1933/34 League players, and how the goals declined but the crowds went up.

 By Tony Attwood

Looking at 1933/34 most commentators become understandably fixated by two issues – the sudden and unexpected death of Herbert Chapman, and the fact that Arsenal won the league for the third time – and the second time running.

But there were many other issues – not least the sudden decline in the number of goals scored in the First Division.

I’ll deal initially with the players, working in the same way as previously showing the list of the players who played for Arsenal in the League this season.  I have pulled together all the players who played between 1929/30 and 1932/3 in a previous article.

So first off, here are the 1933/4 players who played at least one league game.  Once again I am adding links to such articles as exist on the site.  I will in due course go back and add articles for the players missing.

Player Position Games Goals
Cliff Bastin Outside Left 38 13
Pat Beasley Wing half 23 10
Ralph Birkett Outside right 15 5
Ray Bowden Inside right 32 13
Ernest Coleman Inside forward 12 1
George Cox Centre forward 2
Peter Dougall Inside left 5
Ted Drake (also here) Centre forward 10 7
Jimmy Dunne Centre forward 21 9
Eddie Hapgood (and here) Left back 40
Alfred Edward Haynes Half back 1
Frank Hill Wing half 25
Joe Hulme Outside right 8 5
David Jack Inside forward 14 5
Alex James Inside left 22 3
Bob John Half Back 31 1
Charles Jones Outside left 29
Jack Lambert Centre forward 3 1
George Male Full back 42
Frank Moss Goalkeeper 37
Raymond Parkin Inside forward 5
Herbie Roberts Centre half 30 1
Norman William Sidey Centre half 12
Alex Wilson Goalkeeper 5

Breaking down this list a little we can see that 24 players were used.  The breakdown by the number of games goes like this:

  • 9 or fewer games: 7 players.
  • 10 to 19 games: 5 players
  • 20 to 29 games: 5 players
  • 30 to 39 games: 5 players
  • 40 to 42 games: 2 players

The top scorers were Bowden and Bastin with 13, and Beasley with 10.

This was a huge decline in the number of goals scored, and we can see at once that this was nothing like the 1930/31 season for which the final table was

Pos Team P W D L F A GAv Pts
1 Arsenal 42 28 10 4 127 59 2.153 66
2 Aston Villa 42 25 9 8 128 78 1.641 59
3 Sheffield Wednesday 42 22 8 12 102 75 1.360 52
4 Portsmouth 42 18 13 11 84 67 1.254 49
5 Huddersfield Town 42 18 12 12 81 65 1.246 48

By comparison here is the final table for 1933/4

The key thing we notice here is the change in the number of goals.  In this short space of time the number of goals by the top teams had declined dramatically.  Whereas in 1930/31 the top three teams had between them scored 357 goals, in 1933/4 the top three had scored just 244 – a decline of around one third.

The goalscoring comparison

But comparing goalscoring across the years is a slightly difficult affair because obviously on some occasions we can have teams that just have exceptional forward lines, and other years when defences appear to take control.   But it is interesting that in an sport where the authorities have been notoriously reluctant to change the rules the Football League authorities felt that a crisis had been reached in 1925, which is why they decided to change the offside rule to make goalscoring easier.

This concern was caused not just by a perceived decline in goals, but also a decline in the number of people going to first division football matches, and the belief that the two were linked.

Here are the details of the years that led to that decision.  Crowd figures other than Arsenal’s are taken from European Football Statistics.

Season Average Div 1 crowd Winner’s goals 2nd team goals
1912/13 18,885 86 86
1913/14 21,979 78 65
1914/15 13,596 76 70
1919/20 24,036 104 65
1920/21 29,252 79 70
1921/22 27,003 63 65
1922/23 23,213 70 72
1923/24 22,654 60 61
1924/25 21,609 69 58

What we can see is that there was indeed a general decline in the goals scored by the teams coming first and second in the first division.  1919/20, the first year after the first world war, was an exception – but an exception created by one particular club – West Bromwich Albion.  Indeed the whole WBA saga for that year would be worth a book on its own as they rose from mid-table and a wholly average performance in the final year before the war to these exceptional heights in 1919/20, and then immediately back down to a mid-table position again in 1920/21.

As for the crowds these had generally been rising until 1914/15 – a season that the League had decided to continue playing, despite the outbreak of the first world war in July 1914.

The first two years of League football after the war saw the crowds leap to previously unimagined levels, but then as the table shows, the crowds started to decline until by 1924/25 they were back at the levels of 1913/14.  There was a fear that the decline would now continue and that League football had had its day.

This was why the offside rule was changed: simply to create more goals.   Here’s what happened.  (* = Arsenal).

Season Average Div 1 crowd Winner’s goals 2nd team goals
1925/6 22,597 92 87*
1926/7 22,881 96 58
1927/8 22,885 102 66
1928/9 22,712 86 96
1929/30 22,647 105 90
1930/1 20,462 127* 128
1931/2 21,529 116 90*
1932/3 20,175 118* 61
1933/4 22,596 75* 90

What we can see is that crowds did start to go up again from 1925/6 onwards, although they slipped back a little after 1929/30.   It is hard to draw exact conclusions but it could be argued that although the increase in crowds was small, it did reverse a drop in the average 1st division crowd of around 7500 across the previous five years.

Certainly the change in the off side rule in 1925 did increase the number of goals scored considerably – but the notion that it was lots of goals that drew people to matches was always nothing more than an assumption.  It could also have been the economic situation of the country, the weather, how well the local team was doing, the ease of access and the facilities available to the crowd.   As we have seen in other articles, the crowd at Woolwich Arsenal FC was affected by the imposition of compulsory saturday afternoon working in times of war, and the reduction of the workforce in times of peace and austerity.  Football did not stand in splendid isolation from the realities of life.

The economic climate from around 1930 onwards was awful, and I have mentioned the hunger marches etc several times in my commentaries thus far.  Indeed the situation was especially bad in the industrial north, where most clubs were based and undoubtedly many men simply didn’t have the money to go to a match.

As for the facilities of the grounds of other clubs, I must await comments from others on this for my knowledge is primarily limited to Arsenal, but I can say in that regard that Arsenal’s crowds increased greatly upon the move to Highbury, and then again with the arrival of Herbert Chapman – which coincided with the change of the offside rule.  The improvement of facilities followed more slowly, and started to take place in the 1930s, although that was primarily with the building of the stands which provided seats for the more well-to-do supporters.  The average man on the terraces was still left out in the rain.

As for the goals, the sudden drop in the number of goals Arsenal scored in winning the league was undoubtedly due in part to the difficulty Chapman had in finding an immediately replacement for his top scorers of the previous seasons.  Even the briefest of glances at the league goalscoring records shows the problem

Season Top scorer Goals Second scorer Goals Third scorer Goals
1930/31 Lambert 38 Jack 31 Bastin 28
1931/32 Lambert 22 Jack 21 Bastin 15
1932/33 Bastin 33 Coleman 24 Hulme 20
1933/34 Bastin 13 Bowden 13 Dunne 10
1934/35 Drake 42 Bastin 20 Bowden 14

Arsenal were dependent on big-scorers, and with Bastin forced into an inside forward role for part of the season, his numbers naturally went down while Arsenal used five different players at centre forward to try and solve their problem.

However when Ted Drake signed near the end of the 1933/34 season, Arsenal returned to form and in 1934/5 scored 115 goals.

So having the right centre forward meant everything to Arsenal.  But there was another issue, for football has always suffered from the fact that, with the exception of the use of goal average to separate clubs on identical points, scoring multiple goals has limited effect.   Rather obviously, in the period we are concerned with here, winning 1-0 brought the same advancement up the league table as winning 8-0: two points.   On the other hand winning 1-0 brought in double the number of points as were secured by a 1-1 draw.

In effect there was often more to be gained overall by locking out the opposition and nicking one goal, than having a rampant attack.  The fault was in the very basic concept of how to measure who won the league that was agreed in 1888 – and indeed so contentious was it that although the League kicked off for the first time on 8 September 1888, it was not until a League meeting on 21 November that year that the notion of one point for a draw and two for a win was finally agreed and the first league table in the modern style was drawn up.

But to return to our main theme, Arsenal had won the league in 1933/4 with the smallest number of goals scored since the offside rule changed in 1925.  Also they won with the lowest number of goals conceded.

It might be tempting to suggest that because Joe Shaw was a full back in his long playing career with Arsenal he put more emphasis on defence in the latter part of the season, but the reality was that throughout the whole season Arsenal simply didn’t have a top scorer (remembering that even Ted Drake took a while to get going – although he did ultimately score seven goals in 10 league games by the end of the season), and the team was reshuffled to meet the resources that were available.

Overall in 1933/34 in the league Arsenal scored six once, and four once, otherwise the fans had to make do with three goals or fewer per game in the league.

As for the crowds, in 1929/30 Arsenal had the largest average crowd of any team in the country, and it stayed that way through most of the following decade

 Season Best av crowd Av crowd Av crowd 1st division
1928/29 Manchester City 31.715 22.712
1929/30 Arsenal 35.537 22.647
1930/31 Arsenal 37.106 20.462
1931/32 Arsenal 40.547 21.529
1932/33 Arsenal 41.958 20.175
1933/34 Arsenal 40.750 22.596

At the heart of the problem are two facts: no one quite knew what drew working class men to football matches, and football was unpredictable.   Chapman would, of course, have signed Drake earlier if he could have persuaded him to come to London.  He would have signed someone else if he could have found such a player.  Bastin would not have been used in a more withdrawn inside forward role if there had been someone else who could play there.

But with Drake now in the team, there was a chance that the whole notion that it was goals beyond everything else that people came to see, could be tested.

Next up: Arsenal in the summer of 1934.

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



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