Arsenal in the 1930s. The cup winners who dropped out and the players who came in

By Tony Attwood

This article updated 17 April 2017

This is part two of the series on Arsenal in the 1930s.  Part one is here.

With the FA Cup won, and the league fixtures completed, Arsenal played their friendly match against Northampton in support of the local hospital.   There had been a devastating fire at the Cobblers ground and this match shows that enough of the ground had been rebuilt to allow for 9000 to attend.

Arsenal showed great respect to Northampton by playing their complete FA Cup winning team, and as a result won the match against Northampton Town 7-0, the goals coming from Hulme, Jack, Lambert and a hattrick from Bastin.  The other was an own goal.

And then that was that.  Arsenal had played extensive end of season tours in 1926 and 1928, but not in 1927, 1929 or 1930.  They returned to Scandinavia in 1931.  I can’t quite work how why they sometimes did and sometimes did not, other than to take it that this was something one just didn’t do too often.

Arsenal’s only other friendly that season was played on 19 October 1929 when Arsenal beat Nottingham Forest 4-0 with 3,340 in the crowd.

Nor are there details of pre-season matches recorded, although I am sure there would have been an Arsenal v Arsenal Reserves match.  My father told me that he used to go and watch these games, and I have the impression that was in the 1930s, but I can’t say for sure.

So following the cup final, the two remaining league games, and the friendly against Northampton, there was no more activity to keep Arsenal fans occupied.

During the summer

One man  who did make the news this summer was Arsenal’s ex-player Billy Blyth.  He played 314 league games for Arsenal between 1914 and 1929, and then moved to Birmingham.  However in the summer of 1930 he took a role in the movie, “The Great Game”, the first movie (as opposed to a film of a game) which involved an Arsenal player.  It pre-dated the now more famous “Arsenal Stadium Mystery” by nine years.

Elsewhere, although it was only reported in the UK in a meagre way, and always several days late, on 13 July the first ever World Cup competition began in Uruguay.  England did not enter, and instead, in terms of overseas sports, the broadcasters and newspapers focused on the first ever British Empire Games held later that summer in Canada.

For those with a television there was also a novelty beyond the world of sport: on 14 July there was the broadcast of the first TV play, “The Man with the Flower in his Mouth” on the BBC.

Meanwhile in terms of government activity, the Housing Act had been passed and was providing government subsidies for slum clearance, and construction of further new council houses as replacements – a nod to the economic policies of John Maynard Keynes, and a step away away from the government’s failing official austerity programme.   This period also saw the start of local authorities’ assisted wiring scheme to encourage people to connect their homes to the public electricity supply.

Back with sport the World Cup Finals ended on 30 July with Uruguay beating Argentina in Montevideo.   However in England, in deference to the “summer game” of cricket, football in England kept a low profile.   Before the first world war there had been a strict embargo on playing football matches that the public could pay to attend at any time until 1 September.  As a result of this the season would often kick off with a midweek match on that day.

The expansion of the league by two clubs in 1919 had eaten away at this slightly, and one or two matches per club were permitted in the last week of August but generally football let cricket hold sway at least until the end of the month.

At this time the only restriction on transfers was that none could take place between March 31 and the end of the season.  So there was no rush to sign players during the summer months, and the normal behaviour was for managers to look and see what happened to their squad in the opening days of the season, and then start considering if any deals should be done to help the squad along.

However this season there was one signing in the summer that was of note, as on 6 August 1930 Leslie Compton signed for Arsenal as an amateur.  Of the two Compton brothers he was the won who was a footballer who played cricket, as opposed to Dennis who was the reverse.  By the end of the decade Leslie was a significant member of the Arsenal squad, filling in at left and right back whenever necessary, and then, rather perversely taking up the role of centre forward in some wartime games.

But this summer neither the world cup, the Empire Games nor even cricket test matches were much on anyone’s mind as unemployment broke through the two million mark on 7 August.

Back with the football Arsenal were drawn to play Blackpool away on 30 August 1930 in the opening match and starved of any information coming out of the club, most would have expected the cup winning team to take up the reigns.  But Chapman was never one for the expected.

The Cup Final team had been

Charlie Preedy

Tom Parker (c)  Bill Seddon   Eddie Hapgood

Alf Baker                                                        Bob John

       David Jack      10 Alex James   

Joe Hulme            Jack Lambert            11  Cliff Bastin

According to Cliff Bastin in his autobiography this self-same team lined up for a pre-season game against Arsenal reserves – a match that I believe took place most seasons at Highbury, and to which fans could go and watch, but a game which is missing from most of the record books.

The Cup Team as they were called won 5-3 with Bastin scoring a hattrick.  In goal for the “whites” as they were called was “Gerry Keizer” whom Bastin describes as retaining his amateur status and being “midly crazy, and who became his close friend.

Three players dropped out of this team for the start of the new season:

  • Charlie Preedy was replaced by Gerard Keyser
  • Herbie Roberts came in at 5 to replace Bill Seddon
  • Alf Baker was replaced at 4 by Charlie Jones.

The Players Out

Charlie Preedy  the goalkeeper, had played one season with Wigan Borough, before moving to Arsenal for the start of the 1929/30 season.

Dan Lewis started the season in goal, then Charlie came in for five games, before letting in 5 against Villa.  Lewis came back in, missing just one or two games, but then on April 9 Charlie got a run of four matches.  Dan Lewis returned for the 6-6 draw with Leicester but Charlie got the last two games.  But Preedy did have the honour of the Cup Final.    He only played 12 games that season but got his cup winner’s medal.

So clearly Chapman was chopping and changing his keeper (as in fact he almost always did) and even if Preedy was miffed at going back to the reserves, he still did have his cup final medal, and as it turned out he was set to return to the first team later in the season and indeed this pattern continued through 1931/2.

Bill Seddon was born on 28 July 1901 was born in Clapton, and after playing junior football moved to Gillingham, and had an unsuccessful trial with Villa before coming to Arsenal in December 1924.

He was the captain of the reserves team, and won the London Combination title five times in the 1920s.

He made his first team debut in April 1926, but that was his only first team game that season.  He played 17 times in the next season, but missed the cup final.

And so it continued until his breakthrough year of 1929/30 when he also played in the cup final.  Although dropped for the first game, he did come back into the team and got a league winner’s medal.

Bill left Arsenal in March 1932 going to Grimsby Town for £2,500 having played 76 games

Alf Baker  played for Eastwood Rangers (and possibly some other teams) turning pro with Arsenal in May 1919 and staying at the club until he retired from football making 351 appearances for Arsenal, scoring 26 goals.

He played in the first-ever league game at Highbury in August 1913, and in the first-ever FA Cup Final – against Cardiff in 1927 as well as the 1930 final (the only player to do so).  But by then he was reaching the end of his career and only played one more first team game after this (also against Huddersfield, on 7 March 1931) before retiring from the game aged 33 in the summer of 1931 becoming a club scout.

One of the reasons he stayed around so long was that apart from being a fine player he could play in all sorts of positions, including in goal.  I haven’t gone through every match, but it is said that he played in every position from 1 to 11 at some time during those 351 games.

In 1924/25 he captained Arsenal in Leslie Knighton’s last season and in 1924 he also played for the Football League against the Scottish League.  In November 1927 he won a single cap for England against Wales.

The players coming in.

Gerard Keyser was a player who clearly must have been quite extraordinary, because in the summer of 1930 Herbert Chapman signed him from non-league Margate, and immediately thrust him into the first division side for the first 12 games of the season, dropping cup winning Charlie Preedy.

Of those 12 we won 8, drew 3 and lost 1.

The situation in summary was that Dan Lewis had suffered a crisis of confidence and Charlie Preedy was not seen as a permanent replacement and so Keizer was brought in.

But to find why Keizer was then dropped after such a successful start, we have to dig a little deeper.

Keizer was Dutch and had joined Ajax aged 16 and by the time he was 20 he was their reserve keeper.  In fact Keizer was registered with two clubs (allowable since he was an amateur and the clubs were in different countries).  Apparently he would fly back to the Netherlands on Saturday nights to play for Ajax on Sundays.

Maybe it was this that made Chapman drop him as suddenly as he had picked him.  Or maybe it was the fact that Keizer never kept a clean sheet during his 12 game spell – although to be fair, Arsenal only kept three clean sheets all season.  Or maybe there was something else going on.  If you are interested, that “something else” is explored in the full article on Keizer – see the link above.

Herbie Roberts was born in Oswestry, Shropshire, becoming a policeman in this area and playing amateur football for Oswestry Town.  He was portrayed as a tall and unassuming defensive midfielder, playing initially right half.  Chapman signed him in December 2006 for £200 with him playing his first game for us at home against Aston Villa on 18 April 1927.  We won 2-1 in front of 38,000.

Herbie Roberts was moved by Chapman into the centre half position, playing between the two full backs in the new WM formation.  (The position also became known as that of the “stopper”,) and he played 297 times and was 25 at the start of the 1930 title winning season.

He played on for Arsenal until 1937 – so through the glory years, but tragically died on 19 June 1944, serving his country.

Charlie Jones early career was not a promising one.  He left Cardiff City after one game, and moved into the Third Division with Stockport.  When he got back to the first division with Oldham they were relegated, and after a couple of seasons he moved to Nottingham Forest also in the second division and started playing for Wales.

Jones signed for Arsenal in 1928 and went straight into the first team for the first game.  We might pause to wonder what the regulars at Highbury made of this.  A man who had played in the lower leagues was the second major signing by Chapman.  Was this the man to revolutionise the team and deliver the promised trophies?

He was 29 by the time he joined Arsenal and was seen as a stand in player mostly at half back, although sometimes also at outside left.  He played the first four games of the 1930/1 season before Seddon got his place back – it seems Seddon was injured in pre-season.

The progress of the club

Overall we can see that Chapman had got his ideal team more or less ready by the time of the Cup Final, and eight of those finalists played in the opening of the glorious 1930/1 season, against Blackpool.

Chapman used 24 players in 1929/30, the season Arsenal finished 14th in the league and 12 of those players played 20 games or more.  In the next article I’ll look at those 12 players and what happened to them in 1930/1, as well as looking at the opening games of the season.

The Arsenal History Society website is dedicated to publishing series of articles covering parts of Arsenal’s history that have not been recorded in the level of depth we can offer.

Recent series include:

You can find a full list of series on the lower part of the left side of the page.

Arsenal in the 30s

1930s: the players, the crowds, the tactics

Joseph Szabo, his visit to Arsenal, and the way it changed SC Braga’s history.

One Reply to “Arsenal in the 1930s. The cup winners who dropped out and the players who came in”

  1. Sorry Tony but I think television did not start until 1936. Enjoying this series on 1930-31 and looking forward to the rest of it. Such interesting times and players.

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