Arsenal, March 1932: return to form, another semi-final, emergency signing, the pressure starts to tell

By Tony Attwood

Lines for Arsenal

In the 1930s the notion of team rotation was not known, and indeed clubs could be fined for not fielding their strongest XI in a league game.  Meanwhile there was no time off for FA Cup matches save for the third round when everyone was involved.  The Cup games took precedence over the league games thereafter, but League matches were arranged during the subsequent midweek.

What’s more, because there was no floodlighting and thus few mid-week games between mid-October and mid-March (except around Christmas and the New Year) fixtures for teams still in the FA Cup could get very clogged up from March onwards.

It was this pressure of games late in the season that ensured Arsenal slipped away in the League slightly in March rather than keeping up their challenge.

February had ended with Arsenal on a high.  Everton had lost three and won three of their last six while Arsenal won the last five in a row.  None of the other top teams were showing the same sort of form, with Sheffield Utd in third place having lost two of the last three, and having played two games more than Arsenal.

But it was fair to say that the minds of many were on matters other than football, for March 1932 was the month in which the country went back to protectionism, introducing import duties on a wide range of good to protect British industry, against the backdrop of the hunger marches throughout the kingdom.

Tension was high everywhere, and the police had moved from being the public’s friend and protector, to the lackeys of the governing classes.  With many of the papers either refusing to report that mass protests happening everywhere at all, or reporting them as nothing but violent assaults on the police, the activities of the National Unemployed Workers Movement grew, with protests and marches everywhere.

Although the biggest confrontation between the protesters and the authorities was not until October 1932, tensions ran high throughout the spring, and the events led to the setting up of the National Council for Civil Liberties.  At the same time the BBC was expanding its activities, as it moved into Broadcasting House on 15 March and its fiercely independent stance meant a little more news of the marches did get out.

The month for Arsenal opened with an away defeat against Bolton on the 2nd, 0-1.   Bolton had lost five in a row before gaining a victory over Villa in the preceding match and were 16th at the time of the game.

But there was a clear reason for Arsenal’s failure: Roberts, John and James were all out injured.  Lambert came back in for Parkin who had been injured in the last match.  Parkin had scored five in five, and Lambert didn’t look completely fit.   Thompson came in for his one and only game of the season (his first game with the first team in a year and a half) while Haynes and Male took over at centre half and left half.

Thus after months of the regular outfield with only an occasional change, three of the regulars were missing and a fourth was clearly not ready.   Worse Everton beat Villa 4-2.

And worse again this was the period of regular midweek games.  On the following Tuesday, 5 March, Arsenal were at home to Leicester.  With Lambert and Parkin both injured Chapman acted and on 4 March Ernie Coleman was signed from Grimsby.  The following day he played his first Arsenal game.

Between November and January Leicester had seen seven consecutive defeats and had only won 2 games in 14.  They were 19th in the league, and so even with their mix and match team Arsenal were able to deal with matter, beating Leicester 2-1, with a penalty from Bastin and the second from Hulme.

On 12 March Arsenal were back in the FA Cup, playing Manchester City in the semi-final at Villa Park.  Again Bastin scored.  Coleman who was cup tied dropped out but Lambert was deemed fit, and returned.  In the other semi-final Newcastle beat Chelsea 2-1.

This result, obviously meant that Arsenal were to play Newcastle in their third cup final in six years.  And such is the way of these things, the following saturday Arsenal played Newcastle in the League at Highbury.  Lambert kept his place but Coleman took over at inside right replacing Jack.  Hulme scored to give Arsenal the 1-0 win.

Although Newcastle were also cup finalists, they had just lost 5-1 to Manchester City in the League, with two wins in seven and this result made Arsenal clear favourites for the Cup.  But in the league Everton just went on winning, this time beating Huddersfield 4-1.

Next up was Derby for Arsenal’s third home match in a row, on Good Friday, 25 March. Derby were 16th with one win in the last five.  The classic outfield played and Lambert repaid his manager’s faith with two goals.    Everton however piled on the pressure and beat WBA 2-1.

But even if Arsenal were not making progress in catching Everton, the accountants must have been rubbing their hands together, for these three consecutive home League games had brought a total of 167,871 through the turnstiles – an average of fractionally under 56,000 per game.

Easter, like Christmas, was a time of no letting up for the players, and this was a case of three games in four days.   Immediately after the Derby game, the team played West Ham on 26th.  The result was a 1-1 draw, with Lambert scoring again, Coleman once more standing in for Jack whose injury would not permit two games on the trot.

But what was particularly noticeable for WHU was that this was the only point they gained in the last ten games of the season.  They were 17th after this match, and finished the campaign bottom, letting in 22 goals in their next four games.

The players were, of course, given Sunday off, but then on Easter Monday they were back on the road to play Derby on 28th March.  After their defeat to Arsenal on Good Friday Derby had drawn against Newcastle.  Now they drew with Arsenal again 1-1, Jack getting Arsenal’s goal.  James dropped out. Coleman played centre forward, Lambert moved to inside right and Jack to inside left.  Everton having drawn 0-0 with Chelsea on the saturday now drew 1-1 with WBA.

Thus Arsenal had played six league and one cup game in the space of 26 days,winning four, drawing two and losing one.

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

Date Opponent Op Pos H/A Result Pos Pts Crowd AC
 02.03.32 Bolton Wanderers  16 A L0-1 3 36 20,922 15,843
 05.03.32 Leicester City  19 H W2-1 3 38 53,920 40,547
 12.03.32 Manchester City N W1-0 50,377
 19.03.32 Newcastle United  6 H W1-0 3 40 57,516 40,547
 25.03.32 Derby County 16 H W2-1 2 42 56,435 40,547
26.03.32 West Ham United 17 A D1-1 2 43 34,852 19,239
28.03.32 Derby County 15 A D1-1 2 44 25,790 13,142
  • Op pos, is the league position of the opposition before the game
  • Pos is Arsenal’s position after the game
  • AC is the average league 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.

After stumbling Everton had won four and drawn two of their last six.  Arsenal had only won three and drawn two, but there was still one game in hand and a better goal average.

Tottenham went through a run of winning one game and drawing four in the month, ending the month in 10th position in division 2.

Arsenal in the 1930s:

1: Life in 1930 and winning the first major trophy.

2: The cup winners who dropped out and the players who came in

3: How Chapman put his triumphant 1931 team together.

4: September 1930; played 8 won 7 drawn 1.

5: October 1930: A stumble, Villa are close behind, Man U have 12 defeats in a row.

6: November 1930: Scoring 5 in three games in one month.

7: December 1930: 3 games in 3 days and 14 goals scored.

8: January 1931: the biggest league win ever at Highbury

9: February 1931: the goals just won’t stop coming.

10: March 1931: hope, defeat, hope

11: April 1931: Arsenal win the league for the very first time.

12: Arsenal in the summer of 1931, the records and the Scandinavian tour

13: Arsenal in shock – July and August 1931

14: September 1931; the champions recover from a poor start.

15: October 1931: Arsenal lose to Grimsby

16: November 1931: Chapman’s exasperation with goal keepers

17: December 1931: A scoring sensation but a dreadful month

18: January 1932: A return to form and a record score

19: February 1932: From a faltering start to nine wins in a row

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