Arsenal in December 1932: Greatness and supremacy

By Tony Attwood

Arsenal had ended November at the top of the Football League…

But for those with a memory of the year before there was a certain concern, because the Christmas/New Year period 1931/2 had been a disaster with one win, one draw, and three defeats.  On the other hand Arsenal had never once been top of the league during that spell, and now they most certainly were two points clear at the top of the league.

December’s football began on 3rd with Arsenal away to Portsmouth who were 8th in the table but with a very strong home record, having only lost one and drawn one at home all season.  Indeed with only nine goals conceded at home they had just about the tightest defence there was.

And in the match it started out with a feeling that again December could be Arsenal’s nemesis, as they went 1-0 down at half time.  But in the end, and indeed for the fifth away match running Arsenal scored 3+ goals – a feat not repeated until 2008/9.  Better, they scored 21 goals in these five games, this game ending Portsmouth 1 Arsenal 3.  This was Chapman’s new team in all its pomp, recovering from the awful second half in the match against Villa on 19 November – with James coming back in for Parkin as expected.  Bastin got two of the goals, and Jack scored for the third match running.

And suddenly at the same moment Aston Villa did not look that much of a threat after all, losing 3-6 at home to Sheffield Wednesday, who had gone into the match in fourth place.  With previously third placed Derby also losing, the whole table now looked quite different and belief spread across the red part of north London.   This was not going to be a re-run of last year, but instead more like the amazing 1930/1.

On 7 December 1932 David Jack gained his final cap for England – he played nine times during which time he had scored three goals whereas with Arsenal he played 113 games and scored 181 goals.

Then on 10 December 1932 Arsenal played Chelsea at Highbury.  Chelsea were sitting in 17th having won just two away games so far, and whether it was this feeling, or the fact that on this day the West Stand (costing £45,000) was opened by Prince of Wales (although it had been used by the public for the Newcastle and Middlesbrough games in November), one doesn’t know.  But overwhelmed they were. The 4-1 result was part of a 20 match sequence in which Arsenal lost 2, drew 2 and won 16.

Bastin got two, making it five in three games, Coleman and Hulme the others, and the team was now getting a very settled look.

The result saw Arsenal extend their lead at the top of the league to five points with Aston Villa and Derby County both drawing their games and only Sheffield Wednesday winning beating Middlesbrough 2-1.

After this we had Arsenal away to Chapman’s old team Huddersfield Town, with Huddersfield sitting in sixth, which Arsenal won 1-0 with a goal from Coleman.   The crowd of 23,198 compared with crowds of 40,000 and 50,000 that Arsenal were now getting, and this inability of Huddersfield to attract big crowds even for a match against the team of the moment, (and indeed between the manager’s current and former teams), gives us a clear clue as to why Chapman left Huddersfield after winning the league.  No matter what one achieved in Huddersfield, it would always be a side show; Arsenal were always news.

Meanwhile Sheffield Wednesday lost, and Aston Villa drew, which meant the table now read…

Which set up what was probably the most extraordinary Christmas Eve in the history of Arsenal FC.

Before the game Arsenal, as we have observed, were top.  Sheffield Utd were a decent mid-table 12th having won seven, lost seven, drawn five.  But they had just won five in a row, scoring 13, letting in six.  It was a run that was turning a lot of heads given that they had only managed to win two of their first 14 games this season.

During that poor run they had lost once by 2-5 and once 1-5, both away from home, but the five straight wins, including a 4-3 over Derby County suggested they had recovered from that poor opening spell.

Arsenal’s team was now the standard line up…


Male  Roberts Hapgood

Hill John

Hulme Jack Lambert James Bastin

It was 5-1 at half time and ended Arsenal 9 Sheffield Utd 2.  It meant that thus far in the season Arsenal had in different games scored 6, 7, 8 and 9 goals.  In this game Lambert scored 5 – which turned out to be his final hatrick (plus 2!) It was his 12th hat trick – more than any other player in the club’s history).

Such was the amazement in the football world that the fact that Aston Villa drew while Sheffield W beat Liverpool was hardly noticed.  Arsenal were now six points clear with a massively superior goal average to anyone else’s.

So on to Boxing Day – and wouldn’t you know, Arsenal lost at home, 1-2 to Leeds who had crept up to fifth place in the table.  In their nine away games thus far in the season Leeds had scored nine, and conceded nine.  Scoring two away to Arsenal was considered by most people to be a misprint in the late evening papers – not for the last time this season.  The only consolation to Arsenal was the Villa lost and Sheffield Wednesday drew.

As was the way of such things at the time, Leeds and Arsenal then played each other again the next day in the return fixture and this time, coping with loss of form and injuries Chapman shuffled the pack.   Norman Sidey made his debut replacing Hill to become the fourth player to wear the right half shirt this season. Sidey had signed as an amateur from Nunhead of the Isthmian League in 1929 and turned pro in 1931.

Haynes came in at centre half and Stockhill played his first game since the opening two of the season (in which he scored both of Arsenal’s only two goals).   He played at inside right with Jack moving to centre forwards.

There was mumbling a plenty at the result, especially as Villa and Sheffield Wednesday both won. It was also one of only two games all season in which Arsenal did not score. 

So after five wins in a row, Arsenal had lost one and drawn one in the space of two days.

But they had one match left in the old year to redeem themselves.   And indeed on this day Villa, Wednesday and Arsenal all won – Arsenal beating 18th placed Birmingham 3-0 at Highbury, Jack, James and Bastin scoring the goals.  Indeed any other result would have been a calamity, since Birmingham had not won away all season.  Indeed they carried on in this manner – although they did finally get one victory away in the second half of the campaign.  Roberts, Hill and Coleman all returned to give the side a more settled perspective.

Here’s the regular table of results etc with a guide to the abbreviations below

Date Opponent Op Pos H/A Result Pos Pts Crowd AC
3.12.1932 Portsmouth  8  A W 3-1  1 28  31,401  18,102
10.12.1932  Chelsea  17 H W 4-1 1 30 53,206  41,958
17.12.1932 Huddersfield Town  6 A W 1-0 1 32 23,198  11,965
24.12.1932 Sheffield United  12 H W 9-2 1 34 41,520 41,958
26.12.1932 Leeds United  5 H L 1-2 1 34 55,876 41,958
27.12.1932 Leeds United  4 A D 0-0 1 35 56,776  17,114
31.12.1932  Birmingham City  18 H W 3-0 1 37 37,800 41,958
  • 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 the norm expected by the home side.

As we can see, wherever Arsenal went they attracted crowds far bigger than normal.  Indeed the Leeds figure is extraordinary.  An average of 17,114, but a crowd of 56,776 to watch Arsenal.

Finally, the regular look at Tottenham.  Having won only two of their first eight league games in the second division this season and had a run of winning eight out of nine from October to the start of December.  They were even starting to knock in goals, scoring seven on one occasion and six twice in this run.

After the first match in December they had risen to second, but a run of four without a win saw them slip back to 4th, recovering on the last day of the year to win and climb back to  third just one point behind the two promotion spots.  After five years in the second division there were thoughts down the Seven Sisters Road that they might at last be able to play with the big boys again.

Here’s the first division league table for the end of the year…

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *