By Tony Attwood
The first season after the second world war was fairly gruesome for Arsenal. In fact it turned out to be worse in terms of the league than any season since 1929/30 when Arsenal had the overwhelming compensation of winning the FA Cup for the first time – indeed their first ever major trophy.
But at least 1946/7 had Arsenal firmly back at Highbury, after playing wartime games at White Hart Lane, and for all the trials and tribulations of coming 13th in the league and going out of the FA Cup in the 3rd round to Chelsea, there were brighter spots.
One such was the game on 1 February 1947: Arsenal 6 Man U 2. An extraordinary result given that Man U finished runners-up and the match at Old Trafford ended 2-5.
Another was the emergence of two goalscorers – Reg Lewis with 29 goals in 28 league games and Ronnie Rooke with 21 in 24. Without them who knows where the club would have ended up.
Indeed nowhere was the strange contradiction of these two goalscorers in a mid-table team than the game on 22 February 1947 which ended Stoke 3 Arsenal 1. Rooke makes it 11 goals in 8 games – yet this was part of a run of just one win in six.
Just before the end of the season, on 22 April the death of Frederick Coles was announced. He had played 78 league games for Woolwich Arsenal at the start of the century before moving to Grimsby, later becoming a football and (more surprisingly) a cricket coach in Gothenburg. An interesting connection had one established cricketer in the team (Compton) and were just about to establish another (Compton) (Dennis and Leslie).
Inevitably George Allison, who had been such a fixture in the club from at least 1910 when he was writing the programme in Plumstead, and who had worked virtually single handedly through the war keeping the club active in the regional leagues at White Hart Lane, resigned on 31 May 1947 just before his 65th birthday.
His final act for Arsenal was to write his autobiography: Allison Calling (a title which makes reference to his long-term work as a radio commentator). Sadly the publication of this charming, positive and insightful book in the summer of 1947 was overshadowed by the serialised rant from Leslie Knighton’s self-serving volume, Behind the scenes in big football which appeared within weeks of the Allison volume.
Knighton was an absolute failure of a manager at Arsenal after the first world war, who fairly nearly had the club relegated back to the second division on several occasions. How typical of the media then to publicise the unsubstantiated accusations of such a man who wrote from the memory of a quarter of a century earlier, and ignore the more measured tones of another who won the league twice and the FA Cup and who had had access to board minutes and the club’s historic documents (some of which he had written!) as he wrote his memoires.
In his book, Allison’s description of Sir Henry Norris and his style of work contrasts starkly with Knighton’s. What subsequent commentators on Norris have failed to recognise in ignoring Allison’s work is that Knighton was sacked by Norris, while Allison worked with Norris from the moment Norris took over the club until Norris’ departure after his failed libel case against the Daily Mail.
Indeed if I may blow my own trumpet a little, it wasn’t until the Arsenal History Society was formed that the magnitude of the way in which Knighton misled historians about his period in charge of the club began to become apparent. Incident after incident in Knighton’s account have been shown to be wrongly reported, while accusation after accusation have now been shown to be simply contrary to all the facts.
On 2 June 1947 just before the end of a season which was extended because of the postponements caused by a terrible winter, Tom Whittaker became manager of Arsenal, thus continuing the dynasty of managers (Shaw, Allison were the previous men in this select group) who had a direct connection with Herbert Chapman and who had been at the club in 1925 when Chapman took over.
Whittaker’s first match on 7 June was a 1-2 defeat to Sheffield United away in the final league match of the season – and although now forgotten it was the only time Arsenal have played a league match in June.
The league table at the end of the season however made sad reading
|7||Preston North End||42||18||11||13||76||74||47|
But as a glance at the list above Arsenal confirms, Arsenal were the highest London team at the time. Indeed a look at the top of division 2 shows that the club’s wartime landlords were fairing even worse.
On 14 July 1947 Tom Whittaker set to work building a new team signing Archie Macaulay from Brentford for £10,000, He had previously played with Rangers and West Ham and served as a physical training instructor in the war.
On 26 July Alf Calverley was sold to Preston NE. He had been signed four months earlier by Allison, from Mansfield for £2500, but had played Preston in his first match who hen offered £1500 which Arsenal took. Then four months on from that Preston sold him for £4000! It is a saga which is indicative of the chaos of the post-war football market. No one quite knew if returning servicemen were alive, let alone still fit enough to play at the highest level, while the normal stream of 18 year olds had missed their formative years which would have been played in the reserves.
The 1946/7 season had ended without the playing of any post-season friendlies, not least because of the extension of the season due to the weather, and after the shortened break the new season likewise began without any friendlies, although undoubtedly the first team would have played the reserves on several occasions.
The first day of the new campaign, 23 August 1947 saw the League debuts for Archie Macauley and Don Roper. One year on from the worst start to a season since 1923, 58,184 turned up to see McPherson, Logie and Rooke make it Arsenal 3 Sunderland 1 – and then undoubtedly look on in amazement as Arsenal opened with six consecutive wins, eventually going undefeated in the first 17 games.
Finally, as summer gave way to autumn, ex-Arsenal man Thomas Fitchie died on 17 October 1947: he was and remains the only man to be signed five times by Arsenal. He was a travelling salesman with Jacques & Co a sports goods and games manufacturer. They encouraged his football career as an amature as it allowed them access to the clubs and the players who were his team mates.
Fitchie’s is a remarkable story, and an insight into an earlier time. As Arsenal built their new post-war success story, and with their lifelong historian George Allison no longer on call, it may well be that history too took a back seat and that Fitchie was not commemorated at the time. After all everyone had had enough of the war and the horrors it revealed. It was a time to look forwards. And look forwards the club most certainly did.
Arsenal in the summer: the Pre-season files
- 1893: The first Woolwich Arsenal pre-season
- 1894: After one year in the league what happened to Arsenal?
- 1903: The most exciting pre-season ever
- 1913: The summer of moving to Highbury
- 1919: The first pre-season after the war, and return to the first division
- 1925: The arrival of Herbert Chapman
- 1930: Preparing for the unthinkable
- 1946: Back from the war
- 1947: The Phoenix Rises
- 1976: Trying to rebuild after Bertie Mee
- 1977: Heavy drinking in the pre-season after Tottenham were relegated
- 1978: Recovering from cup defeat but then losing to Rotherham
- 1979: Cup holders looking for more glory
- 1980: The Arsenal pre-season after trying to win nearly everything
- 1981: The pressure of expectation overwhelms
- 1982: Arsenal try to get beyond one goal a game.
- 1983: The Horrors of Being an Arsenal Supporter
- 1984: Real hope but Arsenal fade
- 1985: It was most certainly not the best of times
- 1986: George Graham takes over but it is a difficult start
- 1987: 10 without a victory, 6without a goal, the famous back 5
- 1988: Leading up to the “free for all” against Tottenham
- 1989: After winning the league at Anfield…
- 1990: The gateway to Arsenal Heaven
- 1991: After the record breaking, the sad reality
- 1992: A record breaking season but little entertainment
- 1993: Osama Bin Laden spotted at the clock end, Highbury
- 1994: The last Arsenal pre-season for George Graham
- 1995: Bruce Rioch’s one pre-season. Bergkamp arrives!
- 1996: The pre-season games as Rioch was sacked
- 1997: Before the second double – (updated)
- 1998: Back to sausages after the caviar.
- 1999: Games against Monaco and Saint-Étienne
- 2000: The big transfers but a poor pre-season
- 2001: Campbell arrives, and the prelims to the third double
- 2002: Gilberto’s first game in the tri-team tournament
- 2003: Before being unbeaten (revised & expanded)
- 2004: The Preseason in the midst of the 49
- 2005: The end of Highbury and the Arsenal-Chelsea bust up
- 2006: Pre-season and the opening of the Emirates
- 2007: A hectic round of transfers and a full schedule
- 2008: Beating Real Madrid
- 2009: The media and Uefa against Eduardo
- 2010: Koscielny joins the crazy gang in Warsaw
- 2011: Chaos and disaster, but amazingly Arsenal pull through
- 2012: Nigeria abandoned, Akpom & Bellerin make their mark
- 2013: The clearout, beating Man C and preparing for a trophy
- 2014: Alexis, Bellerin, and thrashing Man C at Wembley