Walley Barnes: football as a series of accidental events




Publication on July 20th: Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football.

The book that re-writes the Arsenal story.



By Tony Attwood

There is this image that I have that when a player seeks a new move there are negotiations, chats with agents, thoughts, discussions with possible new clubs, debates.  And then some.

Of course it wasn’t like this in the past – and even less so during the war years when players turned out as “guests” as they moved around the kingdom serving their country.

But even so, to read that Tom Parker (Southampton’s manager) simply told Wally Barnes that “You’re going to Arsenal” when he (Parker) was himself moving on, comes as a bit of a surprise.   As does the revelation that having later been given a dressing down by Arsenal’s manager Tom Whittaker over a poor performance he was then told by his manager that he’d just been selected to captain Wales – the first time he had captained any team.

Even Wally’s move into professional football happened by chance.  Portsmouth’s scout in 1937 was on a cycling trip, stopped for a rest, saw a game going on in a local field and decided to have a look.  He then noticed Mr Barnes and approached him to ask if he wanted to turn pro.  Wally turned him down at first, and then a little later moved on to accept.

These and other stories turn up in “Wally Barnes, captain of Wales” which has just been republished, after a long period out of print, and it is hard not to get the opinion that Wally’s life in football was a series accidents.  Forget the glitter and glamour, the “scoring a hat trick in his first game” and all that.  Wally’s first league game (in the wartime league on 1942-3) was Southampton 0 Aldershot 7 (although to make sense of that you have to remember that Aldershot was of course a major army centre, and so had its best team ever during the war years).

Wally’s life is charming, fun, and a history of the bizarre in football.  Like the fact that in his first Arsenal match Cliff Bastin scored a penalty which entered the net after bouncing three times on the way in. Now that’s something you don’t see every day.

Walley played almost every position on the pitch for Arsenal in the war, including even being in goal.  He made his league début in 1946, and settled into the left back position winning a championship  medal with the all-conquering 1947/8 team before later moving to right back and winning the FA Cup in 1950.

But after getting injured in the Cup final against Newcastle in 1952 he missed the whole of the next season and so missed out on a second league medal in 1952/3.   The injury cost him dear and he never fully regained a regular place in the team, retiring in 1956 having played 294 matches and having scored 12 goals.

Towards the end of his playing career he was also manager of Wales, and then moved on to work for the BBC, presenting among other things, FA Cup finals.  He was also one of the commentators on the very first edition of Match of the Day in 1964 and can be heard on recordings of the 1966 World Cup final as the occasional “expert opinion”.

Tragically he died very young – at the age of just 55.  But his memory lives on, not only in those recordings, but also in terms of his autobiography.

Wally Barnes: captain of Wales is now re-published by GCR Books.


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15 Replies to “Walley Barnes: football as a series of accidental events”

  1. I can’t find any reference to how Barnes died at such an early age. Do you know the cause?

    How many members of the Whittaker-era Arsenal trophy winners are still alive? Were any of them at the recent 125th Anniversary commemoration?

  2. Greg, with all the wonderful connections that you must have from publishing books like the Walley Barnes volume, could you pass the message around about this site, and invite any other relatives to drop in and say hello.

    It is one of the most inspiring things to have descendants of those involved in our club join in the debate, even if just to say hi. The great grandson and great granddaughter of Jack Humble have graced us with visits, we had the son of Peter Storey here a little while back, and there have been many others. They are always most, most, welcome.

    And of course any insights they can share are always gratefully received.

  3. Tony, I’ve asked Walley’s grandson, Andrew, to reply directly to Mike’s question. Hopefully we’ll be hearing from him shortly. By a small twist of fate, Andrew supports the team from the other side of North London but he does have a soft spot for Arsenal too.
    In addition I’ll ask Eddie Hapgood’s son, Jack Kelsey’s son and one of Bernard Joy’s children if they’re able to post a short message/anecdote.
    I’m in touch with Cliff Bastin’s daughers too but I’m not sure if they’re “online”. I can also ask Herbert Chapman’s nephew if he’ll oblige.

  4. On the subject of interesting anecdotes I was talking with one of Jack Kelsey’s sons when I was republishing Over the Bar and he told me that, as a small boy, he had to give up his bedroom so a footballer could take a nap. The footballer in question was Pele!

  5. HiUncle Mike,

    My name is Andrew and I am Walley’s Grandson. I am happy to answer any questions you may have. Sadly Walley had cancer. I was only 11 when he died but was told that he kept the fact he was sick from his family (including his wife Joan) and friends until it was too late. He had made the decision not to have any treatment. My family had been in Australia since 1969. My Mum returned to England to see Walley just before he died in 1975. The last time I saw Walley was when I was nine – as we moved around alot I did not get to know Walley as well as I would have liked. I spent 6 weeks holidays in England in 1973 and Walley took me to the Arsenal, Wembley and to White Heart Lane – which was a great thrill for a 9 year old. I am currently living in Tasmania with my wife Chrissie and daughter Grace and son Sam (both kids play football 🙂 Kindest regards, Andrew Tooze

  6. Andrew – a million thanks for your comments – I do hope that you have a copy of the book your grandfather wrote – either an original edition or a copy of the new edition. I’ll make sure the publisher of the new edition knows you are there, reading this.

    And although it is a sad matter, thank you for clarifying the cause of Walley’s early death.


  7. Hi Andrew

    It’s great to hear from relatives of these great Arsenal players. Do you mind if I ask a question? Tooze is a very unusual name. You wouldn’t happen to be related to Cyril Tooze who played for Arsenal in the 1930s would you?

  8. Hi Andy.
    To the best of my knowledge I am not related to Cyril Tooze.That’s not to say that he may not be a distant relation I was not aware of,sorry I can’t be of more help.

    Andrew T

  9. Hi Tony,
    It was a pleasure to read your review. I do have a copy of Walley’s book,unfortunately not an original. I have been in contact with the publisher(Greg) for a while now, he made contact with me last year and I have been keenly following the progress of the new edition since then.


  10. Dear Andrew,

    I have trying to contact you for several years. It’s Richard Chase from St Vincent School (Class of 1980). How are you? It would be great to catch up. I’m also on contact with Allan Manson and Paul Colborne and we often wonder where you are. I suddenly remembered your Grandad and discovered this site. I mentioned Walley to my Dad and it turns out the when Aresenal were at home he would pop down to Gosport to visit his parents and the drink in the White Swan with my Grandad! He would often bring another player with him and once took my Dad’s autograph book back to Highbury and brought it back the following week with the first team signatures! He still has this 50 odd years later!

    My email is richard@richardchase.co.uk

    Kind regards,


  11. What an eye opener.

    Walley was my great uncle and can concur with what Andrew says (albeit before I was born). My granddad John how is also sadly no longer with us spoke affectionately about his brother and the times they had as children and playing football together. Many of the stories we thought may have been embellished due to their outlandish nature, that is until we saw a copy of Walley’s book.

    Unfortunately my father passed away in May of this year, otherwise he would have been able to shed far more light on the subject.

    Andrew, although these are old posts it would be interesting to get in touch. I think we would be second cousins maybe once removed, I’m not sure.

  12. Hi Andrew new Wally Barnes as a schoolboy in fities lIved Southgate went to school with his daughter Sandra ,supported Arsenal ever since,regards Brian

  13. I have an autographed copy of ‘Captain of Wales’ – super book and Walley comes across a true gentleman.

  14. Hi guys,

    Does anyone know anything of Walley Barnes’ relationship with the South African FA and how he came to an advocate for the anti-apartheid movement?

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