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GCR Books

George Jobey, the real story of the man who scored the first Arsenal goal at Highbury

George Jobey (July 1885 – 9 May 1962) was born Heddon near Newcastle on Tyne.

If George Jobey’s name is mentioned at all by Arsenal fans these days (and sadly precious few know his name) it will be because of one of two reasons, both related to 6 September 1913: the first game at Highbury.

The first reason is that he scored the first Arsenal goal at Highbury – an equaliser after Leicester had taken the lead in the very first game.   That is a fact and there is no disputing it.  He scored with a header from a cross.

But the second story is more debatable, because it seems to have surfaced some years after the game.   It is reported by Bernard Joy in Forward Arsenal but, as we have seen so often, although Bernard Joy is a prime source on issues relating to his own period at the club, in terms of Arsenal’s earlier history he did no original research and simply wrote up the stories as they were told.   And so myths that might have died a natural death were continued and became part of reality.

The most obvious case of Joy running with a hopelessly false story was the Alex Mackie and the monkey tale.  Now here’s another.

In this second tale Jobey was injured and carried off the pitch in this opening Highbury match by by George Hardy.  Since the dressing-rooms had not been built yet, Jobey was taken to his home for treatment.  All that seems most likely to be true.

But then the story takes a turn for it is said that George Hardy borrowed a cart from the local milkman to take him there. Another version has Hardy putting Jobey in a wheelbarrow.  Another is that he was taken to hospital.  Another says he was taken to a nearby house.  Jon Spurling in his book, “Highbury the story of Arsenal in N5” quotes the Joy telling of the tale but sadly without any indication of his source.  It was probably Joy.

But Bruce Smith in his book on Highbury actually quotes from the Islington Daily Gazette published the next day and this tells us a slightly different story.

Smith is also more illuminating on the game and surroundings, noting that the receipts in the “Gillespie Road stadium” were £308 and that it was the first opening day victory since 1 September 1906 when Arsenal beat Manchester City away 1-4. He also reports that many didn’t pay to get in, climbing across the building scaffolding of the unfinished stadium.

The newspaper report shows Tom Winship’s corner was headed in by Jobey and says, “Jobey received a kick in the back from a Leicester player and was treated by doctors and ambulance men before being taken home on the back of a cart borrowed from a local milkman.”  The injury was thought to be broken ribs but they were just bruised.  Smith also reports that the player was attended by Dr Brenber, brother of the Fosse goalkeeper.

(The timing of the incident is variable too in the telling.  The Islington Daily Gazette has it ten minutes from the end, Arsenal.com has it as “midway through the second half.”)

The wheelbarrow telling from Joy and repeated by others gives a feeling of their being no facilities at all – and worse, no forethought about what might happen if someone was injured.   Smith’s telling from the Gazette speaks of ambulance men – and where there are ambulance men there is usually some sort of preparation and ability to get matters sorted.

There is an implication in the Joy and subsequent tellings that Arsenal were unprepared in every regard for an injury, but the newspaper’s report of ambulance men and a doctor suggests otherwise.  There would have been no motorised ambulance in Islington in 1913, and milkmen were one of the groups of people who had a suitable form of transport that might allow an injured person to be transported.   While the wheelbarrow sounds ludicrous as a way of carrying an injured man hiring a milk delivery wagon (which had open sides and a horse used to pulling a load through the streets of London) would be ideal.  The milk delivery company would have finished its lunchtime round by kick off and not started the evening delivery that was common at the time, until after the match finished.  Hiring a horse and cart in this way made perfect sense, and quite possibly it continued as the arrangement for taking the injured away from the ground until long past the first world war.

So it is more than likely that Jobey was taken from the ground to his lodgings once the doctor had asserted that no ribs were broken.  Bruised ribs are very painful indeed, but there is no treatment other than lying still and letting the bruising settle down.

What’s more at this time players tended to rent rooms in the streets around the ground and the locals who had rooms to rent would certainly have looked to take in anyone they could from the newly arrived club.

But more to the point, if the wheelbarrow story were true, or if the milk cart tale was unexpected and unusual there’s no doubt that the local paper would have used it and run with it as a major feature.   I think the wheelbarrow and the suggestion of total chaos at the ground came much later, and gained popularity as so many other stories have done, by being included in Joy’s book.

The point however is not so much in the detail, but the way the detail is told.  Arsenal, it is suggested, were in such chaos that they had people running around in the street trying to find some form of transport that could take the desperately injured player to hospital to tend his wounds.  But no – it would all seem primitive by today’s standards because in 1913 it was.  But that does not mean it was chaotic.

But what else of Jobey, apart from this incident?

Jobey was born in Newcastle -upon-Tyne and played football for  Morpeth Harriers for two seasons before joining Newcastle United in 1906. He made his senior debut on 20 April 1907 in a 4–2 away defeat to Bolton Wanderers.

He spent seven seasons at Newcastle playing 53 games at centre half and right half and won a League winner’s medal in 1908/9 and a Cup Finalists’ medal in 1911.  He then joined Arsenal in May 1913 for £500.

Now it is often said in these tales that Jobey was “Arsenal’s new centre forward”, but here again the stories are mistaken – he only played this one game at number 9.   Jobey missed the next four matches with his bruised ribs but then returned on 4 October 1913 for the 0-1 home defeat against Bury (the first defeat at Highbury) at centre half.

Stoney played 28 or the 38 league games that season at centre forward and Jobey (who also played 28 games in the league) played six at centre half before moving to right half.  He scored twice more in his year with Arsenal with his last match being on 4 April 1914 – a 1-1 home draw with Bristol City.

Jobey only spent a season at Bradford and then of course football was suspended.  During the war he played six times for Hamilton Academical and then on the resumption of football in 1919 he moved to the club that was the opposition in his opening Arsenal game: Leicester City.

There again he only stayed one season, and in 1920 as the league expanded to three divisions he became player-manager of Northampton Town, having turned down the chance of being player-manager to Ebbw Vale.  At Northampton (once of course managed by Herbert Chapman) and he played 77 times before  two years on becoming  manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers, taking them to Third Division North title in 1924.  (At this time only the top club from each of the third divisions went up to the second, so winning the title was the only prize on offer).

But then, according to the reports I can find, he left football and became a hotel manager.  But after one year, contrary fellow that he seemed to be he went and managed Derby County and stayed to be one of their longest serving managers.

So what happened at Wolverhampton?  One might speculate that he sought a pay rise, and was refused.  For just as clubs effectively controlled the lives of their players through the retain and transfer system (meaning the player could not leave the club without the club’s agreement – the contracts were eternal) so they sought to control their managers, by inserting clauses into contracts forbidding a manager from walking out of one club and joining another.  I don’t have paperwork to prove this but it seems the most likely reason for this sudden move out of football.

While at Derby George Jobey developed a reputation as a very strict disciplinarian and in his first season in charge he took Derby back to the First Division, later finishing as runners up in seasons 1929/30 and 1935/6.

Also during this time George bought Hughie Gallacher from Chelsea.  It was a transfer that was full of talk of illegal payments (illegal in the sense that players were subject to maximum wage limits and were not allowed to get any money out of their own transfers.  Clubs got around this through techniques such as giving players “jobs” to do in the afternoon when not training, and as a result the whole issue of paying players at each stage of their career was covered in dubious dealings and unproven allegations.)

Derby were censured by the FA and Jobey suspended.

But this wasn’t the only time he got into trouble with the authorities.  In 1941 another accusation was made about illegal payments made to induce players to join Derby and we might here recall that Herbert Chapman was involved in the same sort of allegations when at Leeds City.   An FA inquiry found Jobey guilty just as they had with Chapman, and banned him from football for life – just as they had with Chapman.  And just as Chapman’s ban was lifted at the end of the first world war so Jobey’s was lifted at the end of the second.

But by then Jobey had had enough, and although he did take over Mansfield for 1952/3 he didn’t have much more to do with football.  (It is reported that the board sacked him at Mansfield on the grounds that Jobey was no longer interested in football).   Mansfield finished 18th in the third division north, while Jobey might well have noted that his club of nearly 40 years earlier, won the first division.

He was then 67 years old, and probably felt he had had enough of the football game and I suspect he retired.   George Jobey, the man who scored the first Arsenal goal passed away at his home in Cheddesden, Derby on 09/03/1962, aged 76.

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