Arsenal in the summer: 1946, back from the war

By Tony Attwood

This is part of our series that focusses on Arsenal’s activities each summer.  A list of all the articles in the series thus far is given at the foot of the article, and updated each week on the home page of the site.

As soon as war broke out in 1939 the Football League was curtailed and the three rounds of games played were nullified.   Football then was re-organised into 10 regional wartime leagues, clubs were not allowed to pay players, and players could turn out for any team as “guests”, whether they were registered with the club or not.

Results were erratic although Arsenal won the 1939/40 South A League made up of ten teams.  The clubs however didn’t like the arrangements and the following year there were just two leagues – Northern and Southern.  1941/2 saw the invention of a separate London League which Arsenal won. They also recorded one of their best wartime results on 31 January 1942: Arsenal 11 Watford 0.

On 23 July 1942 Andy Ducat, suffered a heart attack and passed away while at the crease at in a wartime cricket match at Lords.  He played 175 times for Woolwich Arsenal and his transfer to Villa in 1912 signalled the financial desperation of the club.

1942/3 saw three leagues – south, west and north, with Arsenal winning league south.  Interestingly, Lovell’s Athletic – a works team from Newport – won the western league.  They also retained the trophy the following season.  Arsenal also reached the Football League Cup South final which was played on 1 May 1943.  The result was Arsenal 7 Charlton 1 in and 75,000 turned up for the game at Stamford Bridge.  Even in wartime, football lived on.

There were not that many transfers in the war years, but there were some including, on 17 August 1943, the transfer of Wally Barnes to Arsenal.  He played in every position during the remaining time before the end of the war and then settled down at left back in the 1948 championship winning team.

But it was also of course often a time for players’ farewells.   On 11 September 1943 Alf Kirchen played his final match in the wartime league.   He had joined the RAF as a physical training instructor, and played 116 war time games for Arsenal scoring 81 goals but was injured in this game which meant he was unable to return to playing professionally after the war.

On 25 May 1944 Joe Wade joined Arsenal as an amateur from Hoxton Manor Boys Club.  He turned professional at the end of the war in June 1945, and played in the FA Cup tie against West Ham in 1946.

But sadly on 19 June 1944 the death on active service of Herbert Roberts aged just 39 was announced.  After his superb playing career he worked as a trainer for Arsenal’s reserves and then joined the Royal Fusiliers in the war.  He was buried at Southgate Cemetery.

5 May 1945 saw the last game for Ted Drake.  He went into management and transformed Chelsea, leading them to their one and only championship of the 20th century.

On 8 May 1945, the Allies accepted Germany’s surrender and the war in Europe was over.  On 10 August Japan surrendered.

1945–1946 was thus the first peacetime football season since the 1939–1940 season was abandoned. On 7 May (interestingly one day before the Allies accepted Germany’s surrender and while the war in the Far East was continuing) the FA announced that the FA Cup would be resumed and indeed they moved quickly with the extra preliminary round played on 1 September 1945, 21 days after the cessation of final hostilities.  The Football League reorganised yet again, this time into the Football League North and Football League South.  Although there was opposition to the move, this was approved on 25 July 1945.

In the FA Cup the matches were arranged over two legs (home and away) from the first round proper onwards, and it was clear that high scoring was the order of the day. 15 of the 68 games in the first round proper had one of the teams scoring five or more, and this continued throughout the competition.   Thus Arsenal’s results were not exceptional.

  • 5 January 1946: West Ham 6 Arsenal 0     Joe Wade made his debut.  He only played irregularly but was part of the 1948 championship winning season.
  • 9 January 1946: Arsenal 1 West Ham 0   9 January 1946: The final game for Leslie Jones and for Reg Cumner, both of whom started football in Aberdare, and who later met up again when Jones was manager of Scunthorpe, and signed Reg.  It was also the first game for Jimmy Logie

West Ham went out to Chelsea in the fourth round, Chelsea went out to Aston Villa in the fifth.  By the sixth round London’s only remaining clubs, Brentford and Charlton played each other and Charlton won.  Charlton beat Bolton in the semis and then lost to Derby in the final in extra time.

Meanwhile, Arsenal played friendlies as well as the war time league games, including on 21 November 1945: Arsenal 3 Dynamo Moscow 4 – Stanley Matthews and other guests players turn out for Arsenal in a game played in such thick fog that no one really knew what was happening.  54.620 had to wait for the next day’s papers to hear that the Soviet team had won 3-4.

On 3 April 1946 there was the announcement of the death of Alf Common. He was the first £1000 transfer player in 1905 when he moved to Middlesbrough from Sunderland.  He later played 77 games for Arsenal.   

With the war over, George Allison, already exhausted from keeping the club going almost single handedly from an office in White Hart Lane during the war (Highbury being closed)  worked to pull a team back together – as did all the clubs, but it seems the London clubs had the hardest time.  London had obviously taken a battering in the war, which perhaps left them more ill-prepared for the return of football in the summer of 1946 than clubs from other regions.

But it was clear that Arsenal needed to find players, as we can see by looking at the results towards the end of the final war time league in 1946.

  • 6 April Arsenal 1 Southampton 1
  • 13 April Southampton 1 Arsenal 1
  • 19 April Derby 1 Arsenal 1
  • 20 April Arsenal 1 Leicester 2
  • 22 April Arsenal 0 Derby 1
  • 29 April Arsenal 1 Brentford 1
  • 4 May Arsenal 2 West Ham 1

Just one win, on the final day, in the last seven matches of the wartime league.  The crowds however were mostly above 20,000 and indeed 29,189 turned up for the final match.

Allison then did what he could to bring in new faces and move on the players who were now too old to play for the club.

  • 22 May 1946: Leslie Jones was transferred to Swansea as a player coach. He then played for Brighton and Hove Albion.  In June 1950 he was appointed manager of Scunthorpe United, their first League manager – and promptly recruited his Arsenal friend Reg Cumner.
  • 24 July 1946: Arthur Milton signed pro forms.  He became the last ever man to play football and cricket at the top level for England.  He remains in the top ten in terms of catches in first-class cricket (758) and in 1952, he equalled the world record of seven catches in a day, and eight in the match.
  • 5 August 1946: Ian Buchanan McPherson joined from Notts County.  He had never played for County, and had been a youth player, and came in part exchange for Horace Cumner on the same day.
  • 19 August 1946. Ray Daniel signed.  Because of conscription he did not start playing for Arsenal until May 1949.

And so the season commenced on 31 August 1946 and the event was clearly to the taste of the public.   The largest crowd was 61,000 at Stamford Bridge where Chelsea beat Bolton Wanderers 4–3. 

Arsenal’s start was however a disaster: Wolverhampton 6 Arsenal 1 in front of 50,845.

Indeed given that the league programme mirrored that of the abandoned 1939/40, it is interesting to compare results

  • 1939: Wolverhampton 2 Arsenal 2
  • 1946: Wolverhampton 6 Arsenal 1
  • 1939: Arsenal 1 Blackburn 0
  • 1946: Arsenal 1 Blackburn 3
  • 1939: Arsenal 5 Sunderland 2
  • 1946: Arsenal 2 Sunderland 2

Also on the first day of the season, 31 August 1946, numbered shirts were confirmed by League as available for all clubs.  On 25 August 1928, Arsenal had worn numbered shirts for the first time, but the move was then outlawed by the authorities for reasons that never became clear.

Also on 31 August 1946 saw the first appearance for Ian McPherson.  He started with Rangers but left the club to serve with the RAF during the second world war and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. 

On 4 September 1946 Football League matches resumed at Highbury and despite Arsenal’s poor form when, on 21 September 1946 Arsenal lost 0-1 at home to Derby, it was in front of 60,643.  For the first time in the first seven games of the season Reg Lewis didn’t score.  In the previous six games he had scored nine – the only other person to score being O’Flanagan who got one in the previous match.

28 September 1946 saw the final appearance for the magnificent Cliff Bastin.  After retiring from football he ran a cafe, wrote for the Sunday Pictorial and went on to be a publican, and died aged 79 back in his home county of Devon.  That same day also saw the International debut for Laurie Scott.  In all he played 17 times for England and four times for England B while at Arsenal.

On 30 September Arsenal’s Dr Kevin O’Flanagan and his brother played for Ireland v England.  He played for Ireland at both football and rugby, was also a sprint champion, scored for Ireland in a 1938 world cup qualifier against Norway and played both for Northern Ireland and for the Irish Free State.

But things were not going well, for by that date Arsenal had played eight games and won two of them scoring 12 goals, but letting in 21.  Ten of Arsenal’s 12 goals were scored by Reg Lewis.   Arsenal tried to bring in new players from where ever they could find them – and on 2 October 1946 Albert Sigurður Guðmundsson played his first Arsenal match – a friendly against Sparta Prague, a 2-2 draw.    But it was mostly a stream of players who for whatever reason, could not make it.  Meanwhile other players said their farewells, most notably on 2 November 1946 Bernard Joy, the last great Arsenal amateur and subsequent historian of the club, played his last league game.

From the Pre-season files



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