Jimmy Brain: Pittville’s Wartime Football Legend

Our recent research in the National Register of Households (1939) and contemporary issues of Kelly’s Directory of Cheltenham has revealed that a Pittville resident of the time was not only the Cheltenham Town Football Club manager but had previously enjoyed a highly successful “Premier” league career at Arsenal and Spurs.

Jimmy Brain in Arsenal kit
AISA Arsenal History Society woolwicharsenal.co.uk

James (“Jimmy”) Brain (1900-71), manager of The Robins from 1937 until 1948, lived with his wife Minnie a short distance from the ground at 18 Prestbury Road, Pittville (the first house up from today’s Magnum Circus Tattoo), from 1938 until 1940.
     Jimmy was born in Bristol on 11 September 1900.  One of seven brothers, he worked as a miner in a Welsh coal pit before starting his senior career playing for Ton Pentre in the Rhondda Valley, South Wales.

Career at Arsenal
Jimmy soon attracted the attention of Arsenal, joining the Gunners in May 1923 and scoring a goal on his debut, a 1–0 win against local rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

Shaking hands with King George VI before the 1927 Cup Final
AISA Arsenal History Society woolwicharsenal.co.uk
He went on to spent eight years with Arsenal and was a prolific scorer throughout his career, finishing top scorer five seasons in a row from 1924-5 to 1928-9.  His haul of 39 goals in the 1925-6 season included four hat-tricks. The following season he scored 34 goals including two four-goal hauls.
     His goal-scoring feats helped Arsenal to reach their first FA Cup final in 1926-7 and in March 1928 Jimmy became the first player ever to notch up 100 goals for the Gunners.

Playing against Manchester City
AISA Arsenal History Society (woolwicharsenal.co.uk)
Jimmy missed Arsenal’s 1930 FA Cup final win over Huddersfield Town but finally won a top-flight medal in 1930-1, making 16 appearances and scoring four goals as Arsenal won their first Football League championship title.
     Jimmy made his final appearance for Arsenal on 21 March 1931, completing a total of 232 games. His 139 goals for the club puts him fifth equal with Ted Drake in the list of Arsenal’s highest goal-scorers, in a list headed by Thierry Henry and Ian Wright.

Career at Spurs
In September 1931 Jimmy became the first player to transfer between Arsenal and Spurs since Arsenal’s relocation north of the River Thames in 1913.  Spurs paid a £2,500 fee for Jimmy and he made his debut against Manchester United two days after signing.
     He went on to spend three years at White Hart Lane, including a spell as captain.  In August 1933, he was appointed player-coach to the reserve side.  He continued to play until May 1935, and in total scored 10 goals in 45 League outings plus two FA Cup matches for Spurs.
     After leaving Spurs, Jimmy joined King’s Lynn as player-manager and spent a season with them before returning to Arsenal to join the scouting staff in summer 1936.

Career at Cheltenham Town – The Robins
After three decades in local football, the early 1930s were a time of immense importance in the history of Cheltenham Town AFC.  In 1932 the club turned professional, moved to their current home at Whaddon Road and switched to red and white shirts, gaining the nickname “the Robins”. In 1935 Cheltenham Town began a 50-year spell in the Southern League.

Cheltenham Town today…
When Jimmy was appointed secretary manager of Cheltenham Town in April 1937, it was not only the Robins’ second season in the Southern League but also the year that the league combined into a single division.  In his first season in charge, Jimmy led the team to finish 11th in the Southern League, to the Welsh Cup quarter-finals and the FA Cup first round.
     Jimmy also ran a pub, the London Wine Vaults, at No 342-3 Cheltenham High Street from the early 1940s, while he was employed as manager of the town’s football club. He remained in charge of the Robins until the outbreak of war.

Cheltenham Town AFC Ltd, Official Archives
Shortly after World War II was declared, most football competitions were abandoned, as the country’s attention turned to the war effort.  The Football League was suspended and a new Wartime League introduced with a fifty-mile travelling limit for games and reduced attendance numbers.  Many footballers signed up to fight for their country and as a result many teams were depleted, and fielded guest players instead – Jimmy himself played for Cheltenham in the 1939-40 season.
     Although the Football League did not restart until the 1946-7 season, Cheltenham Town elected to re-form straightaway for the 1945-6 season.  Jimmy was called upon to restart the team but, though the club re-entered the Southern League, the season was a chaotic one with players coming and going on a regular basis, many of them servicemen stationed locally or looking to get back into football after being demobbed.
     Jimmy took the club to the FA Cup first round in 1946 and to the second round in 1947, also steering the team to three mid-table finishes in the immediate post-War period before resigning in January 1948.
     After leaving Cheltenham Town, he retired completely from football and lived in Barnet until passing away in the latter part of 1971.

Andrea Creedon

With many thanks to the following for information and photographs:
Cheltenham Town AFC Ltd, Official Archives
AISA Arsenal History Society woolwicharsenal.co.uk