September 1935: After three successive championships things get sticky

By Tony Attwood

Arsenal had opened the season with a solid home win, and with the second match scheduled to be away against Grimsby, there were strong hopes that this would be the start of a solid run.  But to everyone’s surprise the match ended as a 0-1 defeat.

The general comment was to the effect that Arsenal’s away form was poor last season, but this was getting ridiculous, not least because Grimsby entered the game in 20th position in the league.

The Arsenal team was the same as that which played the first match, save that Eddie Hapgood, who had been injured was replaced by Leslie Compton.

There was at least a slight distraction the following day as the papers brought the news that on 3 September Malcolm Campbell had set a new land speed record of 301.129 mph in Utah. It was a moment of much nationalistic celebration.

Arsenal meanwhile had four days to recover from the shock of the Grimsby defeat before facing Birmingham away on the following Saturday.   The problem was Birmingham were a bit like Grimsby – currently sitting close to the foot of the table, and if Grimsby could do it…

This was Birmingham’s first home game of the season, and a 1-1 draw (with a goal from Drake) was not what Arsenal wanted.  They had now won one, drawn one and lost one – which was mid-table form – not what was anticipated from the three times champions.

For this game Allison now had Alex James injured as well as Hapgood.  His response in defence was to continue with Leslie Compton at left back, to move Bastin to inside left and to bring in Beasley at outside left – where he had played the last eight games of the previous season with some success.  It didn’t seem to help.

There was however one redeeming factor for Arsenal, for going into the game on September 7, Manchester City, Brentford and Stoke were the only three sides in the league to have won both of their opening games, and on this day… all three lost.

The word was out in the press that this was going to be a topsy-turvy season, something which was confirmed the following Monday when Aston Villa, who in the earlier part of the decade had put in a most serious challenge to Arsenal in the League, lost 2-7 at home to Middlesbrough who, you may recall, had spent the last part of the previous season, dicing with relegation, only to escape because of the poor form of Tottenham and Leicester.

Up next was another mid-week match, this being the return fixture with Grimsby Town.  Grimsby had lost their only away game thus far, and still remembered (as did Arsenal) that in January 1931 Arsenal had knocked up their biggest ever league win (9-1) against Grimsby.

But Arsenal had mounting problems.  Not only were Hapgood and James injured, now so was Bastin who had hardly missed a match since Boxing Day 1929.  Worse, the word was that the injury was serious, and Bastin would be out for a while.

Compton continued to deputise at left back, Beasley swapped wings to outside right, and in return Milne moved over to outside left.  Bowden joined the team for his first game of the season at inside right.  Davidson moved to inside left.

And the result of all this shuffling around, on 11 September, was a success – a 6-0 win to Arsenal, and in a most extraordinary manner.   Milne scored a hattrick, Beasley, Bowden and Drake getting the others.  Elsewhere in the league Huddersfield beat Wolverhampton 3-0 to go top.

The following day however there were no thoughts of football as news came in of yet another mining disaster.  An underground explosion at North Gawber colliery, Barnsley, saw 19 miners lose their lives with many more injured.  

Arsenal now had their second Saturday afternoon home fixture to look forward to – this being against Sheffield Wednesday on 14 September.  Wednesday were 7th and had won  one and drawn one of their away games so far.

Not surprisingly Allison kept the same team as had beaten Grimsby, with the exception of replacing Compton with the now fit again Hapgood.    The result was a 2-2 draw, with Drake and Milne scoring.

Meanwhile Villa beat Preston 5-1, Liverpool beat Grimsby 7-2.  It looked like being another high scoring season.   At the top Manchester City, Sunderland and Huddersfield Town all had 8 points.  Preston and Leeds were bottom.

And it was against one of the bottom clubs that Arsenal now had to play, with an away match at Leeds on September 18.  Leeds had one point from two home games thus far and had scored only one goal at home.  However they managed another, to take a 1-1 draw.  The one good piece of news for Arsenal was that Bastin was now back in the team, although in an attempt to retain the formation that seemed to be working, Bastin replaced Bowden at inside right, rather than taking up his normal position on the wing.

Drake got the goal making it five goals in six games.

The trouble was however that the team’s performances were not looking that coherent, and when yet another injury was reported, this time to one of the half backs – Wilf Copping – there was concern.  Frank Hill, who replaced him was highly experienced but the Copping – Crayston partnership had really worked for Arsenal last season, and any disruption to it was to be regretted.

Also, with just seven matches played this was the fourth replacement due to injury, and the attempts to cope with this run of bad fortune were causing endless changes in formation.  Although Hill was a direct replacement for Copping, there was a further change as Alex James was again available.  As a result Allison chose to change the team’s positioning once again, changing the forward line back to the line-up seen for the opening match against Sunderland:

Milne, Davidson, Drake, James, Bastin.

Manchester City were fourth in the league, but had a game in hand. Arsenal were 6th.  However it was felt that Arsenal’s problems were the same as last season: good home form, poor away form.  Which is why the home defeat to Manchester City by 2-3 was a surprise.  Bastin got a penalty, James the other.  61,290, the second highest crowd of the season, were by and large, not happy.

It might seem strange that with seven league games scheduled for September Arsenal had accepted the chance of an extra game – away to Rangers in Glasgow on 25 September.   But the series with Rangers had been set up by Herbert Chapman, and no one was yet ready to tinker with any part of the great man’s legacy, so the series continued.

Rangers were very much the top team in Scotland at the time and their recent league winning record showed an extraordinary dominance:

Rangers Champions: 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1933, 1934

Although Arsenal were justifiable proud of their record of championships (1930, 1932, 1933, 1934) and could point to a much more competitive league, Arsenal only had three championships in a row; Rangers had five.

The game on 25 September 1935 was Bernard Joy’s first game for Arsenal.  Famous later for his book “Forward Arsenal!” he played throughout his career as an amateur, and played his first league game in April 1936.

Compton, John and Dunne came into the team, which otherwise was the same as for the previous league match, with Davidson and Dunne getting Arsenal’s goals in a 2-2 draw.

The final league game of this frenetic month of football, was Stoke away.  Stoke were now sitting sixth in the league, two places above Arsenal.  Stoke had won two of their away games thus far, most significantly scoring ten goals in the process.  But they had Stoke had already suffered one defeat at home, although they were sitting two places higher up the league than Arsenal.

Now there were yet more injury problems.  Drake had been injured against Manchester City, and Davidson had been injured in Glasgow.  Copping was still out  As a result Bowden came back into the side, and Dunne made his first appearance of the season at centre forward.  He had played 21 times in the 1933/4 season, scoring nine goals, but only once in 1934/5.

But despite the extra mid-week game, and all the shuffling around, just to show you can never tell what is going to happen, Arsenal won 3-0 away.  Bastin, once more at outside left, got two, and Crayston scored, one of five goals he got in the league during the season.

It had been a very disappointing month in the league with two defeats, three draws and just two victories, but there was hope that if the run of injuries could be ended, Arsenal might yet recover.

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

Date Op Pos H/A Result Pos Pts Crowd Av Crowd
2 03.09.1935 Grimsby Town  20 away L0-1 9 2 25,978
3 07.09.1935 Birmingham City  18 away D1-1 12 3 42,804
4 11.09.1935 Grimsby Town  16 home W6-0 6 5 33,633 41,960
5 14.09.1935 Sheffield Wednesday  7 home D2-2 5 6 59,492 41,960
6 18.09.1935 Leeds United  22 away D1-1 6 7 24,283
7 21.09.1935 Manchester City  4 home L2-3 8 7 61,290 41,960
25.09.1935 Rangers (friendly) away D2-2 25,000
8 28.09.1935 Stoke City  6 away W3-0 6 9 45,570

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.

You may notice that for once Arsenal’s attendance average for games at Highbury had gone down from the previous season.  In fact it was a decline of over 9% on 1934/35, although the club remained top of the attendance league once again.

The league table at the end of September read…

The series continues…

Arsenal in the 30s

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