Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Alfred Solly : Solid goalkeeping but sullied record

 Alfred Solly - Dulwich Hamlet in 1929

During the 1930s the dominant football team in the country was the Arsenal. Their continued success was mainly due to one man – manager Herbert Chapman – who despite passing away midway through the decade, left a lasting legacy.  One of the game’s great innovators and visionaries, today his statue stands outside the Emirates Stadium.

In the 1928/29 season Chapman attended one of the many representative games played by the diminutive yet brilliant Dulwich Hamlet goalkeeper Alfred Solly.  It may have been the Amateurs v Professionals match at Millwall, or even the England v Wales amateur international at Brighton. Solly was in great demand and at the top of his game, and regarded by many as one of the best keepers in the country.

So impressed was Chapman with the agility and skill of the young custodian, that he collared him after the match, and insisted that if Solly ever thought about becoming a professional he would be very welcome down at the Arsenal. Solly promised the older gentleman that if it ever came to it, he would undoubtedly consider the Arsenal before all others.

Fast forward to August 1931 and we find Alfred William Solly, doing exactly that, signing professional forms with the North London club. In doing so, he became only the fourth player since the First World War to join the ranks of the professionals: Pilkington went to Fulham, Bellamy to Spurs and Fishlock to Crystal Palace. It was a dream move for the youngster, and the officers at Dulwich Hamlet went out of their way to assist him, making sure he received the best terms possible.
However, for some reason it did not work out for him, and he failed to break into the Arsenal first team. He eventually left for Newport County, where he made 38 appearances. Spells at Portsmouth and Aldershot followed.

The Magnet, 9th January 1932

Alfred Solly was a bit of an all-rounder. He actually started out as a forward player in the Dulwich Hamlet Junior side, but went in goal one day when the usual chap missed his train! There was no turning back, and apart from the very odd occasion when he played outfield for Dulwich, he had switched to goalkeeping for good. His natural skill between the posts became quite apparent, and he soon began to receive valuable tips from his famous predecessor ‘Tim’ Coleman, and before long he was the club’s first choice keeper.

He also excelled as a cricketer. It was said of him on his departure from Champion Hill to the Arsenal, that he was the finest batsman Dulwich Hamlet had produced since the war. “We confidently expect him to gain a place in the Surrey County side if given the opportunity.” That did not happen, but he did continue playing for the Dulwich Hamlet Cricket Club for many years.
His popularity on and off the field can be seen in the way he is described in various tributes:  mild mannered, charming, modest, cheery, a good sense of humour, an optimistic spirit. So it is quite alarming to learn that Alfred Solly ended up with a criminal record and did a spell in prison!

In later life he lived in Priory Grove, South Lambeth, and worked as a wages clerk for the George Cowan Six Hundred Group of Scrap Metal Merchants.  Sadly he got mixed up in some very dodgy dealings and was arrested and found guilty of embezzlement, and served three years in Wormwood Scrubs Prison. He died of a heart attack on Christmas Day 1954 aged just 48. The Dulwich Hamlet programme for 8 January 1955 paid tribute to their former player, noting: “He has been one of the mainstays of the Cricket Club for many years and will be greatly missed by us all. To his wife Marjorie and his family, we extend our deepest sympathy.”

Original article from HH25 Spring 2014
Copyright © Jack McInroy

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