Arsenal in the 30s, part 9. February 1931; the goals just won’t stop coming

By Tony Attwood

This is part of a series of articles covering the whole of Arsenal’s history throughout the 1930s.  The series is now complete (there is an index at the foot of this page) and is now being updated and expanded.  It will soon appear as a book on Kindle.

Arsenal finished January 1931 in second place in the league but with three games in hand, and a hugely superior goal average over the current leaders, Sheffield Wednesday.

And as the new month got going, the world, or at least the UK, seemed a slightly cheerier place, as on 5 February Malcolm Campbell set a new land speed record of almost 246mph, and four days later the South Wales miners strike ended with a three year peace settlement.  We could still cut it on the world stage, and still have a little conciliation at home, it seemed.

But with politicians minds locked into the notion of a balanced budget the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Snowden warned the House of Commons on 9 February that “the national position is so grave that drastic and disagreeable measures will have to be taken if Budget equilibrium is to be maintained and if industrial progress is to be made….No Budget in the world could stand such an excessive strain as that which has been placed upon it by the increase of unemployment during the last 12 months.”

The notion that one might not need budget equilibrium, did not enter the mainstream agenda, and with the notion of a huge programme of public works to employ the unemployed being taken over by the fascists, there were few solutions on offer.

On Friday 13 February the cotton mill owners gave in to the workers and agreed not to cut salaries and working hours for the cotton weavers (after a lockout).  On the political front on 28 February Sir Oswald Mosley resigned from the Labour Party and set up the New Party. “We challenge the 50-year-old system of free trade which exposes industry in the home market to the chaos of world conditions, such as price fluctuations, dumping and competition of sweated labour,” he announced.   He didn’t mention the Brown Shirts however.

On the footballing front Arsenal played five games in February – three away, two at Highbury, opening on Thursday 5 February with an astonishing match at Leicester.

We must remember that prior to this game Arsenal had won just one of their last three matches, and so dropped to second in the league.  True that one victory was 9-1, but the failure to beat middle ranking teams like Sunderland and Birmingham made supporters nervous and that of course was played up in the press.  So for the next game no one knew which Arsenal would turn up.

Leicester were currently in 15th at the time of the game, but eight of their 11 victories in the league had come at Filbert Street, and so the nerves among supporters (if not the players) continued.  Jones dropped out at number 4 and Seddon came back, Preedy retaining his place in goal.

The result was a spectacular 7-2 away win, which took Arsenal back to the top of the league.  Lambert got three, Bastin two, and Jack and Hulme one each.   It meant Lambert had scored seven in three matches, and Arsenal had scored seven twice and nine once in three of the last five games.  The decision to stay with Lambert as the centre forward – established through the cup run last season – was now fully vindicated.

Of course the fact that the other two games (the ones in which Arsenal had not scored seven and nine) had resulted in a draw and a defeat gave those who liked to take pot-shots at Arsenal plenty of ammunition, but the crowd of 17,416 knew they had been treated to a spectacular display.

But then, just to show that consistency was not what they were about, Arsenal now back at the top of the league proceeded to draw their next match against ninth placed Sheffield Utd, something that must have pleased second placed Sheffield Wednesday, who were also only able to draw 2-2 away to Bolton.

In fact Sheffield Wednesday were about to embark on one of those collapses that often separates out the challengers at this time of year, as for them the Bolton game was followed by three consecutive defeats.  Aston Villa, who themselves had only won three games in eight through December and January, were now putting their own positive run together of eight straight wins, which included some extraordinary results such as an 8-1 against Middlesbrough on 31 January and 6-1 against Huddersfield away on 7 February.

The main cause of the failure to win against Sheffield Utd however was another injury to Lambert which had been sustained in the Leicester win and which kept him out of the side for five games.  Jack took over again at number 9 and Brain did his usual deputy job at inside right.  Parker, who had also been injured against Leicester, missed his first game allowing Cope to get his one and only game of the season against Sheffield Utd.

Thus there were injuries, but Arsenal were top of the league once more and on 14 February at home to Derby, winning 6-3, the goals coming from a Bastin hattrick, James, Hulme and Jack.

The crowd of 34,784 must have been convinced that Arsenal were back on track once again, for 41,519 turned up for the next match one week later – a home game against Man U.

The one change for the game was Parker returning at right back, and the result was a very satisfactory 4-1, Hulme, Jack, Brain and Bastin scoring.

On the same day in the second division Bury beat Tottenham 2-0.  It was a result that meant that having slowly climbed their way up to second, from being sixth at Christmas, there was now a certain amount of concern at WHL.  Everton were far out of sight at the top, but West Brom were only one point behind.

Tottenham’s attendances had shown a rise of over 25% above the previous season, but this was all based on the hope of being able to catch up with Arsenal by gaining promotion.   They ended the season with a crowd average of 28,148, making them the fourth best supported in the country (behind Arsenal, Chelsea and Villa) and the best supported second division team.

The final game of the month for Arsenal was on 28 February, and was a 4-2 away win at West Ham.  With an unchanged team John, Jack(2) and Bastin provided the goals.

Elsewhere in the league on that day, the goal sprees continued with such scores as Grimsby 3 Man City 5, Liverpool 5 Blackpool 2, and Middlesbrough 5 Leeds 0.

Here are Arsenal’s results for the month’s league and cup games in summary

Date Opponent Op Pos H/A Result Pos Pts Crowd AC
5.2.31 Leicester 15 away W7-2 1 40  17,416 17,075
7.2.31 Sheffield Utd 9 away D1-1 1 41 49,602 19,469
14.2.31 Derby Cty 4 home W6-3 1 43 34,785 37,106
21.2.31 Manchester Utd 22 home W4-1 1 45 41,510 37,106
28.2.31 West Ham Utd 11 away W4-2 1 47 30,361 18,505


  • Op pos, is the league position of the opposition before the game
  • Pos is Arsenal’s position after the game
  • AC is the average crowd for the home team through the season, providing a comparison between the crowd on that day and and the norm expected by the home side.

The attendance figures show just how large an attraction Arsenal had now become.  Even the seemingly poor figure for the Leicester game was actually remarkable – it was played on a Thursday afternoon at 2.15pm (Thursday because that was early closing day in Leicester) and got above the average for saturday afternoon fixtures.

The Sheffield Utd game shows a crowd over double the average attendance and only the Derby County home game showed a below average figure although I must admit I don’t have an explanation as to why.

The table at the end of the month looked like this

It is also worth looking at the home and away breakdown at this point…

Part of the strength of the season was that Arsenal were as powerful at home as they were away, and the secret behind this was the incredibly successful counter attacking approach that Chapman had first put into action with Huddersfield.

The aim of having a centre half who not only played between the two full backs but was adept at pushing the ball quickly to a defensive midfield player once he got it, was key.  The defensive midfielder in turn knocked it perfectly and immediately to an attacking midfielder who ran it straight onto one of the three forwards.  It was a training ground exercise that needed players of the highest quality in every position and was practised over and over again.  And once perfected it was used both at home and away.

Now Arsenal had the players to execute the move the approach was indeed as effective at Highbury as it was anywhere else in the country.   The four part movement from breaking up an attack to taking a shot was one that few teams were able to find any satisfactory tactic to overcome.

The only thing Villa excelled at beyond Arsenal was scoring multiple goals at home – having played one more home game they had scored 11 more, through a constant pressing game.   At the foot of the table Man U still had not won a single point away from home.

Arsenal in the 30s

1930s: the players, the crowds, the tactics

Joseph Szabo, his visit to Arsenal, and the way it changed SC Braga’s history.


Arsenal History Society indexes to the series

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