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Ray Daniel, the man who left Arsenal for an illegal opportunity

Ray Daniel war born in Swansea on 2 November 1928and died 6 November 1997.

He started at his local club Swansea Town and in 1946, as clubs started to get themselves together for the first post-war championship he was signed by Arsenal.   He elder brother had also played for Arsenal and died in the second world war aged 18.

Conscription into National Service continued into the 1950s and so Ray did not start playing for Arsenal until the end of the 1948/9 season on the last day (7 May 1949) against Charlton.  Arsenal (who had been champions the season before) finished fifth.

It was not until 1951/52 that Ray Daniel became automatic first choice at centre half, playing in 34 league matches, and in that season he won the first of his 21 caps for Wales.  He also played in the cup final of 1952, despite missing the whole of April with a broken arm.

He was associated with the 22 October 1949 scandal in which it was reported that the Arsenal reserve team playing against Cardiff started the second half with a cigarette.

In 1952-3 he played 41 league matches as Arsenal won the league under Tom Whittaker.  However he then left for Sunderland for £30,000 and his departure was part of the cause of Arsenal’s subsequent slump.  The champions lost six and drew two of their opening matches – including a 7-1 defeat to Sunderland.  They recovered slightly but still only ended up 12th.

So what happened? Why did Arsenal collapse, and why did Ray Daniel leave.   Ex-player Tom Whittaker was still at the helm, and his record from 1947/8 onwards was of the highest order with two championships, two FA Cup final appearances (winning one) and never finishing lower than 6th in the league.

But that summer Tom was unable to stop the departure of Ray Daniel.   Why (everyone asked) would a player leave the league champions where he was first choice number 5, to join a team that had finished 9th  and which was not in the process of any serious rebuilding? (In fact they finished 18th in 1953-54).

It is now known that Sunderland offered Daniel payments far in excess of the maximum wage that was allowed.  Sadly Ray Daniel was tempted by a better (although illegal) offer.

The squad also had some other problems.  Cliff Holton at centre forward simply lost his touch scoring only 2 goals in the first 6 games he played.  It was not until late October when he scored 8 goals in 6 league games that things started to improve.

And so, on 12th September 1953 Arsenal were bottom of the league, two points adrift from the clubs above with their best player gone.

The season was a disaster all round, for on 30th January we took on Norwich City of the Third Division South in front of 55,767 at Highbury in the fourth round of the cup.  And we lost 1-2.

Although now forgotten the defeat was, at the time, considered to the biggest upset of the era and of the magnitude of Chapman’s Cup defeat against Walsall.  Worse the match was also notable for Alex Forbes being sent off along with Norwich’s Brennan for serious misconduct.

There was not even an excuse in terms of Arsenal having sent out a reserve team.  Every player bar the left back (Lionel Smith) played over 15 games in the league for the club that season – and Smith himself had played over 170 games for the club by that time.

Over the next few seasons Tom Whittaker did start to rebuild the team but in 1956 he died in office of a heart attack before he could complete the task.  It would be another 14 years before the club won its next trophy: the Inter Cities Fairs Cup.  There was no replacement for Ray Daniel.

Ray played for Sunderland for four years, before moving on to Cardiff City and then back to Swansea, before finishing off as player manager of Hereford.  After that he ran a post office.

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