Arsenal’s Greatest Midfielders Day 2

Continuing our Summer series of articles in search of Arsenal’s greatest ever team, this week we continue to highlight the midfielders.  Don’t forget to take the opportunity to choose your personal favourite midfielder by voting in the poll at the end of the week

4. Alf Baker: 1919-1931.

Alf made 351 appearances over a 12 year period.

Born in Ilkeston, Derbyshire, Alf was originally a miner and played for various clubs in Derbyshire as an amateur.

ARSEbakerADuring World War I he \was a guest player for Chesterfield, Crystal Palace and Huddersfield Town, and in 1919 he turned professional signing for Arsenal; according to Arsenal folk lore, manager Leslie Knighton signed Alf  after meeting him at the pit where he worked,  beating rivals for the player’s signature who were waiting at his home. He made his debut for Arsenal in 1919 playing in the first-ever top flight game at Highbury. He played seventeen matches that season, becoming a first team regular in 1920-21.

“Doughy”, as he was nicknamed, played in every position for Arsenal, including as emergency goalkeeper, but he usually played as right half.

He was made club captain in 1924, however when new manager Herbert Chapman arrived at the end of that season, he made Charlie Buchan captain instead of Baker, but he continued to play for Arsenal for another five years.

In 1927, he played in Arsenal’s first ever FA Cup final; however Arsenal suffered an infamous 1-0 loss to Cardiff City after a mistake by Arsenal goalkeeper Dan Lewis. The following season, he was finally capped for England, appearing against Wales on 28 November 1927; England lost 2-1. It was his only international appearance.

Alf finally won a major medal when he played in Arsenal’s 1930 FA Cup final win over Huddersfield Town; by now he had nearly reached the end of his career. He played only one more game for the club (also against Huddersfield, on 7 March 1931) before retiring from the game aged 33 in the summer of 1931, later working as a scout for Arsenal.

In all, he played 351 matches for Arsenal, scoring 26 goals.

He passed away in 1955, at the age of 56.

5. Joe Mercer: 1946-1954.

Joe made 275 appearances over an 8 eight period.

gun__1279617767_mercer_joeJoe was born in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, the son of a former Nottingham Forest and Tranmere Rovers footballer.

He first played for Ellesmere Port Town as a left half; he was a powerful tackler and good at anticipating an opponent’s moves. He joined Everton in September 1932 at the age of 18 becoming a first team regular in the 1935–36 season. He went on to make 186 appearances for Everton, scoring two goals and winning a League Championship medal in the 1938–39 season. While playing for Everton he gained five England caps between 1938 and 1939.

During WW11 he became a sergeant-major and played in 26 wartime internationals, many of them as captain. He was transferred to Arsenal for £9,000, in 1946 and commuted from Liverpool. He made his Arsenal debut against Bolton Wanderers on 30 November 1946 and soon after joining Arsenal he became club captain. As captain, he led Arsenal through their period of success in the late 1940s and early 1950s, helping to haul the side from the lower end of the table to win a League Championship title in 1947–48.

Joe went on to win an FA Cup winner’s medal in 1950 and was voted FWA Footballer of the Year the same year. He led Arsenal to Cup final in 1952, which they lost 1–0 to Newcastle United, but the following year bounced back to win his third League title with Arsenal winning the 1952–53 League Championship on goal average. Initially he decided to retire in May 1953, but soon recanted and returned to Arsenal for the 1953–54 season. However, he broke his leg in two places after a collision with team-mate Joe Wade in a match against Liverpool on 10 April 1954, and finally called time on his football career the year after.

After retiring he ran his own green grocery business in Wallasey and he became known as the Football Grocer in football annuals of the late forties and fifties.

He returned to football in 1955, becoming manager of Sheffield United, who was relegated in his first season in charge. The rest of his time as manager was spent in the Second Division and in December 1958, he resigned and moved to Aston Villa who was bottom of the First Division. Although he led them to the FA Cup semi-finals he was relegated to Division Two for a second time, but led Villa to victory in the inaugural League Cup in 1961.

He suffered a stroke in 1964 and upon his recovery he was sacked by the Aston Villa board. Despite this setback his health improved and he went on to enjoy great success as a manager with Manchester City between 1965 and 1971. In his first season at Maine Road, the club won the 1966 Second Division title to regain top-flight status. Two seasons later he led Manchester City to the 1968 First Division championship, going on to win the FA Cup in 1969, the League Cup in 1970 and European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1970. Later he became embroiled in a club takeover bid which led to his departure to become manager of Coventry City, during the same time Mercer was also caretaker manager of the England national football team for a brief period in 1974 after Sir Alf Ramsey’s resignation.

In 1976 he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to football.

Later in life he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and passed away, sitting in his favourite armchair, on his 76th birthday.

Joe played 275 times for Arsenal and scored two goals.

6. Alex Forbes: 1948-1956

Alex appeared in 240 games over an 8 year period.

$(KGrHqF,!osE63YPy-wiBPCfQKjJt!~~60_35Born in Dundee, he started his career playing wartime matches with Dundee North End, before signing for Sheffield United. He was a regular for Sheffield in the first two seasons of competitive football after the war ended, and made his debut for Scotland, against England on 12 April 1947.

Transfer-listed by the Blades, he signed for Arsenal in 1948 for £15,000, after being persuaded by his friend, and Arsenal player, Archie Macaulay. He made his debut against Wolves on 6 March 1948. Nicknamed “Red” (for the colour of his hair) and known for his hard tackling, he picked up a First Division winners’ medal in his first season at Arsenal (1947–48), making 11 appearances that season.

He eventually managed to displace his friend Macaulay from the Arsenal side, becoming a regular for the next seven seasons. He went on to win a second title in 1952–53, and picked up an FA Cup winners’ medal in 1949-50. He continued to also play for Scotland, eventually picking up 14 caps for his country.

Injury blighted his final season with the Gunners; a problem with his knee cartilage demanded an operation, which restricted him to five appearances in 1955–56. Having lost his place to Dave Bowen, he moved to Leyton Orient in August 1956, where he spent a season before finishing his playing career with Fulham.

After retiring from playing, Alex spent time coaching the Arsenal reserves and youth teams. He later immigrated to Johannesburg, South Africa, where he now lives in retirement, to coach children at a local private school, Yeshiva College of South Africa. He is also chairman of the South African branch of the Arsenal supporters’ club.

Alex is the last surviving player from Arsenal’s 1950 FA Cup Final winning team.

In all, Alex played 240 games for Arsenal, scoring 20 goals.

Written by GunnerN5 and compiled by Gooner in Exile


42 Responses to Arsenal’s Greatest Midfielders Day 2

  1. Norfolk Gooner says:

    First! Beat you to it today Big Al.

  2. Norfolk Gooner says:

    Three players mentioned today that I watched as a boy, Joe Mercer, Alex Forbes and Dave Bowen. Archie Macaulay left at the end of the season, 1950, before I started attending Arsenal games.

    History is getting closer. 🙂

  3. GunnerN5 says:

    Morning Norfolk,

    I also had the privilege of watching Joe Mercer and Alex Forbes play at Highbury and both were very special players.

    Oh dear getting old makes me feel old!!

  4. GunnerN5 says:


    We should one final poll to see which of the AA regulars have seen the most of our profiled players – playing live.

    I’ve most likely seen the most actually play – but many have only been due to TV coverage. and not “live”

  5. evonne says:

    GN5 – you r not old if you still remember the 50s, I cannot recall what I was doing yesterday!
    Great stuff, more amazing stories. They were truly hard men in those days. I am beginning to understand why some old school fans abhor the modern football prima donnas.

    Alf Baker best looking so far 🙂

  6. GunnerN5 says:


    Maybe this is a little snippet that may surprise some of our modern fans.

    Before a player can enter the field of play the “4th” official always checks the underneath of their boots – they are checking to make sure the studs are not dangerous.

    Originally studs were made up of layers of hardened leather that were nailed onto the soles of the boots. These studs were more very dangerous because as the leather wore down the nails stuck out of the bottom – turning them into weapons. I witnessed several come out of a tackle by Forbes with blood running down their leg, I actually saw him drag his boot down the back of an opponents leg – yes he was tough and also dirty.

    Another issue with the studs was if the nails were not flattened down inside the boots they would stick in your feet – sure kept me jumping.

  7. Norfolk Gooner says:


    I think you would win hands down, I started going to Highbury in the 50/51 season and kept it up until October ’74 when I moved to Norfolk.. Due to the pressures of raising a family, work, mortgage and other necessities of life, sadly, attending football matches had to take a back seat.

    Nowadays it’s really just the cost of tickets and travel expense that have restricted me to just one visit to The Emirates to watch an FA Cup game against Plymouth in 2009.

  8. Norfolk Gooner says:

    Big Al has gone missing today, could it be something he ate? A cat maybe? 😀

  9. Ian Ure Face says:

    That Plymouth cup game was the only time I wanted us to draw, so that I could go and watch us beat them in the replay. It`s only 25 miles away to Home Park from home and my daughter would have got me ” Business tickets. I came up to the Emirates with a load of Argyle mates and in-law relatives, it would have been nice to have seen an Arsenal game again with only 30 mins travelling !. I`m always hoping to get either Argyle, Exeter, Torquay or even Yeovil in an away game, but they hardly ever get to the latter stages of cups !.

  10. RockyLives says:

    Great stuff Gn5
    “Doughy” Baker 🙂

    I love the way the history of Arsenal is intrinsically interwoven with the history of modern Britain – players going off to take part in wars and all sorts.

    I reckon Mercer must have been quite a player.

  11. Gunner N5, GIE
    Excellent. As always.

    One pernickety note (sorry, GN5) … Alf Ramsey didn’t resign; he was sacked.
    I wouldn’t have bothered being “picky”, GN5, except I think these ‘wikipedia’ notes are worth a read :

    Harold Warris Thompson played a major role in the sacking of World Cup-winning England manager Sir Alf Ramsey in 1974. Given England’s failure to qualify for the World Cup that year, Ramsey’s dismissal may have been justified, but the newspapers reported that “the whole episode was handled with brutal insensitivity.”

    British journalist and author Leo McKinstry wrote that “England’s most successful manager would have had a legacy fit for a hero had it not been for the malevolence of the FA chief Harold Thompson.”

    Thompson subsequently ensured that the most successful club manager of the time, Brian Clough, never became England manager.

    One former FA official said of him, “Sir Harold was a bullying autocrat. He was a b*st*rd. He treated the staff like sh*t”

  12. GunnerN5 says:


    Mercer was a special player and I found a lot of interesting stories about him but I was concerned about the length of the profiles and did not include most of them, however —–

    The fans really loved him and it was a very sad day for us watching, at Highbury, when he broke his leg – he waved to us from his stretcher and was given a rousing round of applause by both sets of fans, we instinctively knew that his career was over…

    When he played for Everton his manager accused him of not trying his hardest and Joe told him it was because he had an issue with a cartilage in his knee. However his manager didn’t believe him forcing Joe to have it checked by an orthopaedic surgeon who confirmed Joe’s suspicions but Everton still refused to believe him and made him pay for the operation himself. We went on to beat Liverpool 3-0 but that was the side story.

    In another game in that same 1953/54 season we were 3-0 up against Aston Villa after only 23 minutes, when the game was abandoned because of fog, the game was declared void. The game was replayed in April and we drew 1-1 but it did not make any real difference in the final league standings – as with only two points for a win the extra point would have put us 8th and not 12th, where we finished.

  13. GunnerN5 says:

    Big Al,

    I make no claim as to every one of my profiles to be 100% correct, if I had taken the time to check out the authenticity of each and every stat and fact I would still be writing the profiles.

    I used reputable sources but obviously they were not perfect, however I am not upset that you point out the odd error – especially when it comes to statistics as I like them to be correct.

  14. RockyLives says:

    Given that you’ve seen both Forbes and Mercer play, to whom (from the last 30-odd years of Arsenal) would you compare their styles (if anyone)?

  15. evonne says:

    GN5 – thank you for the bloody story! I hate any form of violence and given the leather studs vs diamond earrings, I think I have no option but to embrace the latter

  16. kelsey says:

    Big Al

    why don’t you spend hours and hours writing a whole seies of articles in the quiet months instead of nit picking yet again today 😉

  17. Cheers, Gunner N5

    As I said, I wouldn’t have bothered making the comment regarding Alf’s sacking at all, had it not been for the rather interesting story of that b*st*ard Thompson 🙂

  18. kelsey, as I’ve just said to GN5, my ‘nitpicking’ was for a reason… that is, the follow-up story of Thompson. I rather hoped some might find it of interest.

    Apparently not.

  19. Red Arse says:

    Out all day trying to get Sheep Hagger out of jail — damned Sheriff nearly caught me.

    Have we bought anyone yet — have we? Is Higgy ours?

    You had better give me good news or I will blogfartus!! 🙂

  20. RockyLives says:

    You know what they say – “no news is good news.”

  21. Red Arse says:

    Well done, GN5, another soupçon of Arsenal history to digest! 🙂

    Well things are improving — at least I know of Joe Mercer and Alex Forbes by repute — well from my father. 🙂

  22. Red Arse says:

    Hiya, Rocky, I love your consummately apt adages, although I think you may have misquoted that one.

    Isn’t it; ‘no nudes is bad news’? 😀

  23. Red Arse says:

    Everywhere I turn the comment is “Higuain is close to Arsenal transfer” or variations thereof.

    Someone asked what is the definition of ‘close’, and I suppose if Higgy and Arsene were in the same room, ‘close’ could mean there was very little space between them, or it could mean ‘close the transfer deal’, which might mean ‘terminate it’.

    Meh — we will get him — patience my friends! 😀

  24. RockyLives says:

    “No nudes is bad news” 🙂

  25. GunnerN5 says:

    Rocky it’s so difficult to compare players from different eras. Back in the 40-s and 50’s the pitches were like muddy, rutted, cow fields and the weather was totally unpredictable, I guess nothing has changed there, expect for the pea soup smog’s.

    Even the equipment was different, hard leather boots up to and laced around the ankles footballs that weighed a ton, especially when wet.

    Players health, fitness, diet and overall wellbeing was also a lot worse when compared with today’s pampered millionaires.

    So even if the players back then had the same, or better skill set, than todays players, very little was in their favour for it to show through.

    Both Joe and Alex were tough players with Forbes being a bit of a brute who in todays game would most likely hold the record for red cards received.

    Finally I can’t think of any comparisons to players from those eras as they were dedicated to their respective clubs and fans, gave their all, and received minimum compensation in return.

  26. GunnerN5 says:


    All that being said it has to be understood that I am a product of those eras.

  27. chas says:

    Lovely stuff, GN5.

    1930 cup final (no sound)
    The Bobby Mooresque (even though he hadn’t been born) tackle at 1.30 may have been ‘Doughy’ Baker.
    The team bus is a sight to behold at the end.

  28. chas says:

    Joe Mercer at the 1950 cup final.

  29. GunnerN5 says:

    Chas looking at some of the early footage it easy to understand why we called them the “Flicks”

    Taking yer bird out and sitting in the back row of the Flicks was a big night out back then.

  30. GunnerN5 says:


    Your clip @1:03 is like magic to me. It authenticates both my story about nailed on leather studs and my response to Rocky @ 6:39.

    Keep em coming………….

  31. GunnerN5 says:


    Just for the sake of clarity – Bird = girlfriend.

  32. chas says:

    So bird ≠ cock. Thank heaven for that. 🙂

  33. evonne says:

    Chas @ 6:59 – sorry, but that clip is almost comical, it is like a different game altogether 🙂 Watch their first touch, lovely stuff

  34. Gooner In Exile says:

    Have we signed anyone yet? Liverpool splashing the cash like they know they’ve sold Suarez already.

    City have freed up some wage bill with the release of Tevez, freeing some wage bill for a Bale offer?

  35. chas says:

    I’ve not been keeping up.
    Who have Liverpool bought?
    I hope it’s of the quality of the Henderson, Adam, Downing triple whammy.

  36. chas says:

    Arsenal ins and outs according to transfermarket looks a bit daunting. (the asterisked players are supposedly returning from loans) 🙂

  37. evonne says:

    oo la la, I sense great nervousness here, people are beginning to hide…..Kelsey about us not signing Torres, Raddy will be eating something nasty if we sign Rooney and LB will be screaming naked (he ate all his garments already) in the garden if Fellaini and Gonzo join the ranks 🙂 Cannot wait for the fun to begin

  38. evonne says:

    from another blog:

    4 Gooners walk into a pub:

    A realistic Gooner walks into a pub and says to the barman,”I’ll have a top four finish and a pint of bitter Spurs please.”

    Next up, a pessimistic Gooner walks into the pub, looks around then says to the barman,”I’ll have a glass-half-empty of mediocrity to drink with the crowd on the mid-table over there.”

    A little while later on, a cynical Gooner walks into the pub, lets out a long sigh and says,”I guess I’ll have to have another overpriced pint of empty promises… and I don’t expect any change.”

    Finally, an optimistic Gooner walks into the pub and says,”I’ll have an overflowing cup please barman… and make it a double!”

  39. Morning all

    There’s a New Post ……………….

  40. […] Pingback Pingback Pingback Pingback Pingback Pingback Pingback Pingback Pingback Pingback Pingback Pingback Pingback Pingback Pingback Pingback […]

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