Publication on July 20th: Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football.
By Tony Attwood
There is this image that I have that when a player seeks a new move there are negotiations, chats with agents, thoughts, discussions with possible new clubs, debates. And then some.
Of course it wasn’t like this in the past – and even less so during the war years when players turned out as “guests” as they moved around the kingdom serving their country.
But even so, to read that Tom Parker (Southampton’s manager) simply told Wally Barnes that “You’re going to Arsenal” when he (Parker) was himself moving on, comes as a bit of a surprise. As does the revelation that having later been given a dressing down by Arsenal’s manager Tom Whittaker over a poor performance he was then told by his manager that he’d just been selected to captain Wales – the first time he had captained any team.
Even Wally’s move into professional football happened by chance. Portsmouth’s scout in 1937 was on a cycling trip, stopped for a rest, saw a game going on in a local field and decided to have a look. He then noticed Mr Barnes and approached him to ask if he wanted to turn pro. Wally turned him down at first, and then a little later moved on to accept.
These and other stories turn up in “Wally Barnes, captain of Wales” which has just been republished, after a long period out of print, and it is hard not to get the opinion that Wally’s life in football was a series accidents. Forget the glitter and glamour, the “scoring a hat trick in his first game” and all that. Wally’s first league game (in the wartime league on 1942-3) was Southampton 0 Aldershot 7 (although to make sense of that you have to remember that Aldershot was of course a major army centre, and so had its best team ever during the war years).
Wally’s life is charming, fun, and a history of the bizarre in football. Like the fact that in his first Arsenal match Cliff Bastin scored a penalty which entered the net after bouncing three times on the way in. Now that’s something you don’t see every day.
Walley played almost every position on the pitch for Arsenal in the war, including even being in goal. He made his league début in 1946, and settled into the left back position winning a championship medal with the all-conquering 1947/8 team before later moving to right back and winning the FA Cup in 1950.
But after getting injured in the Cup final against Newcastle in 1952 he missed the whole of the next season and so missed out on a second league medal in 1952/3. The injury cost him dear and he never fully regained a regular place in the team, retiring in 1956 having played 294 matches and having scored 12 goals.
Towards the end of his playing career he was also manager of Wales, and then moved on to work for the BBC, presenting among other things, FA Cup finals. He was also one of the commentators on the very first edition of Match of the Day in 1964 and can be heard on recordings of the 1966 World Cup final as the occasional “expert opinion”.
Tragically he died very young – at the age of just 55. But his memory lives on, not only in those recordings, but also in terms of his autobiography.
Wally Barnes: captain of Wales is now re-published by GCR Books.
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