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GCR Books

Dr Jimmy Paterson: unravelling a curious tale and pack of lies

Dr James Alexander Paterson was an Arsenal player.  In many regards he was an Arsenal player who deserves a mention, both as a player as for his service to his country in the first world war.  But there is more, for Dr Paterson helps us further unravel the allegations of an Arsenal manager which over the years have thrown a totally false light on Arsenal’s early history.    

Jimmy Paterson was born on 9 May 1891 in London, and although he was English he was considered by many to be Scottish.  Indeed he won the Scottish League with Rangers and his parents were Scottish, but this was the time when you couldn’t readily trade nationality was you can now, and so he was born in England, and therefore English he was.

He was educated in Glasgow, and started his league career playing for Queen’s Park before moving on to Rangers in 1910 where initially he played in the reserves for the most part while studying to be a doctor at the University of Glasgow.

However while still studying he became a regular part of the first team playing at outside right as Rangers won the league.

The next season he changed wings, and continued to play until he graduated in 1916 – Scottish league football, unlike that in England, not being suspended for the first world war.

Having signed up, he was appointed Medical Officer to the 14th Battalion the London Regiment, the London Scottish with the rank of Major, and served on the front line.

There was formal recognition of his heroism in 1917 as he was awarded the Military Cross – the award granted for an act or acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land to members, of the armed forces.

His citation stated, “Under an intense hostile bombardment, he dressed the wounded and cleared them from the road, personally seeing to their removal to the aid post. He then returned and cleared the dead from the road, setting a fine example of coolness and disregard of danger.”

When the war ended he returned to Glasgow and worked in a local hospital. Without any warning to the local media he then turned out again for Rangers, in September 1919 playing against Raith.  In fact he played without having gone back into training – an incredibly dangerous thing to do in terms of injuries that could be sustained, and is reported to have been very overweight, but he still won over the crowd, and scored.

Rangers won the title again that year but Dr Paterson moved on.  His brother-in-law, John Scott, who worked in London was made Arsenal’s club doctor and Jimmy moved to England to join him in his house in Clapton, and was persuaded by John to sign as an amateur for Arsenal in September 1920.

Although an amateur it seems that like other amateurs of the time he received expenses and “gifts” which are reputed to have included a “baby grand piano from Harrods, a diamond-studded tie-pin and a fine Venetian vase.”   A baby grand, I should add, is not a “baby” in the conventional sense, but still a fairly large instrument, just a little smaller than the full size concert grand which is normally only seen in concert halls for the performance of concertos.

Paterson made his debut for Arsenal on the left wing against Derby on 30 October 1920 and played 20 league matches that season.

Now this is where we come to the curious issue which as far as I know has never been resolved before.  Paterson’s manager at the time was Leslie Knighton and  I’ve written before how Leslie Knighton managed successfully to re-write Arsenal’s history to suite himself, often claiming that he was forced to take players from where ever he could find them, because of Norris’ parsimony, and the winding up of the scouting network.

Many events show this story to be a total falsehood, written to excuse the poor performance of the team during the era – but one stands out.  

Knighton claimed in his self-serving autobiography that he was so short of players that he was at one stage even forced to bring in the brother in law of the club’s physio, to make up the numbers.  That brother in law was Dr Jimmy Paterson.  Knighton totally played down the quality of Paterson as a player, and this image has been heighted by Bernard Joy in Forward Arsenal! in which is reports only that Paterson had played for Queens’ Park in Glasgow, ignoring the fact that Paterson won the league twice as an integral part of the Rangers team.

So rather than the man that Knighton in his autobiography claims to have been reduced to playing – the brother-in-law of the physio, who had once played for Queens Park, this man was one of the great heroes of Scottish football.

What Knighton also omits to say is that in 1920/1 under his management, Arsenal won only two of their first 11 games.  Paterson then made his Arsenal début against Derby on 30 October 1920 and with Paterson in the side the club went unbeaten in the next seven, winning five.

Then in March 1921 Paterson was selected for the Football League against the Scottish League, coincidentally played at Highbury.

Before the match, he is reported to have gone into the Scottish dressing room to shake hands with all the players, many of whom he had played with before the war.  But it was Paterson’s cross that led to the only goal scored by a man who was himself to become an Arsenal legend, Charlie Buchan.

It is also said in some reports that Dr Paterson was given a bunch of flowers during the match and played on with them in his hand!, but the true report seems to be that he was handed them before the game started, and still had them in his hand as the whistle went.  It seems he played with them in his hand for a few moments before finding someone to hand them to.

Paterson’s career with Arsenal under Knighton was erratic, although so far I have not been able to find out if this was due to injury, or medical duties elsewhere, or the foibles of Knighton.

After his 20 games in 1920/1 and only played two league games the following season, but 26 in 1922/3 and 21 in 1923/4, at which point he retired, although was still technically on the books of Arsenal.

But then on 13 February 1926 he was persuaded by Herbert Chapman to play once again – in Chapman’s first season at the club.

Chapman needed someone to fill in for the regular number 11 Haden  The depth of Arsenal’s problem at this moment can be seen by the fact that for the game in question Arsenal were now using their sixth right winger of the season and simply had no one to play on the left wing.   Clem Voysey, whose very odd and erratic career we’ve commented on before as an utter and total mystery, had filled in for the previous match on the left for one game but now dropped out, and in came Dr Paterson.  Thus it was that on 13 February 1926, he scored his only ever league goal, in a 3-0 win against Newcastle United in front of 48346 spectators.

Jimmy kept his place for the 20 February 1926 FA Cup game against Aston Villa away, not least because Joe Hulme who Chapman had signed from Blackburn was cup tied, and he played again on 24 February for the replay at Highbury in front of an amazing 71,446 which Arsenal won 2-0, with Paterson scoring the first goal.

He played his final game on 6 March 1926 away to Swansea, again in the FA Cup which Arsenal lost 2-1.

In all he made 77 appearances for Arsenal, scoring two goals.

Dr Paterson then left London and moved to a country practice at Bramley in Surrey, and finally retired to Ayrshire in the 1950s. He died of a heart attack and died 31 August 1959 aged 68.

He clearly was a great man, and it is somehow quite shocking that he was used as an excuse by Knighton for his own failings.  It is rather late in the day, but very good to put the record straight.

The Books

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