Arsenal in the summer 1934: Allison takes over and changes the team

By Tony Attwood

After the trauma of Chapman’s passing and the excitement of winning the league Arsenal played no end-of-season friendlies – and in keeping with the common approach at this time, had no pre-season games fixed up.

In his autobiography George Allison comments that he had known Herbert Chapman for 25 years at the time of his death, which suggests the two were in fact quite close even before Chapman came to Arsenal in 1925.

He adds that, “among the last words Herbert Chapman spoke to me were these: ‘The team’s played out.  Mr Allison, we must rebuild…’.”   And if we look at the summer’s activity we can see that the new manager took the words of his departed colleague very seriously for this was a summer of some activity in the transfer market.

Allison also says that from the start he played the role of amateur psychologist, and “pepped the boys up with wonder tablets supplied by a famous Harley Street man” – which is interesting because Chapman’s predecessor, the awful Leslie Knighton, boasted in his autobiography (published at the same moment as Allison’s) that he had done the same thing.   The difference was that Knighton’s tablets were bought by his own admission from a backstreet drug dealer and had severe physical effects, while Allison’s “could be bought from any chemist for a matter of a few pence, dressed up in Harley Street props.”

On 8 May 1934 Charlie Jones left Arsenal to become Notts County manager.  He had played 176 games for Arsenal and won three league titles and the FA Cup, but as a manager he was not a success as the club finished bottom of division 2 in his first season, and he was sacked in December 1935.

Then on 16 May 1934: Jack Crayston joined from Bradford PA for £5250 with George Allison (still just acting as a director, not as manager) saying he was impressed by his sober lifestyle. He was an immediate success, scoring in his first league appearance and winning the league in his first season.

In his book tells the story that many people advised him against signing Crayston because he had “brittle bones”.  Crayston’s club denied the story and demanded a £5000 fee.  Allison reports that he negotiated a deal in which Arsenal paid £4000, plus £250 after the first league game Crayston played, then £50 a match for each of the next ten league games, with the same amount being paid for the next ten league or Cup games.

Allison wrote, “Arsenal paid £5250 – more than was originally asked – for one of the greatest half backs who ever gained an England cap and one of the grandest fellows I ever met in football.”

The brittle bone theory was thus quite untrue, and Crayston played on until injured during the war and Allison states that after the Crayston was in charge of the reserves – which would have presumably been while Joe Shaw was managing Chelsea.

Next on 28 May 1934 George Allison was appointed the manager of Arsenal.  The announcement was made while Allison was in Ireland working for the Irish Hospital Sweepstake (which as was pointed out earlier could no longer be sold openly in Britain), which made the appointment one that had journalists in a spin, since the man himself was not available for comment.

Shaw immediately (and seemingly happily) returned to his duties with the reserves at the end of his triumphal season, and Allison took on the role.

The second big transfer of the summer came on 2 June 1934 as Wilf Copping joined Arsenal from Leeds United for whom he had played 162 games.  He stayed at Arsenal until 1939 whereupon he returned to Leeds.   

Then on 16 June 1934 in an interesting move Margate became Arsenal’s feeder club. 

At this time the school leaving age was 14, but the youngest a man could be signed as a full time pro was 17. This meant that clubs either had to take youngsters onto the groundstaff (something many of the lads didn’t fancy) or risk losing them to other jobs. The nursery club was an ideal arena in which the youngster could train as an amateur and have his development monitored while working elsewhere.

Quite why Arsenal chose Margate is not known. It might have been a nod in the direction of Arsenal’s 19th century origins in Kent, although we might also note that it was also the place where manager George Allison’s daughter attended a local school.  Certainly Allison’s autobiography gives the impression constantly that he was at the very heart of influencing Arsenal from way before the time he became manager (and we know he was part of the club from 1910 onwards) so this is possible.

As Major Sir Samuel Hill-Wood was quoted as saying in the Isle of Thanet Gazette at the time of the announcement, “In the past we have suffered very much because we have been unable to take likely boys of eighteen or nineteen found by our scouts. We could not play them. Perhaps unfortunately our second team is at the head of the London Combination year after year, and we dare not experiment with the team. It would only offend players hoping to get their Combination medal. What we wanted was some club willing and good enough to teach our young players for us. We can and do find lots of promising young boys but they must have somewhere to play and be taught.”

Arsenal provided the manager and chief scout for the club and paid 60% of the wages. Margate Town Council meanwhile spent significant funds improving the ground, (undoubtedly seeing the publicity as a way of promoting Margate as a holiday and day trip resort).

Reg Lewis is perhaps the most famous player to have made his name there, while Mal Griffiths and Horace Cumner also came through the ranks and later played for their countries. Eddie Hapgood was among many who played for Margate while recovering from injury.

However after Ashford played Clapton Orient in the FA Cup in 1934/5 season protests about match fixing were made and the FA eventually banned linked clubs from entering the Cup from 1937 onwards.

This decision caused a major problem for Margate. On the pitch they were a huge success winning almost every competition they entered. They even reached the third round of the FA Cup one year before losing to first division Blackpool. But in terms of league games they always lost money. In fact a good Cup run was Margate’s only hope of financial survival and without it, the club was doomed.

True, for the friendly against Boulogne in January 1938 Margate took 800 supporters with them. But the average home crowd about that time was 2,000, and that just wasn’t enough through the turnstile each week for the run of the mill matches.

When the Cup ban came into being the partnership ended and Arsenal entered their own A team in the Southern League, playing at Enfield.

Some nursery clubs did continue into the 1950s although most league clubs subsequently followed the Arsenal model of creating an “A” and “B” team as a home for their up and coming talent.

The final point of note before the new season began came on 30 July 1934 with the death of Lt Colonel Sir Henry Norris – the man who rescued Arsenal in 1910, built Highbury in 1913, and hired Herbert Chapman in 1925.  Contrary to his current reputation he was very generous to the club’s staff, and always fought for Arsenal against vested interest elsewhere.  He had been deposed on the board however after losing an ill-judged legal case against the Daily Mail, but had remained a shareholder in the club.   Sir Henry was buried in the cemetery at East Sheen on 2 August.

There were no more transfers and with the new manager now firmly in place everyone looked forward to the new season which began on 25 August 1934: Wilf Copping’s first game v Portsmouth away.  The 3-3 draw (Bowden, Drake and Bastin) suggested Arsenal might score goals, and they did.  

Details will continue in the next article.

This article is part of an ongoing series on Arsenal in the 1930s.  The full list of articles thus far is below.

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


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