March 1935: beating Tottenham by a record score but losing one of our greatest goalkeepers

By Tony Attwood

At the end of February Arsenal were top of the league by two points with a superior goal average to those chasing below.  At the foot of the table Arsenal’s were old rivals, and serious challengers for the league title last season, Tottenham Hotspur.

On 1 March 1935 Alf Kirchen signed from Norwich (where ex-Arsenal man Tom Parker was manager).  Although his career was interrupted by the war he still went on to score 38 goals in 92 league games with Arsenal.

The first league game of the month was scheduled to be the away game against Tottenham, but this was put back to the Wednesday because of the FA Cup, where Arsenal were once again (as they were all season) drawn away, this time to fourth placed Sheffield Wednesday.

Davidson, coming as he did from Scotland, was not cup tied, and retained his place with Beasley reverting to his old position on the right wing  and Bastin moving back to his natural habitat on the left.

Wednesday were undefeated at home thus far, and while Arsenal’s away form had improved a little they still had lost a third of their away games.  The best they could really hope for was a draw.  But they didn’t get it going down 1-2.  Even the Arsenal goal was an own goal by Wednesday.

But at least it meant the club could now focus on getting the third league title in consecutive years, to emulate the achievement of Huddersfield in the 1920s.  No other team had ever done this – not even in the early days of the league when competition was less severe and the season much shorter.   As for the cup, this left Sheffield Wednesday, West Brom, Bolton and Burnley in the semi-finals as London by and large lost interest.

So it was that Arsenal took solace in the league, and looked forward to Tottenham at home.

Arsenal were still top by the time they played Tottenham but with Sunderland and Manchester City having won in the cup Saturday, and with Wednesday gaining an extra point on Monday (while Man City lost to Blackburn) Arsenal were now only top on goal difference.  But now what they had was a game in hand over the nearest rivals and indeed two games in hand over Wednesday.  A win would see them pull clear again.

Tottenham had not won since they had beaten Grimsby on Boxing Day.  It had been a long decline since they were sixth at the start of October, although they had managed a draw with Sunderland in February.

Four changes were made from the team that were knocked out of the cup. Alf Kirchen came in for his first game, playing at outside right.  Dougall continued in his league position of inside left.  Leslie Compton got a game, this time at left (instead of right) back, and Sidey took over at centre half.

But if either the cup defeat or the multiple changes gave Arsenal any fears of visiting White Hart Lane they certainly didn’t show them and Arsenal were 0-3 up at half time, ending the game as 0-6 winners.  Kirchen got two, Drake two, Dougall one and Bastin a penalty.

The result meant that the season’s aggregate score over Tottenham was 11-1 and Arsenal had resolutely ended the four games across the two previous season’s of which Arsenal had failed to win any of the derbies.

Leaving aside two friendly matches in the 1880s, in which Arsenal beat Tottenahm 6-2 (1888) and 10-1 (1889), this was the first time either team had scored six or more.  Even though the respective league positions of the two clubs predicted an Arsenal win, it was a result that shook London to the core.

It also meant that Arsenal had one defeat in nine, and re-established their clear lead at the top of the table, while improving their goal average even further.

As a result of the Tottenham game the top of the table now looked like this

Arsenal’s “last six” form was better than Sunderland’s (4 wins, 1 draw, 1 defeat against 2 wins, 3 draws and 1 defeat), but Sunderland had just beaten Blackburn 3-0 in their last match.

And so everyone got very excited about the next match which was: Arsenal against Sunderland played in front of a record crowd.

Although this record crowd is established in all the record books, what is generally not noted is how much bigger this crowd was than the crowd for the Tottenham game (47,714).  Of course this was in part due to the fact that the Tottenham match was played on Wednesday afternoon, but even so, that result set London football alight.

On the other hand Arsenal’s home form was still peerless (13 wins, one draw, one defeat), and although Sunderland’s away form was good (six wins, seven draws, two defeats) it wasn’t that good.    Arsenal had scored 91 goals – 24 more than Sunderland – and a staggering 62 of them had been scored at Highbury.  An average of over four a game!!!

But then after all the hype of this being the title decider, it was… a flop.  A tedious 0-0 draw played out in front of Arsenal’s record crowd at Highbury.  On 31 January 1934 for the game that ended Arsenal 1 Tottenham 3, 68,828 had turned up to pay tribute to Herbert Chapman who had died just before the previous home game.  Now that crowd was exceeded but expectation over ran the ability to deliver.

If the crowd went away disappointed, some of them (the minority with cars) left contemplating something else: a sudden and dramatic change in the road law.  For the following Monday the speed limit in built up areas was introduced: 30mph.  It is still in use over 80 years later.   Until 1930 the speed limit had been 20mph across the whole country, but this was universally ignored, with cars already able to get up to over 80mph, and regularly doing so.  And so, seeing the damage that was being done, a new approach was introduced.  In 1930 all speed limits were abolished, and so for five years people could legally drive anywhere in the UK at any speed they wanted.  This was allowed, in part, to give the new law a serious impact on 12 March 1935 and drivers were left in no doubt that in built up areas it would be enforced.

Back in the world of football, Arsenal next played Everton away.  It is a game that should be marked with a black line around it whenever it is mentioned, for on 16 March 1935 goalkeeper Frank Moss sustained a serious shoulder injury playing away to Everton, but after treatment returned to the pitch and continued to play on the wing.  He even scored the opening goal (apparently the only goalkeeper ever to score for Arsenal in a first team competitive match), but the injury ended his career.   Drake scored the second to keep Arsenal at the top.

Also on 16 March Sunderland beat Stoke 4-1, while Manchester City drew 0-0 away to Tottenham.  It gave a little solace to Tottenham but knocked Man City off the pace.  Sheffield Wednesday did not play until 20 March (because of the FA Cup semi-finals) and then they lost 4-0 to Derby.  It may have been the most awful days for Arsenal in terms of the end of a career of a most brilliant goalkeeper, but in terms of the other results that week, it was the best of times.

Meanwhile there was an ominous portent of things to come, as on 18 March Britain protested at the German introduction of conscription.  Yes, it was the worst of times.

On 23 March Arsenal returned to Highbury, and perhaps taking a leaf out of the book of their nearest opponents, Arsenal’s charge to the championship faltered with a 1-1 draw with Grimsby.   Sheffield Wednesday beat Aston Villa, but Sunderland and Manchester City did not play.

For Tottenham however it was a bad week.  On the Saturday they lost, and then on Thursday 28th they again were defeated, this time 6-0 to fellow relegation strugglers Leicester.

Alex Wilson, who had played five times in the previous season, took over in goal and went on to become the first choice goalkeeper in 1935/6.

Also out for this match was Copping – only the second league game he missed in the season, but it turned out that his injury, also sustained in the Everton match, while not career ending, was a season ending event.  Starting with this match, Hill took over at left half.

Elsewhere the joke began to circulate that now it was Arsenal’s away form that was better than the home form, and this certainly looked to be the case when on 30 March Arsenal were away to Aston Villa, and won 3-1.  It meant that in the league for the month Arsenal had trebled their number of away wins, but had managed just two 1-1 draws at home.

Beasley (who came back in at outside left) scored the first, Drake the second, and Bastin who had been moved to inside left got a penalty.   It was the fourth game in the month with over 50,000 present.

At the foot of the table Leicester again won beating Liverpool 3-1 while Tottenham lost 0-1 at home to WBA.  Man City and Sheffield Wednesday both lost away, while Sunderland beat Leeds.  Arsenal were now three points clear of Sunderland who had a game in hand, but Arsenal had a much better goal average.

Here is, as always, the summary of the games of the month.

Date Opponent Op Pos H/A Result Pos Pts Crowd AC
02.03.1935 Sheff Wed FAC6 4 away L1-2 66,945 *18568
06.03.1935 Tottenham  21 away W6-0 1 42 47,714  34389
09.03.1935 Sunderland  2 home D0-0 1 43 73,295  46252
16.03.1935 Everton  5 away W2-0 1 45 50,389  26232
23.03.1935 Grimsby Town  11 home D1-1 1 46 33,591  46252
30.03.1935 Aston Villa  10 away W3-1 1 48 59,572  33241

*This average is for league games and thus not directly comparable with an FA Cup match.

The abbreviations, as always mean…

  • 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.

Here’s the table at the end of the month

The series

This is part of a series of articles on Arsenal in the 30s – and you can find the index to all the articles in this series through that link.  The most recent posts in the series are

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