“Making the Arsenal” – the book of Arsenal’s decline and rebirth
By Tony Attwood
This is the last article in the series about players who played in the first game at Highbury in the first division
Alf Baker was born in Ilkeston on 27 April 1898 – he worked as a miner and played for Eastwood Rangers (and it is suggested in some places, other amateur teams, and there is also a story that Knighton signed him at the pit head in order to ward off interest from other teams) and during the first world war he played for Chesterfield, Crystal Palace and Huddersfield Town. Alf then turned pro with Arsenal in May 1919 and stayed until he retired from football.
Eastwood Rangers were a Midlands Football Alliance club pre-war, I think from around Chesterfield. There have been other Eastwood clubs, but as far as I can make out Eastwood Rangers only existed pre-war, and there was not another club with the Eastwood name until 1921.
But whatever the original club was he went on to make 351 appearances for Arsenal, scoring 26 goals.
He played, as did all the other players in this series of articles, in our first-ever league game at Highbury in August 1919. But he did much more because he also played in our first-ever FA Cup Final – against Cardiff in 1927. Better than this though, Alf played in Arsenal’s 1930 Cup Final win – our first ever major trophy. He only just made it because he only played one more first team game after this (also against Huddersfield, on 7 March 1931) before retiring from the game aged 33 in the summer of 1931.
He was, I think, the only player who both played in that very first 1st division Highbury match and who won an FA Cup winner’s medal with Arsenal.
One of the reasons he stayed around so long was that apart from being a fine player he could play in all sorts of positions, including in goal. I haven’t gone through every match, but it is said that he played in every position from 1 to 11 at some time during those 351 games.
In 1924/25 he captained Arsenal in Leslie Knighton’s last season, although he had to hand over that honour to Herbert Chapman the following season. In 1924 he also played for the Football League against the Scottish League and in November 1927 he won a single cap for England against Wales.
After retiring in 1931 Alf then went on to be club scout.
The size of Alf’s achievement can be seen by the number of games he played year on year.
- 1919/1920: 17 games
- 1920/21: 37 games
- 1921/22 32 games
- 1922/23 29 games
- 1923/24 21 games
- 1924/25 32 games
- 1925/26: 31 games
- 1926/27: 23 games
- 1927/28: 37 games
- 1928/29: 31 games
- 1929/30: 19 games
- 1930/31: 1 game
Players covered in earlier articles who played in the opening game of 1919/20