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