By Tony Attwood
Arsenal won the league in 1953, securing the championship on the last game of the season. The previous season we’d been losing FA Cup Finalists, and since winning the league in 1948 in spectacular style, and the 1950 FA Cup, we’d always been considered one of the top teams, ready to do well in the coming season. Not as all-commanding as the 1930s but still a team in with a chance.
But Tottenham were making a bit of bid for glory too, winning the second division by nine points in 1950, as Arsenal won the cup.
In 1951 Tottenham went straight from second division champions of the season before to winners of the first division, as Arsenal slipped to 5th.
In 1952 Tottenham came second in the league and Arsenal 3rd and cup runners up, but in 1953 as Arsenal won the league, Tottenham slipped to mid table, and were beaten semi-finalists in the FA Cup.
But then both teams took a dive down the league and it wasn’t until 1957 that Tottenham moved back to the higher reaches, coming second to Arsenal’s 5th.
1958 saw Tottenham 3rd and Arsenal mid-table, but suddenly in 1958/9 everything turned upside down again with Arsenal 3rd and Tottenham 18th. What made 1958/9 even sweeter was the derby match on 31 January 1959 in which Arsenal went to White Hart Lane and won 1-4.
Arsenal were managed by George Swindin at the time, a manager who seemed to be getting things right in this at the start of his reign, in this, his first year, but then whose achievement slipped away as we truly entered the Dark Ages.
This is how the league table looked at the start of the game against Tottenham.
We had already won the home game against Tottenham 3-1 on 13 September 1958 and things were picking up for Arsenal. But three successive defeats in December, ending with an awful Luton 6 Arsenal 3 on 26 December 1958, brought us down. However there then followed eight games unbeaten. This run started with four straight wins, of which the defeat of Tottenham was the fourth.
The crowd was 60,241 and as for the game, reports show Arsenal as being more direct, quicker to the ball, and endlessly running into spaces as Tottenham passed the ball across midfield.
The goals came from Groves, Herd and two from Henderson, and the press talked of Tottenham being “ragged and dispirited”. Tottenham’s goal came in the dying seconds,
The excellent Arsenal on this day website has published a newspaper report of the game and it reveals one other point of interest: Len Julians was sent off for what the papers call a “clash”. A point of interest because sendings off were very rare in those days. No red and yellow cards of course, but the ref did have a notebook. It didn’t make any odds. Arsenal still controlled the game.
After the game, two draws and two victories kept Arsenal at the top, but then Wolverhampton 6 Arsenal 1 on 7 March 1959 marked the end of the challenge. It was the start of seven games without a win and although Arsenal won their last three matches of the season it was nowhere near enough as Arsenal finished 11 points behind the champions, Wolverhampton.
A review of the whole season can be found in this article