Arsenal in March 1933: top of the league but a month to forget.

By Tony Attwood

Arsenal ended February top of the league by four points, although having played a game more than their rivals.  But February had been a month of three draws and two wins and there were still worries about Villa and Wednesday catching up.  It was time for Arsenal to show their strengths.

So, a more regular return to winning ways was what was needed, and Arsenal might have thought that they had weathered the storm of February by playing out those draws and staying top of the league, but they hadn’t banked on what March could offer.  It was truly the worst month of the campaign.

It started badly on 4 March with Arsenal 0 Liverpool 1.  Liverpool were 13th with a modest away record of three wins out of 15.  In this match played their  first game with the white sleeved shirts based on an idea by Tom Webster – having delayed the appearance until now to get the kit made and open with it at home.  42,868 were present, bemused perhaps by the fact that in the previous match Arsenal had beaten Blackburn 8-0.  There was talk of Arsenal immediately ditching their white sleeved shirts because they were unlucky.

The team selection was hard to fault – David Jack returned replacing Stockill and so this was the current first team:


Male Roberts Hapgood

Jones John

Hulme Jack Coleman James Bastin

Meanwhile Wednesday beat Wolverhampton 2-0.  Villa didn’t play.  Things were looking a little tighter.

Then on 8 March there were two interesting developments.  Aston Villa lost away to Birmingham which eased their threat slightly, and also on 8 March The Islington Gazette reported that Charlie Jones had been replaced by Alex James as captain – something virtually every Arsenal history book since then has missed (thanks to Andrew Kelly for this snippet).

Next up, on 11 March, we had Leicester 1 Arsenal 1, James getting the goal.  Arsenal had beaten Leicester 8-2 earlier in the season and Leicester were bottom of the league with a home record of just four wins and seven draws.   To say Leicester played for a draw is putting it mildly, but they did and they got it.  It was the same team as for the last match, and it wasn’t at this moment working.

But although Villa beat WBA, Wednesday  lost to Newcastle leaving the table to look…

On 14 March 1933 Ray Bowden joined from Plymouth.  This I believe was the final signing by Herbert Chapman before his untimely death.  Ray went on to play for George Allison as the inside forward behind Ted Drake – who signed one year later to the day.

The next match on 18 March was Ray Bowden’s first game within days of his signing and it ended Arsenal 1 Wolverhampton 2; Bowden got the goal on his debut.  Jack was still not 100% fit, and indeed this latter part of the season saw him coming in and out of the team, and it was he who made way for Bowden.  

What made this result even worse however was the fact that Arsenal had beaten Wolverhampton away 7-1 earlier in the season.  Wolverhampton were also one from bottom with an away form of one win before this match.  Arsenal had now just played the bottom two clubs in quick succession, and lost one and drawn one.

At least both their rivals could still not take continuing advantage of Arsenal’s slippage.  Villa lost 6-2 to Blackpool but more menacingly Wednesday beat Leicester 4-1, leaving the table looking:

Now the Wednesday’s challenge was there for all to see.  Win the game in hand and they would be top.

And so we came to the last match of a dreadful month – and as it ultimately turned out the last match in a dreadful run.  On 25 March we had Newcastle 2 Arsenal 1.  Newcastle were fourth and the feeling was with Arsenal unable to beat the no hopers at the foot of the league, this match would be lost – and so it was.

Hill came in at number six to replace John, and indeed Hill kept his place in the side (although subsequently swapping to the right midfield) for the rest of the season.  Jack returned at inside right and Hulme got the goal.

Villa beat Everton 2-1, but the closest of the rivals, Sheffield Wednesday, who would have gone top with a win, lost to Portsmouth 3-0.  Arsenal were thus still one point clear but Wednesday still had a game in hand.  Villa had two games in hand and were three points behind.  If either of those teams won their game/s in hand Arsenal would drop out of top position.  If both won their games Arsenal would slip to third.

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
4.03.1933 Liverpool  13 H L 0-1 1 46  42,868 41,598
11.03.1933 Leicester City 22 A D 1-1 1 47  32,228 16,822
18.03.1933 Wolverhampton W 21 H L 1-2 1 47 44,711 41,958
25.03.1933 Newcastle United 4 A L 1-2 1 47 51,215  25,992
  • 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 a dismal month for the club.

As for Tottenham they continued their unbeaten run with two wins and two draws to remain second in the second division, and hopeful of promotion alongside the big boys.

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

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