16 February 1886: the birth of Arsenal’s first great superstar

On this day Andy Ducat – one of the greatest Woolwich Arsenal stars and perhaps the greatest of them all, was born in London.

Early in his life his family moved to Southend where he played for local clubs Westcliff Athletic and Southend Athletic.  Arsenal.com have reported him as coming from Southend United – but I think Athletic is right.   Athletic continued until 1906 when they were wound up, and a completely new club – Southend United – which had nothing to do with the old club, was formed.

Andy joined Woolwich Arsenal in 1905 and made his debut in February 1905 in a 2-0 home win against Blackburn Rovers in front of 8000 fans.   He started out as a centre forward but later moved to right half (number 4 in the old style formation) and stayed for seven years, scoring 21 goals in 188 matches.

He was the first of the Woolwich Arsenal players to leave at the height of his ability with Arsenal to go to a bigger club – Aston Villa.  Woolwich were a mid-table side when he left as part of a further attempt at cost-cutting by Henry Norris after he had rescued the club from extinction in 1910.   So after being present in almost every game in 1911-12 Arsenal sold him for £1000 (a huge sum at the time).

And a year later, just as they prepared to leave Plumstead for the last time, Arsenal were relegated.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing for Andy Ducat thereafter.  In September 1912 Ducat broke his leg in a game against Manchester City. As a result, he missed the FA Cup Final against Sunderland in 1913.

However, in 1920 something quite bizarre happened.  Ducat was still at Villa and the club reached the cup final where they played Huddersfield Town at Stamford Bridge.   According to stories, Jack Howcraft, the ref, entered the Villa dressing-room before the game and warned the Villa player Frank Barson that he would be sent off for any indiscretion.

This might seem bizarre, but according to one source, “On one occasion Barson’s hard tackling resulted in a seven-month ban; after a game, he often needed a police escort to protect him from angry opposition fans.”  So on that basis, and given the reverence with which the FA Cup final liked to be seen, maybe the story is true.

According to the authors of “The Essential Aston Villa,” “the normally unflappable Barson was taken aback and his performance was uncharacteristically cautious for much of the game.”  Villa won 1-0 and Ducat got his cup winners’ medal.    In the same year (by which time he was 34) he got three more England caps.

Having gone to Fulham in 1921 he stopped playing professionally in 1924 and succeeded Phil Kelso as Fulham manager but his two seasons there were not a success, and he then moved to Casuals playing amateur football.

But he continued his career as a cricketer and played alongside Tom Hayward and Jack Hobbs.  In 1928, he made 994 runs in less than six weeks, including centuries four successive matches.

After retiring from cricket in 1931, Ducat became cricket coach at Eton as well as being a sports reporter before he died in 1942.  It is said he died while playing a cricket match at Lords – according to the morbid cricket historians who note these things he is the only man to have died during a match at Lords Cricket Ground.

For thoughts on Arsenal today please see Untold Arsenal

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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