1 April 1935: Bernard Joy, the man who miswrote Arsenal’s history, makes his debut

This was the day of Bernard Joy’s first match in front of just 10,485 at home to Bolton.  He was Arsenal’s most famous amateur player of the era and his book “Forward Arsenal!” became a central source of information about what life within Arsenal was like in the 30s.

Unfortunately, Mr Joy appears to have written the book totally from memory and hearsay.  And yet despite its multiplicity of errors it remained an unchallenged source of information on Arsenal, into the 21st century!

Bernard Joy played 86 games for Arsenal between 1935 and 1947 under the management of George Allison.  He is also responsible for publishing a letter that has for years acted as one of only two sources of information about Arsenal’s first-ever game.

I’ll come back to this in a moment.  But first Bernard Joy himself.

He played football for the University of London in the era when university football was of some significance in the country, and then went on to play for the amateur side Casuals and won the prestigious FA Amateur Cup in 1936, plus ten caps for England amateurs.   He was captain of the 1936 GB Olympics teams in Berlin – and this fact was celebrated in the 5 November 1956 match at Highbury when Arsenal played the British Olympic team (and won 3-2).

In May 1935 he came to Arsenal, playing as a reserve at first, only playing two games in his first season – he didn’t make his debut until 1 April 1936 against Bolton, at centre half, in front of an amazingly small crowd of 10,485.  (The size of the crowd was due to this game being played in the rain on a Wednesday afternoon).   Arsenal only finished sixth that season having won the league the year before.

Just one month later Bernard played for England against Belgium and is said to be the last amateur ever to play for the national team.

Bernard moved on from his two appearances in 1935/6 to six the following season, but then in the 1937/8 season when Herbie Roberts broke his leg, Joy took over and played 26 games as the club regained the 1st division title.

During the war, Bernard was a physical training instructor with the RAF, and he returned to Arsenal after the war but retired halfway through the first season, by which time he was in his mid-30s.

He then moved into journalism working for the Evening Standard and Sunday Express, and retired in 1976.

But to return to Joy’s letter about Arsenal’s first match…

The letter is from Robert Thompson and it was sent to Bernard Joy after his book “Forward, Arsenal!” was published in 1952.  It is a tantalising affair for it relates to the earliest moments in Arsenal’s history, although here the author doesn’t actually state the name of the opponents of the match he refers to.

Unfortunately, the value of the letter was later diminished when it became clear that venerated though Joy’s book was, as the prime source of Arsenal’s history, it actually contains a vast number of factual errors and assumptions, which subsequently misled fans for years.  Indeed many of the errors were subsequently reproduced in Arsenal’s annual handbook which for many years included a history section, which was based on Joy’s book – and may well have been written by him.

As a result Forward Arsenal! is in fact a perfect example of a journalist writing from memory and without recourse to evidence.  A type of book that continued to be published for many years, and a tradition of journalism that is most certainly continued in the media of the 21st century.

And in contemporary news….

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