Jack Crayston was born in Lancashire in 1910. He was one of George Allison's first signings in May 1934 (from Bradford Park Avenue) and as well as winning eight caps for England, he also won two Championships and an FA Cup Winners medal, whilst establishing a reputation as a classy wing half. As with many players his playing career was ended by the war, in his case due to an injury he received whilst serving with the RAF. When he received his de-mob papers in 1946 he returned to Highbury as a coach, being promoted to assistant manager under Tom Whittaker, and was the obvious choice to receive him after his death.
Arsenal continued to play in the same style, but unfortunately the players needed weren't there to bring success. In his first season he matched the finishes of the previous season in the League (5th) and the FA Cup (6th round), but 1957/58 proved to be our worst since Herbert Chapman came to the club, exiting the Cup in the 3rd round and finishing 12th in the League. Crayston knew funds were needed to strengthen the squad, but the board wouldn't (or probably couldn't) provide him with the funds he needed. Feeling he didn't have the full support of the board, 'Gentleman' Jack (as he was known) tendered his resignation in May 1958.
George Swindin was the ex-player who replaced him, although he came to the job via a spell as player-manager (and later manager) of Peterborough United. Another Allison (in 1936) signing (also from Bradford, but this time from City) he remained first choice keeper until 1953 and was regarded by many as the best uncapped keeper of his era. He joined Peterborough United in 1954, granted a free transfer for his services to Arsenal. Although they were a leading non-league club when he joined, election to the league appeared to be an unobtainable dream with many clubs ahead of them in the queue. At the time there was no automatic promotion to the Football League. The bottom club would stand for re-election each year, and it was extremely rare for a member to be voted out. It was testament to the influence and success of Swindin in his spell at the club, and his later profile as manager of Arsenal that Peterborough were voted into the League when a place became available in 1960.
On February 1st 1958, 63,578 people had seen Manchester United narrowly defeat Arsenal 5-4 at Highbury, in a game that was immediately hailed as one of the greatest ever played at Highbury. It's wider significance as the last game that Matt Busby's magnificent young team would play in England became apparent 5 days later when most of their team were killed in an horrific plane crash trying to take off from Munich on an icy runway returning from a European tie. This unprecedented (in English football – a similar disaster befell the great Torino team of the time) disaster catapulted United ahead of Arsenal (and Wolverhampton Wanderers, who were the team of the 50's) as England's most popular club in the public consciousness, and the press. This, coupled with another club in North London not only winning their second (and last!) Championship but also managing to win the FA Cup in the same season (becoming only the third club to win the double) whilst Swindin could only lead Arsenal to mid-table finishes led to his resignation at the end of the 1961/62 season. To be fair to Swindin there were many reasons for his relative failure, such as the successful youth policies at Wolves and United that he tried to emulate. Key striker David Herd was poached by United, and he had to deal with an unprecedented list of injuries to key players, but in the end he paid the price for nine trophyless seasons.
Probably the major incident of his reign was the signing of George Eastham, who along with PFA Chairman Jimmy Hill would eventually fight and win a High Court battle that quite rightly gave players greater freedom, but was also the first step to the infamous Bosman ruling. At the time there was an upper limit to players salaries (£20 per week), and they had no freedom to move clubs at the end of their contracts, with the clubs able to keep a players registration even if they didn't re-employ them.
Eastham had a magical left foot, and was signed by Newcastle United from Irish club Ards in 1956 at the age of 19 for £8000. He never settled in the North East and at the end of his contract in 1960 he asked to be allowed to move on. This was refused, so Eastham in turn refused to sign a new contract, in effect going on strike. He then instigated the court case (dubbed the 'Soccer Slaves' case by the press) which was finally resolved in the High Court in 1963 and led to the end of the maximum wage and the 'retain and transfer' system although to be fair Eastham had no such grand designs, he merely wanted to leave Newcastle and join Arsenal!
On December 10th 1960 he finally made his debut for Arsenal at Highbury against Bolton Wanderers. This pale, delicate player who inadvertently revolutionised life for players showed why Arsenal had ended up paying a club record £47,500 (ironically he received a £20 signing on fee) by scoring twice and creating 2 in a 5-1 win. Unfortunately for one of the most gifted midfielders Arsenal have possessed he spent his Arsenal career in a relatively mediocre and unsettled team and after 41 goals in 223 games he was transferred to Stoke City shortly before the 1966 World Cup.
When Swindin left his replacement was a shock to everyone. In a total break with tradition there was no promotion from within or recall of an old favourite who'd had success elsewhere. In fact, although known as the undisputed Golden Boy of English football, and coach to the England u23 and youth teams, Billy Wright did not even have any managerial experience. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but at the time it was regarded as an absolute coup for Arsenal guaranteed to bring success.
Wright's playing career had been without compare. In nearly 500 games for Wolves he captained their magnificent team of the 50's to three Championships and one FA Cup. Added to that the combative (but scrupulously fair) defender won 105 caps for England (90 as captain) including a totally unprecedented 70 consecutive appearances. His image was absolutely without reproach, and when his playing career ended the nation was thrilled to see him marry Jay Beverley (eldest of the three Beverley sisters – the leading female vocal group of the time) in the showbiz wedding of the decade.
Unfortunately Wright wasn't able to transfer his success on the pitch to the dugout. Undoubtedly a good coach, he was probably just too nice to be a successful manager. Behind the scenes his greatest success was with the youth players. Swindin had started a serious youth policy at Arsenal but it was Wright who refined the system that provided so many players from the mid 60's until the late 80's.
Results for the first team weren't good though. In each of his four seasons in charge we slipped further down the league. His last half season was a complete disaster. He'd lost the faith of most of the dressing room, and the last 20 games of his tenure yielded only three wins. It was no great shock when he was quietly sacked in the summer of 1966. He never returned to football management but did go on to enjoy more than 20 years success as Head of Sport and Outside Broadcast for ATV (later to become Central Television).
In appointing Wright the board had broken with tradition, in replacing him they went for a man who's career mirrored a previous manager to a remarkable degree.
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