21 December 1956: Jack Crayston takes over as Arsenal manager

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By Tony Attwood

On this day in 1956 Jack Crayston became the permanent manager of Arsenal after being caretaker manager for two months.  He had just managed five games undefeated as acting manager, and went on to a further five without loss, winning his first match as permanent manager on 22 December  4-0 against Birmingham.

Now if Jack Crayston is not a name you are particularly familiar with as an Arsenal manager, you’ll not be alone in this regard, but an Arsenal manager he was, although he is more famous as a dedicated Arsenal player.

William John Crayston (known universally as Jack) was born on 9 October 1910 in Grange-over-Sands in North Lonsdale (Cumbria), playing as a defender for local teams Ulverston Town and Barrow before moving south to Bradford PA.

George Allison signed him in May 1934, apparently impressed by his sober attitude to life as much as his ability as a player, and paid £5250 for him.

His first match was on 1 September 1934 (I am not at all sure why he missed the first game of the season one week before, but Hapgood and Beasley also sat that one out.)  Anyway from the second game, the number 4 shirt was his and he played 37 league games that season scoring three goals, as the club took the championship in the first year of Allison’s management and for the third year running for Arsenal. This was also remembered as the year of Ted Drake who notched up 42 league goals in 41 league games.

What’s more Jack scored on his début as Arsenal were 8-1 winners in front of a crowd of over 54,000.

Tom Whitaker said in his autobiography that Jack Crayston, non-drinker, non-smoker, was a close pal of Wilf Copping and they both trained together and played cards together.  It re-iterates the theme of Crayston the tough, dependable, sober man.

The following season Arsenal were unable to hold onto their title– but they won the FA Cup instead with Jack Crayston playing in all seven cup games.  And he won his first cap for England that season.

The following season was without trophies but Arsenal were back for 1937/38 with another championship (won on the last day of the season with a  5-0 thumping of Bolton) and 31 games and 4 goals for Jack Crayston.

Jack Crayston served in the RAFduring the war, until he was injured in a war-time football match in 1943, and retired from playing aged 33.

At the end of the war he joined the coaching staff at Highbury and in June 1947 was appointed assistant manager to Tom Whittaker – who was of course another ex-player.    That remained Jack’s job through the rest of the Whittaker years as the two men won the league twice more, the FA Cup once and picked up a runners-up medal in the Cup as well).

Tom Whittaker died suddenly in November 1956 and Jack took over as caretaker manager in October being made manager at the end of the year having taken the club to 5th.

However in the following year, 1957/8 Arsenal sank to 12th in the league and were knocked out of the cup in the 3rd round by Northampton Town.

Some reports suggest that 12th achieved by Crayston was Arsenal’s worst showing for 38 years – although this is nonsense.  Indeed in 1946/7 – the first post-war season, Arsenal ended up 13th and were knocked out of the cup in the 3rd round. Indeed going back to the 1924/25 season one finds Arsenal missing relegation by one place that season, and the season before.   However, the “worst for 38” statement is on the internet and is copied by those who don’t do their homework.

Nevertheless, Jack wasn’t cut out to be an Arsenal manager and left Arsenal in the summer of 1958 and became manager of Doncaster who had just been relegated to the third division. But they were relegated again eight points from safety, and after two seasons in the mid to lower reaches of the fourth Jack resigned as manager in March 1961 aged 51.

Thereafter he took over a newsagent and general store in Streetly, Birmingham, before retiring in 1972.

Jack Crayston died aged 82 in December 1992, remembered in all the Arsenal history books, but sadly not by Arsenal supporters at large. And yet he was one of our great players, whose length of service was cut short by the war. Not cut out to be a manager but still a great servant to the club.



For details of the videos sorted by club, and videos in the order we published them, plus our 21 golden great videos please see here.

The Arsenal History Society is part of the Arsenal Independent Supporters Association – a body which gives positive support to the club, and has regular meetings with directors and senior officials of the club to represent the views of its members to the club.  You can read more about AISA on its website.


100 Years in the First Division: the absolute complete story of Arsenal’s promotion in 1919.

Henry Norris at the Arsenal:  There is a full index to the series here.

Arsenal in the 1930s: The most comprehensive series on the decade ever

Arsenal in the 1970s: Every match and every intrigue reviewed in detail.

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