Remembering the great talents whose careers were broken by injury.


“Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football” is the definitive history of Arsenal from its inception as a league club through to its first year at Highbury, and reveals dramatic elements of Arsenal’s early days that have never been revealed before.

“Making the Arsenal” is a journalist’s inside view of the events around Arsenal’s collapse in 1910 and the rescue that paved the way for the move to Highbury and the arrival of Herbert Chapman.

Both books are now available on Kindle and in print.    Please see here for more details.


We spend a lot of time thinking about the players who did make it, and following their careers at Arsenal, and then quite often, with other clubs.  But perhaps we should also remember the players who were thought to have a great prospect but who never made it – especially when the reason was down to injury.  Gedion Zelalem is one of the latter – on this day in 2015 he was loaned to Rangers and had some success with them playing 21 times, but for whom injuries seemed never to be very far away.

Here are the anniversaries.

24 August 1878: Believed date of birth of Archi Gray although there is considerable doubt.  He joined Arsenal in 1904.

24 August 1907: James Quayle joined Woolwich Arsenal as an amateur player and although he re-signed for another year on 2 June 1908, he then received an offer from Northfleet, and so moved onto there, playing for two seasons before turning professional and rejoining Woolwich Arsenal on 19 October 1910.

24 August 1912: Les Calder signed as a professional having been an amateur at Arsenal since March 1911. However he only played one game for the club – as an amateur and none as a pro, probably due to injury.

24 August 1928: Tommy Docherty born in Glasgow.  He started to play junior football but his career developed while he was doing his National Service. 

24 August 1935: Arsenal Reds played Arsenal Blues (the first team v the reserves) in the traditional opener to the season – and for this game we actually have a photo.

24 August 1939: The Emergency Powers (Defence) Act 1939 was passed giving full authority to the new ‘defence regulations’.  Parliament was recalled to pass the bill and as a result of it, army reservists were called up and Civil Defence workers placed on alert.  Two days later the 1939/40 football season began.

24 August 1949: Peter Goring’s first match – Chelsea 1 Arsenal 2 – in which Goring scored  It was however the only game in the first five league games of the season that Arsenal did not lose.

24 August 1954: David Herd bought from Stockport for £10,000.  His games for  Stockport were restricted by his national service but he scored five goals in 12 games in 1953–54, thus attracting the attention of Arsenal. 

24 August 1961: George Armstrong became a professional, having been turned down by Grimsby and Newcastle Utd.  He went on to play 500 games for Arsenal.

24 August 1963: League debut for Ian Ure, a 3-1 home defeat to Wolverhampton.  He had played 107 games for Dundee and went on to play 168 times for Arsenal.

24 August 1967: Michael Thomas, the man who scored in the last minute against Liverpool to win the league, was born in Lambeth. He was a Tottenham fan but signed for Arsenal as a schoolboy in 1982.

24 August 1971:  Arsenal 0 Sheffield United 1 in front of 45,395.   Newly promoted Sheffield United based their game on endless energy – everyone ran constantly looking for the best position, and it left Arsenal unsure who was where, and who should be marked by whom.  Mee’s tactics looked askew, and there was no Don Howe to make suggestions.

24 August 1974:  Arsenal 4 Manchester City 0, 27,143 coming along to seek an improvement on a very disappointing start to the season.  Curiously for a 4-0 victory one main contender for the man of the match was Jimmy Rimmer, who seemed to be intent on showing everyone interested that Arsenal did not need Shilton, no matter what the papers made up. 

24 August 1991: Aston Villa 3 Arsenal 1.  Alan Smith scored. As league champions Arsenal had opened the season with two defeats and a draw – scoring three and letting in seven.  

24 August 1996: David Hillier’s final game before his transfer to Leicester; he had played 104 league games.  This 2-0 win over Leicester marked the start of a ten match unbeaten run during which Wright scored ten.

24 August 2000: Sylvain Wiltord signed from Bordeaux.  He had scored 46 goals in 96 games for Bordeaux between 1997 and 2000.  He went on to play 104 games for Arsenal.

24 August 2003: Three years to the day after signing Wiltord scored two as Arsenal beat Middlesbrough 4-0.   Arsène Wenger said in the press, “I feel it is very important in our minds to do this and I know the hunger is strong to do it.” He named Newcastle, Liverpool, Man U and Chelsea as the main rivals for the Premier League.  It was the 2nd league match of the unbeaten season

24 August 2007: Joe O’Cearuill sold to Barnet.  He was a youth player for Watford but released after one year and signed by Arsenal.  However he never played for Arsenal in his one season with the club. By 2017 he had recorded 16 different clubs and was recorded as playing for Haringey Borough.

24 August 2011:  Samir Nasri joined Manchester City on a four-year deal for around £25m after 86 games for Arsenal scoring 18 goals.

24 August 2015: Gedion Zelalem was loaned to Rangers for the season.  He played 20 games in Rangers promotion season to the Premier League, and on April 17, 2016 played against Celtic in the Scottish cup semi final. Zelalem converted a penalty in the shootout to help Rangers progress to the final. In 2019 he was transferred to Sporting Kansas City.

One Reply to “Remembering the great talents whose careers were broken by injury.”

  1. Ian Ure a record signing at the time from Scotland, came down with a big reputation and was supposed to be Billy Wright’s answer to Arsenal’s defensive problems. Unfortunately things went awry on Ian’s debut, when it was found that while he was dominant in the air, he wasn’t the fastest centre half. On his debut today in 1963, Terry Wharton had a field day for Wolves and one newspaper rather unkindly referred to their duel “as an oil tanker coming up against a speed boat.”

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