- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal – crowd behaviour at the early matches
- Untold Arsenal
- Referee Decisions – just what are the refs up to this season?
- The weight loss programme: The only guaranteed way to stay fit
By Tony Attwood. Remembering 3 February 1937.
OK I cheated with that headline, as I don’t have a newspaper cutting for this game. But I can imagine it being said.
Under George Allison Arsenal won the league in 1934/5, his first season in charge, and with Allison playing what was basically a Chapman built team.
In 1935/6 Arsenal slipped back to sixth, but won the FA Cup, and in those days, winning one (or at least getting to the final) was an excuse for slipping up in the other.
But in 1936/7 Allison’s team only came 3rd in the League and went out of the cup to West Bromwich in the sixth round.
And not only were their no trophies that year, Arsenal had a second season in which they endured a defeat in which they let in five. On 3 February 1937 it was Derby County 5 Arsenal 4, and on December 28 1935 it had been Sunderland 5 Arsenal 4.
(Just to complete the picture, Arsenal won the league in the 1937/8 season, although in October/November 1937 they endured a spell of two wins in 12 games. I rather suspect the AAA of the day (known then as the boo-boys) would have been up in arms, demanding that they be given their Arsenal back).
That the result against Derby was something of a surprise can be seen from the table of Arsenal/Derby matches from the era.
|Wed 03 Feb
|5 – 4
|Sat 26 Sep
|2 – 2
|Wed 04 Mar
|0 – 4
|Sat 09 Nov
|1 – 1
|Sat 04 May
|0 – 1
|Sat 22 Dec
|3 – 1
|Mon 02 Apr
|2 – 4
Arsenal quite regularly knocked in four against Derby (three times in four seasons in fact) but were not used to letting in five in response.
What makes the result in 1937 all the stranger is that it came on the back of an unbeaten run of nine match unbeaten run in which six of the games were won. In four of those games Arsenal scored four or five goals.
And in fact after the 4-5 defeat to Derby, Arsenal then went on a further 11 match unbeaten run, although on this run seven of the games were draws, and one can see the extra emphasis on defence, with only one game clocking up four Arsenal goals and no games having more than that.
Indeed it was these drawn games, following a clear change of tactics that cost Arsenal another title, as they ended the season just five points behind the leaders Manchester City. Arsenal came in third, and three points behind them in fourth were Derby County.
(One very strange fact from this era was that following Manchester City’s triumph in 1937, they ended the next season relegated to the second division. I don’t know enough Man City history to explain this, but it was one hell of a turn around. And they didn’t jump straight back to the First Division either, but ended the final season before the Second World War in sixth place in the Second Division.)
But back to Arsenal in 1936/7 – what was remarkable about that season was that it was the first time since 1928/9 that Arsenal had not either won the league or been in the FA Cup final. After seven years of Cup Finals and League Championships, Arsenal were “just” third in the league and out of the cup in the 5th round.
Most of the big names of 1936/7 were still there in the following season although Alex James retired at the end of 1936/7. The table below shows league games for the main players in each season:
So there was no major signing that came in to bring Arsenal back to glory in 1937/8. If anything we might remember simply that the difference between winning and losing a match is often little more than hitting the post and having the ball bounce out, and hitting the post and having the ball bounce in.
George Allison’s record as a manager was remarkable, and his one poor year – the first year of football after the Second World War, should not be held against him. If ever a season was a lottery it was that one, with clubs struggling to put their squads together again.
If you want to read more, the index to all the George Allison articles is here but you might particularly find these of interest:
To conclude here is his record as a manager:
Here is Allison’s record