@indianGoon didn’t know you were such a massive cricket fan. A blog post abt cricket plz, to endure pain of off season
A tweeted request, and one I think at first I can’t really do, but then again. There have been big links between Arsenal and the cricket world down the years.
In my own formative years playing colts cricket in the Thames Valley a young wicket-keeper at Slough was making strides as a youth team goalkeeper at Arsenal, before moving on to devote his professional sporting life to Middlesex, Sussex, and Auckland as well as making 18 appearances in one-day internationals for England. Today Ian ‘Gunner’ Gould is on the ICC elite panel of umpires.
When I was born Arsenal’s reserve goalkeeper was Jim Standen, who I first recall playing for the West Ham side that won the FA Cup in 1964 and the European Cup-Winners Cup a year later. 1964 was indeed a special year for Jim, who also won a County Championship medal with Worcestershire, for whom he was a decent medium pacer.
Many long nights were spent discussing Arsenal cricketers with ‘holicdad, who saw most of the top players who excelled at both games. Even he though was not around to see Arsenal’s first double international in action. Andy Ducat scored 19 goals in seven years at Woolwich Arsenal in pre-Highbury days. Three of his six England football caps were won before he moved on to Aston Villa. A useful batsman for Surrey, he made his one and only appearance in the England test side against the Aussies at Headingley in the summer 0f 1921.
That same series saw Kent opening bat Wally Hardinge win his only England cap. Hardinge had joined Arsenal a year after the departure of Ducat, and was one of the first Arsenal players to experience Highbury. In seasons either side of the First World War Hardinge scored 14 goals in 55 appearances for the North London new boys.
Completing our trio of double internationals was Arthur Milton, a Bristolian, who represented Gloucestershire, Arsenal and Bristol City, as well as England in both codes. The ‘holicdad recalled him as an excellent cricketer, but a frail winger. Arsene Wenger would have loved him then! I missed out on meeting him in the flesh as he shared a train journey with the Swindon Gooners during the Highbury Farewell season and I had travelled up early to attend a meeting. What an experience that would have been.
Probably the most famous Arsenal cricketer was Denis Compton, who made his first-class debut for Middlesex at the age of 17 in 1936, and won his first test cap against New Zealand a year later. In 19 years Denis racked up 78 tests scoring nigh on 6000 runs at an average of over 50. I think it is fair to say he could play a bit. No wonder then that one of the stands at the Nursery End of Lords is now known as the Compton Stand. On either side of the Second World War he found time to fit in 54 appearances on the wing for Arsenal, scoring a respectable 15 goals.
Compton’s brother Leslie also represented Middlesex in 274 first-class matches, but was capped by his country only at football. The centre-half racked up just short of 300 appearances for the Gunners, and the ‘holicdad never missed a chance to mention his last-minute equaliser in the FA Cup semi-final of 1950 against Chelsea at White Hart Lane. The first of his two England caps came at the age of 38 in that same year, against Wales.
Leslie was following in the footsteps of Ted Drake, signed by Arsenal from Southampton in 1934 for what was then a massive £6500. He proved to be a value signing, however, notching a remarkable 139 goals in 184 appearances until he retired in 1945. He made his international debut, alongside six Arsenal team-mates, against World champions Italy in a notorious 1934 game since tagged ‘the Battle of Highbury’. Drake, most often described as a fearless centre-forward, also made sixteen first-class appearances for Hampshire, although not having the same impact in the summer game.
A very similar path was followed by Don Roper, signed by Arsenal from the Saints for £10000 in 1947. Roper won Championship medals in 1948 and 1953, but ironically lost his place in the 1950 FA Cup Final winning team to Denis Compton. Roper’s one appearance for Hampshire County Cricket Club ensured his name was added to this piece.
In the course of researching the article I have found two other names about which I know little, and who the ‘holicdad never mentioned, somewhat surprisingly. Joe North made 23 appearances for Arsenal after the First World War, and also represented Middlesex. Around the same time Henry White played over a hundred matches for the Arsenal and in the summer of 1923 he played cricket for Warwickshire. In fairness ‘holicdad was only one at the time.
A more tenuous link between the sports is to be found on the Arsenal staff today. Steve Gatting, brother of former England cricket captain Mike, is on the coaching staff at Arsenal. Of course the chance of anybody being able to reach the top in both sports is now extremely remote, with year round calendars for both. I guess never again will we get to witness a player who could score against Chelsea and hit a ton against the Aussies. You were a lucky man to see Compton, ‘holicdad.
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