Born in Bristol, Brain started his career playing in Wales, having an unsuccessful trial at Cardiff City in 1921, before gaining a regular place at Ton Pentre in 1922. In May 1923, he moved to Arsenal, and in his eight years with The Gunners became one of Arsenal’s greatest ever goalscorers. The prolific striker scored 139 goals in 232 appearances, ranking him joint fifth alongside Ted Drake among Arsenal’s finest marksmen.
After a year in the reserves, Brain started his Arsenal first team career with a goal on his Football League debut, a 1-0 win against local rivals Tottenham Hotspur on 25th October 1924. Brain was a prolific striker throughout his career; this included 37 goals in the 1925-26 season (second only to Ted Drake’s haul of 45 in 1934-35), which included four hat tricks including three in three successive home games against Cardiff City, Everton and Bury in October and early November 1925. The next season, 1926-27, Brain scored 34 goals, this haul including two four-goal tallies against Sheffield Wednesday and Burnley and another treble against Cardiff City. Brain’s goalscoring feats helped Arsenal reach their first FA Cup Final, at Wembley in 1927, though a mistake by goalkeeper Dan Lewis meant Arsenal lost 1-0 to Cardiff City, some revenge for his previous feats against them!
In 1927-28 Brain scored 29 goals including hat-tricks against Derby County and Liverpool, and he was a member of Arsenal’s 1928 FA Cup semi final team that lost 1-0 to eventual winners Blackburn Rovers at Filbert Street, Leicester. He followed this up with a further 21 goals in 1928-29, scoring in 21 different matches! He was of course Arsenal’s leading goalscorer for five seasons in a row, from 1924-25 to 1928-29.
However Brain’s form dropped and in 1929-30 he lost out in competing for the front spot with Jack Lambert, David Jack and Dave Halliday all getting the nod ahead of him, meaning Brain only played six League matches that season. Brain therefore missed The Gunners’ 1930 FA Cup Final win over Huddersfield Town; Jack and Lambert led the line that day. However he did play in Arsenal’s 2-1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday in the Charity Shield at Stamford Bridge in October 1930. The following season, 1930-31, Brain finally won a medal after playing sixteen matches (scoring four goals) in Arsenal’s first League Championship title winning season. Brain’s final appearance in an Arsenal shirt was a 2-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday on 21st March 1931.
By now, Brain’s age was catching up with him, and he had been overtaken in the goalscoring stakes by both Lambert and Jack. He left Arsenal for Tottenham Hotspur for £2,500 in September 1931, becoming one of the few players to have moved directly between the two rival clubs. In total, he scored 139 goals in 232 appearances for Arsenal, making him The Gunners’ joint fifth top scorer of all time, and he was the first player ever to score 100 goals for the club, a feat he achieved in a 6-3 win over Liverpool on 7th March 1928. By the time Brain had joined Spurs he was in his thirties, and only played 47 times for them over the next three seasons, scoring 10 goals, before leaving in 1935 joining non league King’s Lynn.
NB this photograph shows Cardiff City goalkeeper Tom Farquharson gathering the ball in a match against Arsenal at Highbury on 17th October 1925. In the distance far left is Cardiff’s Fred Keenor, the player immediately behind Farquharson is Jack Page, the dark shirted Arsenal forward is Jimmy Brain and the blond Cardiff City player on the right is Harry Wake.