Walley Barnes was born on 16 January 1920 in Brecon, Wales. His parents were English. They were living in Brecon because Walley’s father, Edward, an army physical education instructor and footballer, was stationed with the South Wales Borderers.
Walley’s footballing career began during the Second World War. Initially, he played inside-forward for Southampton making 32 appearances between 1941 and 1943, scoring 14 goals. Walley’s impressive strike rate attracted the attention of Arsenal and he signed for the London club in September 1943.
At a time of ‘make do and mend’ footballers were versatile too. He played in virtually every position, including goalkeeper. In 1944 a serious knee injury threatened his career and an early retirement seemed a distinct possibility. However, Walley recovered, played in the reserves and forced his way back into first-team reckoning.
On 9 November 1946, Walley made his league debut for Arsenal against Preston North End. By 1946 he’d settled into his regular position of left-back. He won praise for his assured performances, his skilful distribution and his uncanny ability to cut out crosses.
A regular in the Arsenal team that won the First Division Championship in 1947-48, Walley enjoyed more success in 1949-50 when Arsenal defeated Liverpool in the FA Cup final. On that occasion, deputising for injured captain Laurie Scott, Walley played right-back.
In the 1951-52 FA Cup final Walley injured a knee. He left the pitch after 35 minutes and missed the entire 1952-53 season, which saw another league triumph for Arsenal. Thereafter, his first-team appearances became more spasmodic.
After only eight appearances in 1955-56, Walley retired. In all he played 294 matches for Arsenal and scored 12 goals, most from the penalty spot.
For Wales, Walley won 22 caps and captained his country. He made his debut against England on 18 October 1947, marking Stanley Matthews. Matthews and England got the better of Wales that day and won 3 – 0. England also won the British Home Championship that year while Wales finished a creditable second.
As Walley’s playing career faded, he turned to management. Between May 1954 and October 1956 he managed Wales. Notably, on 17 July 1958 he signed a letter to The Times opposing the ‘policy of apartheid’ in international sport and defending ‘the principle of racial equality, which is embodied in the Declaration of the Olympic Games’.
Walley joined the BBC and presented coverage of FA Cup finals. With Kenneth Wolstenholme, he was a commentator on the first edition of Match of the Day, broadcast on 22 August 1964. He also provided expert analysis in the live commentary of the 1966 World Cup final when England beat West Germany 4 – 2.
Walley wrote his autobiography, Captain of Wales, which was published in 1953. He continued to work for the BBC until his death on 4 September 1975.