January 1936: the league won’t be won, but what about the FA Cup…

By Tony Attwood

This article is part of a series on Arsenal in the 1930s.  You can see a full index up to the publication of this article at the foot of the page.  An index of all the articles in the series appears here.

By the start of 1936, Allison’s second season in charge of the team, Arsenal’s chances of retaining the league title for an unprecedented fourth year seemed extremely remote.  Not only was the club eight points behind the league leaders with just one game in hand, both Derby and Huddersfield were eyeing the title and were closer to their pray, each simply waiting for Sunderland to slip.

But Sunderland were looking hard to beat.  They were invincible at home, and scoring at a rate overall of three a game and as long as their two top scorers kept on scoring it looked like no one could catch them.  Even when a team, such as Arsenal could put four past them, they simply retaliated and scored five.

The one chink of hope for all three chasing teams came on New Years’ Day when quite amazingly Sunderland were at home to Aston Villa, the bottom of the league team who were now four points off safety from relegation.  Having so recently lost 1-7 at home to Arsenal, in a result that could hardly be believed in the next morning’s papers, Sunderland lost at home 1-3 to the previously hapless Villa.  It was the shock of the season, although maybe all those purchases of internationals that Villa had just made at over the top prices could pull off the escape of the decade.

Arsenal certainly took some hope from Sunderland’s defeat but in order to make use of the upset Arsenal now had to starting winning on a very regular basis – including beating fifth placed Birmingham City at Highbury on 4 January.

Arsenal however had just lost two in a row.  But on the other hand they were at home where so far in the season they had only been beaten twice.  Birmingham were just one place below Arsenal having won three and drawn three of their 12 away games in the season.

Frank Moss retained his place in goal and Hulme came back in, in place of Rogers on the right wing, but in the end Arsenal could only draw 1-1, with Drake getting Arsenal’s goal.  Meanwhile Sunderland recovered from the mishap against Villa, and Derby also won while Huddersfield drew.

So the league was slipping away from the three times champions, but at least Arsenal could now turn their attention to the cup.

Prior to Chapman’s arrival in 1925 Arsenal had never won the Cup, nor even been in the final.  However recent years had redressed the balance a little, with the club winning the cup once, being beaten finalists twice, and beaten semi-finalists once.  Here’s the record under Chapman, Shaw and Allison…

  • 1926: Lost in the 6th round
  • 1927: Beaten finalists
  • 1928: Beaten semi-finalists
  • 1929: Lost in the 6th round
  • 1930: Cup winners, beating Huddersfield in the final
  • 1931: Lost in the 4th round (League winners)
  • 1932: Beaten finalists (and league runners up)
  • 1933: Lost in the 3rd round to Walsall.  (League winners)
  • 1934: Lost in the 6th round (League winners)
  • 1935: Lost in the 6th round (League winners)

More to the point perhaps, Arsenal had won either the league or the cup in five of the last six years, and in the one year in which the club won neither, it had been runners-up in both.  For Arsenal not to win anything this year, and not even come runners’ up,  it would mean the run established by Chapman in 1930 would be truly at an end.

Arsenal’s first opponents in the cup were Bristol Rovers on 11 January.  Rovers were in the Third Division (South) and had just drawn with their neighbours Bristol City the previous weekend.

In the opening two rounds Rovers had on each occasion had a replay, eventually winning 3-1 at home to Northampton Town after a goalless draw, and 4-1 at home to Oldham after a 1-1 draw.

In the league the club were currently lying perilously close to the foot of the table, currently being in 20th position.  Worse they had lost their last two games (to Bournemouth and Notts County) before the home draw with City.   The Notts County game had been a particularly difficult affair, resulting in a 6-0 defeat.

The first half of the cup tie turned out to be a disaster for Arsenal; they missed a penalty, and then Rovers went a goal up in the first half, with Arsenal playing very poorly.  However Allison then made a curious tactical change moving Cliff Bastin to the deep lying inside left position instead of Davidson while playing Davidson at centre forward!  Neither player had ever played in such a position before.   It is hard to judge from this distance in time what the manager was doing, but my guess is that he supposed that third division players would have their strict instructions on who to mark and who to kick, and such an utterly unexpected switch would confuse them, and leave them unsure who should be where.

If that was the ploy it certainly worked as Bastin equalized on 65 minutes, the players switched back to their normal positions and Arsenal scored four more in the next 14 minutes.  Drake got two, Bastin another and Bowden the last.

As was subsequently pointed out ten of the Arsenal team were full internationals – it was said that this was the first time this had happened in a senior match in England.

The following Monday, the General Post Office released a film – not something that one might normally comment upon, but it was a film that went down in history as one of the most famous peace time documentary “shorts”.  Called “Night Mail” it celebrated the work of postmen on overnight trains, sorting the post as the trains crossed the country.  The commentary was a poem by WH Auden with music by Benjamin Britten, and it was shown regularly in cinemas as a precursor to the two films that made up the afternoon or evening show, and on BBC TV.

Of course on the day of the release of the film no one knew how famous it would become.  But what everyone discovered in the final editions of the evening papers was something quite extraordinary.  In the third round of the cup, after drawing 2-2 at home with Port Vale, Sunderland, top of the league and already being talked of as champions elect went to the replay on the Monday and lost 2-0 away.

At the time of the games Port Vale were 21st (and thus in a relegation position) in the second division, and had thus far won one and drawn one of their away games – so getting that away draw was a miracle in itself.  At home they had a more even record, but their goal tally (scored 17 conceded 19) revealed just how poor they were.  Yet they beat Sunderland 2-0.

This was an upset as monumental as Walsall beating Arsenal in 1933.

Meanwhile the FA Cup fourth round draw was made and Arsenal found themselves facing Liverpool away.  Not the toughest of all possible draws, but not the easiest by a long chalk.

The preparation for the Liverpool cup however game was not that good however as on 18 January Arsenal returned to league duties and suffered another league defeat this time 2-3 to Sheffield Wednesday.

For this game Bowden was replaced by Alex James making one of his increasingly occasional appearances for the side, Drake and the centre half Roberts scored the goals, but that was not enough.

Meanwhile Derby beat Huddersfield 2-0 and with Huddersfield having also lost midweek, their chances seemed to be fading.  Liverpool (next week’s Cup opponents) drew 0-0 with Grimsby so it looked as if both teams were holding themselves in readiness for the fourth round tie.

The following Monday, 20 January – King George V died at Sandringham House, Norfolk, aged 70.  His eldest son, The Prince Edward, Prince of Wales succeeded him as King Edward VIII.   However from the off the new king broke royal protocol on 21 January by watching the proclamation of his own accession to the throne from a window of St. James’s Palace, in the company of a married woman, Wallis Simpson.

And thus as the whispers and rumours circulated, Arsenal prepared to play Liverpool on 25 January with the players wearing arm bands and the singing of the national anthem and Abide With Me before kick off.

Liverpool, as we noted last month, lost to Arsenal on Christmas Day at Anfield, but then won at Highbury on Boxing Day.  They then lost at home to Chelsea 2-3, before playing out two goalless draws away from home.   They were currently lying sixth, but with an uninspiring record in the last month of two defeats, two goalless draws and one win (against Arsenal).

Roberts, the goalscoring hero of the previous game had injured himself in that victory, and dropped out of the side, but Alex James kept his place and Moss was once again in goal.  53,720 turned up at Anfield to watch Arsenal win 2-0, with Bowden and Hulme scoring the goals.  The result was a most welcome distraction from the league table.

Meanwhile along the Seven Sisters Road Tottenham also progressed into the fifth round.  They had beaten Southend United away after a 4-4 draw at the Lane, and this time had  beaten Huddersfield 1–0 once more on their home turf.

As always 16 clubs were now left in the FA Cup to enter round five, and along with Tottenham and of course Port Vale were the two Bradford clubs, Fulham, Barnsley, Sheffield United, Leicester and Newcastle – all of whom were currently resident in the second division.  That was nine second division teams and seven first division sides remaining. The feeling among Arsenal fans was, any of these lower league teams would do, although the papers began to talk up the notion of an all-second-division final.

The draw was made on 27 January and pitched Arsenal away to Newcastle with Tottenham away to Bradford Park Avenue.  But most focus now switched to west London where Chelsea, now having a comparatively good season in the first division (by their own standards at least) were drawn at home to Fulham.

Here is, as always, the summary of the games of the month in which Arsenal had two wins in the FA Cup, but one draw and one defeat in the League.

Date Opposition Op Pos H/A Res Pos Pts Crowd AC
4.1.1936 Birmingham C  5 Home D1-1 4 27 44,534 41,960
11.1.1936 Bristol Rovers FAC3 Away W5-1 24,234  8,322
18.1.1936 Sheffield Wednesday 20 Away L2-3 4 27 35,576 18,128
25.1.1936 Liverpool FAC4 6 Away W2-0 53,720 27,265

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 January 1936 with Arsenal now clearly out of the running for the league title.  Even if they won their two games in hand against Derby and Huddersfield they would still be in fourth, and two victories was not in any way a given.

Arsenal in the 30s

The series continues.  There is an index of all the series covered on this site on the home page.

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