By Tony Attwood
There are players you can’t recall at all, players you half remember, players you rather like, and legends.
Jack Kelsey is in the final group.
He played for Arsenal’s first team from 1950 until 1962, winning just one medal – the league in 1953. And yet he is a name that anyone who watched Arsenal at the time will remember with enormous fondness.
Jack joined Arsenal in 1949 from Winch Wen – his only other club (they played in the Swansea and District League side) – and made 352 league and cup matches, as well as playing 41 times for Wales – including in the world cup finals in 1958.
Jack’s autobiography, “Over the Bar” came out in 1958, and is now republished by GCR books who specialise in this sort of thing. And it has one hell of a sting in the last few pages.
But let’s start at the start.
What comes across is the straightforwardness of the guy. He doesn’t tell us how great everything was, but instead reflects how on his first day at Arsenal he was kept hanging around for most of the day, and not given anything to eat. How nobody bothered to introduce him to the rest of the side when he went to train with the A team. And how utterly haphazard his recruitment to the club was. (The ref in one game was trying to recruit him for Bolton, while the opposition left half was trying to get him to sign for Arsenal).
What I like is the way the feel of the era creeps through, even though obviously Jack was writing about his own time. The way the military sent him off to the wrong destination when he was posted, “by mistake”. The fact that the players were given free tickets to the Finsbury Empire (I guess in return for the Empire running adverts in the programme), and how the manager went to have a word with the manager of the theatre about an inappropriate joke about Jack in the performance one night.
I also love the casual way things are thrown in. The left half became a railway policeman, and then a detective. As one does, or did, I suppose.
Or when Jack got his offer of a job at Arsenal, went to hand in his notice at work, and the employers suggested they might not be able to let him go! Actually that one really took me aback. I thought I knew my social history, but did employers really have the ability to refuse to release an employee from work? In football yes, but in other trades? So it seems.
Jack comes across as a guy who could be moody – he writes often of his emotions – but the throw away lines in this book are wonderful.
“There is one very good reason why I believe few if any star players will come to Highbury, and that is that the Arsenal do everything legally. There have been a number of cases in which Arsenal have been interested in star players, and that interest has been reciprocated on the player’s side. But when it comes doewn to brass tacks, and it has been made clear that there’s nothing in it for the players themselves, then interest has suddenly melted away. Arsenal just will not pay under the counter.”
There’s also, just after this, a review of the defeat to Northampton, which shows an attitude towards Arsenal in the press, very similar to that which we have now.
If you are interested in the history of the club, as well as the life and times of a player during this era, read this book.
The book is available on line from the publisher for £8.95 and I believe is, or very soon will be, available via the Arsenal on-line shop. It is also available from Amazon. There is more on the publisher and the other Arsenal books they have on their site.