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.
During 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.
Joe 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.
Born 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