Arsenal – December 1931: A scoring sensation but a dreadful Christmas

This article is part of our series on Arsenal in the 1930s, in which we trace the club’s history game by game.  Links to all the preceding articles are given at the end of this piece.

By Tony Attwood

November 1931 ended with the League table looking like this

Arsenal, the champions, were not impossibly far behind the leaders, but they clearly still needed a solid run in order to catch up Everton before it was all too late.

And with that thought in mind the month began well on 5 December with a 3-1 away win at Sheffield Wednesday.

After four wins and a draw Wednesday were above Arsenal and themselves entertaining thoughts of catching Everton, but, as it turned out, they were on the edge not of a push to the top but instead, of a very poor run.  They had lost 2-0 to Portsmouth in the last game in November, and that was the start of a run of five without a win – four of the games being defeats.  They were fourth when facing Arsenal and by the end of the downward run they were 10th and out of all contention.

For this, the 18th league game of the season, Arsenal were once again playing their favoured outfield ten – the same ten that had started the first game of both this and the last season, but with Frank Moss now finding his feet in goal.

Bastin got one goal and Jack, who in 1930/31 had scored the amazing 31 goals in 35 (amazing that is were it not for the goalscoring feat of Lambert), got two.  In fact Jack had now scored 11 in the last seven games – scoring in each one of those matches.  Given that he had scored only two in the first ten games he played, it seemed like another part of the well-oiled machine of the previous season was now once more functioning on all cylinders.

As for their rivals, while Arsenal were winning away, Everton, having had eight wins and one draw in the last nine in a run of match that had seen them score nine twice, eight once, and seven once, only hitting the buffers in losing 2-4 to West Ham United.   But then in the run of 11 games starting with this match they only won four, losing the rest.

The extraordinary goalscoring feats stopped too.  In five of these games they scored one or zero.  During this run they secured 8 points out of 22, but still remained top of the league.

Thus these were encouraging times suddenly for the chasing pack, but on 12 December Arsenal could only managed a 1-1 draw at Highbury with Huddersfield Town.

This was particularly disappointing since Huddersfield had only won one of the last six games before playing Arsenal and had dropped from a position of second early in the season to seventh prior to the Arsenal game.

Arsenal’s team remained the same as did the goalscorer.  Jack.

By the time the following saturday rolled around with the last game before Christmas, the footballing world was fully aware of Jack’s exploits, and the question was raised, would he score in his ninth consecutive match?

The answer was yes – he got two, making it 14 goals in those nine games as Arsenal won 5-2 away.  Jones missed the game, and Seddon stepped in, but otherwise the team was the same.  Lambert was back on the scoresheet having not scored since his hattrick against Liverpool, and Bastin got the other two.

Then on 18 December 1931 two events occurred.  Jack Humble, one of the founding fathers and the first ever chairman of Woolwich Arsenal FC,  and the man who dedicated his life to the club for over 40 years from 1886 onwards, died.  I have not been able to find any commemoration of his work for the club (and this man, one must remember was one of the key people in saving the club from disaster in 1893 and helping the club survive between 1910 and the move to Highbury in 1913), and I suspect in 1931 he had been written out of the club’s history.   If you do have any memorabilia from the era which reveals a recognition of Jack Humble’s work at the time of his passing, I really would love to know.

Also on 18 December 1931 William Harper transferred to Plymouth.  He played 82 for Plymouth but then stayed on with the club, as a “trainer, groundsman, laundryman, and anything else that needed doing, and nearly 50 years after his debut [in 1972] he was awarded a testimonial game, fittingly with Arsenal as the opposition. Bill Harper died on 12th April 1989 at the age of 92, in the city that had had such an impact on his life” having had the training ground of Argyle named after him: Harper’s Park.   (Source GreensonScreen)

Of course transfers out of a club are never marked apart from (if you are lucky) a word of thanks in the programme, and Arsenal had their minds elsewhere – particularly on Middlesbrough.  Middlesbrough were not the toughest team in the league, and had only won one of the last eight before facing Arsenal and the previous match had been a 5-1 away defeat to Everton.  But even so, it gave the fans a lot to look forwards to over Christmas.

And then, unfortunately, it once more went wrong.  With three wins and a draw in the last four and with no change to the lineup from the previous game, Arsenal lost 4-1 away to Sheffield United on Christmas Day and 0-2 at home to the same team on Boxing Day.

Sheffield U had won six of the last 13 games prior to the Christmas Day match, and the previous eight had gone in a perfect alternating sequence of win, lose, win, lose etc so the double win was certainly a bonus for them.

Arsenal’s excuse, certainly for the second game, was a disrupted team, with three of the regulars (Hapgood, Jones and Lambert) all missing, Seddon continuing at right half, with Cope and Williams making their first appearances of the season.

Thus it was the first time Sheffield Utd had won two in a row since September when they won five on the trot rising to second in the league.

26 December 1931 was also the last game for Bill Seddon, one of the players to win Arsenal’s first FA Cup and first league title.  

Here’s the regular table on the month’s games for Arsenal…

Date Opponent Op Pos H/A Result Pos Pts Crowd AC
 5.12.31 Sheffield Wed  3 A  3-1 3 23  27,265  17,145
12.12.31 Huddersfield Town  7 H 1-1 3 24 39,748 40,547
19.12.31 Middlesbrough  11 A 5-2 3 26 17,083  18,890
25.12.31 Sheffield Utd  7 A 1-4 3 26 49,737  20,795
26.12.31 Sheffield Utd  6 H 0-2 4 26 55,207 40,547
  • 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 (in the previous column) and and the norm expected by the home side.

So the month ended like this…

Arsenal had picked up, but slipped again over Christmas.  But because of Everton’s own difficulties, Arsenal were still only five points behind.

The story continues…


The current series being researched and published is Arsenal in the 1930s.

Details of other series researched by the Society can be found on the home page.

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