By Tony Attwood
Bernard Joy (who died on 18 July 1984) played 86 games for Arsenal between 1935 and 1947 under the management of George Allison. He is also responsible for publishing a letter which has for years acted as one of only two sources of information about Arsenal’s first ever game.
The letter is from Robert Thompson’s letter to Bernard Joy 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 moment’s in Arsenal’s history, although here the author doesn’t actually state the name of the opponents of the match he refers to.
I’ll come back to all this in a moment. But first Bernard Joy himself.
The moment I discovered that Bernard Joy studied at the University of London I felt an affinity with the man who was, in footballing terms, of my father’s era. Us University of London men should stick together!
He played university football 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 I think 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, and making his debut joined Arsenal, then First Division champions. Joy mainly played as a reserve, only playing two games in his first season – he didn’t make his debut on 1 April 1936 against Bolton, at centre half, in front of an amazingly small crowd of 10,485. Quite what happened that day, I don’t know – if you know, please tell. Arsenal only finished sixth that season having won the league the year before but something was happening at this time – for the previous home game only got 18,000.
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 re-gained 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 half way 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.
His autobiography – the book that led to the Robert Thompson letter has been republished by GCR books – full details here.
The details of the latest findings about Eastern Wanderers and some interesting thoughts just added to the story are to be found in the commentary section following our piece on the first game.
Publication on July 20th: Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football.
The book that re-writes the Arsenal story.