Guildford, Surrey born centre forward Ronnie Rooke played for his hometown club Guildford City from 1931 and after a trial at Stoke City joined Woking in 1932, from where he was signed by Third Division (South) Crystal Palace in March 1933. He made his Football League debut against Norwich City on Christmas Day the same year, but he was very much a fringe player during his three and a half years at Selhurst Park, scoring 9 goals in 21 appearances.
He then moved to Second Division Fulham for £300 in November 1936. In his first season he scored 19 goals in only 22 games and he was the club’s leading scorer for three consecutive seasons in the final seasons prior to the Second World War. He played both sides of the Second World War for Fulham and in all he scored 80 goals in 113 appearances for The Cottagers. These strikes included all six goals in a 6-0 FA Cup demolition of Bury in January 1939, which is still a club record. Earlier the same season he had already scored four goals in a 5-3 win at Manchester City. Rooke served in the RAF during the Second World War, and scored 212 goals in 199 unofficial wartime games for Fulham. He also gained one Wartime international cap for England in a Victory International against Wales.
In December 1946, at the age of 35, he was signed by Arsenal for £1,000, who despite their pedigree from the 1930’s, were struggling to score goals.. Rooke immediately made an impact, scoring the winner on his debut against CharltonAthletic on 14th December, 1946. He scored 21 goals in just 24 League matches that season, and the next season (1947-48), he scored 33 League goals, a post-war club record that has not been broken since. Arsenal won the First Division title, and Rooke was the League’s top scorer.
Rooke scored another 14 goals in 1948-49, but left the Gunners in the summer of 1949 to rejoin his old club Crystal Palace, as player-manager. In all, he scored 70 goals in just 94 matches for The Gunners. As a manager, Rooke had some initial success; Palace had finished bottom of the Third Division (South) the previous season, but with Rooke scoring 21 goals they finished seventh in 1949-50, their best since the War, and it would remain their best until they achieved promotion in 1961.
Rooke left Palace in November 1950 having eventually registered 35 goals in 67 appearances for The Eagles over his two spells there, and he became player-manager of Bedford Town in February 1951, staying in that role until December 1953. During his spell at the club Rooke had made 136 appearances, scoring 97 goals. He then moved on to become player-manager at Haywards Heath Town and Addlestone, before returning to Bedford in 1959. Although his second spell saw him appointed only as a manager, he made two first team appearances when the club were lacking players. He was sacked by the board after the club lost an FA Cup tie against Hitchin Town in September 1961.
NB In the photograph he watches Frank Swift of Manchester City diving to clear the ball in a match at Highbury on 4th December 1948. Rooke scored Arsenal’s goal in a 1-1 draw.