Arsenal in February 1933: new shirt design, awful weather, top of the league

By Tony Attwood

Arsenal came into February 1933 top of the league.

The month was one in which, as usual, there was an FA Cup round scheduled (18 February) alongside league matches, and so it was always possible the game on that date would be rescheduled.  But this month, appalling weather made the matter worse with many games being postponed, so much of the schedule was disrupted.

Arsenal began the month with a catch up match on 1 February – a game against Bolton postponed from fourth round day.  Bolton had won just two of their last 11 league games, but both wins were against two of the better teams in the league beating Huddersfield and Sheff W.  But with other results against them Bolton were 15th in the league with only one win and one draw away all season conceding 43 away goals.

Now that might seem an odd thing to say when the match was played at Bolton, but the 0-4 Arsenal win was due to a brilliant piece of tactical thinking by Chapman.

Arsenal’s record of having similar results at home and away (as in the table above) was unusual – and although Bolton’s away form was extremely bad, there were 14 teams in the league at that moment that had only won three or fewer away games out of the 13 or 14 played.

Away teams then as now consistently took up more defensive formations and waited for the home team to attack, attempting to get a goal “on the break”.  Bolton would therefore come at Arsenal, Arsenal would sit back, and it was a tactic that had won Bolton eight out of 13 home games.  Arsenal therefore reversed the tactic, and played as if they were at home, taking the game to Bolton from the off, leaving Bolton with the job of counter attacking, which they were clearly (given their away results) rather bad at.

Hapgood missed his second match in a row with Cope once again standing in, John returned at left half and Coleman kept the number 9 shirt.  There was however one other absentee which before the game caused concern.  David Jack, thus far an ever present (he had even played against Walsall) missed his first match of the season with Parkin taking over at inside right.

But the changes had no effect on the team – Arsenal won 4-0, with Coleman getting three and Bastin the other.  It was Coleman’s first Arsenal hat trick, but the crowd there to appreciate it was only 13,401; close to Bolton’s average for the year.   Normally Arsenal attracted higher than average crowds, but the first blast of bad weather that affected the country throughout much of the month had hit, and kept the numbers down.

The following saturday Arsenal took on last season’s champions, Everton.  Everton had only won six of their last 17 – which was more mid-table than the championship form of last season, and they were in fact 10th.  But their home form was strong (they had won nine, drawn three and lost one) and so a 1-1 away draw was not considered a bad score for Arsenal, Coleman once again scoring.    Hapgood was still out, but Jack returned.   Both Aston Villa and Sheffield Wednesday won to keep up the pressure at the top.

On 4 February Aston Villa won one of their games in hand to creep closer to Arsenal, but while Arsenal had no midweek game on 9 February Villa then lost to Leicester.

9 February 1933 is also a date that has made it into non-football history for the year as it was the day of the famous “King and Country” debate at the University of Oxford.  The Oxford Union student debating society passed a resolution stating, “That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and country.”  With Oxford being one of the two universities that provided the nation’s parliamentarians of the future, it was seen as a massive turning point for the country.   Given that this was also the year in which HG Well published his dystopian masterpiece “The Shape of Things to Come” and the hunger marches and economic collapse were now seeming like issues that would never go away, there was a deep sense of foreboding, despair, and a need for radical reform.

On 11 February Arsenal finally returned to Highbury for a match, the first since 21 January, but could only draw with Blackpool 1-1.  Villa won, thus once putting the pressure on Arsenal, being three points behind but still with one game in hand, although Wednesday lost.  But the main talking point was about the match in Merseyside in which Liverpool beat Everton 7-4.

Certainly the Blackpool result was a disappointment for they had lost four and drawn one of their last six and were sitting 17th in the league.  Also their away form was won 2, drawn 2 lost 10.

11 February 1933 was also the last game for Horace Cope.  Despite joining for over £3000 he had fallen out of favour with Chapman and by the time the trophies began he was mostly a reserve player.  Hill who had taken over a right half from Male (now the permanent right back) which meant Parkin now came in for his third match of the season, with each game having been played in a different position (at 10, 8 and now 4).  Coleman once again scored, making in three games in a row.

18 February was FA cup date and only four league games were played in the first division, although one was particularly notable: Aston Villa lost 0-3 to Huddersfield at home.

The following monday, 20 February 1933 the Management Committee of the Football League finally gave Arsenal permission to wear shirts including “white collars and cuffs,” this being an era in which all kits had to be formally approved before being used.  

The next day 21 February 1933 the Daily Mirror reported the “sensation” of Arsenal’s new strip.  Although the club had changed its strip regularly in the early days this became a big news story because of Arsenal’s success in the last three years, and because since the introduction of the League control over club colours, very few changes of design had been introduced.

On  22 February 1933 Arsenal had the chance to wear their new strip, having just been granted permission so to do by the League, but chose to hold back for the next home game.  Thus this was the last game without the white sleeves, and was a 2-2 away draw with Derby.  Jack and Bastin scored. 

Derby had only won 2 of the last 12 having started off with only one defeat in the last 11, but still were sixth in the league.  There was one team change as Hapgood returned at left back.

This result meant that while Sheffield Wednesday and Aston Villa were faltering Arsenal had not managed to charge ahead, having just drawn three games in a row.  And that chance was now removed by a further turn for the worse in the weather, and on Saturday 25th February only five of the scheduled games could go ahead.  Grounds, already waterlogged had been battered by gales and heavy snowstorms on 23rd and 24th, and indeed the rain continued persistently until the 26th.  But this brought the thaw which set in around the 25th.

Arsenal’s game against Blackburn on the 25th was one of the few survivors.   Blackburn had won 3 of the last 4, had earlier lost 6-1 to Everton but also had a week after that defeat had beaten Blackpool 6-5.

Thus it was that on a mud field, on 25 February 1933, after three successive draws, and in front of what was for Arsenal a very small crowd (because of the persistent rain), and wearing their new kit for the very first time, Arsenal signalled their intent on winning the league by beating Blackburn 8-0.  

Jones, who had not played since early October, came back to his key position of right half, but Jack was out again, and Stockill replaced him for his third game of the season (having played the first two games of the campaign in August, at centre forward.  For the first time since the second game of the season, nine of the opening XI were back in the team.  Coleman 3, Hulme 2, Bastin 2, and Stockill got the goals.   It meant Coleman had scored eight in the last five games.

This result was not only Arsenal’s biggest home win of the season, it was the biggest home win in the league that year.  Since Arsenal had already clocked up what was to be the biggest away win of the season (1-7 at Wolverhampton on 5 November) and the highest score of the season (9-2 against Sheffield United on Christmas Eve), there was a certain recognition, even in the cynical London press, that this team was something rather special.

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
1.02.1933 Bolton Wanderers 15 A W4-0 1 41 13,401 13,203
4.02.1933 Everton 10 A D1-1 1 42 55,463 26,412
11.02.1933 Blackpool 17 H D1-1 1 43 35,180 41,958
22.02.1933 Derby County 6 A D2-2 1 44 23,148 15,047
25.02.1933 Blackburn Rovers 10 H W8-0 1 46 27,576 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.

And here’s how the league table looked at the end of the month.  Arsenal four points clear but both Villa and Wednesday with a game in hand.

As for Tottenham, February saw the start of the run that finally took them back to the first division.  Starting the month in fourth, a win over Bury on the first day of February, took them to second, and they stayed in the top two positions for the rest of the season.  That win was also the start of 15 without defeat, and in beating Oldham on 11 February Tottenham touched the top of the second division for the first time this season.

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




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