Arsenal in the 30s: March 1934. Chapman’s two teams fight for the title

By Tony Attwood

As the football world got used to the fact that Herbert Chapman really wasn’t leading Arsenal any more, so a certain level of reflection built up on what was happening to the club following his tragically early passing.

Including the last game in December (Chapman’s final match) Arsenal had played five games without a win (losing three), but had followed that with three successive wins.  This had left the table at the end of February reading…

The club, having lost their prized first position in the table, had now regained it.  Tottenham, for all the prestige of beating Arsenal at Highbury in the aftermath of Chapman’s death had sunk to six points behind the leaders, having played one game more.   Huddersfield and Derby were the only creditable challengers, and Derby, by the start of March, had only won two of the last seven.

Huddersfield however had picked up and won four of the last seven.   Tottenham and Arsenal had each won three of the last seven, showing that under present form, no one was actually grabbing the league by the throat.

The month of March in footballing terms began with a home FA Cup quarter final on the 3rd, against Aston Villa.   Villa, who had challenged Arsenal so strongly at the start of the decade were now a shadow of their former selves, and were lying 16th in the league, with a poor away record revealing just three league wins and nine defeats in the season.

Continuing the theme of “7s” they had won two of their last seven league games.  But worse, in fact they had actually won just two of the last ten.  Shaw picked the same team as had beaten Derby in the 5th round of the Cup, giving Arsenal a forward line of Beasley, Jack, Dunne, Dougal and Bastin. However none of this counted for anything as on this day Villa beat Arsenal 1-2 and Arsenal were out of the Cup.  Maybe the message of Arsenal’s doomed attempted double season in which they were runners up in both Cup and League had had a psychological effect.  They wanted to win the League for the memory of Chapman and to honour the club’s longest serving employee of all time, Joe Shaw.

On the same day in the league Huddersfield beat Derby 2-0 and Tottenham beat Everton 3-0 to leave the table top four reading

On Thursday 8 March there was just one first division game in the League: Leicester City v Arsenal.  It was brought forward because Leicester were in the Cup semi-final, and without moving this match forward Leicester’s programme for the rest of the month was going to become rather congested.

That Arsenal agreed to the move would have perhaps been influenced by the fact that Leicester were now lying 15th, and would clearly see the FA Cup as a much more important event in their March calender.

The rules forbade Leicester from putting out a reserve team, but even so, an Arsenal victory was anticipated.  At the very least there should be a draw.   What was not anticipated was a scoreline of Leicester City 4 Arsenal 1.

The explanation however was simple: Frank Moss was injured during the course of the game and of course with no substitutes available, Arsenal struggled.  The game also saw the arrival in the first team of George Cox as centre forward.

George was the son of a successful former Sussex cricketer, also called George, and although his career in Arsenal’s first team looks disastrous as a centre forward (he played seven times but scored just once) the reason for his inclusion is not hard to fathom.

He had joined as an amateur in November 1933 and signed professional in December and immediately he started scoring.  In fact in 75 reserve team games he scored 53 times.  So with Lambert gone, Coleman increasingly ineffective and Dunne injured, Cox was called up.

He was not a success, unlike his work as a cricketer where in a career spanning 20 years he made 22,949 runs in first class games,  including 50 centuries, with a highest score of 234.    But in first division football he was not a success and he was transferred to Fulham for £150 in May 1936 and after that appeared for Luton Town.  He later became a cricket coach for Sussex retiring in 1964.

Against Leicester Bowden got the Arsenal goal – making it nine consecutive goals scored by a player whose surname started with B.

Two days later Arsenal faced Aston Villa again, with Villa now lying 18th in the league.  Arsenal had just had two successive defeats, and the notion of the club having turned the corner and being ready to fight to retain their League crown to honour Chapman’s memory was looking tenuous.

But although forgotten these days, 10 March 1934 should be seen as something of a key date in Arsenal’s history.  For the club not only secured the result Arsenal 3 Aston Villa 2,  Shaw’s team went on their second unbeaten run – this lasting seven games of six wins and one draw.

With Frank Moss injured Alex Wilson once more stepped up as goalkeeper.  Bowden was replaced by Coleman and Parkin got his second start as right half.  Cox continued at centre forward but again failed to score, Jack, Roberts and Hulme getting the goals.

Elsewhere the results affecting the top of the league read:

  • Derby County 0 Portsmouth 1
  • Middlesbrough 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1
  • West Bromwich Albion 2 Huddersfield Town 3

leaving the top of the table reading

The difference between the goal averages of 0.04 goals meant that there was only one goal in it.  If at this point Arsenal had conceded only 34 rather than 35 thus far, they would have been top.  It was that close.

But at this point, matters off the pitch took the attention as on 14 March 1934, Arsenal resolved their goalscoring problem as Ted Drake signed for Arsenal from Southampton for £6500.  

Ted Drake had started at Winchester City, and then gone on to Southampton, playing for them for the first time on 14 November 1931.  Herbert Chapman quickly spotted him, but at first could not convince him to move.   However discussions were clearly advanced at the moment of Chapman’s passing and it appears that George Allison saw the deal through.   Ted Drake had played 74 times for Southampton and scored 48 goals.

The following Saturday (17th) Arsenal had no game, having already played Leicester – who incidentally failed to benefit from moving the Arsenal game forwards as they lost their semi-final 4-1 to Portsmouth.   Tottenham beat West Brom 2-1 on the same day.

Ted Drake thus had to wait until 24 March to play his first game for Arsenal, against Wolverhampton now sitting 15th in the table.   Although they had just won two of the last three games, prior to that they had gone eight without a win, and across the whole season they had a miserable away record of one win, six draws and nine defeats.  It was therefore no surprise to see Arsenal 2-0 up at half time.  The final score of 3-2 makes it look closer than it actually was.

Drake actually opened the scoring, James and Bastin getting the other two.  With Moss back in goal and Jones back at right half, the team had a much more settled look.   Drake looked set for the future and indeed went on to play 167 league games for Arsenal, scoring 124 goals along the way – including a certain away game against Aston Villa where he scored all seven.

Elsewhere the results read

  • Derby County 1 Chelsea 0
  • Newcastle United 1 Tottenham Hotspur  3
  • Sheffield Wednesday 1 Huddersfield Town 2

and perhaps we should also add (although it didn’t affect the top of the table)

  • West Bromwich Albion 6 Sunderland 5

The table now looked like this:

The goal difference had now edged up to 0.05 goals, and most notably the recent record of the top two was identical.  In the past six games in the league each had won five and lost one.

Away from the football the following Monday there was introduced into the UK a law that ultimately would have an impact on about three quarters of the adult population, for driving tests became compulsory for all new drivers from 26 March.   Those who had a driving licence before that date (having obtained one without taking a test) were allowed to continue driving and were not required to take the new test.

Indeed it was quite a momentous week for parliament for the following day the Betting and Lotteries Act was passed, prohibiting the sale of lottery tickets.   Until this moment, running unlicensed lotteries in the UK was prohibited but selling lottery tickets for lotteries outside the UK was not.   Because there were no legal UK lotteries the Irish Free State Hospitals Sweepstake had become quite a popular gambling event, and the act was primarily set up to stop the sale of its tickets in the UK.  Gambling on football pools was unaffected – as these were considered not to be games of chance, but instead were thought to be competitions of skill – which were not included in the legislation.

Easter fell at the end of March and so on Good Friday, 30th March, Arsenal played Derby County and the match attracted  Arsenal’s top crowd for the season: 69,070.  After six games without a win Derby had beaten Chelsea 1-0 the previous weekend, and despite their poor recent form were still considered a danger to Arsenal. 

Moss was clearly not properly recovered from his injury and dropped out again, with Wilson getting a second game.  Hulme and Jack were replaced by Beasley and Bowden.

Alex James scored the only goal and the delight in keeping Derby in their place was heightened when the news came in that Huddersfield had only drawn 2-2 with Liverpool.  Tottenham had a goalless draw with Stoke.

This result put Arsenal top of the league, but of course that could all be reversed if the games on Easter Saturday went the wrong way.

Arsenal had Stoke City away – with Stoke being in 13th place, and a decent enough home record of 9 wins, 4 draws and 4 defeats.   Stoke had had a run of six successive victories but the last two games had been a defeat to Man City and the draw with Tottenham noted above.

There was yet more shuffling of the team – the last time Arsenal had played the same XI for two successive matches was on 20 and 31 January.

This time, the result was a 1-1 draw.  Wilson continued in goal, John was replaced by Hill, Bowden by Jack.   The team was thus never fully settled, but the same regulars kept on popping up (although often in new positions).

Huddersfield (who had just won six, drawn one, lost one of the last eight) however went one better and beat Manchester City 1-0, although Derby lost 4-2 away to Liverpool.  Tottenham beat Leeds 5-1 but the championship was now considered very much a two horse race.

The table, at the conclusion of a most eventful month read:

Arsenal were now once more equal on points with Huddersfield and 0.03 goals behind.  There was in effect still just one goal in it.  All that was needed was for Ted Drake to get going.

Here is the regular table summarising the month’s games.

Date Opponent Op Pos H/A Result Pos Pts Crowd AC
03.03.1934 Aston Villa FAC 16 H L1-2  —  67,366  40,750
08.03.1934 Leicester City 15 A L1-4 2 41  23,976  18,349
10.03.1934 Aston Villa 18 H W3-2 2 43 41,169  40,750
24.03.1934 Wolverhampton 15 H W3-2 2 45 41,143  40,750
30.03.1934 Derby County  3 H W1-0 1 47 69,070  40,750
31.03.1934 Stoke City  13 A D1-1 2 48 43,163  23,087
  • 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.

The current series being researched and published is Arsenal in the 1930s and we’ve got this far…




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