Peter Goy gives an inside view on life with Arsenal in the 1950s.
Interview conducted at Thorpe Hall Golf Club, Thorpe Bay, Essex on July 11th 2016, by John Sowman
Peter John Goy was born on 8th June 1938 in Beverley, Yorkshire and became a member of Arsenal’s groundstaff in 1953 as a goalkeeper.
JS Peter, given you are a Yorkshireman by birth, how did you come to sign for the Arsenal ?
PG I was playing for Lincolnshire Boys v Derbyshire Boys (a county representative match) and an Arsenal scout was there at Derby watching us. I suppose he must have been impressed with me as the next thing I knew my family got a call to come to Highbury.
When my Dad and me got there, the manager Tom Whittaker carried my case up the stairs leading to the marble halls – how about that! We signed the papers there and then, upstairs in his office.
Afterwards when I came down to London to start my apprenticeship, I stayed with two other Arsenal lads at some digs (lodgings) in Friern Barnet Lane and do you know whose house it was – widow of Arsenal legend Alex James! Poor lady, we three ate her out of house and home; she couldn’t have ever made any money out of us.
JS As a junior, did you win any honours with Arsenal ?
PG Sure, we won the South East Counties championship. At that time, there were only really two teams seriously contesting it, us and Chelsea, who had Jimmy Greaves in their side just before he made the first team at Stamford Bridge.
JS Like many other players of your age, your fledgling football career was interrupted by National Service. How did that affect you ?
PG Well I went into the army – I was a Lance Bombardier in the Royal Artillery – very appropriate! I did play football in the army of course but didn’t represent them. At the time I was vying for the England Youth spot but I always seemed to be behind Tony Macedo who you may remember went on to become Fulham’s goalie for many years.
JS When you were coming through the ranks, were there any youngsters you thought might make the grade for Arsenal ?
PG Certainly. John Petts, Gerry Ward – he made his debut at 16 and of course Johnnie Barnwell – he was the stand out player. Similar age as me but he always trained with the first team – bit of a cut above us (laughs).
Danny Clapton too. He’d already made it into the first team. Tell you something about Danny; he never put on an ounce during the close season – he’d turn up for pre-season training all fit and ready for action. But he was a bit frail really – so sad he died relatively young; went to Australia I believe. But the year I made my first team debut he was totally unstoppable. D’you remember the Bolton left back Tommy Banks? Played for England a few times. Well Danny roasted him at Highbury. Banksy used to say in that broad Lancashire accent of his “ Yaaw c’n git paast me, or yaaw c’n git the ball paast me, but ya won’t git both bloody ball and yous past me “ But he was wrong that day you know!
JS You served under three managers, Tom Whittaker, Jack Crayston and George Swindin, plus two Assistants, Alec Stock and Ron Greenwood – how did you rate them?
PG Tom Whittaker was a wonderful man; I never heard a bad word about him- ever. A true gentleman. Jack Crayston: not much recollection of him really – a little bit aloof maybe? George Swindin? Sorry to say I had no time for him; he gave me no encouragement, no training, nothing. And do you know what? When I won a £4 extra win bonus, I found I was 2 quid short. So I tackled him on it and he said, no your money’s right. I said “ No, it’s in my contract, boss.” And he said really grudgingly “Oh well, I suppose you’ll have to have it then.” And I had to wait another week for that £2. And do you know what else he said to me? “Ah, that’s too much money for you young lads.” Bloody nerve!
Alec Stock ? He was like an army officer; actually, I think he had been. He’d only been with us a few weeks when he gathered the whole lot of us all together. We thought he was just going to introduce himself, but do you know what he said ? “Things have got to improve otherwise you will all be out in the gutter.” What? We couldn’t believe our ears.
We youngsters were a bit stunned at that but the old pros just raised their eyebrows and there were a few sniggers from some of them. A few weeks later it was him that was gone (laughs). Ron Greenwood: again, ok with the outfield players but he didn’t really want to know about ‘keepers – nobody did. Coaching of goalkeepers was non-existent – they didn’t know how to do it! Do you know what managers thought of goalkeepers ? Luxuries – in other words, we were of no particular value.
JS Early in 1959, Arsenal looked possible champions but it all went wrong after Jack Kelsey broke his arm in an FA Cup replay. How did that affect you personally?
PG It was late February and I was in the army stationed in Wiltshire. One morning I was marched smartly to the C/O’s (Commanding Officer) office accompanied by his Sergeant Major who bade me salute him. “Lance Bombardier Goy, you have been selected to play for the Arsenal tomorrow night and I would like to wish you the very best of luck.” Phhw !
JS What did it feel like to be thrust into the first team at such short notice ?
PG Well, at the start of the season I was fourth choice behind Jack (Kelsey), Con Sullivan and Jim Standen. First of all Con got hurt in training and sadly, eventually he had to retire from the game. Then Kelsey broke his arm at Bramall Lane; Jim took his place in the next match at West Brom and got hurt himself, leaving just me to step in.
It was a night match and we’d got so many other injuries: Roy Goulden came in up front for his only first team league match – he was never built for the rough and tumble professional game though. For me it was a nervous start but I was also really excited to play under lights at Highbury. We were playing Leeds United and they weren’t up to much at the time really – I didn’t have a lot to do; our defence covered me pretty well and I don’t remember actually having to make a save. Jim came back straight after though and I was back in the reserves.
JS You played your second and last first team match at Highbury on 4th May that same season. How important was that particular game ?
PG Really important; Jim was injured again and it was the last match of the season; everyone else was finished. If we managed to beat Birmingham City we would finish third in the league and win what was known at that time as talent money (cash made available by the Football League for the players who finished in the top 3 positions).
I remember I made a vital save in the last minute of the match and we won 2-1. So the other lads got their money – can’t remember how much it was though because I didn’t get any, having only played twice. I do seem to recall Kelsey said he made about £400 from it but that seems quite a lot for that time.
JS With Kelsey, Sullivan and Standen all injured, did you hope that you might be invited onto the close season European tour and particularly, to play against Juventus in a return friendly which would involve the Charles brothers, John and Mel playing on opposing sides ?
PG You bet! Immediately after the Birmingham game Ron Greenwood came up to me and said “Well done son, you’ve just played yourself onto the tour of Italy.” I was absolutely thrilled. Next thing I knew, Nigel Sims of Aston Villa had been borrowed to go on the tour. Swindin never said a word to me about it. But it was well known that if Greenwood said something, Swindin would always say the opposite, so there you are.
JS As a club, Arsenal were keen on cricket in the summer. Did you ever play for the Gunners ?
PG Sure, we had some really top class cricketers. Standen played for Worcestershire and of course there was the Compton brothers, Denis and Les, both of whom played for Middlesex. I was a bit handy too; in fact Jack Crayston arranged for me to go to Lords for a trial with Middlesex but I didn’t take up the offer – to my eternal regret.
JS You must have some funny tales to retell, yes ?
PG A few, yes; Peter Goring told me a couple of these. Once, George Swindin was crossing the tarmac to board a plane when he fell straight down an open manhole and disappeared completely. Don’t think he was hurt though. Another time Arsenal were playing cricket somewhere and it was our turn to bat. Swindin always insisted on opening the batting. “Watch this”, he says, striding out to the crease. Smack! Clean bowled, first ball.
Back he came – everyone was howling. George was absolutely furious, chucked his bat down and then shouted at all of his team mates, after which he went over to Tom Whittaker demanding that they all apologise for laughing at him. That made them all even worse apparently – he was just like Captain Mainwaring. Then there was another time at the South Herts Golf Club. Story goes that George turns up there complete with all brand new golfing gear and struts over to the first tee. Just watch this”, he says. He swings the club, tops the ball and it does a neat little trundle just a couple of feet from the tee. I bet his face was a picture.
JS You left Arsenal for Southend United in October 1960. Were you sad to go or was it a chance to play regular first team football ?
PG Bit of both really. Harry Threadgold was ahead of me at Southend but he was at the end of his career and I soon stepped up and played 120 games before moving to Watford when Pat Jennings signed for Spurs. I had the rest of the season at Vicarage Road but manager Ken Furphy wanted a younger goalkeeper, so I moved on to Huddersfield in 1965. There I understudied John Oldfield but only got 4 games in a couple of seasons at the club.
Bob McNab was there at that time and Huddersfield had always had good full backs like Ray Wilson who got a World Cup winners medal in ‘66. Bob said to me in a whisper one day “Pete, what’s it like in London ? What’s it like at the Arsenal ?” And I immediately knew he’d been tapped up.
JS In 1967, with your career at Huddersfield more or less winding down, you had the chance to go to play in South Africa – tell me about it.
PG D’you know what? The snow was about three foot deep in Huddersfield at the time and I thought, yeah, why not. So I went there ahead of my wife and young son and they followed on later. Alex Forbes, who I knew from Arsenal days, was at Rangers Johannesburg but I went to play for a team called Appollen Port Elizabeth which went bust a season after I arrived.
I then moved to Hellenic, playing in front of 20,000 + crowds. This of course was in the days of apartheid and the FA took a bit of a dim view of British players being there – Budgie Byrne (John Byrne ex West Ham) was playing there, but of course we had all virtually retired from the English game so there wasn’t much they could do about it in reality.
Anyway, we were playing a local derby against Capetown City, which was a pretty dangerous place at that time. The stadium was segregated and non-whites were not allowed in the stands – they were caged up behind tall wire fences, like animals. They were screaming and shouting, making a lot of noise through the wire fences. It was really intimidating. Anyway, I’m standing there in goal, watching the action further down the pitch, when CRASH, an empty wine bottle lands on top of my crossbar, smashes and broken glass showers down over me and my goal area. And with that the tannoy bursts into life, threatening to send the police and dogs after these black guys behind the wire. And you don’t want to tangle with South African police I can tell you.
I had two really good years in South Africa and even won Goalkeeper of the Year in the National League before we decided to come home. My wife’s father wanted me to join him in his silk screen printing business and I really didn’t fancy football management – I’d seen what a precarious business it was.
When I got back I signed on for Colchester but it didn’t really work out and I was at Tonbridge when I broke an Achilles tendon which really set me back. And later when it broke again, I called it a day. I did take up refereeing – really enjoyed it and took some of my badges but you know what? As an ex player, it can’t be done, I’m telling you. After 17 years as a pro there was simply not enough time left to get to the top. Also when you’ve been a player you know most of the little tricks employed; the matches would never get under way. It would be stop, start – we’d query everything.
Just one more thing John, back on to the Arsenal for a moment. I can tell you now, you never quite realise what you’ve missed until you’ve left there. Sheer class, always was, is, and will be. You know you asked me earlier if I was sad at leaving Highbury ? Well I was but I also believe in fate. If I had not gone to Southend, I would not have met Sandra, my wife and we’ve now been happily married for 51 years and had two great kids. So there you have it.
JS Thank you so much for your time Peter, it has been really most enjoyable talking to you and learning what life at Highbury and elsewhere was like all those years ago.
Arsenal: the long sleep 1953 – 1970; a view from the terrace. By John Sowman with an introduction by Bob Wilson. The definitive detailed account of the seventeen seasons immediately after the record seventh Football League championship win in 1953, up to the Fairs Cup win in 1970.