23 April 1997: Arsenal player Dennis Compton CBE died on this day

By Tony Attwood

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Dennis Compton CBE died on this day, the first day of the new cricket season.  Flags at cricket clubs were flown at half-mast and later the MCC named the stand at the Nursery End at Lords after him.

And the connection is, of course, that Dennis Compton was also an Arsenal player.  As was his brother.

If we look back we can see that on 22 March 1950 Arsenal played Chelsea at White Hart Lane, in an FA Cup semi-final replay.  Arsenal won 1-0 with a goal scored in extra time.  It was, according to reports, not a perfect game of skilful football – indeed it seems that Arsenal were indulging in a long ball game for much of the time.

Arsenal’s team was of particular note:


Scott    Barnes

Macauley, Lesley Compton, Mercer

Cox, Logie, Goring, Lewis, Dennis Compton

And of course from this you will see we had two Comptons playing in this cup semi-final.

Leslie Compton played for Arsenal between 1930 and 1952 mainly as a centre-half, making 253 appearances and scoring 5 goals.  He won a First Division title medal in 1948 and an FA Cup winners medal (following this game) in 1950.

Denis Compton played for Arsenal between 1936 and 1950, mainly as an outside left, making 54 appearances and scoring 15 goals.  He also won a first Division title medal in 1948 and the FA Cup winners medal in 1950.

Denis  Compton CBE was born in Hendon on 23 May 1918 and died in Hendon as we commemorate today, on this day in 1997.  If we are to separate the Comptons somehow we’d call Denis a cricketer who played football, in contrast to his brother who was a footballer who played cricket.  Denis played in 78 Test Matches and played for Middlesex – his home county.  He was a slow left-arm bowler, and cricket reports call him one of England’s most remarkable batsmen.    He scored 123 centuries in first-class cricket.

Denis started his football career at Nunhead in 1934/5 before moving to Arsenal, where he made his début in 1936.  He also played for England in wartime matches.

His brother Leslie played cricket for Middlesex, but it was at football that he excelled.   He came to Arsenal straight from Middlesex Schools, and played as an amateur in 1930 playing his first first-team game on 24 April 1932 against Aston Villa, just after turning pro.

He started as a right back, but then when George Male took that place, and Denis went back into the reserves.

His first medal came with the Charity Shield in 1938.  During the war he continued to play for Arsenal and, being converted to centre forward he apparently scored ten goals in one game against Leyton Orient.

After the war however, he moved into the centre of defence.  He missed a few games in 1947/8 because of his commitments to Middlesex (which must have meant that Arsenal and Middlesex had a deal as to when he was available) but he played for the rest of the season as Arsenal won the First Division title and both Comptons got their league winner’s medals. It was Leslie who scored the equaliser in the first match against Chelsea, that led to the replay discussed above,  heading in a corner taken by his brother Denis.  In the final Arsenal beat Liverpool 1-0 to win the cup.

Denis was then selected to play for England on 15 November 1950, at the age of 38 years and 64 days; the oldest post-war England débutante and the oldest ever outfield player to début.

Leslie retired in the summer of 1952 but stayed on for three more years as a coach and scout.  His cricketing record was 272 appearances for Middlesex where he played as wicketkeeper, and both brothers won the 1947 County Championship.

The Comptons are thus the only brothers ever to have won the League and County titles in football and cricket.

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