Jack Crayston: player, coach, manager

By Tony Attwood

William John Crayston (known universally as Jack) was born on 9 October 1910 in Grange-over-Sands in North Lonsdale (Cumbria), playing as a defender for local teams Ulverston Town and Barrow before moving south to Bradford PA.

George Allison signed him in May 1934, was apparently impressed by his sober attitude to life and paid £5250 for him.

His first match was on 1 September 1934 (I am not at all sure why he missed the first game of the season one week before but Hapgood and Beasley also sat that one out.  Surely there wasn’t an England match that day!)

Anyway from the second game, the number 4 shirt was his and he played 37 league games that season scoring three goals, as the club took the championship in the first year of Allison’s management and for the third year running. This was the year of Ted Drake – 41 league games 42 league goals.

What’s more Jack scored on his début as Arsenal were 8-1 winners in front of a crowd of over 54,000.

Tom Whitaker says in his autobiography that Jack Crayston, non-drinker, non-smoker, was a close pal of Wilf Copping and they both trained together and played cards together.

The following year Arsenal were unable to hold onto their crown – but they won the FA Cup instead with Jack Crayston playing in all 7 cup games.  And he won his first cap for England that season.

The following season was without trophies but Arsenal were back for 1937/38 with another championship (won on the last day of the season with a  5-0 thumping of Bolton) and 31 games and 4 goals for Jack Crayston.

There were no trophies for the Gunners in the final pre-war season, and Jack Crayston served in the RAF, until he was injured in a war-time football match in 1943, and retired from playing aged 33.

At the end of the war he joined the coaching staff at Highbury and in June 1947 was appointed assistant manager to Tom Whittaker – another ex-player.    That remained Jack’s job through the rest of the Whittaker years as the two men won the league twice, the FA Cup once and picked up a runners-up medal in the Cup as well), until Tom died suddenly in November 1956.  Jack took over as caretaker manager in October when Tom was taken ill, and was made manager at the end of the year.

The club’s post-war position can be seen here…

Year Manager League FA Cup
1952/53 Whittaker 1st 6th (Blackpool)
1953/54 Whittaker 12th 4th (Norwich)
1954/55 Whittaker 9th 4th (Wolverhampton)
1955/56 Whittaker 5th 6th (Birmingham)
1956/57 Whittaker/Craytson 5th 6th (WBA)
1957/58 Crayston 12th 3rd (Northampton)
1958/59 Swindin 3rd 5th (Sheffield U)

Tom Whittaker was having difficulty in getting the club into anything like the dominant position of the 1930s, but Jack Crayston found life at the top even more tough – not least with the defeat to Northampton in the cup.  However he was moulding a strong team, as Swindin’s best ever season as manager (his first) showed with a 3rd place.

Some reports suggest that 12th achieved by Crayston was Arsenal’s worst showing for 38 years – although as the chart shows this is nonsense.  Indeed in 1946/7 – the first post-war season, Arsenal ended up 13th and were knocked out of the cup in the 3rd round – and going back to the 1924/25 season one finds Arsenal missing relegation by one place that season, and the season before.   However the “worst for 38” statement is on the internet  and is copied by those who don’t do their homework.

In July 1958 Jack Crayston became manager of Doncaster who had just been relegated to the third division, but they were relegated again eight points from safety, and after two seasons in the mid to lower reaches of the fourth Jack resigned as manager in March 1961 aged 51.

I imagine that at this stage he may have retired – sadly I have no further information to hand.  If you have any more on Jack, as always please do write in.

Jack Crayston died aged 82 in December 1992.




5 Replies to “Jack Crayston: player, coach, manager”

  1. I well recall Jack visiting Guernsey in 1946 or 1947. During his stay he met up with Arsenal supporters and gave a talk on his time with the Club.
    We all sat transfixed as he told the “inside story” of what went on during his years as a player.

  2. Not sure why he missed that first game of the season in 1934/5. He did play in the first two reserve games though.

    Crayston was pretty much in charge of team affairs from April 1956 as Whittaker was in very poor health.

    After leaving Doncaster he took over a newsagent and general store in Streetly, Birmingham before retiring in 1972.

  3. Andy: one day I am going to write an article on a topic, ask a question at the end, and you are NOT going to know the answer.

    I haven’t found that topic yet, but one day…

  4. Hiya there
    firstly, I think what you are doing is excellent..

    it would be nice if you could do something on Wilf Copping. He was from the next village that I grew up in. There is very little information, and certainly no biography on him…..
    … I did try reading Eddie Hapgood’s biography on holiday in the new year … It was extremely dated, full or jolly old back patting with no guts … I managed forty-odd pages before I slung it… The only interesting part about it was the fact that he was only 9st in weight..


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