Book review – Captain of Wales


Walley Barnes – Captain of Wales (GCR Books)

GCR Books ( republishes classic books from the past that might otherwise have slipped into obscurity. The latest in their Arsenal series was originally published in 1953, almost 50 years ago.

Walley Barnes’ story is a fascinating one. This volume hit the bookstores less than ten years after the end of the Second World War, at a time when the nation was in a far different position to the one it currently finds itself. Never mind the current recession, after the war times truly were tough, and it’s interesting to read a story about football when it is interrupted by something as serious as the biggest world conflict in history.

The book covers Barnes’ life up to 1953, which saw him join Arsenal in 1943 during the war, and highlights the portion of his career that includes some major Arsenal triumphs including a league and FA Cup win, and his captaincy of Wales.

This is not a ghost-written book, something Barnes is at pains to point out in the introduction. It’s also a well written book, and what is most interesting is that throughout, the reader has conflicting thoughts about how much the game has changed and yet, how little the game has changed. Going back in time is refreshing. There’s an innocence, a dedication and a passion that is missing from some players today.  Of course, times have changed immensely. Some of the comments Barnes makes, about television, floodlights, and rule changes are ahead of the times. And, right at the end, he looks at the financial situation in the game, arguing that players should be paid more than the £1,000 a year the top players were receiving. Advocating a different system, it’s something that is still rearing its ugly head, albeit with massive amounts of money involved, and with the same issues blighting the game.

At 251 pages, it’s a good read, not just for Arsenal supporters but for anyone interested in the way it used to be in football. Not just from the perspective of “things aren’t what they used to be,” but for a real insight into football in the 50s from one of the biggest names at the time. There are game reports, anecdotes, funny stories, and much more to keep the reader entertained.

This is a reprint of an existing book, so the scant few photographs are to be expected. It would have been an improvement over the original had more photographs been able to be included, even after the fact, and another area in which the book could have been augmented is to have an additional section on Barnes’ life after the book was published. Barnes retired in 1956, missing out on Wales’ only World Cup participation just two years later, but went on to have an extremely distinguished career in broadcasting with the BBC, including appearing on the very first Match of the Day, and providing commentary during the 1966 World Cup. Barnes passed away in 1975 at the young age of 55.

It doesn’t matter if you’re 16 or 60, Captain of Wales is a gem of a book, and should be on everyone’s football bookshelf.



Award-winning writer, editor and photographer from England currently living in Canada. Several published books do date, and thousands of articles/photos have appeared in major publications around the world on a range of subjects from science to sport, music to news. Involved with football as a club board member and league president, referee and referee assessor and course instructor.