Joseph Cooper: the most mysterious of all the mysterious Arsenal players

By Tony Attwood

The information we have on Joseph Cooper is limited in the extreme, and indeed even what we have is contradicted in some quarters.

First, his name.   It seems to have been Joseph Cooper, but is also noted in one source as Joe, but then seemingly noted on the Wolves heroes site as Jeremiah Cooper.  David Instone who runs the site has been very helpful in sharing information, and I am very grateful.  He’s agreed that since our numbers for appearances etc tally, it is the same guy.   So he might have been Jeremiah or Joseph, we are not sure.

This is what the Wolverhampton site says…

“Strong running inside forward, always thirsty for the ball, Jerry Cooper was a member of Wolves first ever  Football League side vs Aston Villa on 8 September 1888.

“Unfortunately a serious ankle injury forced him out of the side, and in May 1891 he left Molineux for Stourbridge Standard.

“Born in Heathtown, Wolverhampton in 1865, he played for Milton FC and Amblecote Nomads, before signing for Wolves in 1888.”

I also have two sources that give his date of birth as “1865” but also one citing “15 January 1866”.  But one source is always dubious!   The place of birth is agreed however – Wolverhampton.

As for his footballing career there is no Milton FC on record today, although there is a Milton Utd in Oxfordshire – but its web site has no details of the club’s history.  (As a passing note I do wonder why – whether the club is 10 years old or 120 years old, surely it is worth recording the club’s origins).

There are a lot of other Milton’s around the UK – well over 30 in fact – but if the player was born in Wolverhampton and came to Woolwich Arsenal from Wolverhampton, the chances are he played first for a club in that area.

However the nearest Milton I can find to Wolverhampton is about 30 miles to the north – now part of Stoke on Trent.  There is a youth team that plays there – Milton Utd (formerly Milton Warriors), and that is about as far as I can take that link.

Moving on we get more luck however.  The book “Vain games of no value?” has a mention in passing of Amblecote Nomads alongside Walsall Town Swifts (whom Woolwich Arsenal played in the second division), Wolverhampton Rangers etc – so they were obviously from the area also.  It is the only reference I can find for the club.

Moving on once again we have Joseph playing 24 games for Wolverhampton Wanderers and scoring six goals.  Then he got his injury, and here again the the Wolves Heroes web site however provides us with information – he played for another team – Stourbridge Standard – another club from the region who were in fact founded before Wolverhampton and WBA, in 1876.

Thus the gap of three years we have between his leaving Wolverhampton with the injury and then joining Woolwich Arsenal in October 1893, included a period of making his way back from injury, with a local team.

So he finally reached Arsenal – quite possibly like so many before him coming to Woolwich to find work in the munitions factories, and then signing up for the local club.

Joseph made his debut for Woolwich Arsenal in a friendly on 23 October 1893 against Roston Bourke’s XI.  Arsenal won 4-3 and Cooper scored a goal.

On 30 October 1893 Cooper got a second game – this another friendly, a 1-0 win over Wolverhampton.  Maybe a coincidence, or maybe part of the transfer arrangements between the two clubs.  Under the rules at the time, registration of a player remained with a league club until they formally released the player – so Joseph would have been registered still to Wolverhampton.  Perhaps the game was part of the de-registration deal.

Arsenal’s next game was on 4 November, an FA Cup match against Clapton which resulted in a 6-2 win, with two goals from Cooper – he was obviously getting the hang of Arsenal by now.  And so inevitably he was retained for his first league match – a 1-0 victory over Ardwick on 11 November.

However he didn’t retain his place at number 9 and only returned at the end of the year for his second match – co-incidentally against Ardwick.

In all Cooper was the third of six different centre forwards that Arsenal used in 28 league games in their first season in the Football League.  Their highest scorer was Henderson with 12, who never once donned the centre forward shirt, while Shaw got 11 out of 17 games.

In the end Cooper played six league games – two at centre forward, two at inside left and two at inside right, but he did not manage any league goals.  He did however play again in the FA Cup on 27 January 1894, in a 1-2 home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday.

His last game in the league was the final match of the season at home to Burton Swifts which Arsenal lost 0-2 on 14 April 1894, making it six league games, two cup games, and seven friendlies all told.   The records show that he did not reappear for any matches, friendly or otherwise, in the following season.

But a little context is needed here, for the turnover of players at Arsenal at the time was extraordinary – at least by today’s standards.

Of the eleven men who had the honour of playing in Arsenal’s first ever league match on 2 September 1893, not one started the first league match of the following season, and only two of those starting XI for ’93 actually played in the league at all for Arsenal in 1894/5 – the second league season.  Change was much more common than stability.

The mysterious Roston Bourkes XI did however reappear as they turned up in 1894/95 for David Howat’s benefit match on 12 November 1894. Arsenal won 6-2 and the game was attended by 1200 people.

And that, I am sorry to say, is all we have.

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2 Replies to “Joseph Cooper: the most mysterious of all the mysterious Arsenal players”

  1. Hi

    I note with interest your comments in an article on your site regarding the ‘mysterious’ Roston Bourke XI. Arthur Roston Bourke (1866-1955), my 2nd Great Uncle, was a referee who also had his own football team. A local paper article in 1895 reported that “last season, Mr Bourke officiated in 99 matches, something like a record, and could have completed his century on the last day of the season when he took his team to Luton Town, but, though asked to referee, preferred a neutral man.”

    In 1893, The FA formed the first referees’ society and Arthur Roston Bourke was appointed as Honorary Secretary. Its prime purpose was to examine the qualification of referees orally and appoint them to matches. This later became the Referees Association and he is mentioned in the history section of their website.

    In 1896 Reading’s first game at Elm Park was held on 5 September between Reading and A. Roston Bourke’s XI. The visitors were a scratch team from Holloway College and thus not registered with the Football Association.Reading were later fined £5 and suspended for playing against an unregistered team. The match was abandoned due to torrential weather; Reading were leading 7–1 when the match ended.

    In 1898, during a Cup Tie between QPR and Richmond my great uncle ordered one of the players off the field and was then himself subjected to a gross assault on the part of one or more of the spectators. The FA decreed that Rangers’ Club Ground should be closed for two weeks and that during that period the Rangers ‘should not play within a radius of seven miles of their own ground.’

    Arthur Bourke Roston was also a keen cricketer, played at Lords for Middlesex Colts in 1887, and worked as a schoolmaster at Holloway College, founded by his father William Roston Bourke, close to Arsenal’s ground. He was secretary of Holloway College Cricket and Football Clubs and the Amateur Society. He later became a sports writer (under the name of Norseman) for the Islington Daily Gazette where he devoted a lot of energy in reporting on Arsenal, sometimes critically, but always constructively as a life-time fan.

    This is just a small part of the research I am currently working on which I hope to publish some time in 2017.


    Richard Bourke

  2. Richard thank you so much. I am absolutely overwhelmed to have this – the issue has puzzled me for so long. It is probably the longest unsolved mystery on this site.

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