Star players don’t come to Arsenal, because Arsenal are straight.

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.

Try this…

“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.

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14 Replies to “Star players don’t come to Arsenal, because Arsenal are straight.”

  1. Interesting,then along came George Graham and payed himself handsomely under the counter..mmm

  2. thanks for the info. Haven’t read that before, will be nice on the tube in the mornings 🙂

  3. I hope you know that Arsenal fans are all over the world.Where else can Gooners find the books outside UK?.Gooners are one family,i care about others.Cheers

  4. Well.. that seems to fit in. I’m not saying that is the only reason but yes.. there’s a big big chance that it is one of them. True of all walks of life, if you ask me; not just football.

  5. Discovery…

    Yes we certainly do know that there are Arsenal fans across the world – and indeed our companion site, Untold Arsenal ( receives thousands of comments each month from across the world. Further one of the three editors of that site is Walter Broeckx who lives and works in Belgium. It is not just UK.

    For the books, you can order from any of the web sites mentioned in the review with a credit card. It may even be possible to buy from some of them with a cheque if you can write the amount in Pounds sterling.

  6. So… The English media was anti-Arsenal all the way back in the Fifties? I knew it went back to at least the Terry Neill years of the late Seventies. And even then, Arsenal refused to “do business” that way? I wonder if these two phenomena were, and are, connected…

  7. Kelsey’s club and country team mate, Ray Daniel, was a prime example. He played in all but 1 of Arsenal’s title winning games in 1952-53. He joined Sunderland in the summer of 1953. Sunderland had finished 9th in 1952-53. I asked my dad and he said “money”. Even though there was a maximum wage in force, Sunderland were notorious for illegally paying their players.

    The following season was disasterous for Arsenal, slipping down to 12th. However, Sunderland dropped down to 18th!

  8. Discovery….
    Just to confirm Tony’s comments, GCR Books will ship to any country in the world and payment can be made using Paypal or Google Checkout. Books are heavily discounted from the normal retail price as there’s no middle-man taking a bite out of price. As a Gooner I’m happy to pass this saving on to fellow fans.
    You can also buy from Amazon but this may cost you a little more.

  9. I have just started a Facebook Page in Honour of my Father and welcome anyone to join and add comments,remarks,memories etc.

    I would also welcome any photos to be attached to the site by means of tagging

    Peter Kelsey.

  10. I have great memories of Jack Kelsey from my first years supporting the club as a young kid. My first football book was the original printing of ‘Over The Bar’ signed by Jack, which I bought in the old Club Shop at Highbury behind the Clock End Turnstiles. I’ve still got it and treasure it.

    One abiding memory of him was at a Reserve game in the nineteen-fifty’s when he was in goal, presumably returning from injury as he was naturally the club’s first-choice keeper. It was a very-one sided game in favour of our reserves with ball permanently in the opponents half. Jack was clearly bored stiff with his lack of involvement so he came down to the edge of the pitch beside his goal and chatted to the crowd, mainly youngsters, and signed autographs for several minutes. I then recall him lighting up a cigarette taken from his kit bag and taking several puffs before resuming his position in goal. It could never happen these days for sure.

  11. Peter I saw your dad play for The Arsenal legend is today an over used word bit not in the case of your dad. Wonderful keeper & would be 1st choice in todays team. Just ‘liked’your page. My grandson is now older than when I first saw Jack play but knows all about him as will his son in years to come

  12. Peter,

    Your father is the reason I started supporting Arsenal, seeing him play at Leeds in 1958, when he was an outstanding member of what was then a fairly mediocre team. I last saw him play against Man Cityin 1961. Bert Trautmann was in their goal. Not many fixtures would have involved such legendary keepers.

    The tributes from Pele and Brazilian team for his 1958 World Cup performance were a true accolade.

    I last saw him in the Highbury Club shop on Avenell Road, during the 1971 double season, when his affinity with the fans was evident.

    You must be very proud of him

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