December 1935: beating the record, and record confusions. Ted Drake before and after the magnificent seven.

By Tony Attwood

This post was updated on 17 Dec 2016 with the addition of the England match.

Arsenal entered December in fourth position – exactly where they had been at the start of November.  But the gap behind the league leaders had grown…

The month began with an England match – against Germany, which England won 3-0, with Bastin getting the final goal.   Male, Hapgood and Crayston were also in the team.

Arsenal at this stage had two key concerns.  First the number of players they were being forced to use – 20 in the first 17 games.  And second the goalscoring of Drake.

Drake had scored 42 goals in 41 league games in the championship winning 1934/5 season, but this season he had suffered a goal drought for a few matches.

In the first seven games he had scored six times.  A very decent return.  Then after missing one game through injury it seemed as if he were not fully fit, for in the next five he scored but one goal.  A very un-Drake like sequence.

However in the last four games of November he had bagged five goals.  His rate was still not up to that of last season, but 12 goals in 16 games was not too bad.

But for the last game in November, Allison had moved Bastin, the second most prolific scorer in the team, from his favoured outside left position to the much deeper lying inside left which meant Drake was now sharing the goalscoring responsibilities with Rogers on the right and Beasley on the left.  Last season Rogers had played five and scored two.  Beasley had played 20 and scored six.  Although to be fair in the last three games before his sad passing, Chapman had also played Bastin at inside left.  But he had only scored once in those four games.

The first match of December was held back from Saturday 7th to Monday 9th because of fog which crept around north and west London, meaning  Chelsea’s home game was also postponed.  (London, you may recall, was known at the time as “the smoke”.   The Clean Air Act was decades into the future).

So on Monday afternoon Arsenal took on Middlesbrough with the same line up as had drawn 0-0 with Huddersfield.  This meant a forward line of

Rogers Bowden Drake Bastin Beasley

Drake didn’t manage a goal but Rogers got two, and that was enough for a 2-0 win.

The victory meant that Arsenal were undefeated in five, and with Derby and Huddersfield having lost on the Saturday the gap at the top narrowed a little.

However Sunderland had beaten Bolton 7-2, and in truth it was starting to look as if this would be Sunderland’s year, with them having been runners’ up the year before.

For the last six years Sunderland had been drawing on the extraordinary scoring ability of Bobby Gurney, but now this season Raich Carter was aiming to emulate him, and with the two players playing alongside each other and seeming to be vying as to who could become top scorer, the club was looking like champions elect.

Arsenal’s next match was on Saturday 14 December – Aston Villa away.  Villa had won one of the last eleven games they had played, and their last game had been a 5-0 defeat to Manchester City.

As a result Villa were now equal bottom with Brentford having scored 19 and let in 31 goals at home in a total of ten games – giving an average score of approximately 2-3.   Arsenal management probably thought they would settle for that.

Arsenal had played nine away, winning just two, with a goal record of 10 goals for and eight against.  An average of around 1-1 per game.  So again, a 2-3 win would be ok.

But in an attempt to buy themselves out of trouble Villa had spent £24,000 on five players through late November and early December, and it may well be this fact, plus Arsenal’s reputation, plus the fact that it was a bright sunny day, that brought 58,469 people to Villa Park.

On the day Villa had six internationals in the team, and in terms of the crowd it must be noted that Villa had a good crowd record all season; the second highest in the country in fact at 40,864, up over a quarter on the previous season’s figures!   Nevertheless 58469 was quite a turnout in view of this being the last Saturday before Christmas – and despite Villa’s dire position in the league.

George Allison was unable to travel to the game because he was ill with flu, and quite probably was taking extra precautions, given what had happened to Herbert Chapman just under two years earlier.  So Tom Whittaker went to the match as both physio and acting manager for the day.

Before the game Ted Drake complained to Whittaker about his knee (as he had done before) and Whittaker agreed to him playing with a support bandage over it.  (It was an injury that came to haunt him later in his career).

As we all know Ted Drake scored seven that day, and according to Whittaker in his autobiography, Drake had just eight shots on goal, scoring with seven and the other hitting the bar.  In fact Drake said that the shot actually came down off the bar and bounced downwards and into the goal, although the goal was disallowed with officials ruling the ball had not crossed the line.

However, Drake still secured the goal-scoring record in the final minute of the game making this the individual record for scoring in a top division match, establishing a new record which stands to this day.

Indeed despite their rebuilt team, Aston Villa were losing 3–0 at half time after the opening Drake hat-trick. Whatever was said at half time it didn’t change things for Drake scored a second hat-trick in the first 15 minutes of the second half, with Villa then scoring their only goal through Jack Palethorpe.   In total, (and as far as we can tell from the accounts of the game in the newspapers) Drake actually had nine shots (rather than the eight Whittaker counted), all on target with one saved.

This is a picture of Ted Drake warming up before the game – with the left knee strapped.  It is the only picture I know of from the game, although there may well be more.  Notice the high level of activity of the Arsenal players standing behind Drake.


After the match Blair, Cummings and Massie of Villa brought the match ball in to the visitors’ dressing room for Drake to keep – with the ball already signed by the entire Villa team.  Whittaker reported that Massie said, “For you Ted – no hard feelings”.

The question then arose in the press (as anxious then as now to do down any Arsenal claim to success) if this was an all time record, and those who set themselves up as being the arbiters of football’s history claimed that Jimmy Ross had also scored seven in the game between Preston and Stoke on 6 October 1888.

On the face of it this seemed possible since Preston won the league unbeaten that season (the first Football League season) with Stoke coming bottom.  Preston certainly beat Stoke on 6 October 1888 by 7-0, but there was never any suggestion at the time that Ross had scored all seven.  Rather it seems that, just as happens today, someone just said “Ross scored seven”, so everyone printed the story and no one bothered to check.

In fact the official record books kept by the League show Ross only scored four.  He had never claimed seven, nor had his club.  What he did claim, and what is undoubtedly true is that he actually scored 8 against Hyde in the FA Cup.   It was a typical anti-Arsenal bit of reporting.

What  is true is that the record for the most goals scored in a league match came just 12 days later as Bunny Bell of Tranmere Rovers scored nine in the Football League Third Division (North). That was on Boxing Day as Tranmere beat Oldham 13-4.  The report says Bell also missed a penalty.

But there was something very odd about this game.  Tranmere had played Oldham on the day before – Xmas Day, as was the habit of the league at the time – and had lost 4-1 away to Oldham.  So what had made them able to reverse their defeat and win by such an outrageous score the next day?

Tranmere weren’t even the top scoring club in the league that season, and didn’t get promotion.  And Oldham weren’t pushovers either – they finished the season seventh in the league.  Nor did they have anything like the worst defence.  Crewe, who finished one place above them, let in more goals.

Even more oddly Tranmere didn’t keep on getting high scores.  Yes they scored six twice, but otherwise there was nothing unusual about their results.

So did Tranmere really scored 13 on that day?   Presumably yes.  But was it a normal game?  I suspect not.  I have no information on the game, but I would not be surprised to find that Oldham turned up two men short – or something like that.  It did happen in the third division in the 1930s.  Even the official Tranmere web site has only the slightest details of the match, which seems to suggest that there are no contemporary reports from the local paper – which again seems most odd.

But back to the Arsenal. says that for the Villa match “Arsenal were without Alex James and Joe Hulme and that centre-forward Drake had been in the reserves.”   Let’s consider these “facts.”

The Villa game was the third game in a row with exactly the same line up – and indeed the only time in the season that Arsenal played three league games in a row with the same team.  Alex James had not played in any of the five previous league games, having been injured in the defeat to Brentford.  Joe Hulme had thus far only played five games, although he did return to the squad in the next game, and went on to play 21 out of 42 league games in the season to total.

As for “centre forward Drake had been in the reserves”, Drake had missed one match in the season, on 28 September against Stoke but was back for the next match, and played all the way through until being injured in the game on February 1.

Was Drake in the reserves on 28 September?  I can’t tell you, because I don’t have the reserve team sheet for that day, but it seems highly unlikely given that he had thus far scored six in seven.  Indeed I can find no reports that say Ted Drake ever played in the reserves – and certainly not prior to this game when he scored seven.

So, having got that nonsense out of the way, let’s return to the Villa game, and Drakes glorious seven.

For the first quarter hour the hosts were in the ascendancy. As we have noted by half time Villa were 3-0 down, and Drake had a hat-trick. All the goals were classic Arsenal – a long ball from Pat Beasley for Drake to run on to, a long pass from Bastin which Drake finished from the edge of the area, and a rebound after Beasley had taken aim from the wing.

After an hour Drake had a double hat-trick and Arsenal were 6-0 up. The fourth owed to a mistake by Villa centre-half Tommy Griffiths, the fifth saw another assist from Bastin and the sixth was an instant effort after a bad clearance.  The 7th in the final minute of the game was a celebratory whack as the referee got ready to blow for full time after another through ball from Bastin.

Drake was controlling the ball perfectly, beating defenders at will and shooting so accurately that the Villa keeper, Harry Morton, had no chance with most of the shots. It was the exhibition of a complete centre forward.

The story made the news world wide.   You can see it (if your eyesight is good) near the foot of column three of the following monday’s New Zealand Evening Post under the headline “Football Sensation”.  If your eyesight is not so good it is easier to read here.

So having just gone two games without scoring Drake got seven and although Arsenal were still in fourth place the gap to the top was only four points as Huddersfield beat Sunderland 1-0.

The Arsenal team on the day was:


Male Roberts


Crayston Copping

Rogers Bowden Drake Bastin Beasley

Meanwhile away from the football on 18 December – Samuel Hoare resigned as foreign secretary; he was replaced by Anthony Eden.  This was primarily down to the public uproar which had welled up against this sell-out of Ethiopia which had been invaded by Italy.  It is said that when Eden had his audience with King George V, the remarked, “No more coals to Newcastle, no more Hoares to Paris.”

But while the overseas news was grave, if Arsenal fans wanted to celebrate with some more scintillating football from Drake they couldn’t as their next home game – scheduled for 21 December at home to Bolton, was once again postponed once more due to fog.

Villa, now in the deepest of trouble lost again – this time 5-1 to Blackburn while Sunderland beat Derby 3-1.  Arsenal were still in fourth, but now six points behind the leaders.

On Christmas Day Arsenal finally did get another game – away to Liverpool.  Liverpool had just won three in a row to move up from 12th to 6th.   Roberts dropped out at centre half and Sidey took his place.  Rogers was replaced on the right win by Hulme – who got the only goal of the match to give Arsenal victory – their third successive victory (and the first time this had been achieved in the season.

Finally Aston Villa’s new recruits learned how to play together and gave their fans a real Christmas treat, beating title chasing Huddersfield 4-1.   Derby lost 3-0 to Portsmouth and for a moment things were looking up for Arsenal…

Boxing Day as always saw the return game – Liverpool at Highbury – and the first chance for the local fans to welcome Ted Drake.  Liverpool’s away form was awful; one win three draws and five defeats, and their goal tally reflected this: 8 for 19 against.  Arsenal at home had six wins, two draws and a defeat and the goals tally was 27 for 9 against.

I suspect some fans expected to see another Drake goal-fest but he didn’t score.  Hulme did score again, but this time, Arsenal lost 1-2.  Derby and Portsmouth drew, but Sunderland won again to take them six points clear of Arsenal.  It was not what was expected.

Part of the problem came with another goalkeeper injury, Wilson getting injured in this game – it disrupted the whole team.

But life had to go on, and two days later the lads were at it again, this time away to the league leaders.

Sunderland with their two top scorers had a perfect ten wins out of ten games at home record with a goal record of scored 40 conceded 11; yes they really were averaging four goals a game at home.  Arsenal’s away form was improving with four wins, four draws and three defeats, with a goal tally of 18 for, 9 against.   But as the world knew, seven of those 18 had come in one game.

 Frank Moss took over again in goal, but there were questions as to how well his shoulder had mended.  Rogers returned at outside right, and given the position of Sunderland it was remarkable that Arsenal got four – Bowden, Drake, and Bastin scored, plus there was an own goal. Unfortunately Sunderland got five.

It was by far Arsenal’s worst concession of goals since November 1932 when Aston Villa beat Arsenal 5-3.   Arsenal under Chapman then picked themselves up and won five in a row.  The question now was could Arsenal under Allison do the same again.

Meanwhile Huddersfield lost 4-0 to Preston, Derby drew 3-3 with Everton.  It looked very much as if the league was there for Sunderland to take.

As for Drake, for the rest of the year after his magnificent seven he had not scored and been on the winning side.  And this run was not over for Drake did not score and play on the winning side in the league again until 1 February 1936, in a 1-0 win against Stoke.

Here is, as always, the summary of the games of the month in which Arsenal had two wins, two draws and a month.

Date Opposition Op Pos H/A Res Pos Pts Crowd AC
09.12.1935 Middlesbrough 6 home W2-0 4 22 23,365 41,960
14.12.1935 Aston Villa 22 away W7-1 4 24 58,469 40,864
25.12.1935 Liverpool 6 away W1-0 2 26 45,899 27,265
26.12.1935 Liverpool 7 home L1-2 3 26 57,035 40,864
28.12.1935 Sunderland 1 away L4-5 4 26 58,733 30,378

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 in league matches 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 league table for the end of 1935.  While Arsenal were close to Derby and Hudddersfield, the game from Sunderland was now eight points.

In the second division Tottenham had slipped to fourth following a disasterous December in which they lost four and won two.

The series continues…


Arsenal in the 30s

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