William George Marks was born 9 April 1915 in Wiltshire, playing at first for Salisbury Corinthians.
He joined Arsenal on 16 March 1936 as an amateur, and was quickly moved onto Margate, the nursery club, where he stayed for two years before returning in the summer of 1938.
He moved into Arsenal reserves for 1938/9 as an understudy for George Swindin and Alex Wilson; however he did step up to play in a friendly match on 17 April 1939 against Tottenham. Unfortunately I don’t have details of this game – if you know anything of it, do let me know.
Marks’ performance in this match must have been all right as he then went on to play the last two games of the season. His first league match was away to Derby County on 29 April 1939 – Arsenal won 2-1.. His second and final league appearance in goal for Arsenal was at home in the 2-0 win against Brentford. Not only was it the last match before the second world war (aside from the cancelled games at the start of the aborted 1939/40 season) but also it was filmed and used as the basis for The Arsenal Stadium Mystery movie – although of course the move doesn’t call the away team Brentford, but invents an amateur team for the occasion,
However as noted above three matches were played in the 1939/40 abandoned season – and Marks was the keeper in all three. This makes it look as if he suffered the ultimate disappointment of having served his apprenticeship, made it to the top and then had it all snatched away.
The three games were
- 26 August 1939: Wolverhampton 2 Arsenal 2
- 30 August 1939: Arsenal 1 Blackburn 0
- 2 September 1939: Arsenal 5 Sunderland 2
In the war George Marks served in the RAF and N Ireland and played 129 wartime matches for Arsenal, winning the War Cup and the Football League South twice. He also played eight times for England during the war.
George Allison, Arsenal’s wartime manager, continued to manage Arsenal for one last season in 1946/7 but also returned to using George Swindin in goal. Rather amusingly the obituary of George Marks in the Independent says that this was because Marks was deemed “too old” to play for Arsenal – ignoring the fact that he was born in 1915 and Swindin in 1914.
George Marks was sold to Blackburn in August 1946 for £5000 – a record for a goal keeper (which again belies the age story)
As for the war games Bernard Joy, Arsenal’s best source of anecdotal stories from the era, mentions George Marks twice – both times for not turning up on time for a game. In one instance playing Charlton at the Valley George Marks failed to turn up at all and Leslie Compton went in goal. In another against Clapton Orient played at White Hart Lane Marks phoned to say he would be late and Ted Drake went in goal. When Drake saw Marks had arrived Drake took off his keeper’s jersey, and threw it to Marks, picked up his own outfield jersey, and rushed upfield while still putting it on. He received the ball, ran for goal, and shot – but the shot was saved.
There is a film of the Wartime Southern League cup final in which George Marks played, here
And of course the Arsenal Stadium Mystery is available on DVD.
And here is his record
He spent two seasons with Blackburn Rovers, but he received a jaw injury which stopped him being an ever present.
He moved to Bristol City in August 1948 but after two months, for reason I can’t ascertain, he moved again to Reading of division III (south) where he played for five years until retiring as a player.
After that he coached with Reading for a further two years, and then became a local government officer until his full retirement – which he lived out in Wiltshire until he passed on aged 82 on 22 January 1998.