Johnny Petts (full name John William Frederick James Petts) was born on 2 October 1938, played as a number 6 (defensive midfield, known as left half) and joined Arsenal as an apprentice in April 1954 having been with Edmonton, Middlesex and London schoolboys,
He signed professional terms on 28 May 1956 and his first game in the first team was a 2-1 home defeat to Bolton on 18 February 1958, aged 19. It was a time when Arsenal had lost five games in six – but this was the end of the sequence, and Johnny kept his place for five games, and then returned to clock up an end-of-season total of nine.
However he only got three games the following season and was always a fringe player across eight years at the club despite having won seven England youth caps.
Between 1957 and 1959 he did his compulsory national service which explains his lack of games, and despite a run of games in the autumn of 1960 he was not able to make the breakthrough. By 1960/1 George Swindin, the manager, became desperate and used no less than 29 different first team players in league matches, but Petts got just one game. He played 12 times in 1961/2 but then was transferred to Reading for £5,000 in October 1962, later moving on to Reading, Bristol Rovers and Bath City.
For the 1977/8 season he took over as manager of Northampton Town from Bill Dodgin, but despite a very respectable 10th place finish in the league, he moved on. He was Northampton’s 21st manager. Their second was Herbert Chapman – the 13th was Dave Bowen.
On 22 February 1958 he played in the first ever 4-4 draw with Tottenham, with Arsenal 4-2 up with four minutes to go.
The team on that day was: Jack Kelsey, Stan Charlton, Dennis Evans, Gerry Ward, Jim Fotheringham, John Petts, Danny Clapton, Vic Groves, David Herd, Jimmy Bloomfield, Gordon Nutt.
Scorers: Henry (og), Clapton, Nutt, Herd.
Since writing the above I have been contacted by the Petts family and they have most kindly provided some additional information.
- Middlesex Schoolboys; London Schoolboys;
- April 1954 Arsenal (professional, 28.5.56) [32,0];
- 10.10.62 Reading (£5,000) [34,0];
- 19.6.65 Bristol Rovers (trial);
- 3.9.65 Bristol Rovers (£5,000) [88+4,3];
- 22.6.70 Bath City (player-manager);
- 8.11.71 Trowbridge Town (free) (manager, 22.3.72);
- 28.7.73 Northampton Town (trainer-coach; manager, 5.1.77);
- March 1983 Northampton Spencer (manager) (to February 1988).
John Petts won seven caps for England Youth between 1955 and 1957 and started his career at Arsenal. Billy Wright was manager at Highbury, with the future England management structure of Ron Greenwood and Bertie Mee on the coaching staff, but Petts was largely restricted to a career in the reserves, whom he helped to become South-East Counties League champions and Cup winners in 1955-56 and Metropolitan League Cup and Professional Cup winners in 1961-62.
Following a League bow against Carlisle United in October 1962, his spell at Reading included four matches against Bristol Rovers, one being the Royals’ 5-2 victory at Eastville in April 1964 and, having made his Rovers début against Mansfield, he later scored two of his three goals for the club in fixtures against the Stags, one of these being the fifth of six goals, after 62 minutes, as Rovers ran up a comfortable home win in March 1969.
A solid, well-versed wing-half, Petts helped establish Bristol Rovers in Division Three following the club’s relegation in the spring of 1962, and build the blocks upon which a promotion push could be established after he had left the club.
Living in Cockfosters and later in Winterbourne, he was ousted at Bath in a boardroom coup and led Spencer to the United Counties League title in 1984-85, the club winning 23 of its thirty fixtures that campaign.
The son of William Arthur Petts (1913-88) and Dorothy Jaggs (1914-84) who was the daughter of John Thomas Jaggs (1861-1930) and Nellie Ethel Baker, he married Margaret Kemp in 1958 and their two sons both followed him into football, Paul playing for Rovers whilst Gary was manager of Thrapston Venturas in the 1993-94 season. Working for many years as a company driver with Northampton-based Flair Printing, John Petts is a keen golfer and now lives near Northampton with his partner Valerie.