Ray Bowden: the final member of the brilliant forward line of the 1930s.

By Tony Attwood

Edwin Raymond Bowden was born on 13 September 1909 in Looe in Cornwall and played for his local team as an inside forward.  Throughout his life he was known as Ray.

On leaving school he started out as a solicitor’s clerk but his goal scoring with Looe (in one match he scored ten) led to him being spotted by Plymouth Argyle.  He joined Plymouth in 1926 and won a Division Three (South) title in 1929/30.

Ultimately having scored 82 goals in 145 league matches for Plymouth Argyle he was signed by Herbert Chapman in March 1933 for £4,500.  The story is that Chapman was so keen on Ray that when Bowden refused to agree to go to London Chapman made another, and another, offer, until agreement finally was secured after Herbert Chapman turned up in Plymouth for a third time.

It was said to be Herbert Chapman’s last signing before his death, but I am not sure if this was actually the case.  If someone can help me out with who joined the club in the summer of 1934 and the early part of 1934/5 I ‘d be grateful.

But Ray certainly did play in Herbert Chapman’s 1932/3 championship team playing 7 games at number 8 and scoring two goals.  His first game was on March 18 against Wolverhampton at home, and Arsenal lost 1-2.

Now this might seem an inauspicious start, but at the time Arsenal were in danger of throwing the league championship away.  The defeat came in the penultimate game of a run of one win in eight.  Chapman shuffled the pack a couple more times, and then Arsenal went on a run of five straight wins with Bowden playing in four of them.  The championship was secured.

The following season was the season in which Herbert Chapman died and Bowden played 32 and scored 13 – playing both under Chapman and Joe Shaw.  In his third season – now under Allison – Bowden suffered an injury in January and lost most of the rest of the season, but still managed 24 league games and 14 goals.This included a hat-trick in Arsenal’s 8-1 win over Liverpool.

The following season he played in all seven FA Cup games and scored five, as Arsenal won the cup for the first time under Allison.

Throughout all this time Ray Bowden’s prime role was as an inside forward behind Ted Drake, and it was in that position that he won six caps for England, starting on 29 September 1934. In November 1934 he was one of the seven Arsenal players who played for England against Italy in the Battle of Highbury match, which England won 3–2.   On 30 October 1937 Ray Bowden made his final appearance for Arsenal.

Ray’s ankle injury caused him to be sold to Second Division Newcastle United in November 1937 for £5,000. In all he played 138 matches for the Gunners, scoring 48 goals, and he scored a hat-trick against Swansea on the day before England declared war on Germany in 1939.

The fact that he did not continue with his earlier goalscoring exploits after moving to Highbury was due to the way he was used, as a creator of goals from the attacking inside forward position.   For the rugged style of the period this was more in keeping with his slender frame. Had he been used at number 9 he would have been chopped to bits within a couple of weeks by lumbering centre halves.

Playing with Joe Hulme, Ted Drake, Alex James and Cliff Bastin, Ray was the unobtrusive player who could turn up in unexpected places and if marked, distract the defenders.  If left alone he would get the ball and put through the perfect pass.

After the outbreak of war he worked in Plymouth as a sports outfitter, and was the last member of the brilliant Arsenal team of the 1930s to survive, passing away in Plymouth on 23 September 1998.

The History of Arsenal – the chronology index


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