A continuation of the series “100 years of Hating Arsenal”
By Tony Attwood
My father told me a number of stories about being at Highbury in the heady days of the 1930s. Many of course were told to me as a child and have now been forgotten, sadly, and my father is no longer with us, but some of what he said still sticks in my mind.
In particular there is one tale about my dad taking a business contact to a match and sitting in the stand – a rare thing for him, he was always a terrace man. And how he was surprised at how even in the stands the crowds could get on Arsenal’s back.
Now let us remember that this was the period when we won the league and cup on a regular basis:
- 1930: won the cup
- 1931: won the league
- 1932: second in the league
- 1933: won the league
- 1934: won the league
- 1935: won the league
- 1936: won the cup
- 1937: 3rd in the leagu
- 1938: won the league
I don’t know when the match was that made that impression on my dad, but I got a further insight into this with this comment in one of the autobiographies that I have been reprinted by GCR Books of late. I think maybe it is in the Jack Kelsey book, but for the life of me I can’t find it at the moment.
But here’s the quote…
“Now here’s a final thing that came out of that game. George Male said some years later: “When we lost at Walsall [14 Jan 1933 – Herbert Chapman’s last FA Cup match], that’s when I first noticed a real change. We won the league that year but the crowd were still quick to get on our backs if things didn`t go according to script at home. We started to realise that even winning the league was no longer considered a vintage year.
“Some things it seems never change.”
I think that is highly significant – the notion that the players and the fans felt that Arsenal had to win, and anything less was unsatisfactory.
So where’s all this come from?
Certainly the club irritated many others in the 1890s with its Kings of Football in the South commentary, and its belief that it could overthrow the established order of pro football in the north, amateur in the south. Second the early name (until 1891) of Royal Arsenal signified something that the northern clubs could never aspire to – a connection with the nation’s heritage both in terms of the royal family, and in terms of the protection of the nation.
Arsenal was also always at the heart of innovation – the first radio commentary, first TV match, first Match of the Day, first announced football result… Plus all the innovations of Chapman such as the clock, shirt numbers, floodlighting and so forth.
Arsenal, in short, had a place in the country. The rest were mere interlopers who happened along.
Tottenham’s successful manipulation of the truth in relation to the match fixing and promotion issues of 1919 which has been dealt with here in many articles, added to the feeling that Arsenal were not only arrogant but also cheated.
And now we see that in the 1930s that arrogance had got to our own supporters. Arsenal fans believed in our eternal right to win things, and when a club from the 3rd division north beat us, that was just too much. Win every game was the order of the day.
Of course this played into the hands of the journalists who always like to knock Arsenal, because of the club’s origins and arrogance, and because Tottenham has always been there to give them the knocking story. (How many journalists who have written about the 1919 promotion even know that Tottenham got out of the Southern League by coming 7th one season and getting promoted and that they too had benefited by an election – as was the order of things at that time?)
So the combination was built: the journalists who knew that most people who read the football pages did not support Arsenal (obviously, they supported someone else) and wanted the kings of football knocked off their pedestal. And the home crowd for whom no success was enough.
I don’t have enough insight into the feeling around Arsenal and the football world in that long dark period between 1953 and 1971 to know what happened to the dislike of Arsenal either by their own fans or by the media, but such memories as I have are of the fact that Arsenal were still considered special throughout the country, and beating Arsenal was always important in the way that beating Sunderland or Man City was not. We’ll have to do some serious newspaper digging through that era to get the hang of how everyone felt.
But certainly the negative feeling among those who “supported” club and among the journalists was still there ready to return as matters improved after Bertie Mee’s double. One only has to remember the press that George Graham got for his supposedly negative tactics, and his building of a defence that is now revered as one of the most (if not the most) famous defences of all time in English football.
Wenger got it all too – all the bile that poured out from the press over the issue of playing a team without any English nationals in it – years after Liverpool had put out a cup final team in the 1980s without a single player who was qualified to play for England. When Liverpool did it, it hardly got a mention, and the game is hard to find on the internet. Arsenal were all over the front and back pages.
But that ability to be hyper critical of Arsenal when there is a single moment where we don’t win and win in style, is something special and something odd. It clearly goes back to the 1930s – before then I think that we were more like our near neighbours in south London Millwall: no one liked us and we really didn’t care. The rest of the football league could call an away game in Plumstead their “trip to hell” but my feeling is that we revelled in that.
So the anti-Arsenal Arsenal – the “fans” who will be utterly negative about the club unless everything is perfect, were there in the days of Chapman and Allison, as much as they are today. It is, it seems, part of our tradition.