Arsenal in the 30s – October 1933: a return to progress

By Tony Attwood

1933 was a very difficult time to live through with the economy in such a desperate state, and warnings growing about German military re-birth.  And yet there were signs of progress on other fronts, not least by the bringing into law the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act.

In essence this stated that if any person who had attained the age of sixteen years and has responsibility for any child or young person under that age, and then wilfully ill-treated or neglected the child in any way, that person shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be liable to punishment up to 10 years in prison.

The full recognition in law of the offence of neglecting or harming a child was a significant step forwards.

Away from the law, and back with the football, I noted that at the end of September 1933 the league table had an unreal look about it.  The figure in brackets after each club’s name shows where that club finished the season before, and we can see that there were a number of clubs that had changed position significantly.

Arsenal began the month with an away trip to Blackburn.  Having won just one of the last five Arsenal needed some solid results, and a good win over Blackburn, who were sitting on the same number of points as Arsenal in 8th, would have been a most positive sign.  But it was just a draw – 2-2 – with Bastin and Bowden scoring.

This game on 7 October 1933 was the final match for Alf Haynes.  He moved to Crystal Palace two months later, where he played for three seasons before suffering a very serious injury.  He had played 31 games for the first team.

But the key problem was the ever changing side – Haynes, who came in at the end of the season as an extraordinarily effective centre forward (one of eight players to hold that position during the season) played at centre half.   For Arsenal it was only league game number nine and yet only four players (Moss, Male, Hapgood and Bastin) had played in all of the games.

However luck was with Arsenal as only one of the five teams above Arsenal avoided defeat on that day – Tottenham who beat Sunderland 3-1.  Thus despite only getting a draw Arsenal managed to move up to third.  Tottenham surely must have thought they were dreaming for they were now top of the league, one point above Huddersfield and two above Arsenal, and with a far better goal average than either of their rivals.

On 14 October Arsenal returned to Highbury to play a Newcastle side currently languishing in 19th, with no wins away from home so far and just four goals scored in the four away games they played.

But still it was a patchwork Arsenal side.  This time Hapgood dropped out through injury with John moving to left back.  With Bastin also absent hurt, it meant now that only two players had gone through all 10 of the opening league games.  Sidey returned to centre half and Jack moved to outside left.

Arsenal won 3-0 but at a further price.  Jack sustained a long term injury and would not play again until 24 February when Arsenal played Newcastle for the second time.  Birkett and Bowden got the goals, with the third being an own goal from Fairhurst.

Tottenham had a tough looking fixture against Portsmouth – but won 0-1, leaving the table now looking like this.

The big difference between the teams at this point was the form.  Tottenham had won four, drawn one and lost one of their last six.  Arsenal had won two, drawn two and lost two.  Huddersfield had won three, drawn one and lost two.  Arsenal were thus the team having the poorest of the runs and who needed to pick up points quickly.

Meanwhile the London press were full of the story of the upturn in London football.  Professional football, for so long under the domination of the northern teams, was now seen to be undergoing a revolution.

The list of title winners at this time confirmed the prejudice that London teams were “too soft” to win the league – at least very often.   Looking at the teams who had been dominant in League football since the first world war, the list shows that Everton, Sheffield Wednesday, Liverpool and Newcastle had now each won the title four times in their history, and Huddersfield three times.   As for the rest, other teams with pre-war success who had now faded away were also either Midlands or northern teams.  Villa had won the league six times pre-war, Sunderland five times, while Blackburn and Man U had each won it twice.

So pre-war or post war it was all about the north, with just Villa popping up to represent the midlands.  But Arsenal had now won the league twice, and here we had Tottenham and Arsenal first and second in the first division.   True, Sunderland and Villa were only a point behind, and true London’s other first division representative (Chelsea) were currently occupying a relegation slot, but these were details that would not be allowed to get in the way of an emotional outpouring by the London media.  Besides London had four teams in the second division, and West Ham were currently fifth.  Where Tottenham had gone the year before, now WHU could follow…

The north / south shift of power was given further publicity on 18 October when Everton played Arsenal for the charity shield at Goodison.  Arsenal’s 0-3 victory not only gave them a spot more silverware, but also seemed to emphasise the changing fortunes of the north and south.  Everton had won the league in 1928 and 1932 – the latter being the year they edged Arsenal into second place with a brilliant run of results noted in earlier editions of this series of articles.  They were currently 18th in the league, and although they recovered from this during the season they had moved into mid-table decline and by 1935/6 were seen to be fighting relegation rather than fighting for the title.

Birkett (2) and Bowden got the goals with Hill taking over the number 11 shirt.  Norman Sidey continued his run at centre half.

The win over lowly placed Newcastle and the winning of the Charity Shield gave Arsenal greater confidence to take on 12th placed Leicester at Highbury in  the next game.  Leicester had just lost 1-5 away to Huddersfield and after their brief spell at the top of the league after the third match, had been in decline.

Arsenal won 2-0 with Dunne getting both goals in a line up that although quite different from that at the start of the season was at least beginning to look a little more settled.  The team for this game was


Male Sidey Hapgood

Jones John

Birkett Bowden Dunne James Bastin

This left one game for October – Aston Villa away on 28 October.  It will be recalled that both in 1931 and 1933 Villa had given Arsenal a strong challenge for the title, each year with Arsenal winning the trophy and Villa coming second.  Villa were now 16th, but they had won four of their six home games.

But once again Chapman’s ability to spot a player was proven to be majestic as Dunne scored two and Bastin the other in a 3-2 win.  Having failed to score in his first three outings the new number nine had just got four goals in two.

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
7.10.1933 Blackburn Rovers 8 Away D2-2 3 10 31,636  14,005
14.10.1933 Newcastle United 19 Home W3-0 2 12 32,821  40,750
18.10.1933 Everton 18 Away W3-0 CS 30,000  27,165
21.10.1933 Leicester City 12 Home W2-0 2 14 44,014 40,750
28.10.1933 Aston Villa 16 Away W3-2 2 16 43,323  30,557
  • 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.

Tottenham meanwhile had had an extraordinary run, with four wins and one draw in the last five games to maintain their position at the top.

At the end of the month the table still had an unreal look about it as it included not only Tottenham but also Wolverhampton who last season had finished just one above the relegation places.

But in case anyone should forget, November in the mud, and then December with its  insane list of games (this year’s Christmas schedule including three matches in four days) tended to sort out wheat and chaff.   And for anyone looking ahead it became apparent that on Christmas/Boxing Day Tottenham were to play third placed Huddersfield home and away while Arsenal played the less daunting Leeds.

Of course there was to be an event of much greater significance in January – but of that everyone was as yet blissfully unaware.

Here’s the series so far…


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