by Andy Kelly
9th March 1935 saw the top two teams in the First Division play each other at Highbury. Free scoring Arsenal were averaging almost 3 goals per game and going for their third consecutive title. They had just beaten neighbours Tottenham 6-0 at White Hart Lane. Sunderland, although not as potent in front of goal, were only two points behind and had beaten Arsenal 2-1 at Roker Park earlier in the season.
Expectation was that this game would be a cracker and decide where the title would finish at the end of the season. On top of this Arsenal were being watched by larger and larger crowds. The average attendance at Highbury before the game was 45,757, their highest ever. On 20th October 70,544 witnessed a 5-1 win against Tottenham. This was only the second time more than 70,000 had squeezed into Highbury. Even away from home football fans wanted to see Arsenal, 79,491 paid to watch the 1-1 draw with Manchester City at Maine Road.
By 3pm on 9th March 1935, 73,295 had packed into Highbury. Quite astonishing when you consider that the official capacity was only 72,000! Unfortunately the game was not a classic, in fact it was far from it as the match report below shows.
Following this anti-climax, Arsenal retained their place at the top of the table and went on to win the title. Highbury would only see crowds of 70,000 two more times, both in FA Cup games: 1938 against Preston and 1951 against Northampton.
The picture below gives a good idea of what a big crowd looked like at Highbury. It shows a view from the North Bank on 31 January 1934 when “only” 68,828 packed into Highbury. Click on the picture to see a larger version.
73,295, however, is not Arsenal’s record home attendance. During the Champions League campaigns of 1998-99 and 1999-2000 Arsenal played their home games at Wembley. Three games pulled in crowds greater than the 1935 game with 73,707 watching the 0-1 defeat against Lens.
Here is a list of all Arsenal home games with attendances greater than 70,000:
|24 February 1926||Aston Villa||FA Cup||2-0||71,446|
|20 October 1934||Tottenham Hotspur||League||5-1||70,544|
|9 March 1935||Sunderland||League||0-0||73,295|
|12 February 1938||Preston North End||FA Cup||0-1||72,121|
|27 January 1951||Northampton Town||FA Cup||3-2||72,408|
|30 September 1998||Panathinaikos||Champions League||2-1||73,455|
|21 October 1998||Dynamo Kiev||Champions League||1-1||73,256|
|25 November 1998||Racing Club de Lens||Champions League||0-1||73,707|
|22 September 1999||AIK||Champions League||3-1||71,227|
|19 October 1999||Barcelona||Champions League||2-4||73,091|
|27 October 1999||Fiorentina||Champions League||0-1||73,336|
The 27 January 1951 game against Northampton Town is particularly fascinating – why would such a crowd turn up?
We can imagine that there was a reasonable number of Northampton supporters there – the journey from Northampton into Euston by train is only one hour, and from Euston it is an easy trip to Arsenal station on the underground.
But even so… Arsenal had had a poor December losing four games in succession, but crowds were just extremely high at this time, despite Arsenal only coming 5th this season. The league match on January 13 1951 against Middlesbrough at Highbury had seen 65,038 squeeze in, and the third round of the cup game against lowly Carlisle United had attracted 57,932 for a disappointing 0-0 draw. Crowds at the time were simply large.