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Thursday 24 April 1997

`He was a great footballer`

By Brendan Gallagher

ALTHOUGH Denis Compton became known around the globe for his cricket-playing exploits, football was arguably his first love. A dashing and incisive left-wing, he joined Arsenal as an amateur in 1932, aged 14, and signed professional forms three years later.

During a career badly interrupted by injury and his cricket commitments, Compton made 54 League appearances for Arsenal, scoring 15 goals, and played in 126 wartime games, scoring 74 goals. Throughout the War years he played much of his football at White Hart Lane, where Arsenal had taken refuge after Highbury was commandeered by the ARP.

He also appeared in 14 wartime internationals for England and after the War appeared in Arsenal`s 1947-48 championship- winning squad alongside brother Leslie, just months after they had starred in the Middlesex XI who won the county championship in 1947. His footballing career ended with an FA Cup final appearance against Liverpool at Wembley in 1950, when Arsenal won 2-0.

Sir Stanley Matthews led the tributes from the footballing community last night: "He was a great footballer," recalled the former Blackpool, Stoke and England wing. "I played with him many times in wartime internationals for England - he was outside-left and I was on the right.

"And I had a few tussles with him, too. When I played against Arsenal for Blackpool and Stoke there was often not only Denis up against me but his brother Leslie at left-back. I remember a particular England game against Scotland and Denis tore them apart down the left-wing. I think Tommy Lawton scored three or four goals that day from Denis`s passes.

"What a personality and what a cricketer. I loved watching him go down the wicket to the spinners and hit them out of the ground. I didn`t see Denis much socially - he liked a drink now and again, I`m told - and I`ve never had the taste for alcohol, can`t stand it. But I always found him a great gentleman. It is terribly sad news. I`m stunned. I can hardly believe it is 50 years ago we played football together and against one another."

Stan Cullis, England`s captain in many of those wartime internationals, also fondly remembers the footballing Compton: "Denis was a joy to have in the side. He was very fast and unorthodox and capable of shattering opposition sides," said Cullis, who managed Wolverhampton Wanderers during their glory years in the 1950s.

Compton`s infamous knee injury dates back to an early appearance for Arsenal in the 1938-39 season against Charlton, when he damaged his right leg in an accidental collison with the goalkeeper. A cartilage operation was necessary and initially he made a good recovery.

It was only after his annus mirabilis in 1947 that the wear and tear began to catch up with him and by 1950 a further operation was performed by Bill Tucker, a former England rugby international, who removed floating bone and part of the knee cap. These were reputedly kept in a jam jar in Tucker`s surgery for posterity.

Source :: The Electronic Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/)

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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