The Gunners in Whites

On the day the Ashes starts here is a brief history of Arsenal’s relationship with cricket, which adds to our previous article The Arsenal Cricketers.

1973-08-18 Wolverhampton Wanderers (H) FAC Arsenal cricket team 73

Check out Charlie’s hat, and Bertie’s sunglasses!

Arsenal have many historical links with cricket, and as befits a club who were formed out of the Dial Square cricket team, Arsenal have had many dual code players.

David Danskin, the first Arsenal football captain, was a prominent member of the Dial Square cricket club, though the pitches they played on at Plumstead Common were a world away from the surface used by Arsenal’s best cricketer Denis Compton when he batted at Lords. In addition the Hill-Wood family had close links to Derbyshire CC from the Victorian period to the swinging sixties!

Three Arsenal players – Wally Hardinge, Andy Ducat and Arthur Milton – are present in an elite group of only 12 men who have had the honour of representing England at full international level in both football and cricket. And, while it is very unlikely that we shall ever see the likes of the Hardinge, Ducat or Milton again, between the 1930s and 1950s Arsenal had a vast array of cricketing talent within their ranks, good enough to also appear many times for their cricket counties.

In August 1934 both Joe Hulme and George Cox were given leave to play for Middlesex and Sussex, their respective counties, as long as they returned for the Highbury pre-season Reds v Whites trial match. Indeed, during the 1930s the Evening News ran a cricket tournament for London football teams which Arsenal won in 1931, 1932 and 1934; so as well as being the Football League champions they were also holders of the “Evening News” Cricket Cup for Footballers in 1931 and 1934.

However, the central figure in any review of Arsenal and cricket is Denis Compton. Playing for Arsenal between 1936-1950 and Middlesex 1936-1958, he was a winger and top class batsman. Unquestionably one of the all time great England cricketers, his England football appearances were all during World War 2 and, consequently, do not count as full caps.

Compton played 78 tests for England between 1937-1957, and scored over a century of hundreds during his career, including an incredible 1947 season in which he played 50 innings, scored a record 3,816 runs, made 18 centuries and averaged 90.85. An astonishing performance, much of which was in tandem with his good friend Bill Edrich, who scored over 3,500 runs that season, and was also a dual code player as he had turned out for our North London rivals in the 1930s!


Denis Compton1

Compton returns to the Hastings pavilion having scored the most runs in a season

In his time at Arsenal Compton won medals for the League triumph in 1947-48 and the FA Cup win in 1950 which was his penultimate match for the club, and he had been threatening since the end of the War to stop playing football, as he was troubled by a knee injury. Luckily George Allison and later Tom Whittaker dissuaded him until the FA Cup was won.


Denis Compton at the start of the 1937-38 season

During the War, which like his brother Leslie and many others took a large chunk of his playing career away, he was stationed in India with the Royal Artillery yet was still able to fit in 17 first-class cricket matches in India before being demobbed. Compton also managed to become the face, or more accurately the hair, in Brylcreem adverts after the War.

In August 1949 Highbury staged a cricket match between Arsenal FC and Middlesex CCC for his benefit and, with the Compton brothers playing for the Arsenal and guest appearances from Ted Drake and Hulme, they ran out winners by 29 runs.

1949-08-12 Middlesex (H) FR

Compton benefit

Denis Compton benefit: Toss of the coin at Highbury

In 1952 a similar benefit game at Highbury was arranged for Jack Young, a Middlesex colleague of the Comptons, and in August 1955 Leslie had an exact same benefit match at the same venue. This was a very high scoring game, won by Middlesex, and was graced by a century from each side, one from Cliff Holton and the other by Edrich.

Arsenal also regularly played cricket matches on cricket pitches, not just at Highbury, throughout the 1950s, mainly timed to be played just prior to the football season starting. One of the annual fixtures of this period was the “Joe” Levi Memorial Cup which was played at Tufnell Park between Arsenal FC and Northern Polytechnic CC. Levi had been one of the Herbert Chapman Pals and was an important contributor to the Gunners, with close links to the Polytechnic.

The cup was set up by his wife to perpetuate his memory, with the help of Arsenal and Tom Whittaker. The first game itself was rather one sided as, after Arsenal had scored a healthy 220, Northern Polytechnic succumbed to a 107 run loss due to a demon bowling spell of 20-9 by George Swindin.

1952-08-27 Manchester United (H) FL team

1952 Arsenal FC cricket team play in the Joe Levi Trophy

A couple of other games were also of note especially, a match played in Horsmonden against Charlton FC in August 1956 which had a surfeit of county cricketers playing. Arsenal had five players who played first class county cricket – Leslie Compton, Ray Swallow, Don Bennett, Don Roper and Jim Standen – while Charlton’s Derek Ufton and Stuart Leary were stalwarts for Kent. Given the preponderance of cricketers on the Gunners’ side it was no real surprise that they won by 53 runs, Swallow top scoring with 64 runs.

Almost exactly a year later in the same Kentish village, the Arsenal team captained by Holton took on Kent CCC, performing well but ended up losing by only six runs in a low scoring affair. From then on dual code players not just at Arsenal but in both sports greatly reduced, though on occasion Gunners players turned out in occasional charity cricket matches.

In 1973 on a sunny August day Arsenal beat Tottenham at a cricket match held at Finsbury Park in aid of the Woodberry Down Boys Club. John Radford and Charlie George opened the innings, Bob Wilson kept wicket, with amongst others Peter Storey, Peter Simpson, Alan Ball, Geoff Barnett and Bob McNab also donning their whites. Bertie Mee and Spurs manager Bill Nicholson acted as umpires.

1973-08-18 Wolverhampton Wanderers (H) FAC - radford george

Charlie George and John Radford about to open the innings!

In the mid to late 1980s Arsenal regularly played an annual charity match against the Kings Head Taverners from Winchmore Hill. After relaxing following the epic climax to the 1988-89 season, Arsenal turned out in the late summer of 1989. David Rocastle, seen here hitting a boundary, top scored with 33 while Perry Groves and Tony Adams also contributed with the bat as the Gunners accumulated 115-9. Andy Cole tried valiantly with figures of 23-4, but the pub team’s batting line up was too strong and they won by five wickets.

1989-09-23 Charlton Athletic Rocky

Rocky on his way to an elegant 33.

In recent times ex youth player Ian Gould has appeared as an international umpire all over the cricketing world. Known as ‘Gunner’ Gould he is one of the most respected umpires in the present game.


Gunners’ first team players who played for a County Cricket Club –

A more detailed description appears in The Arsenal Cricketers

Player Arsenal County
Harry Storer 1894-1895 Derbyshire 1895
Charles McGibbon 1905-6/1910 Hampshire 1919
Andrew Ducat 1905-1912 Surrey 1906-1931
Wally Hardinge 1913-1921 Kent 1902-1933
Joe North 1919-1922 Middlesex 1923-1927
Henry White 1919-1923 Warwickshire 1923
Joe Hulme 1926-1938 Middlesex 1929-1939
George Cox 1933-1936 Sussex 1931-1961
Leslie Compton 1932-1952 Middlesex 1938-1956
Ted Drake 1934-1945 Hampshire 1931-1936
Denis Compton 1936-1950 Middlesex 1936-1958
Don Roper 1947-1957 Hampshire 1947
Arthur Milton 1950-1955 Gloucestershire 1948-1974
Jim Standen 1953-1960 Worcester 1959-1970
Ray Swallow 1955-1958 Derbyshire 1959-1963

Gunners’ reserve/youth players who played for a County Cricket Club

Player Arsenal County
Edwin Leaney 1890-1891 Kent 1892
Jimmy Gray 1947-1951 Hampshire 1948-1966.
Brian Close 1950-1952 Yorkshire/Somerset 1949-1977
Don Bennett 1950-1959 Middlesex 1950-1968
Ian Gould 1971-1974 Middlesex/Sussex 1975-1990


Arsenal Programmes from the Andy Kelly Collection.

The best site for cricket details is cricinfo

A great article by goonerholic on Arsenal cricketers

Mr Kelly’s Arsenal teams line ups

Danny the GFP player details site called The Highbury Inn 

Just Another Gooner


Background to this article

This season we’ve been asked to write a regular page in the official Arsenal Magazine based on a classic match featuring the opponents for each game we play in. Magazine and Programme editor Andy Exley has kindly given us permission to reproduce the work on our blog. We will also be including additional material that didn’t make the final edit of the Magazine.


Don’t forget to subscribe to the blog (top right). You know it makes sense.

Or have a look at our other site: The Arsenal Collection  for more Arsenal memorabilia.

Copies of our books Royal Arsenal – Champions of the South and Arsenal: The Complete Record 1886-2018 are still available from the publishers.

5 thoughts on “Gunners in Whites: The Arsenal Cricketers

  1. Mick Kelly on 9 July 2015 at 12:28 am said:

    I went to the finsbury park game as I was a member of Woodberry down boys club, didn’t know at the time it was anything to do with us. My favourite memory was Peter Storey being allowed to bowl a late over. Most of his balls took a couple of bounces to get to the batsman. I assume, after Geoff Barnett’s knock we were so far ahead we couldn’t be caught.

  2. A little more tenuous but you could link to Mike Gatting through brother Steve, whose son Joe is a fair county cricketer now with Hampshire who has played football for Brighton.
    Then of course Matt Prior has Sammy Nelson for a father in law.

    • We could have mentioned that Ian Botham played football for Scunthorpe, and started his career under the watchful eye of ex-Gunner Brian Close at Somerset.
      We could have mentioned Nick Compton, Grandson of Denis.
      But didn’t realise Gatting had gone to Hampshire.

  3. Ken George on 8 July 2015 at 11:29 am said:

    —–and now Arsenal have beaten the Spuds at cricket . Trust it will not upset too many of them !

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