Arsenal in the 30s. August 1932: preparing for the ultimate greatness.

By Tony Attwood

As Arsenal prepared for 1932/3 season there was no doubting that their fortunes were on the up.

* Up to 1924/25 there were no third division clubs and thus all league clubs entered in the FA Cup in the first round in January.  The equivalent position in modern terminology can be seen simply by adding two to each number.  Thus in 1920 Arsenal went out in what today would be called the fourth round.  In 1921, they exited at the first hurdle – the third round.

The key issue of course was for Arsenal not to slip back in the league at this point as they had in 1925/6, where having come second in the table for the first time ever, the next four years were all mid-table affairs.

An analysis of the home and away results showed what Arsenal got so right in 1930/31 – it was the away form.  Indeed the table shows that in no previous season had they come anywhere near to this.

What we can also see is that the home form in the championship winning year of 1930/31 and in the runners’ up year of 1931/32 was identical in terms of results.  The decline in away form was responsible for the decline from winners’ to second.

The other factor that was on everyone’s minds was the impossibility of trying to win the FA Cup and the Football League at the same time.  It wasn’t so much the number of games that had to be played but instead the proximity of those games in March and April.  That was when the league was won (by a team going out in the early rounds – Everton) and lost (by Arsenal who went through to the final).

I believe that it was this experience that showed Chapman that if he wanted to survive the rigours of both the FA Cup and the League he needed a bigger squad, so that he could rotate players a little more.  The rules were very exacting in terms of the League – the clubs were punished if they ever dared to leave out a key player from a game in order to rest him.

But one way to find that squad was to give them experience when possible in the early rounds of the Cup against lesser opposition.  And that is what he did this season, although not with the hoped for result.

However, to return to August…

Arsenal played two games in the month – away to Birmingham and at home to WBA winning the first 1-0 and losing the second 1-2, and immediately there were comparisons with the opening the season before…

No Date Opponent Venue Result Pos Pts
1 29.08.1931 West Bromwich Albion home L0-1 19 0
2 31.08.1931 Blackburn Rovers away D1-1 14 1
3 05.09.1931 Birmingham City away D2-2 15 2
4 09.09.1931 Portsmouth home D3-3 13 3

which had left Arsenal play catch up for much of the campaign.

West Brom had ended the season in sixth and Birmingham 9th, so neither were considered to be walk overs.

For much of the last two seasons Arsenal had had a core squad with only the keeper changing repeatedly (as was Chapman’s wont).  But Moss had finally got the position of a trusted keeper and the team regularly looked like this


Parker Roberts Hapgood

Jones  John

Hulme, Jack, Lambert, James Bastin

The new season saw a couple of changes for the opening games.  Here was the line up used for both matches


Compton Roberts Hapgood

Male John

Hulme Jack Stockill James Bastin

Here are the changes

Compton for Parker.  Leslie Compton had played the last four games of last season and four at the start of this, but he never got to hold the place as his own, and ultimately it was Male who dropped back to full back.

Male for Jones.  Jones did have one more season in him (1933/4) but this season he was reduced to three runs of games before injury took its toll.

Stockill for Lambert.  Lambert was reaching the end of an amazing career as a goalscorer – one of the greatest of all time for Arsenal, and he had managed 22 in 36, last year but he now dropped back to third choice behind Stockhill and Coleman. He still went on to score 14 in 12 games however.

This new line up was kept for the first two games of this season – in which Stockhill scored both goals.  But once September arrived the changes started.

Here’s the regular table of results etc as used throughout this series – although perhaps we might note that there was a partial eclipse of the sun on 31 August in London which might have distracted play a little!

Date Opponent Op Pos H/A Result Pos Pts Crowd AC
27.08.32 Birmingham City A W1-0 1 2 31,592 16,894
31.08.32 West Bromwich Albion  7 H L1-2 9 2 37,748 41,948
  • 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.

Everton, who for so much of the season before looked like runaway winners, had Arsenal’s problem as champions from the season before – they lost their opening match 3-1 away to West Brom.   So with West Brom’s win against Arsenal on the last day of August, they had managed to beat last season’s top two in the first two games of the season.

Liverpool won 5-1 against Wolverhampton on the opening day, but then two days later lost 6-2 away to Sheffield Utd.

WBA’s achievements in the opening week however did not grant them top spot.  That went to Arsenal’s challengers of two year’s previously: Aston Villa.

As ever, Chapman saw what was going on, gave everyone a chance, and after two games started to make changes.  We’ll see what he did, in the next edition.  Meanwhile, here was the league table after two games.

In the second division Tottenham gained a 4-1 win over Charlton on the opening day but then lost 3-1 away to Nottingham Forest.

Elsewhere on 22 August the first experimental television broadcast by the BBC was conducted.

The current series being researched and published is Arsenal in the 1930s.  Here’s the story so far

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