Birkenhead, Cheshire born goalkeeper Johnny Mapson moved to Swindon in his youth and played junior football for Westrop Rovers in 1932 and Highworth Town in 1933 before spending 1933-34 on the books of Swindon Town, where he didn’t make the first eleven. He had a loan spell at Guildford City in 1934 before he signed for Third Division (South) Reading in April 1935, making his Football League debut against Newport County in February 1936. He had made only 2 appearances when in March 1936 he transferred to First Division Sunderland for the sum of £2,000, beginning a career with Sunderland that would last for nearly twenty years.
The death of goalkeeper Jimmy Thorpe on 5th February 1936 propelled the 18-year-old Mapson into the League Championship chasing Sunderland’s first team, and 7 games later Sunderland duly won the First Division title, although Mapson didn’t make enough appearances to qualify for a medal. The following season Mapson established himself as a first team regular as Sunderland. won the FA Cup on the day before his twentieth birthday beating Preston North End 3-1 at Wembley. He played in two FA Charity Shield matches, beating Arsenal 2-1 in October 1936, and losing 2-0 to Manchester City a year later.
Mapson was considered positionally astute as a goalkeeper, rarely having to make a last-ditch dive and had a distinctive method of catching the ball (one arm over the other to one side of his body).
In 1939 Mapson travelled with the Football Association touring party to South Africa, playing against the national side, but Mapson’s career was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, during which he worked in an engineering works, assisting Reading in wartime football and helping them to win the London War Cup Final in 1941, and in the same year he played for England against Wales in an unofficial wartime international.
After the War Mapson returned as first choice goalkeeper for Sunderland in an increasingly star-studded team during the so-called “Bank of England club” era of the early 1950’s, so named as the club broke successive transfer records to buy and field a team of established internationals. Although ultimately unsuccessful in winning honours, the Sunderland team at this time was one of the great glamour sides of the era, fielding players of the quality of Len Shackleton and Trevor Ford.
Mapson continued to be Sunderland’s undisputed first choice goalkeeper until 1952, and he played his last match of 386 for The Wearsiders in March 1953. Mapson retired in May 1954, and before his passing aged 82 in August 1999 he was the last surviving member of Sunderland’s 1937 FA Cup Final winning side.