By Tony Attwood
This article updated 3 December 2013
I can remember, as a child, Arsenal playing Racing Club de Paris, and wondering why it happened. Childhood memories are of course notoriously unreliable, but I do recall it seeming a bit odd. Hence a little trawl through the records to find out how and why it happened.
Perhaps most interestingly it was one of those Herbert Chapman PR ideas, the reporting of which seems to be so central to most articles about the man. And yet curiously this story of a venture that was way ahead of its time, has been dropped. Renaming the tube station, white sleeves, numbered shirts, the clock… they all get a mention, but the highly significant games against Racing are now just forgotten.
Yet, as I will try to show at the end, I don’t think they should be for they had a significance in football history that is now overlooked.
On 5 December 1904 Arsenal played a Parisian XI at the Manor Ground and won 26-1 – an interesting mid-season friendly. I suspect (but have no direct evidence for this) that the original match came about because Woolwich Arsenal were internationally the most famous of clubs even though they had not won anything in England. Indeed we’ve debated this point before – that Woolwich Arsenal, despite winning no major trophy, had a worldwide reputation, spread by the members of the armed forces, whom they were seen to represent.
It was Herbert Chapman and the president of Racing who took up the matter again and came up with the idea of a Racing Club v Arsenal match in the 1930s, and turned it into a regular event, taking place as close to Armistice Day as possible each year. It was in fact one of two regular friendlies that the club instituted – the other being a game against Rangers, which started in 1933 as the Game of Champions.
Indeed there was a link between the two contests as at the 1933 match against Rangers Arsenal invited Racing to be guests of honour. In return Herbert Chapman and Samuel Hill Wood (the chairmen) were given the French Medal of Physical Culture. Allison later received the same medal as the series continued.
So the series was set up by Chapman and Jean Bernard Levy at Racing. The idea may have emerged after Chapman and others heard about the Coupe des Nations which was held in 1930 – and played between the champions of ten countries. I am not sure if there were other cross border friendlies of this type – but if there were, they were few and far between.
At first the Racing-Arsenal fixture was indeed just a friendly, but in 1948 Jean Bernard Levy added a little extra spice by putting up a cup which would be awarded to either team if it won three of the contests in a row. The games continued until 1962.
Apart from being the sort of national publicity event that Herbert Chapman was so good at, they were also set up to raise money for the veterans of the First World War (hence the date of the matches).
Our French opponents still exist, but are now nowhere near so famous as they were, and have been renamed several times, now being called Racing Club de France football Colombes 92. They are an amateur team, but play in a 15,000 capacity stadium – Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir- somewhat reminiscent of Queens Park in Glasgow.
Racing was founded in 1882 and although now (2013) play in the fifth tier of French Football they were a founding member of the French first division, and in 1936 won the title (having won the earlier version of the league 30 years before) as well as the Coupe de France five times. David Ginola is one of the players discovered by the club.
The fall from grace came in the 1960s when all of French football went through a major financial crisis and attempts at rescue, and the creation of a “team of stars” fell apart in a way that such grand rescue schemes have a habit of doing whenever they turn up in football. The final relegation to the 5th division was an administrative event (akin to a “points deduction” in England), with the club reported to having debts of around €500,000. It then moved grounds and adopted its current name of Racing Club de France Colombes 92.
The first game against Arsenal was on November 11, 1930 in Paris. Jack Lambert scored four as Arsenal won 7-2. Seeking revenge Racing invited Arsenal back one year later, and this time Arsenal again won, but only 3-2. The matches brought Arsenal international fame, and its first very close link with France. There are stories of the French press giving Arsenal players nicknames such as Le Feu d’Artifice (The Firework) for Cliff Bastin, and La Miracle for Alex James.
Arsenal played Racing 26 times with Arsenal winning 21 games. The results are below.
1930 Racing Club 2 – 7 Arsenal
1931 Racing Club 2 – 3 Arsenal
1932 Racing Club 2 – 5 Arsenal
1932 Arsenal 3 – 0 Racing Club
1933 Racing Club 0 – 1 Arsenal
1934 Racing Club 0 – 3 Arsenal
1935 Racing Club 2 – 2 Arsenal
1936 Racing Club 0 – 5 Arsenal
1937 Racing Club 0 – 2 Arsenal
1938 Racing Club 1 – 1 Arsenal There is a video extra of this game here.
1946 Racing Club 1 – 2 Arsenal
1947 Racing Club 3 – 4 Arsenal
1948 Racing Club 3 – 3 Arsenal
1949 Racing Club 1 – 2 Arsenal
1950 Racing Club 1 – 5 Arsenal
1951 Racing Club 0 – 5 Arsenal
1952 Racing Club 2 – 0 Arsenal
1953 Arsenal 4 – 0 Racing Club
1953 Racing Club 2 – 4 Arsenal
1954 Racing Club 1 – 3 Arsenal
1955 Racing Club 3 – 4 Arsenal
1956 Racing Club 3 – 4 Arsenal Another video extra of the game here.
1957 Racing Club 1 – 1 Arsenal
1958 Racing Club 0 – 1 Arsenal
1959 Racing Club 4 – 3 Arsenal
1960 Racing Club 1 – 4 Arsenal
1962 Racing Club 0 – 3 Arsenal
The fixture was revived in 1972 when Arsenal won 1-0 in Paris. Pat Rice scored for Arsenal and Sammy Nelson was sent off.
I can’t find an official reason why the regular series of games ended in 1962, but it will be noted there was no game in 1961, and I suspect it was indeed the financial chaos of French football at the time that put the matters on hold. But also the football world was changing, for the earlier Coupe des Nations which was held in 1930 although not continued had caused a stir.
The Arsenal / Racing games were known internationally and were certainly known about as the Campeonato Sudamericano de Campeones in South America was set up in 1948. This, and the continuing Arsenal / Racing games led to L’Equipe starting the pressure for a European Champion Clubs’ Cup which was finally agreed in Paris in 1955. Looking at this history, the long term nature of the Arsenal / Racing contest undoubtedly had an impact on the idea of setting up more widespread club matches across international boundaries.
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