choked up afterwards. Especially when they sang his song ‘We’ll walk a million miles for one of your goals, Sammy’. I was told by a few people that that was the best ever reception for any ex-player.

    And that’s me mentioning him just ‘in passing’? Just think how they would have responded if I’d done a book with a cannon on the front and pictures in it?

    Jon’s body language was a bone of contention for a section of the fans – but there was a reason for it.
    In ‘I Am Sam’ I made the fact public for the first time, therefore I’m surprised that it’s not been mentioned in Tony Attwood’s piece on ‘Jon Sammels’.

    Next up is ‘ITV 7’ the second part of the story.

    Go into extras on my website – you’ll find a bit more info to add to your piece on Len Julians

  4. Like Stevegooner I used to stand on the north bank and I don’t remember much criticism of Jon.

  5. I always thought Jon was a really good team player,like a few of the lads who have added comments,I cannot remember him getting abuse from the North Bank,in fact they use to sing,Sammy,I would walk a million miles for one of your goals,I once saw him score a blinder away to Nottingham Forest from 25 yards one night game.

  6. Jon Sammels, I remember him well. Firstly as one of 3 England under 23’s. Jon Sammels, Geordie Armstrong and Terry Anderson, will they get in? There was always great interested in under 23’s, the best being England v Young England, Cup Final Friday. I also remember he had a shot on the edge of the box, or was it a penalty? At the Clock-End, he hit the right hand post, it swung left, behind the keeper, hit the left hand post and went in!It might have been one of those exhibition games v Moscow Dynamo or a Brazilian team? No matter, he grafted through that Billy Wright and early Bertie Mee period only to really miss out on the glory, a shame, it was the likes of him, Geordie Armstrong, Peter Storey and Stan Simpson who created the double team….

  7. The hounding of Jon Sammels emanated from a small bunch od alkies in the Long Bar of the Gunners pub – he was just too subrtle for some prople I guess – a joy to watch and what a shot!

    “I’d walk a million miles for one of your goals”

  8. My nan’s house was in Gillepie Road right outside the North Bank entrance and I started to watch Arsenal as a 7 year old in 1959 when my uncle took me to my first game.
    I’ve seen some really great players over the years since that first game and I count Jon as a player I loved watching, he was a classy elegant player with a fabulous shot

  9. I remember he scored the goal against rouen in 1968 fairs cup win good player sad to leave because some numpties didnt like him

  10. Jon Sammels got stick from the East stand,and that liberty taket Hornby in his film Fever Pitch when a ted Drake lookalike tells him to pi… off to the Spurs ,bad manners, and disrespectful,had that Swindon keeper not stretched his arms two foot longer,Sammels would have scored a carbon copy of George,s 71 goal.The saddest picture of JS is him watching the 71 team celebrating at Wembly.0

  11. I loved watching Jon Sammels playing in midfield for Arsenal in the 70’s.
    He had wonderful vision for passing the ball in attacking moves and a great shot.
    I thought he would be the next Bobby Charlton in the England team but sadly sections of the crowd ruined his career Arsenal with yobbish blame culture.
    What a pleasure it was to watch him for several years up to winning the Double.

  12. As a life long Leicester supporter I remember Jon well one of the best passers of a ball we have ever had at Leicester and a great asset to a great side we had under the guidance of the great Jimmy Bloomfield.

  13. I do not think it was a case of Jon being booed; it was more a case of loud sighs of frustration. Supporters recognised his skills (especially his powerful shots) but, because of them, expected to see them every match. His great potential (to be an England regular) was not realised. I was sorry to see him leave Arsenal.

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