Arsenal v Northampton: the forgotten Chapman friendlies

By Tony Attwood

We have recorded on this site the way in which Herbert Chapman set up a series of friendly matches with Racing Club de Paris, and then with Rangers of Glasgow.

Of far less glamour and lasting just for three consecutive years there was another recurring friendly series: Northampton Town v Arsenal.

I can find no background to these matches at all, but with some supposition and deduction is possible to work out what was going on.

The main background comes from the fact that Chapman started his managerial career at Northampton, and we’ve covered that in Chapman: The Northampton Years.

The friendlies between Arsenal and Northampton – all played at Northampton’s ground were all played in the first few days after the end of the league season, and were arranged to raise money for the local hospital.  Hospital charity matches were common as end of season games.

I did earlier believe that the matches might have been to help pay for repairs to the Northampton Town ground which had been destroyed by fire, but that assumption appears to be wrong.  Hospital funds it was.

5 May 1930: Northampton Town 0 Arsenal 7.   Arsenal had just won the cup for the first time

4 May 1931: Northampton 0 Arsenal 1.   Arsenal had just won the league for the first time

The team was pretty much Arsenal’s first team

Harper, Parker, Hapgood, Diaper, Roberts, John Hulme, Jack, Lambert, Bastin Jones

10 May 1932: Northampton 2 Arsenal 3.   Arsenal had finished the season as runners’ up in the cup and the league.

One of the definitive books on Arsenal – Fred Ollier’s “Arsenal a complete record” admits in its section on friendlies that only the friendlies of particular significance are included – and it turns out that these three games are not considered to be in that list.

So what happened?

I think we can piece this one together from the fact that in December 1929 a fire destroyed three stands at the County Ground, where Northampton played, this following a reserve game against Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic.  Only one stand survived and that was fire damaged.

The stands were rebuilt by August 1930, and so it is likely that Northampton Town were happy to show off their new ground and reveal to supporters that it was more that just wreckage.  I suspect someone at Northampton Town, seeing the progress Chapman was making at Arsenal, but before the huge success of the 1930s got under way, got in touch, reminded him of the club that gave him his first managerial opportunity, spoke of the need for funds for the hospital, and then suggested a friendly, perhaps also to celebrate the opening of one or two of the rebuilt stands.

And if my supposition is right, and the arrangements were made back in the winter of 1929, what Northampton got was a bonus.  Not just a first division team, but the Cup Winners.  The following year they got the league champions.

Other than that, Arsenal only played Northampton twice in the league – and both games were 1-1 draws – on 25 August 1965 at Northampton and 28 August 1965 at Arsenal.

There were 17352 in the crowd at the Northampton game and 33240 at Highbury.  Baldwin scored in the first game and Radford in the second.  The manager was Billy Wright.

On 10 October 1960 Arsenal played Northampton to celebrate first floodlit match at County Ground and on 12 October 1994 Northampton’s 3 sided ground closed after this final match; with their new ground ultimately incorporating the Dave Bowen stand – named after their most famous manager – and an ex Arsenal man.

There’s another snippet that is worth mentioning among the various other events that have linked the clubs.   On 23 April 1966 we had Arsenal 1 Sunderland 1.  After a crowd of just 8000 for previous Arsenal last home game 25000 turned up but everyone knew Wright’s days were numbered.  Also on that day 23 April 1966 with Northampton managed by the aforementioned ex-Arsenal man Dave Bowen, Northampton got a crowd of 24523 into their 3 sided ground.  It was a moment, when in crowd terms, the club’s were almost equal.

Beyond that here are a few of the other connections between the clubs.

  • 1 May 1902 Tim Coleman joined Arsenal from Northampton
  • 26 July 1950 Dave Bowen joins from Northampton for £1000
  • 27 January 1951: Arsenal 3 Northampton Town 2 (FA Cup) in front of 72,408
  • 4 January 1958: Arsenal lose 3-1 to Northampton in FA Cup round 3
  • 6 July. 1959:  David Bowen to Northampton Town for £5,000.
  • 18 August 1961: Laurie Brown purchased from Northampton Town
  • 28 September 1965: Alan Skirton is Arsenal’s first substitute of the modern era in 1-1 draw with Northampton

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