David Jack: sublime genius

By Tony Attwood

This article is part of a series on the players that Herbert Chapman introduced to the club in the 1930s.

David Jack or David Bone Nightingale Jack to give him his wonderful full name was born 3 April 1899, and came from a footballing family.   His father Robert was manager of Plymouth Argyle from 1910 and in 1915 he signed David who had been playing for Plymouth Presbyterians at the time.

After one season he moved on to Bolton for £3,500, spending eight seasons there.  During this time he became the first man to score a goal in a Wembley cup final in 1923.  Finals in the years leading up to 1923 had been held at Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford and Crystal Palace.

Given that he was Bolton’s top scorer five times, scored in two different cup finals and managed 144 goals in 295 league matches for Bolton a question must be asked as to why he would leave.

The answer in some quarters is given as Bolton’s financial situation, but there is also the fact that despite having David Jack in the side, Bolton never really looked like being a table topping side.  Mostly they ended up between 4th and 8th in the league, with 3rd being their highest point, and 13th their lowest.  In his final season at the club there they were 7th.

So Herbert Chapman bought David Jack for £10,890.  At this time both the British and world football transfer record was set in December 1925 when Bob Kelly had moved from Burnley to Sunderland for £6500.  So the jump over three years to £10,890 was substantial.

But in considering this we should note that this was the last transfer in which English or Scottish teams record transfers were automatically world record transfers, and we were in an era when the record transfer fee was about to go up in leaps and bounds.

However even with the knowledge of the pressure on transfer fees England and the FA were not prepared for the way in which South American football was developing, for in 1932 Bernabé Ferreyra moved from Tigre to River Plate (both in Argentina) for the equivalent of £23,000.   Perhaps partly as a result of this Britain turned its back on the rest of the footballing world, rejecting such transfer prices, leaving Fifa and shunning the world cup.

Just how out of tune England was with the rest of the world can be seen from the fact that Sir Charles Clegg, president of the FA said at the time that no player was worth nearly £11,000 although generally the question that was raised was not so much the transfer fee but the value of a player who was 29.

According to legend (but goodness knows if anyone can find any evidence of this, unless it is in Chapman’s book and I have forgotten) Herbert Chapman set up the negotiations in a bar, getting the Bolton men drunk while he stayed sober.  Given the number of other stories about Chapman that we find ourselves having to debunk I have my doubts.

David Jack made his first appearance for Arsenal in October 1928 and was the top scorer for the season.  By playing in the 1929/30 cup final he became the first player to win the Cup at Wembley with two different clubs.

He won the league with Arsenal in 1930/31, 1932/3 and 1933/4 before finding that age had finally caught up with him.  He scored 124 times in 208 matches for Arsenal, an utterly astonishing ratio.

From May 1934 until August 1940 (when clubs generally laid off their staff because of the war) David Jack was manager of Southend United.  In November 1944 he took over at Middlesbrough, and stayed there until April 1952.   Finally he was manager of Shelbourne in the League of Ireland from 1953 to 1955.

David Jack died on 10th September, 1958 at the early age of 59.


 The club that changed football


5 Replies to “David Jack: sublime genius”

  1. The story of Chapman getting the Bolton directors drunk is told in two books: George Allison’s biography “Allison Calling” and Bob Wall’s biography “From The Heart”. One of them is telling porkies as the two accounts differ as to who was actually at the meeting.

  2. Any idea of why he died so young? This would be after the widespread use of antibiotics began, so any number of things not previously curable would have become so.

  3. According to my mother, my grandfather David Jack died of cancer of the oesophagus. He had been a heavy smoker all of his adult life and this could have been a contributing factor

    David Jack
    Sydney, Australia

  4. David, thanks for adding some more information about your grandfather. I have an advert from a 1930s newspaper that has him promoting the goodness of a particular brand of cigarettes!

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