FEATURE | The fascinating story of Arthur Turner - the earliest living FA Cup finalist

Arthur Turner is the earliest FA Cup finalist to still be alive today, having represented Charlton in 1946 against Derby County at Wembley Stadium. Greg Stubley recently went to meet him at his care home to discuss that day and his truly incredible life story…

27th April 1946. Charlton are preparing to face Derby County in the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium in front of 98,000 people.

Forward Arthur Turner is in the tunnel, standing proud and fearless. It’s not surprising that nerves lack his system given that just three years earlier he was engaged in a different type of battle.

Based in the R.A.F, Turner was a rear-gunner in a Wellington Bomber, as it approached a German submarine over the Bay of Biscay during WWII.

As it hits the Uboat, his plane is shot, crashing down into the water with all-but one member of the crew losing their life. That one survivor is Turner. Clinging on to his life-jacket, he swam to a dingy as he hit the water, with it rising to his neck before being rescued by a destroyer nine hours later.

Now aged 95, Turner resides in a much more peaceful environment at his Gloucester House care home in Sevenoaks.

However, rather than fighting battles and scoring goals, he prefers to sing 40s songs and chat to his carers but the memory of war and football never go too astray.

“It was tough but I was lucky to be alive,” says Turner when discussing the aftermath of being in the war.

“Three years later, I was walking out at Wembley and it’s a moment that I’ll never forget.

“These things stay with you forever. I was one out of a crew of six to survive then three years later I was shaking hands with King George VI. Moments like that, I’ll cherish forever.”

He joined Charlton as an amateur in 1941, but his progression with the club was disrupted due to his service for his country during World War II. He was spread around war sides, playing with the likes of Stanley Matthews.

“To go into the war as a footballer was a different thing altogether,” Turner recalls.

“From playing for the Charlton youth side to being wrapped in war sides and playing with England players was a strange time. I played for the R.A.F football side with Stanley Matthews, who was such a terrific player; arguably one of the best of all time.”

Turner not only played in the FA Cup final in 1946, which saw the Addicks fall to a 4-1 defeat to Derby, he also played 42 times that season scoring 34 goals.

More peculiarly, however, his league stats for that 1945/46 season never officially counted as there was no professional league at that time, making Turner the only player to have played in an FA Cup final but not a league match.

Instead, Turner’s record for Charlton reads seven goals in nine games – all coming in the FA Cup run to Wembley.

“But I scored nearly a goal a game in the league!” Turner laughs.

“We were continuingly fighting during our run to the final, in terms of matches in the league or the cup, it was a great time to play games.

“On that run, I think I scored against a lot of teams like Preston and Brentford, but all I can remember from that time is walking out at Wembley.”

So what exactly was going through Turner’s head whilst in that tunnel area waiting to grace the famous Wembley turf?

“Not nerves, that’s for sure,” he proclaims. “I was never nervous and never considered it. I don’t think any of the players were either.

“I think one of the reasons why we were so good at the time was because of our asset to not feel nervous.”

Due to his age, Turner strugglers to recall a lot of detail about the final itself but the prospect of facing that many supporters is something that will never leave his mind.

“You can’t imagine what 98,000 people were like to play in-front of,” he says. “It seemed like more were there. Every time the ball went out of play, the noise grew louder and louder.

“It’s strange that I can’t remember the game itself because it was so special.

“All that I can remember is a ball bursting and a dog running on the pitch, probably as that was so unusual!”

What did happen in fact was that Derby ran out 4-1 winners. Charlton’s Bert Turner (no relation) scored an own goal after 80 minutes but managed to score in the right net a minute later to take it to extra time.

Peter Doherty put the Rams in front in the 92nd minute leaving Charlton chasing the game. With the match now stretched, Derby took advantage and Jackie Stamps added two more to conclude a 4-1 victory.

It would not matter for too long for Jimmy Seed’s side as they would, of course, go on to win the 1947 final against Burnley thanks to Chris Duffy’s solitary strike.

But for Turner, his last competitive match for Charlton was that 1946 final. He would go on to play for Colchester United and then own a D.I.Y business in Canning Town with his brother.

Nevertheless, memories of being an Addick will live with Turner forever.

“I have the happiest memories of Charlton,” he says with a huge grin on his face. “I was happier there than at any other club. It’s a special place.

“I used to go to the home games on the bus and often it’d be full. I’d be carrying my football boots and someone would get off to allow me on, so I would not miss the match!

“There was never a quiet crowd at The Valley – the fans always supported us to the hilt.”

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