By Tony Attwood
If Archie Low, the subject of our last investigation, was something of a mystery as an Arsenal player, John William “Jack” Lee is even more tantalising.
Indeed the few sources that mention can can’t actually agree on his date and place of birth. Marylebone on 1 February 1902 is the version that looks right to me, but 1904 (no specific date) in Blyth Northumberland turns up in the Arsenal Fact File. For the moment I am going with the former.
Putting the few sources that we have together we have him signed on 4 May 1926 as an amateur and 27 May 1926 as a professional.
This was part of the early Chapman era; he’d had just one season in the job. Arsenal had just come an unprecedented second in the league and clearly the club were looking to bring in new players that fitted Chapman’s requirements.
But the background profile of Jack Lee doesn’t really look right for a first division club that had just ended the season as runners’ up. His previous clubs are listed as
- Blackhall Wesleyans
- Horden Athletic
- Hartlepool Utd
- Luton Town
- Horden Athletic
Now Horden Athletic are no longer with us, but we know that they played in the Wearside Football League, (which supports the notion that he was indeed born in Northumberland), which is now the 11th level of football in England. I imagine it was much the same in the early 20th century, although there was no formal promotion from the non-league to the league in those days.
But we do know that Horden Athletic won the Wearside League in three consecutive seasons (1912, 1913, 1914) and although that is pre-war, and our man signed for Arsenal twelve years later, it shows that the club was there, and did indeed have some vigour and history.
We have Jack Lee playing his first game on 6 September 1926: Bolton 2 Arsenal 2. He then and had a run of 6 games in 7 but Arsenal did not win one of them. Four draws two defeats. The one game he missed 18 September against Liverpool at home we won 2-0. Clearly something had to change and Chapman was never slow in doing this. 27 players were used in the league this season. Our success came in reaching our first ever FA Cup final, although Jack played no part in the run.
Jack came back for one more game on 28 April 1927 which we did win 2-1 v Blackburn away. It was part of a run of five successive wins.
But overall this was a disrupted season – especially for the position of outside left where Jack Lee played all his games. Haden got 15 games at outside left in this season, Hoar got 14, Jack got seven, Peel got five…
Jack Lee spent two years at Arsenal but continued to struggle to make an impact in the first team and it looks as if the hope that the club had found a gem in this non-league player were not fulfilled.
And so it is no surprise to see that on 7 June 1928 we sold him to Chesterfield in 1928 for £250.
But now here is a little twist. Chesterfield set a record of scoring in 47 consecutive league games set between December 1929 and December 1930 in the Third Division north (a record that Arsenal beat in September 2002). Chesterfield then won the Third Division North in 1931, so if Jack was still there (and he was still in his later 20s, so still in his footballing prime) he would at last have known some success and celebration through both achievements.
We also know that after Chesterfield he went to Aldershot, but in neither case do I have records of the players of the clubs.
Beyond that, sadly nothing except a note in one reference work that he died in 1944. He would have been just 40 or 42 years old. Too old to have been fighting for his country, but perhaps tragically killed in an air raid.
It is tantalising to have such tiny glimpses of this now long-forgotten player, and if you have any further information, please do write in.
Please note: The full anniversaries index can be found here.