By Tony Attwood
Our one recent encounter with Birmingham in the league cup final, is not only not one to remember, it is also one that has nothing to do with March 3rd – so we’ll move on.
Because Birmingham on March 3rd has an importance of its own.
March 3rd 1906 Woolwich Arsenal 5 Birmingham City 0 (Football League Division 1)
March 3rd 1956 Arsenal 1 Birmingham City 3 (FA Cup)
I want to explore both those matches, because they both have something to say about the history of the club.
1905/6 was the start of the era that might be called the hay day of Woolwich Arsenal. In 1904 the club had won promotion to the First Division for the first time ever and there was a general feeling that this Arsenal team was so good that they would go on and win the league.
Unfortunately Harry Bradshaw then left the club and Phil Kelso could only take Arsenal to mid-table invisibility in the League. But in 1905/6 and 1906/7, for two season running Woolwich Arsenal reached the FA Cup semi final – their best performances ever.
But having lost each semi-final Woolwich Arsenal’s fortunes collapsed, and within three years they were on the edge of extinction – saved only by Henry Norris. Relegation back to the second division came in 1913.
However, for a short while Woolwich Arsenal FC were on the up and the 1906 victory over Birmingham in 1906 was not only the biggest league victory over Birmingham of all time, it was also part of a ten game sequence of nine wins and just one defeat.
By 1908 however, as we have noted, Arsenal were on the slide, coming 14th in the league and going out in the first round of the Cup. Although the omens were there I don’t think anyone at this time knew just how bad it would be.
A new policy of bringing in youngsters from other clubs proved disastrous, Jack Humble – who has every right to be called the founding father of Arsenal – had left (he returned when Norris took over), and the club was heading for administration and ultimately relegation.
In 1956 Arsenal, managed by Tom Whittaker, came 5th in the first division and went out of the Cup to Birmingham in the 6th round. Having won the league in 1953 Arsenal were still seen as a significant force in English football, but the death of Tom Whittaker during the 1956/7 season effectively ended any serious challenge for trophies.
When Arsenal fans today call a run of 7 or 8 years without a trophy unacceptable, they should perhaps think back to that era. Having won the league in 1953, we then won nothing until 1971. The nearest we got were two league cup finals.
Worse that era included some awful cup defeats to clubs such as Swindon, Peterborough, Rotherham and Northampton Town.
18 years the downturn of the 50s and 60s lasted. The best we did was one appearance at 3rd in the league (mostly we were somewhere around 7th, although we did go as low as 12th one season) plus two final appearances in the League Cup, just before it all went right again.
So thus we see our two longest spells without trophies:
- 1893 (when the club joined the league) to 1930 (when the club won the FA Cup) 37 years
- 1952 (when the club won the Cup) to 1970 (winning the Fairs Cup) 18 years.
In fact if we are wanting to look at runs in the league when we didn’t win the Championship, what happened after the 1971 Double is quite interesting, if rather depressing…
* Cup victories
Yes there were a couple of cups, but if it is the league you are looking at, it wasn’t so good. Is this 15 year period the one that those people who say, “I want my Arsenal back” are talking about?
Meanwhile Dennis Bergkamp has raised the issue of Tottenham’s longest run without winning the league, or without winning everything. An interesting point.
- 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
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