By Tony Attwood
The match on 22 October 1952 was one of three friendlies played by Arsenal in the 1952/3 season.
The other two were linked to particular causes. First, on 29 September 1952 Arsenal played a team known as the All Stars, at Brighton. It was the benefit match for our goalkeeper Alex Wilson, and the score was Arsenal 2 All Stars 4. Lishman and Logie (with a penalty) scored for Arsenal.
Alex had turned out as an emergency keeper for Brighton and Hove Albion in the 3rd division south in 1947/8 and after leaving Arsenal was also trainer and physiotherapist for the club before moving on to Birmingham City, Sunderland and Blackpool, as well as Kent County Cricket Club. In 1967 he emigrated to the USA and worked as a physio for the Boston Beacons of the NASL. He died in Boston at 1971, aged 62.
The concluding friendly of the season was on 4 May 1953 – three days after Arsenal had won the league in the final match of the season. It was a home game against Tottenham, and we lost 0-2. The proceeds of the match went to the Lord Mayor of London’s National Flood Disaster Fund.
The 1953 North Sea flood was one of the worst in modern times, and occurred on 31 January / 1 February 1953, affecting the east coast of England, Belgium, the Netherlands and the east coast of Scotland. The water rose over 5.6 metres above the mean. In England 307 people were killed and tens of thousands of homes flooded.
Which, returning to football, explains both of those friendlies. But not Arsenal 7 Hibernian 1 played on 22 October 1952.
Now there is a reference in Asa Briggs’ history of broadcasting saying that this was a televised match – as well it could be, since it was not bound by the rules of the league. It was played on a Wednesday, and according to Ollier the crowd was 55,001.
The team is recorded as
- Roper (5)
- Lishman (2)
So that makes it pretty much our first team at that time. Dan Roper played virtually every game of the season and scored 14 goals. Lishman was the leading scorer of the season with 22 goals from 39 league games.
Thus it looks like our first team doing its usual thing. But why was it on TV, and why was the crowd so big? Although Arsenal won the league this year, that was as much to do with a five match run unbeaten in April as anything, and by the time this game was played Arsenal had played 12 and won only five.
On the other hand Highbury was packing the crowds in at this time. Arsenal played three games in October 1952 – and all three were at home. The crowds were
- 4 October: Arsenal 3 Blackpool 1. 66,682
- 11 October: Arsenal 2 Sheffield W 2. 55,678
- 25 October: Arsenal 3 Newcastle 0. 63,744.
Hibernian were also a strong team at the time, and ended the season second on goal average from Rangers.
But still, why was the game shown on TV, and why did so many turn out for a friendly?
I think one reason for the interest might be the novelty of football on TV – and the novelty of TV. I don’t have figures for 1953 but by 1956 only a third of homes in Britain had a TV, so I suspect the number was under a quarter in 1953. People probably went to the game to see the TV cameras!
BBC TV’s first football match was Arsenal against Arsenal Reserves on 16 September 1937. The second was England against Scotland on 9 April 1938. The FA Cup Final was shown on 30 April 1938, but my understanding was that these were shown as recordings, not live. The first live game was in October 1946: Barnet against Wealdstone. At the time, because the League would not license football on TV, the BBC started visiting amateur grounds in and around London and showing recordings of their matches. The audiences apparently were quite large.
So, maybe the novelty of TV, the fact that Highbury crowds were very large at the time, and the fact that it was a floodlit match all contributed to the crowd size.
The first floodlit game at Highbury was in 1951, but that did not mean that mid-week games in winter would be played at night. The League and FA didn’t like lights and the first floodlit league game was not until 1956.
And here I think we get a bit of a clue to this match. The floodlights were there but Arsenal could only use them in friendlies. So that is what they did – they played a friendly, and people wanted to come and see the floodlights! And the cameras!
The first Arsenal match under the lights was Arsenal 6 Hapoel Tel Aviv 1 on 19 September 1951 – 44,385 turned up. This was followed by Arsenal 3 Rangers 2 on 17 October 1951 with 62,012 in the crowd.
So the Hibs game was the third under the lights at Highbury, and it seems, the first match to be filmed completely. What I don’t know because I don’t have the data, was if it were shown live or filmed for later release. I suspect a recording was shown.
Any further information on this game or the early broadcasting of matches on TV would be gratefully received.