By Tony Attwood
The final run-in of the 1938/9 season through April and May saw Arsenal start the (as usual) very busy schedule with the league table looking like this
The champions of last season, and the joint favourites to win the league again at the start of the season were seventh and way off the pace. The bookies were happy, as Everton, now the clear favourites, had finished 16th, 17th and 14th in the last three years and had been completely unfancied at the start of the campaign.
But back to 1939. In effect at the start of April there were 16 points up for grabs for most clubs, but in reality only two of the clubs – Everton and Wolverhampton were likely to be the champions, and of these two Everton were the clear favourites.
Arsenal began with a home game against Middlesbrough sitting fourth in the league, but with no realistic chance of taking the title. Although they had won the league three times in 19th century in the 20th century they had fared less well and their titles gained were by winning the second division not the first. But they had been improving of late, and their 2-1 victory at Highbury was not unexpected. The Arsenal team was the same as for the last week in March; Bremner got the goal. It all seemed to confirm that this Arsenal team was just not top of the table material.
Meanwhile hardly a week when by without a further sign of the concerns about a possible war. On 4 April the Royal Armoured Corps was formed.
Back with the football – on Good Friday – Arsenal were away to Blackpool who had only won one game in the last 12. But like most teams in the league this season, when they did get points they were picking up most of their points at home, where they had got six of their eight wins of the campaign. Allison persisted with his side, again putting out exactly the same XI, save for Alf Fields coming in for his debut match, (replacing Joy) and with Cartwright replacing Collett. But again they got the same result – a 0-1 defeat. Two games gone in April and Arsenal had lost both and were now down to 10th.
This being Easter, Arsenal now had a match the following day, once more away, this time to Birmingham City. One imagines that the club had the sense to take the players from Blackpool to Birmingham and stay in a hotel there overnight, and if so, it worked.
Birmingham were bottom of the table, but they had won 8 and drawn 3 of their 16 home games: the position in the table was down to their away form (as with so many teams), not what happened at St Andrews. Male, Pugh, Les Jones and Drury joined the team this time, and at last there was a win – this time by 2-1, with Arsenal moving back to 9th. Drury and Kirchen got the goals.
Sidney Pugh, like Alf Fields mentioned above, had come up through the Margate nursery club, and this was his only game for Arsenal. Tragically he was killed on active service for his country, with the RAF in the forthcoming conflict.
This match against Birmingham on 8 April 1939 was also the last senior game for Alex Wilson. He was signed as cover for Frank Moss and won the FA Cup with Arsenal, but transferred to St Mirren in 1941. He later worked as a trainer and physio in England and America.
On Easter Monday, as was the habit at this time, the Good Friday games were reversed with Arsenal playing Blackpool at home. After the win against Arsenal in the first match Blackpool had beaten Leicester City away, winning two in a row for the first time since September.
This match on 10 April 1939 was George Curtis’ first match for Arsenal having served his apprenticeship with Margate. He left after 11 league games in 1946/7. He went on to become manager of numerous clubs and the Norwegian national team and died in 2004.
Elsewhere Leslie Compton and Cartwright were back in the team, Drake moved out to the wing once again and Lewis came back at centre forward. Arsenal won, with goals from Drake an a penalty from Compton.
On 15 April the next match was Manchester United at Highbury. They were 19th in the league and had gone nine without a win, and Arsenal had not too much difficulty in pushing them aside albeit by just two goals to one. Joy was back in the squad, and Crayston and Drake got the goals.
Then having played five league games in 15 days, Arsenal fitted in a friendly – away to Tottenham a re-run of the opening match of the season and presumably part of the package that had caused the breaking of tradition with a pre-season friendly. Arsenal used the first team squad for the most part but gave George Marks a game in goal and further chance for Fields to prove himself at centre half. Arsenal won 2-1 both goals coming from Drury.
For George Marks it was the start of an eventful couple of weeks, having transferred from Salisbury Corinthians, and signed professional forms on 20 May 1936. He moved into Arsenal reserves for 1938/9 as an understudy for George Swindin and Alex Wilson, and the 17 April 1939 friendly against Tottenham was his first big game.
Tottenham were of course playing in the second division where they were currently 8th and in no danger of going up to the first (they in fact finished the season in the same position). But they had won three of the last four and were promising to do better things. However their defeat at home to Arsenal by 2-1 was not entirely unexpected for the modest crowd of 9000.
Arsenal now had three league games to go – two away followed by a home game that achieved a certain notoriety.
As for the league, after the games on the 19th it was still possible for Everton to be caught by Wolverhampton, who were, just as last year, hovering in second place. But to make anything of their position Wolverhampton had to win all their remaining games while Everton had to lose theirs, but once again Wolves threw it away. Everton did their best to help Wolverhampton by losing at Charlton, but Wolverhampton could only manager a goalless draw at Bolton. Their slim chance had gone, and Everton were champions.
For Arsenal there was a match against Stoke City who were 9th in the league. After three straight wins Arsenal might have expected better than a 1-0 defeat. Drake stayed on the wing with Lewis at centre forward and with Male and Hapgood as the full backs plus Joy at centre half it looked like a strong team, but it was not to be.
This match on 22 April 1939 was Reg Cumner’s last league game. He too had come through the ranks at Margate to play both for Arsenal and England, but only played 13 times for Arsenal – 12 in the league in this season, plus one of the FA Cup matches of 1945/6.
On 25 April 1939 we should most certainly note the passing of Archie Leitch. He is remembered as the prime architect of Highbury, but should also be remembered for his work on the Manor Ground in Plumstead. Henry Norris also employed him before moving to Arsenal to work at Fulham while he also worked on Stamford Bridge at the same time. His career was not without controversy, particularly in relation to the building of Rangers ground in Glasgow, and the subsequent disaster as part of the terracing collapsed. Leitch was not found guilty of any professional misconduct although questions were asked as to how well he had supervised the building materials that were used.
On 27 April, just in case there was anyone who was not clear that war was now a real possibility the Military Training Act was passed, to come into force on 3 June. It re-introduced conscription for all men aged 20 and 21. Six months military training was now compulsory.
But of course football continued and there were now two games to go, with not much to play for in Arsenal’s case except perhaps some pride. The final away game of the season was against Derby who for a while had challenged at the top of the league.
This was Derby’s last game of the season, and they had not won any of their last four finding themselves now languishing in fifth. Arsenal brought in Andy Farr (once again a Margate man) for his first game, along with giving Marks another match, with Dennis Compton getting a rare outing on the wing. Goals from Kirchen and Drake gave Arsenal the victory, as they held on to sixth position.
Although Archie Leitch’s passing was noted, the death on 29 April 1939 of Arsenal’s mysterious keeper E Bateup was not recorded by the club. Indeed the club had little to go on as so much of his life and career is uncertain, but it seems that after leaving Arsenal he played for Port Vale before retiring from football in 1918, having been playing in the war time leagues.
Back with the football the final game of the season was at home, and we have moments of this match captured on film, for it was used as part of the movie The Arsenal Stadium Mystery.
Brentford had spent much of the season looking over their shoulders at the prospect of relegation, but a good run in February and a couple of decent wins at the start of April had lifted them to 11th. However four defeats and a draw had taken them back down to 18th which is where they were before and after this final game.
The result of what was our final professional league game that is officially recorded before the war, on 6 May 1939, was Arsenal 2 Brentford 0. The game was the last appearance for Eddie Hapgood and also Leslie Jones.
Although three matches were played for the 1939/40 season it was then abandoned and this was the last “official” league game until 31 August 1946 See also here
Because of what happened hereafter the line up for this game is worth recording:
L Compton Joy Hapgood
Crayston L Jones
Kirchen Farr Drake Drury Nelson
Kirchen and Drake got the goals and Arsenal ended the league in 5th place.
|9||Preston North End||42||16||12||14||63||59||1.07||44|
Leicester City and Birmingham were relegated. Blackburn and Sheffield United returned to the first division in their places. Here is Arsenal’s table of results for the end of the 1938/39 season.
|Date||Opposition||Venue||Op pos||Result||Pos||Pts||Crowd||Av crowd|
*League games in division 2.
Although that concludes Arsenal’s official league programme for the 1930s, football did continue, and in the coming days we shall publish the regular “Arsenal in the Summer” article, for 1939, notes on the matches that were played in the new season, and in the first of the war time leagues, and summaries of appearances etc for 1938/9, as well as an overview of this amazing decade in Arsenal’s history.
Here are the articles published thus far…
- 1: Life in 1930 and winning the first major trophy.
- 2: The cup winners who dropped out and the players who came in
- 3: How Chapman put his triumphant 1931 team together.
- 4: September 1930; played 8 won 7 drawn 1.
- 5: October 1930: A stumble, Villa are close behind, Man U have 12 defeats in a row.
- 6: November 1930: Scoring 5 in three games in one month.
- 7: December 1930: 3 games in 3 days and 14 goals scored.
- 8: January 1931: the biggest league win ever at Highbury
- 9: February 1931: the goals just won’t stop coming.
- 10: March 1931: hope, defeat, hope
- 11: April 1931: Arsenal win the league for the very first time.
- 12: Arsenal in the summer of 1931, the records and the Scandinavian tour
- 13: Arsenal in shock – July and August 1931
- 14: September 1931; the champions recover from a poor start.
- 15: October 1931: Arsenal lose to Grimsby
- 16: November 1931: Chapman’s exasperation with goal keepers
- 17: December 1931: A scoring sensation but a dreadful month
- 18: January 1932: A return to form and a record score
- 19: February 1932: From a faltering start to nine wins in a row
- 20: March 1932: Huge crowds, an emergency signing, better results, another semi-final
- 21: April 1932: Film of Arsenal in the Cup Final, and attempts to win the league.
- 22: Arsenal in the summer of 1932. Arsenal runners up in league and cup, Man U’s average gate drops below Plymouth’s, Stanley Matthews first game, and the greatest run in Arsenal’s entire history is about to begin.
- 23: August 1932 – preparing for the ultimate greatness.
- 24: September 1932: Arsenal’s first steps into immortality
- 25: October 1932: The rise to the stars
- 26: November 1932: Records fall, greatness beckons.
- 27: December 1932: Greatness and supremacy
- 28: January 1933: Top of the league and defeated by Walsall.
- 29: February 1933: New shirts, awful weather, a record score
- 30: March 1933: Top of the league but a month to forget
- 31: April/May 1933: Champions for the second time
- 32: 1929/33: All the men who played in the League for Arsenal.
- 33: Arsenal in the summer 1933: Champions and water shortages
- 34: August/September 1933 – the start of the new season.
- 35: October 1933 – a return to progress
- 36: November 1933 – displacing Tottenham.
- 37: December 1933: Chapman’s last month; Arsenal triumphant
- 38: January 1934: The death of Chapman
- 39: February 1934. Chapman is gone, but the club moves on.
- 40: March 1934. Chapman’s two teams fight for the title
- 41: April 1934. Joe Shaw wins the league for Chapman
- 42: 1933/34 League players, and how the goals declined but the crowds went up.
- 43: Arsenal in the summer 1934: Allison takes over from Shaw and Chapman.
- 44: August/Sep 1934: Allison starts with a bang
- 45: October 1934 – Arsenal finally blow away the north London curse
- 46: November 1934: vying for the top of the league, and the Battle of Highbury
- 47: Arsenal in December 1934: two steps forward, two steps back.
- 48: January 1935: Suddenly Arsenal’s form turns upside down
- 49: February 1935. Despite one slip, Arsenal remain top.
- 50: March 1935: Beating Tottenham by a record score
- 51: April/May 1935: Winning the league for the third time in succession.
- 52: Arsenal in the Summer 1935 after three championships in a row
- 53: September 1935: After three successive championships things get sticky
- 54: October 1935: Ok but not good enough
- 55: November 1935; Drake starts scoring again.
- 56: December 1935: beating the record, and record confusions. Ted Drake before and after the magnificent seven.
- 57: January 1936: the league won’t be won, but what about the FA Cup…
- 58: February 1936: an early example of rotational selection
- 59: March 1936: Wembley again but player rotation starts affecting the crowds
- 60: April/May 1936; Arsenal win the Cup. A match report and season’s end
- 61: Arsenal in the Summer of 1936
- 62: Arsenal players 1934/5 and 1935/36: the fundamental problem with the team
- 63: August / Sept 1936: 20 different players used in the first seven league games
- 64: October 1936: Arsenal in free fall
- 65: November 1936: Arsenal reborn, TV starts, the king demands, the palace burns down.
- 66: December 1936: Top of the league as the king steps down.
- 67: January 1937: Arsenal unbeaten as the goalkeepers change (again).
- 68: February 1937: Seven in the cup, and all to play for in the league
- 69: March 1937: Arsenal top but Man City close in
- 70: April / May 1937: Arsenal slip back and Man City triumph – for the moment
- 71: Arsenal players 1936/7, Arsenal crowds in the 30s, and comparisons with earlier years
- 72: Arsenal in the summer: the overseas tour of 1937
- 73: Arsenal in August and September 1937: a brilliant start and a TV first.
- 74: Arsenal in October 1937: Allison decides it is time for a total change.
- 75: Arsenal in Nov 1937; a tactical signing changes the game
- 76: Arsenal in December 1937; a settled team and a revival
- 77: Arsenal in January 1938: two steps backwards but a new genius emerges.
- 78: Arsenal in February 1938: a true resurgence takes us top of the league.
- 79: March 1938: Arsenal at the top and a fifth title looks possible
- 80: April/May 1938: from no titles to five in one decade – and the most amazing title of them all.
- 81: Arsenal in the summer: the Nazi salute, Bastin as the symbol, Whittaker for England, the world record signing.
- 82: August/September 1938. The start of the end.
- 83: Arsenal in October 1938: the champions stagnating in mid-table
- 84: November 1938: facing relegation?
- 85: December 1938: the manager makes changes and a new hero is found
- 86: Arsenal in January 1939: some signs of recovery.
- 87: February 1939: Arsenal struggle to make a continuing impact.
- 88: March 1939: goalscoring and away form are the key problems