Arsenal in the 30s Part 8: January 1931 – the biggest league win ever at Highbury

by Tony Attwood

This article updated 4 April 2017.  The full series is currently undergoing a revision, as well as having new articles on individual players added.  A full list of the articles covering the whole of the 1930s is at the end of the article.

Here is how the table looked at the end of the year…

In the 1930s  January 1 in England was a regular working day, not a public holiday, and the news on the day showed how desperate the economic situation was.  With the miners in Scotland already out, the latest news was that 150,000 coal miners were on strike in South Wales as well.

One new piece of legislation that came into force on the day was the Road Traffic Act.   In 1926 there had been 4,886 fatalities in some 124,000 crashes on Britain’s roads, and in response the new Act amazingly and incredibly removed all speed limits from the roads on the grounds that the previous speed limit “was so universally disobeyed that its maintenance brought the law into contempt.”   The roads now became a free for all.

However the Act did introduce driving offences f0r dangerous, reckless and careless driving and driving whilst being unfit and under the influence of drink or drugs, as well as requiring drivers to have third party insurance.

On Saturday 3 January Arsenal were scheduled to play at Leeds, on a day on which there was a full schedule of first division games.  However the match did not happen and was in fact played as a midweek game on March 11.

Quite why the match was postponed I am not sure.  On 1 January Leeds played Manchester Utd away (in front of just 9,875), but they like Arsenal now had no other game until 10 January.  It is of course possible that the ground was considered unfit, although I can find no mention of particularly bad weather, and every other match went ahead, including nearby Bradford City v Barnsley.

Indeed the only possible reason I can find in the news reports is that on 3 January there was a terrible rail accident on the lines of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in which 3 people died and 35 were seriously injured near Carlisle.  Now, I do realise that Carlisle is not on the journey between London and Leeds, but it is just possible that the accident had a knock on effect of disrupting the railway system and perhaps causing a delay in the train carrying the Arsenal men to Leeds.  It’s a long shot, but I can’t find any other reason.  If you know one please do say.

However all the other matches went ahead on that day and the results included West Ham 5 Aston Villa 5.

That was an interesting score since the following weekend was the one designated for round 3 of the FA Cup and there was no doubt that the match of the round was Arsenal v Aston Villa.   Perhaps surprisingly only 40,864 turned up at Highbury, although this was I suspect due in part to the fact that just along the Seven Sisters Road, Tottenham were playing Preston (it ended 3-1) and to the east West Ham were playing Chelsea (1-3).  Brentford, Palace and Fulham were also all at home, playing in the third round.

For this game Cliff Jones dropped out and Seddon came back in – otherwise it was the regular team.  The result was a 2-2 draw, with Lambert and Jack getting the goals.

Thus on the afternoon of 14 January the replay was held at Villa Park, this time with 73,668 in attendance (an amazing number for a mid-week afternoon game) and Arsenal won 3-1, with Brain joining the team to replace Jack Lambert, (David Jack moving to centre forward).  It showed that when there was an interest people could and would take time off work (although some would have had a half day).

Thus it wasn’t until half way through the month that Arsenal resumed their league campaign, and indeed such were the vagaries of the league fixture list and the need to fit in the previously abandoned Grimsby game, Arsenal found themselves playing three consecutive league games at Highbury.

However it didn’t all go too well, at least at first for on 17 January Arsenal lost at home to Sunderland 1-3.  Sunderland had only won one away game all season up to this point and only won one of their last six matches, sitting 18th in the league before the game.   True Lambert was still out injured, but then he had been missing for the match against Blackpool but Arsenal had won that easily.  Jones was also out, as he was for the two games against Villa in the Cup.  There were however questions raised surrounding the performance of Bill Harper in goal.

But football always moves on, and having beaten Villa in the FA Cup Arsenal had another cup tie against a first division team – away to Chelsea on 24 January, where in front of 62,945 Arsenal lost 2-1, Bastin getting the Arsenal goal.

Harper retained his place in goal, but in fact that turned out to be his last game until late March for after this match Arsenal turned to their third keeper of the season: Preedy, who had won the Cup with the club last April, but then been dropped first for Keyser and then Harper.  Now he was to be given another chance.  Lambert was back however, and although he didn’t score, that fact alone boded well for the future.

Thus the Cup holders were out of the Cup, and had just lost at home in the league to a rather unimpressive mid-table team.  The press were, as ever, ready to put them down.  It was going to be downhill all the way for the pretentious north London team who thought they could score their way to the title.

All eyes now turned to the re-arranged Grimsby game – the match that had been abandoned due to fog with Arsenal winning 1-0.

With the game played as an afternoon match (kick off 2.15pm) on a Wednesday, the crowd was expected to be poor, and indeed it was Highbury’s lowest of the season at 15,751 (London folk it seems were less likely to take an afternoon off work for football than their fellows in Birmingham, where much of the city had an early closing day.

And that low crowd was a shame because not only was this Arsenal’s biggest win of the season, it was the biggest league win ever at Highbury, at 9-1.

Going into the game Grimsby were in 20th spot, outside the two relegation positions only on goal average, having won two, drawn two and lost ten of their away games so far in the season, scoring 15 conceding 33 away from home.

Indeed in their last eight games they had lost five and drawn three, losing their last eight away games, letting in 11 goals in the last three away games alone.

This was not only Arsenal’s biggest league win, but Grimsby’s biggest league defeat.  Arsenal were 4-1 up at half time, and were perhaps tempted to ease up, but after the exit from the Cup and the slippage back to second in the league, Chapman was having none of it.  At half time he clearly ordered the troops to keep firing.

Here is the line up for that memorable day…


Parker Roberts Hapgood

Jones  John

Hulme Jack Lambert James Bastin

Jack (4), Lambert (3) Bastin and Hulme got the goals

So how could the team match that scoreline?  30,193 came to the game the following saturday, perhaps expecting more of the same.  The BBC ran a radio commentary on the second half of the match on the National Programme with George Allison taking the lead commentator’s role with the numbers representing the position of the ball in the pitch being recited in the background.

Birmingham were 19th without a single away win all season but on 31 January the result against Birmingham was a 1-1 draw, Lambert obliging with yet another goal.

Worse, Aston Villa emphasised their intention of catching and indeed matching Arsenal with an 8-1 win over Middlesbrough.

Here are the results for the month’s league and cup games in summary

Date Opponent Op Pos H/A Result Pos Pts Crowd AC
10.01.1931 Aston Villa 4 home D2-2 FAC  —  40,864
14.01.1931 Aston Villa 4 away W3-1 FAC  —  73,668
17.01.1931 Sunderland 18 home L1-3 2  35  35,975 37,106
24.01.1931 Chelsea 12 away L1-2 FAC  —  62,945
28.01.1931 Grimsby 20 home W9-1 1  37  15,751 37,106
31.01.1931 Birmingham 19 home D1-1 2*  38  30,913 37,106
    *With 3 games in hand
  • Op pos, is the league position of the opposition before the game
  • Pos is Arsenal’s position after the game
  • AC is the average crowd for the home team through the season, providing a comparison between the crowd on that day and and the norm expected by the home side.


The table at the end of the month looked like this…


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.

Arsenal History Society indexes to the series


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