August / September 1936: 20 different players used in the first seven league games

By Tony Attwood

Editorial note:  The series on the 1930s continues, but is now being interspersed with articles on the players.  There is an index to the articles on players here.


Arsenal entered the 1936/7 season with two problems.

First, the club had been so successful in the 1930s (four league titles, two FA Cup victories) that there was an expectation that they would continue in this vein.  Moreover in the one season in which Arsenal won nothing they were runners up in both the League and the FA Cup.

But second, an analysis of the team suggested that they really didn’t have a squad strong enough to win the league again – or even to compete seriously to win it.   George Allison had tried a number of inexperienced players in the latter part of last season and only two looked able to fill in the gaps: Leslie Compton and Bernard Joy.   Additionally one, but only one major transfer had been done – a new (but very young and not very experienced) goal keeper had been found in George Swindon.  There were reports that Leslie Compton’s brother Dennis was also an interesting looking player, but as with Leslie he would most certainly have to be developed over the next couple of years to become a first team regular.

So it was with a mixture of excitement and uncertainty that on 29 August the FA Cup holders played their first game of the season, and gained a 3-2 win over Everton.  Everton’s fall from grace had been dramatic and was a warning to Arsenal, for having won the league in 1932 and the Cup in 1933 (at which time they came 11th in the league), they had subsequently endured seasons with them ending in 14th, 8th and 16th.  On that past form Arsenal should have expected a win and that is what they got.  Hapgood, Bowden James got the goals.

Arsenal’s team for this opening match was


Male Hapgood

Crayston Roberts Copping

Hulme Bowden Drake James Bastin

The team was fairly much as might be expected, although the goal keeping position is interesting.  As we have seen George Swindon was signed on 14 April 1936 but had yet to make his first team debut.  However after this one game in goal Wilson, the Cup Final goalkeeper was dropped and in came Swindon.   Wilson made his way back to the reserves, who were in a long run of winning the Combination for five years running.

With most of the league having played their second game earlier in mid-week Arsenal had to wait until the Thursday for their second match of the season – this being against last season’s surprise package, Brentford who had come 5th last season.  They had drawn their first match of this campaign, but saw off Arsenal 2-0.

In addition to Swindin getting his first game, Davidson and Beasley came back into the squad, as Bastin once more moved from outside left to inside right.

If there were no immediate shock waves at that defeat, there were certainly mutterings two days later as a second away game saw Arsenal draw 0-0 with last season’s third placed team Huddersfield.  It wasn’t so much that Arsenal had drawn one and lost one in the last two games, but that they had not scored a goal in either of the last two, and had already used 17 players.

Chapman had built the initial Arsenal success on both a solid defence and an astounding forward line and although Arsenal had Ted Drake and Bastin was still playing, using Bastin as a deep lying inside forward removed his chances of scoring.

Allison’s experiments with players last season had of course been understood as part of his policy of resting players before the Cup Final, but now, at the start of the season, it seemed as if he did not know what team to choose.

This time Cartwright, John and Kirchen came in meaning that Male, Hapgood, Roberts and Hulme were the only players to play in all three opening games.  That wouldn’t have mattered if Arsenal had won all three, but they had won only one.  Questions were being asked.

Then came one of those moments that took away all thoughts of football, at least for a day or two as on 8 September when Welsh nationalists set fire to RAF Penrhos bombing school, thus creating the Tân yn Llŷn (Fire in Llŷn) protests.  The UK government had been thwarted by local pressure for the site to be in Northumberland and Dorset, but then pushed through the development in Wales against enormous opposition.


Of course football does not wait on political events and the next mid-week game was the following day, on 9 September, and it saw Arsenal playing the return game against Brentford, this time getting a 1-1 draw.   As such Arsenal now had four games and one win, and although the newspapers were not so crass as to publish league tables this early in the season had they done so they would have found Arsenal sitting in 13th.

For this match Sidey and Milne entered the fray, meaning that now with four games played 19 players had been used.  Male, Hapgood and Bastin were the only three who had played all four games.  There was however one piece of good news; Drake had scored his first goal of the season.

But even without league tables everyone interested in football was aware of something extraordinary happening in the league (aside from Arsenal’s dilemma with the team they selected). For newly promoted Charlton, in the top division for the first time, and having won two and drawn two were now actually top of the league.  In 1934/5 they had won the Third Division (south).  In 1935/6 then had come runners’ up in the Second Division, and thus gained promotion.  Now here they were at the top of the first.

But after four games Arsenal were seriously in need of a win, and finally they got it against 12th paced Sunderland, who seemed to have fallen even faster from grace than Arsenal.  Having won the title last season, blowing away all signs of opposition, as a result of this game they had two wins and three defeats and sank to 19th.  Interestingly however they retained their impressive form from last season at home, having won both games at Roker Park, but having lost all three away games scoring one and conceding nine.  That fact may have taken the gloss off Arsenal’s win against them but the win was none the less welcome for all that.   Arsenal were 3-1 up at half time with Crayston, Beasley, Bastin doing the honours.  Roberts scored a fourth in the second half.

On 19 September Arsenal played away to Wolverhampton.  Their home record was one win and one defeat thus far, but they beat the Cup holders 2-0.  The one suggestion that there might be a bit of good news at Arsenal was that this time there was only one change in the team, Sidey replacing Roberts.

The next match on 23 September 1936 was the annual game against Rangers, and for this Dennis Compton made his senior debut at outside left, while his brother played left back.  It was the first time both brothers played in the same Arsenal team.  If Leslie Compton was a footballer who played cricket, the Dennis was a cricketer who played football, and as a cricketer he ultimately played in 78 Test Matches (he was a slow left arm bowler, and one of England’s most remarkable batsmen scoring 123 centuries in first-class cricket).   At the end of his career a stand at Lord’s was named in his honour.  Bernard Joy, the other young hopeful, came in at centre half and got particularly good reivews in the press.   It was in fact the forwards who were subject to media criticism, despite the win. Davidson and Drake got the goals in the second half.  The crowd is not recorded.

This was the first time in the series against Rangers that Arsenal had won

Finally in this tumultuous month Arsenal played the new league leaders Derby who had for several years been threatening to make the final breakthrough at the top.  Dennis Compton obviously impressed against Rangers as he stayed at number 11, Bastin’s traditional position, and indeed he scored on his league debut (Bastin taking over from James at inside right).   Arsenal were 13th before the game and the draw was probably a very acceptable result, helping to move them one place up the table.  All four goals came in the second half.

Arsenal thus had used 20 players in the first seven league matches of the season.  Here are the results so far…

Date Opposition Op Pos H/A Result Pos Pts Crowd AC
29.08.1936 Everton home W 3-2 7 2  50,321 43,353
03.09.1936 Brentford  16 away L 0-2 14 2  31,056 24,544
05.09.1936 Huddersfield Town  3 away D 0-0 15 3 32,013 15,812
09.09.1936 Brentford  14 home D 1-1 13 4 44,010 43,353
12.09.1936 Sunderland  12 home W 4-1 3 6 56,820 43,353
19.09.1936 Wolverhampton Wndrs  14 away L 0-2 13 6 53,097 23,787
23.09.1936 Rangers home W 2-1
26.09.1936 Derby County  1 home D 2-2 12 7 63,390 43,353

The abbreviations, as always…

  • 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 in league matches for the home team through the season, providing a comparison between the crowd on that day (in the previous column) and the norm expected by the home side.

The league table at the end of September was thus:

At the end of the first full month of football Arsenal had lost as many games as they had won and were four points off the leaders with a game in hand.

1930s, the players

The story of the 1930s….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *