England’s amateurs

A fascinating, amateur, figure in those Arsenal teams between 1945 and 1947 was the powerfully athletic Irish outside right, the hugely popular Dr. Kevin O’Flanagan. Coming from Dublin to London to take up a general medical practice, he demonstrated pace, strength and a fearsome right foot. He attained the distinction of playing soccer for Ireland on a Saturday, rugby for them the following Sunday.

Sudden interest has been shown here in a popular newspaper in those amateur players who figured in professional soccer in the post World War II years. Only of course to disappear when the amateur category was abruptly discontinued. A subject of particular interest to me, since one of the players most prominently involving was Bernard Joy, my own idol as a schoolboy when he played as the stalwart blend amateur centre half for Arsenal. Plus the fact that the last amateur to play in major pro football, the goalkeeper Mike Pinner, who kept goal for Aston Villa and Sheffield Wednesday, was a friend of mine who for years would play out of goal, at left half then outside left, for my little Sunday team, Chelsea Casuals.

Mike won a record five Blues for Cambridge University against Oxford and made a record number of appearances for the England amateur team. He was also the Great Britain Olympic goalkeeper, both in 1956 and when in 1960 the British amateurs gallantly held the full Italy under-21 team, including Gianni Rivera and Giovanni Trapattoni, to a 2-2 draw in Rome. A game I’ll always remember.

Joy, initially a schoolmaster who became on retirement a well known journalist, actually won a full cap for England against Belgium in Brussels, in 1936 while still playing as an amateur for the Casuals. In the same year, he was also a member of the Great Britain team which contested the Berlin Olympic tournament. So was the inside right Maurice Edelston, who played for Brentford and Reading and, like Joy, played for England during the last war, when, of course, caps were not awarded.

Maurice ultimately turned professional with Reading but Bernard never did and Maurice himself became a successful summarising radio commentator with the BBC. Bernard won Championship honours with Arsenal in season 1937/8, and had just one match for England during the War; in 1944 at Wembley against Scotland. England eventually won 6-1, but Bernard had an uneasy first half and was never picked again. During the War, like so many Arsenal players, he was a commissioned officer in the RAF. When soccer officially resumed in 1946 he had a few First Division games at left back, but the legs had gone and he quite quickly retired.

A fascinating, amateur, figure in those Arsenal teams between 1945 and 1947 was the powerfully athletic Irish outside right, the hugely popular Dr. Kevin O’Flanagan. Coming from Dublin to London to take up a general medical practice, he demonstrated pace, strength and a fearsome right foot. He attained the distinction of playing soccer for Ireland on a Saturday, rugby for them the following Sunday.

A surprising number of outside lefts made their mark as amateurs in those early post War years. F.P. (Peter) Kippax in fact became the last amateur to be picked for the full England team, though ironically he didn’t play against France at Highbury in May 1947 because he was injured. The following year, however, he was outside left in the Great Britain team which contested the Olympic tournament in London. The son of a wealthy factory owner, Kippax was regular outside left for his local team Burnley in the First Division and was on the wing for them when they lost the 1947 FA Cup Final at Wembley against Charlton.

He kept out of the Olympic team another talented outside left in the rapid and elusive Leon Joseph, largely with Leytonstone, then a leading amateur club, but picked a number of times by Tottenham Hotspur who badly wanted him to turn professional. But Joseph refused; he had his own East London business and with the iniquitous maximum wage in existence, felt he couldn’t afford to turn pro.

I have a very vivid memory of him, however, when he came down with a powerful London FA XI to play against my school, Charterhouse; famous in its time for producing many amateurs who played in early years of the game for England; notably to peerless, prolific centre-forward, G. O. Smith. Not to mention the last amateur ever to captain the full professional side, the left back, A. G. Bower, who skippered the team in 1925.

But the Charterhouse team was predictably overwhelmed by the London side, and I can still see, and marvel at, the sight of Leon Joseph racing down the left wing, bouncing the ball almost casually from knee to knee. As I recall, the score was 17-0!

Chelsea had a couple of effective left wingers. Miles Spector, an amateur international like his successor Jim Lewis, was a fast and strongly built attacker. Jim Lewis won a Championship medal when Chelsea, for the first time ever, won the title in 1955. At the start of that season, another amateur, the blond and highly talented inside-forward, the amateur English international Seamus O’Connell, played 10 League games for no fewer than seven goals, thus greatly contributing to Chelsea’s quest for the title.

Then there was the centre forward A. H. (Jackie) Gibbons, who played for Spurs and even for England while serving as a regular RAF man during the War. Afterwards he turned professional with Bradford Park Avenue, long, alas, reduced to marginal amateur status, and became the manager of Brentford. In the Spurs dressing room the trainer would address him with heavy sarcasm as “Mister Gibbons.”

Mike Pinner would turn professional, too, with London club Queens Park Rangers and Leyton Orient, flourishing as a solicitor. Though dining with me after that famous game in Rome, he insisted that he’d never take an office job.