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Arsenal closer and closer to relegation but Ramsay comes to the rescue

By Tony Attwood

As we approached March 1924 in the last article Arsenal were being saved from relegation only by the fact that there were two teams having even worse runs than the Reds.  Here’s the foot of the table at the start of the month.

Pos Club P W D L F A G.Av Pts
15 Liverpool 29 10 6 13 33 33 1.000 26
16 Burnley 29 8 9 12 42 43 0.977 25
17 Nottingham Forest 31 9 7 15 36 51 0.706 25
18 West Bromwich Albion 28 8 8 12 34 49 0.694 24
19 Preston North End 30 8 7 15 38 50 0.760 23
20 Arsenal 29 7 7 15 24 47 0.511 21
21 Chelsea 31 5 10 16 17 43 0.395 20
22 Middlesbrough 31 6 5 20 25 40 0.625 17

Arsenal’s advantage was the two games in hand, but the chance of Arsenal winning both, or even one of them, and thus putting more light between themselves and Chelsea was limited, given their recent form.

Interestingly not only were there two London teams at the foot of the first division, but London teams were having difficulty in the second tier as well.

Pos Club P W D L F A G.AV Pts
16 Clapton Orient 27 9 9 9 26 21 1.238 27
17 Crystal Palace 28 9 9 10 37 42 0.881 27
18 Coventry City 30 8 9 13 40 48 0.833 25
19 Port Vale 29 7 9 13 31 45 0.689 23
20 Fulham 29 6 10 13 34 44 0.773 22
21 Nelson 30 6 9 15 26 59 0.441 21
22 Bristol City 29 5 10 14 24 50 0.480 20

Fulham were looking close to the drop, and Palace and the Orient both needed to keep picking up points, although their positions were not dire.   In the end all three escaped relegation, although Fulham was by just one point.

Certainly in its match preview comment on 1 March, the Times felt that Arsenal were a strong possibility for relegation not least for just having lost six in a row.  But that afternoon Arsenal turned their form upside down.  1-0 up at half time they ran out 3-1 winners against Liverpool – who although not that much higher up the table had a goal average roughly twice as good as Arsenal’s.

This marked the first match for James Ramsay. Having joined Arsenal from Kilmarnock he went on to play 11 games in the remainder of the season.   He is a player who has proven to be a surprisingly hard man to track, and most of the normal sources seem to have little or nothing about him.

We know that had won the Scottish cup with Kilmarnock and joined in February 1924 for £1775 – this being yet another example of a transfer over £1000 during the era when manager Leslie Knighton said that he was never allowed to spend over that sum.

And we know he was born on 7 August 1898 in Clydebank, so he was at what we would consider the prime age for a player on joining Arsenal.

Ramsay’s clubs in full are listed as Moor Park, Arthurlie, Renfrew Victoria, Kilmarnock, Arsenal, Kilmarnock, Galston.  Now I believe Moor Park is in Clydebank, so that was presumably a local team.  The Arthurlie still exists in East Renfrewshire.

His early life was however interrupted by the war, and after service as an engineering apprentice, the advent of the compulsory call up meant he joined the 6th Seaforth Highlanders in 1917 and served his country in France during the first world war.

As for Liverpool, prior to the match, they had just gone eight matches unbeaten, including scoring seven goals against Bolton across two matches – one in the league and one in the FA Cup.  But clearly Arsenal had their day on form, and much needed it was.

In this game Woods continued at centre forward and scored two.  Rutherford was back on the right wing and he scored as well.  What joy and relief that win brought to Arsenal.

But sadly it was not to last for in the midweek match on 12 March Aston Villa beat Arsenal 2-1 in front of a crowd of just 10,000 – very low even for a mid-week game.   Butler and Mackie missed the match and the defence struggled without them.

Of course what Arsenal now had to do was to ensure that this was not the start of another long sequence of defeats, like the five successive losses in January and February.  But no, it was not to be, at least not at this hurdle, Nottingham Forest beat Arsenal once again 2-1. (Sally Davis has this as a game against Notts County, but the records show Arsenal playing County on 26 and 27 December.  I am sure this was against Forest).   Ramsey got the goal as Neil made his first appearance. He had been transferred just two days before the game from Brighton and Hove Albion, and stayed at Arsenal for exactly two years to the day before being transferred back from whence he came, after 54 league games and three cup games.

This defeat on 15 March meant that Arsenal now had 10 games to go in the league and were 21st out of 22 in the league, one point behind Chelsea with three games in hand.

So Arsenal moved on to the last game of the month – the return match with Nottingham Forest at Highbury.  New signing Andrew Neil made this the moment to get off the mark with the only goal of the game as in front of 30,000 Arsenal had a victory, their second victory in ten games.  Chelsea also obliged by losing and Arsenal moved above them.

Here is how the table stood at the end of the month.

Pos Team Pld W D L GF GA GAvg Pts
1 Sunderland 35 19 8 8 60 41 1.463 46
2 Bolton Wanderers 36 16 13 7 62 29 2.138 45
3 Huddersfield Town 32 19 6 7 47 24 1.958 44
4 Cardiff City 33 17 9 7 52 32 1.625 43
5 Sheffield United 35 15 11 9 58 41 1.415 41
6 Blackburn Rovers 36 16 9 11 50 41 1.220 41
7 Aston Villa 36 14 12 10 40 34 1.176 40
8 Everton 35 14 11 10 48 45 1.067 39
9 Notts County 35 12 14 9 38 36 1.056 38
10 Newcastle United 35 13 10 12 50 40 1.250 36
11 Birmingham City 35 11 12 12 34 42 0.810 34
12 West Ham United 33 10 13 10 28 31 0.903 33
13 Tottenham Hotspur 33 10 12 11 37 39 0.949 32
14 Manchester City 33 11 9 13 43 59 0.729 31
15 Burnley 33 10 10 13 46 48 0.958 30
16 Liverpool 34 11 8 15 39 42 0.929 30
17 West Bromwich Albion 33 9 12 12 39 53 0.736 30
18 Preston North End 35 10 8 17 46 57 0.807 28
19 Nottingham Forest 35 10 7 18 39 56 0.696 27
20 Arsenal 33 9 7 17 30 52 0.577 25
21 Chelsea 36 5 14 17 20 47 0.426 24
22 Middlesbrough 35 7 5 23 30 47 0.638 19

Sunderland were at the top of the league with a game in hand, but they knew any slip up could allow other clubs to nip in, not least because they had the worst goal average of anyone in the top five.

Down at the bottom Arsenal maintained their position just outside the relegation zone, and with games in hand over both clubs below them.  But games in hand are one thing – when one has only won two in ten they are something else.

But the two newcomers into the team, Ramsay and Neil, playing inside left and inside right respectively were making an impact as everyone could see and were destined to becoming fixtures in the team, Ramsey just missing the last two games of the season with an injury.

Arsenal thus had their future in their hands as two wins would take them up to 18th, four points ahead of Chelsea.  Not a huge gap but if they could maintain a better record than Chelsea they would be safe.

But that was not quite as simple as it sounds as Chelsea were having a curious time of it.  Here is their record up to the end of the month…

Date Match Res Score Competition
23 Feb 1924 Chelsea v Everton D 1-1 Division One
01 Mar 1924 West Bromwich Albion v Chelsea D 2-2 Division One
05 Mar 1924 Notts County v Chelsea D 0-0 Division One
12 Mar 1924 Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion D 0-0 Division One
15 Mar 1924 Chelsea v Birmingham City D 1-1 Division One
22 Mar 1924 Birmingham City v Chelsea L 1-0 Division One

Yes that was a run of draws, (which followed a run of three defeats in which they didn’t score a single goal) but if they were picking up one point a game and Arsenal none, there could still be trouble.

Here is Arsenal’s record for the month…

Date Opposition H/A Res Score Crowd
01/03/1924 Liverpool H W 3-1 35,000
12/03/1924 Aston Villa A L 1-2 10,000
15/03/1924 Nottingham Forest A L 1-2 14,000
22/03/1924 Nottingham Forest H W 1-0 20,000

And the league table at the end of the month..,

Pos Team P W D L F A GAv Pts
1 Sunderland 36 20 8 8 63 42 1.500 48
2 Bolton Wanderers 37 17 13 7 64 29 2.207 47
3 Huddersfield Town 33 20 6 7 50 26 1.923 46
4 Cardiff City 34 17 10 7 52 32 1.625 44
5 Blackburn Rovers 37 16 10 11 50 41 1.220 42
6 Sheffield United 35 15 11 9 58 41 1.415 41
7 Aston Villa 36 14 12 10 40 34 1.176 40
8 Everton 36 14 12 10 48 45 1.067 40
9 Notts County 35 12 14 9 38 36 1.056 38
10 Newcastle United 35 13 10 12 50 40 1.250 36
11 West Ham United 35 11 13 11 31 34 0.912 35
12 Birmingham City 35 11 12 12 34 42 0.810 34
13 Liverpool 35 12 8 15 40 42 0.952 32
14 Tottenham Hotspur 34 10 12 12 37 40 0.925 32
15 Manchester City 33 11 9 13 43 59 0.729 31
16 Burnley 33 10 10 13 46 48 0.958 30
17 West Bromwich Albion 34 9 12 13 39 54 0.722 30
18 Preston North End 36 10 8 18 46 59 0.780 28
19 Nottingham Forest 36 10 8 18 39 56 0.696 28
20 Arsenal 33 9 7 17 30 52 0.577 25
21 Chelsea 36 5 14 17 20 47 0.426 24
22 Middlesbrough 36 7 5 24 31 50 0.620 19

So when I said just now that there could still be trouble, the reality of this can be seen.   Chelsea were now one point behind.  Yes they had a worse goal average and yes they had played three games more, but while Arsenal were in the habit of losing games Chelsea were in the habit of drawing them.

But there was one other element of hope for Arsenal, hidden in that league table.   Chelsea had scored just 20 goals all season and had managed just five in the last six games.  That was their weak spot and it made them always vulnerable.  Their remaining games were against Manchester City, Newcastle, Liverpool and Sunderland.

Sunderland were top of the league but the other sides were solidly mid-table and really had little to play for at this stage of the season when the games came thick and fast and injuries piled up.

Arsenal’s games were going to come thick and fast because of Easter and their games in hand and they included matches against Liverpool, Burnley (twice), Sunderland (twice), Everton (twice) and Preston (twice).  Nine games in 31 days, including three in four days over Easter.

As for who was going to win the League, Sunderland were still the favourites – not least because they were playing both Arsenal and Chelsea – games that looked easily winnable, but Huddersfield were curiously like Arsenal – with three games in hand.   Sunderland were the experienced club – they had won the league in 1892, 1893, 1895, 1902, and 1913.   For Huddersfield if they could win those games in hand, they could well be champions for the first time.  And if Cardiff won the title, that also would be a first: a first for them and the first for Wales.

We’ll bring the season to a conclusion in the next episode.


We are currently evolving a series on Henry Norris at the Arsenal.   The full index to all the articles is here.   This index is updated as each new article is published.

Perhaps the most popular element in the Norris story is that of Arsenal’s promotion to the first division in 1919.  The most complete review of this, which puts right the numerous misunderstandings of the events of that year appears, and most importantly cites contemporary articles and reports, such as the minutes of the FA meeting where the promotion was confirmed, and the reports in local papers thereafter, is set out below in these articles.

After that there is a complete index of all the articles in the series in chronological order.


The preliminaries

The voting and the comments before and after the election

The Second Libel

The Third Allegation

The Fourth Allegation

Did Henry Norris really beg Leslie Knighton to stay and offer him the hugest bonus ever?  And if so, why were there no new players?

The Fifth Story:

The Sixth Allegation

The Seventh Allegation

The AISA Arsenal History Society is part of the work of the Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association.  If you want to join AISA contact them at membership@aisa.org

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