When it comes to ranking our most prolific and dynamic strikers, Ronnie Rooke will be very close to the top of the list. And, but for the war, he might well have been as effective for England as he was for Fulham.
Born in Guildford in December 1912, he was languishing in Crystal Palace’s reserves when our manager Jack Peart paid £300 for his services in October 1936. He marked his first game, against West Ham United the following month, with three of our goals in a 5-0 win, the first of only two Fulham players to score a hat-trick on their debuts. In fact, he scored four hat-tricks that season and was top scorer with 19 goals in 22 games.
Rooke was top scorer in the two remaining peacetime seasons and when war broke out, he had 57 goals to his credit in 87 outings, including four against Swansea and against Manchester City in 1938. He even scored the final goal in the entire Football League of the interwar period – our equaliser against Luton Town on 2nd September 1939.
But it was against Bury in a Third Round FA Cup tie in January 1939 when he set a Club record. On a bone-hard pitch, he opened the scoring after two minutes, taking a pass from Mike Keeping and shooting from the edge of the area. After 40 minutes he got his second, following up when the goalkeeper could only parry John Arnold’s shot. And on the stroke of half time he completed his hat-trick following a free kick by Dennis Higgins. In the second half, he doubled his tally. In the 55th minute he volleyed in from Higgins’ headed pass, 20 minutes later he diverted Eugene O’Callaghan’s shot off his chest and, with five minutes remaining, he completed the scoring with a hard low drive from 15 yards.
Rooke scored all six as we won 6-0, which still stands as the Club’s scoring record by a player in one match. In the wartime competitions between 1939 and 1946, he scored 212 goals in 199 appearances. He was back for the first peacetime season, and scored both goals in our 7-2 defeat at Bury on the opening day. With 13 goals in 18 games he was again top scorer when manager Peart controversially sold him to Arsenal in December 1946, for two players and £1,000. Rooke not only helped the Gunners escape relegation that year, but the following season, at the age of 35, was the leading scorer in the country with 33 goals as Arsenal won the First Division title.
Not an especially big man (5 foot, 10 inches tall and weighing 12 stone, 4 lbs), Rooke relied on pace, timing and skill. He could shoot with either foot as well as getting his fair share of headed goals. An unmistakable figure with bandy legs, shirt sleeves flapping , shock of black wavy hair and craggy features dominated by a large roman nose, Rooke was one of the most lethal finishers in our history. He died in June 1985 at the age of 72.