Arsenal in the 30s: August/September 1933

by Tony Attwood

Arsenal finished the previous season as champions, taking Chapman’s trophies, and indeed Arsenal’s major trophies to three: two league titles and the FA Cup.  During this spell Arsenal had also been runners up twice in each of the League and the FA Cup.

For Arsenal fans this must have been a great release from what was going on around them, with the hunger marches, the economic chaos, and on 12 August the first speech by Winston Churchill warning of the dangers of German rearmament.

Back with football here is a reminder of how the table ended in 1932/3.

Stoke City and Tottenham were promoted to the first division while Bolton and Blackpool moved down.

Having won the league in 1931, Arsenal began their defence of the title with a defeat followed by three draws.  This time the first four games gave Arsenal two draws and two wins; not perfect but an improvement.

As noted previously, no pre-season games were recorded for this season, nor any other season around this time, and so the first match we have to note is the opening of the league programme on 26 August with eight league matches and two friendlies to be played before the end of September, including the first league game against Tottenham since they were relegated in 1928.

Although the results initially were slightly better than 1931 the opening did not look that auspicious, for as we’ll see below, after seven matches had been played Arsenal had sunk to a mid-table 12th.

Below is the lineup for the opening game of the season. I have added the number of games each player  played in the previous league season

Starting lineup:

Position Player Games 32/3
Goal Frank Moss 42
Right Back George Male 36
Left Back Eddie Hapgood 38
Centre half Herbie Roberts 37
Right half Frank Hill 27
Left half Bob John 37
Outside right Joe Hulme 40
Inside right David Jack 35
Centre forward Ernest Coleman 27
Inside left Alex James 41
Outside left Cliff Bastin 42
This shows what an extraordinarily experienced team this was – not just of men who had experience playing football but also men who played together for Arsenal and for Chapman.
But it was not to continue quite like that because by the end of September  seven other players had come into the team and this became one of those seasons where Arsenal rarely played the same team from one match to the next.
Arsenal started the season at home to Birmingham City who had been very much a mid table team last season.  The result was a 1-1 draw with David Jack getting the goal.

The first mid-week game was away to Sheffield Wednesday – last season’s challengers for the title who faded at the last and ended up third, but who really were hopeful of beating Arsenal to the championship, for much of the season.  Hulme and James dropped out and in came Birkett and Bowden.

Ralph James Evans Birkett had been signed from Torquay on 19 April, and at 20 years old was hoped to be a significant find for the future.  The Wednesday game was his first match coming in at outside right.  He went on to play 15 games this season in the league, scoring five goals, but only played four league appearances next season (although scoring twice) and moved to Middlesbrough on 15 March 1935.

Ray Bowden had been signed from Plymouth and had made his début against Wolverhampton in the previous March, going on to make a total of seven appearances in the 1932/3 season in the league.  However this year he was to make his real impact, playing 32 league games and scoring 13 goals.  His full story is here.

Arsenal beat Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 away with goals from Bastin and Jack, in front of a modest 23,186 crowd, a crowd 50% above Wednesday’s average for the season, but not in any way reflecting the power that these two represented the previous season in the league.

On 6 September Arsenal played their third game – home to WBA.   West Brom had come fourth last season, but in their openers this time had won one and lost one, and Arsenal seemed to have little difficulty brushing them aside, taking the lead in the first half and polishing matters off in the second, to end 3-1.

The line up changes however kept coming.   Coleman who had played the first two games at centre forward without scoring now moved to outside right, pushing Birkett out of the side.  Jack Lambert the amazing goalscoring hero of recent years came back in at centre forward, and of course scored.  Bastin got the other two – one a penalty.

Next on 9 September Arsenal were again at home this time to Manchester City who had missed relegation by four points the previous season.  After a defeat on the opening day they had notched up two wins and a draw.  The team remained the same (including Lambert) and Coleman got the goal in a 1-1 draw.

But it was not to be a renaissance for Jack Lambert for although he kept his place for his third match in a row for the game on against WBA, the match on 13 September 1933 turned out to be the last appearance for this great servant of the club.  The following month he was transferred to Fulham having played 143 league games and scored an amazing 98 league goals plus 11 in 16 Cup games, and still some of the crowd booed him.

Sadly this farewell was not one to be remembered – a 0-1 away defeat to West Brom.  And indeed it was something of a surprise, as WBA had thus far had three defeats and just one win.  It was one of those games that Arsenal really should have won against a team sitting 21st in the table.

Next, on 16 September we had the first Tottenham Arsenal game since Tottenham’s relegation in 1928.   Arsenal had been playing Tottenham off and on since 1887, and indeed played them 25 times before the teams first met in the League in December 1909.

With Tottenham having been in the second division the run of games had of course come to an end but the fact that there was a crowd at Tottenham of 56,612 shows that the rivalry had not been diminished.

The previous run of league games in the 1920s had looked like this:

Date Game Result
15 Jan 1921 Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal 2-1
22 Jan 1921 Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur 3-2
15 Apr 1922 Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal 2-0
22 Apr 1922 Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur 1-0
23 Sep 1922 Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal 1-2
30 Sep 1922 Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur 0-2
17 Nov 1923 Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur 1-1
24 Nov 1923 Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal 3-0
25 Oct 1924 Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur 1-0
28 Feb 1925 Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal 2-0
29 Aug 1925 Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur 0-1
02 Jan 1926 Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal 1-1
18 Dec 1926 Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur 2-4
07 May 1927 Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal 0-4
02 Jan 1928 Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur 1-1
07 Apr 1928 Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal 2-0

The Arsenal victories are in red – as you can see we did not come off best in these encounters in the 1920s.

Tottenham had made a more than decent start to their return to the first division thus far and in fact by the time they came to play Arsenal on 16 September they were top of the league the table looking like this…

For this game Coleman dropped out of his outside right slot and Parkin was tried, Bowden played centre forward, and got  the goal.

As if the schedule were not heavy enough already, Arsenal now added two extra fixtures – friendlies against Rangers.  This was the start of a long series of friendlies between the two clubs, at a time when Rangers held a small number of shares in Arsenal FC.  The origins and full details of the series of matches are shown here.

The line up for the game was selected from the first teamers who had been in and out of the team thus far – but with one addition.  Leslie Compton was given another chance at right back.  It was his only first team appearance of the season, but it showed Chapman was still thinking about him.

Rangers had only lost one game in nine in the Scottish League thus far but were actually in second place in the league, behind Motherwell, who had had a perfect start, winning every single league game to date.  The result was a 2-0 win to Rangers.

Leaving aside that friendly the results in the league meant that Arsenal had just gone three without a win and on 23 September it got worse as Arsenal played Everton away on 23 September with the result Everton 3 Arsenal 1.    For once the team was the same for two league games running – but that didn’t help.  Bowden again scored but the fact was that this was not the Everton team who had won the league two seasons before.  They were currently 14th in the league.

The return friendly against Rangers came on 27 September – and again Arsenal lost 1-3.  Although not in the league team, Lambert played at centre forward and scored the Arsenal goal.

It is said that on 30 September 1933 the Irish international Jimmy Dunne signed from Sheffield Utd for Arsenal and immediately played on the same day as centre forward in the 6-0 win over Middlesbrough who were already looking uncomfortable at the foot of the table.  He went on to score nine goals in 21 games that season.

Birkett got two Jack two, Bastin and Bowden the others in a team that included Sidey for his first game of the season and Bowden now playing at inside right.

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
26.08.1933 Birmingham City home D1-1 11 1 44,662 40,750
02.09.1933 Sheffield Wednesday 9 away W2-1 7 3 23,186 16,020
06.09.1933 West Bromwich Albion 15 home W3-1 3 5 34,668 40,750
09.09.1933 Manchester City 5 home D1-1 3 6 43,412 40,750
13.09.1933 West Bromwich Albion 21 away L0-1 4 6 29,429 20,102
16.09.1933 Tottenham Hotspur 1 away D1-1 6 7 56,612 33,730
20.09.1933 Rangers away L0-2 37,000
23.09.1933 Everton 14 away L1-3 12 7 53,792 27,165
27.09.1933 Rangers home L1-3 45,000 40,750
30.09.1933 Middlesbrough 22 home W6-0 6 9 28,293 40,750
  • 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.

At the end of the month the table had an unreal look about it

The numbers in brackets after the team name shows the position the clubs had at the end of the previous season.  We can see that the clubs that came second, fourth, fifth, seventh, eighth, and tenth, were now not in the top ten.  To quote Gilbert and Sullivan it was a topsy turvy world.

Here’s the series so far…


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