19 March 1992: the memory of Jack Kelsey

There are players you can’t recall at all, players you half remember, players you rather like, and legends.

Jack Kelsey who died on this day in 1992, 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 his 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 one of those rare things – a player’s autobiog that is worth reading.

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, in the autobiography.  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.

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 down 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 had in recent years.

Everyone who saw Jack in the “good old days” remembers him. He was one of the heroes at a time when there were not that many to be found.

Arsenal in 2022: Aston Villa v Arsenal: the team and the question of progressing to Man C’s level

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