The strange case of Jack Lee and Arsenal’s link to Chesterfield.

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

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.

Arsenal History Society



3 Replies to “The strange case of Jack Lee and Arsenal’s link to Chesterfield.”

  1. I have just read that in his second season at Arsenal, in which Jack didn’t play any first team games, he was a regular member of the side that won the Football Combination.

  2. Hi. Definitely NOT to guy born Marylebone who died in the war. That was John William ‘Jack’ Lee the Somerset cricketer. It’s a common mistake! If you follow the trail of your man, a press report in June 1926 says he was invited to join Arsenal on their Continental tour at the end of the 1925/6 season and did so well he was signed for the following season. He was apparently 21 at the time, 5 ft 10 in and 13 stone and an outside left. Transferred to Chesterfield in 1928 and then on to Aldershot in 1933.
    Sounds as if the Blyth man likely but you could check the census records. Similarly on deaths, about 6 people called John William Lee with birth date 1904/5 died in the 1970s to 1990s but without ordering the death certs, hard to pin down which one is him.
    Hope this helps a bit.

  3. I have been onto the Chesterfield website for information for John William Lee and that sent me to a another site called ‘Sky is Blue, Clouds are White.’ Not officially connected to Chesterfield FC but a wealth of statistics on their history.They provide a photo of him too.
    There is certainly a discrepancy on when Jack Lee died to other sources. This website informs that he died in 1990 having returned to Chesterfield after his football career was over and worked at Markham Engineering where he turned out for their Broad Oaks works team. Their maths are a bit out as they say he was 83 but have him down as being born in 1903! Another source, the excellent ’11× Home of Football Statistics and History’, lists his birthdate as 26th June 1903 in Tynemouth. Tony Matthews in his ‘Who’s Who of Arsenal’ had put he was born in 1904 in Blyth and died in 1944.
    As you say Tony he was a regular member of the Combination championship side and won winners medals in 1926-27 and 1927-28. In the former he scored a very respectable 19 goals in 30 appearances for a left winger and the latter 4 goals from 22 appearances. Thanks to Fred Ollier’s ‘Arsenal a Complete Record 1886-1990’ for that info.
    Whilst at Chesterfield he made 170 appearances scoring 49 goals including 31 appearances and 15 goals during their Third Division North championship side of 1930-31. Apparently when he was sold to Aldershot in 1933 it caused dismay to the fans as he was a popular player.
    At Aldershot according to the Tony Matthews book he played 61 times scoring 19 goals before finishing in 1935.
    What I love about this site is that it encourages us to look things up for ourselves and so often shows that what was an obscure and almost unknown player at Arsenal proves to be a still very good footballer at a lower level, and successful.

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