Arsenal in the summer 1936: from winning the Cup to an assassination attempt on the king

By Tony Attwood

Writing about the summer of 1936 in Forward, Arsenal, Bernard Joy begins his commentary stating, “The honeymoon was over.  The day was past when the sight of the red shirted figures trotting proudly on to the field put such disquiet into the opposition that it was worth a goal start….

“There were a variety of reasons.  The tactical surprise had gone, and other clubs were organised on more modern and businesslike lines.  Injuries took toll, as was inevitable when players did not shirk tackles in the Cup tie atmosphere which attended all games.  There was rebuilding again, not great in quantity but vital all the same.”

Arsenal began the rebuilding early, with the transfer on 14 April 1936 of the goalkeeper George Swindin for £4000 from Bradford City.  He was just 22, very young for a first division keeper, and had had just two years experience in the Football League playing 26 games for Bradford City.

His signing was quite a gamble but he went on to win the league with Arsenal three times and subsequently became Arsenal’s manager, although with considerably less success than he had as a player.

Rebuilding also took on another form as on 21 April 1936 the demolition of the old East Stand at Highbury had begun even though Arsenal had two more home games (against Chelsea and Leeds) to play.  The new stand was opened on October 24, 1936.

Bernard Joy also had a interesting postscript to tell about this time, noting that on 27 April  1936 George Allison received a letter from David Danskin, one of the club founders in 1886.  Danskin was ill at the time, but had listened to the cup final on the radio and wrote of the contrast between football in his day and the mass crowds at the cup final.

So yes, Arsenal had come such a long way, and their record in the last few years was unbelievable when compared with all that had gone before, but this was now a time of a new challenge.  Here is the record starting with the final season before Chapman took over (just by way of contrast)

Season P W D L F A Pts Pos Cup Top scorer Goals
1924–25 42 14 5 23 46 58 33 20 R1 Jimmy Brain 15
1925–26 42 22 8 12 87 63 52 2 QF Jimmy Brain 43
1926–27 42 17 9 16 77 86 43 11 RU Jimmy Brain 34
1927–28 42 13 15 14 82 86 41 10 SF Jimmy Brain 29
1928–29 42 16 13 13 77 72 45 9 QF David Jack 26
1929–30 42 14 11 17 78 66 39 14 W Jack Lambert 23
1930–31 42 28 10 4 127 59 66 1 R4 Jack Lambert 39
1931–32 42 22 10 10 90 48 54 2 RU Jack Lambert 26
1932–33 42 25 8 9 118 61 58 1 R3 Cliff Bastin 33
1933–34 42 25 9 8 75 47 59 1 QF Cliff Bastin 15
1934–35 42 23 12 7 115 46 58 1 QF Ted Drake 44
1935–36 42 15 15 12 78 48 45 6 W Ted Drake 27

(Ted Drake in 1934/5 was the top scorer in the league – none of the other players mentioned above achieved that honour despite their extraordinary numbers except Jimmy Brain in 1925/6 who shared the honour with Ted Harper of Blackburn.)

What this makes so clear is that suddenly in the 1930s the previously erratic nature of Arsenal’s position in the league ended.  Even leaving out 1924/5 – the last year before Chapman – the results had been unexciting, save for coming second in Chapman’s first year.

Then suddenly having won Arsenal’s first trophy in 1930, the club were off, shooting up from 14th to 1st and staying first or second for five years.

The drop down to 6th was therefore very much out of context, as was the decline to 45 points from the normal upper 50s.  And even the FA Cup win which rescued the season was a struggle at times – only an inspired tactical change got Arsenal out of the third round.  But then one could say, only the long term injury to Ted Drake stopped Arsenal catching Sunderland, or at least taking a much more respectable second spot.

If Drake could be kept fit, maybe the next season would see a resumption of what had gone before.

So, the season ended with a second FA Cup triumph.   Arsenal playing catch up played their last game on May 2 – and no friendlies were arranged either at end of season or before start of next season, although as always I have my suspicion that there was an Arsenal v Arsenal reserves game played which was open to the public, on the Saturday before the new season got underway.

There were however a couple of positives.  Arsenal had the best defence in the league with 48 goals and the best goal average in the league,  but the Arsenal attack had scored 31 goals fewer than Sunderland.

Worse, above Arsenal were three clubs (Derby, Stoke and Brentford) none of whom had ever won the league.  Indeed Brentford had only just arrived from the second division – and this as it turned out, was the shape of things to come.

But before I start looking to the following season, we should reflect that this had been Sunderland’s sixth title – but as it turned out, (although it was a superb triumph with remarkable goal scoring and a home ground that became a fortress), it was also their last triumph.

Amazingly their problem turned out to be goalscoring.  For six years Sunderland had built a team around Bobby Gurney as he had scored year after year – indeed in three of those years he got over 30 goals.   Their triumph in 1936 had been combining Gurney’s talents with Raich Carter’s and amazingly in 1935/6 each player scored 31 league goals!   But Carter on his own could not deliver, and in the remaining three years before the war he scored 26, 13 and 15 goals respectively as Sunderland declined to two finishes in 8th, and then 16th.

It was quite a fall although in 1936/7 they did win the cup, but otherwise the cupboard was bare until a single further cup win in 1973.  As a trophy winning side, by and large Sunderland were finished.  Despite the size of their league victory in 1936, it was their last hurrah.

And it was also the time for other reminders that no success goes on for ever.  Both Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa (founder members of the league in 1888) were relegated from the first division for the first time.   Villa had won the League and FA Cup six times each, Blackburn the Cup also six times and the League twice.  But now both were in the second division.

If Arsenal or indeed anyone in football needed any reminder that nothing lasts forever, that was surely enough.

Meanwhile in the second division Manchester United finally managed to make their way back to the top league as champions.  They had not won the first division since 1911, having gone down to the second division for the third (but not the last) time in 1931.

Having signed a new goalkeeper before the season was ended in May 1936 Arsenal signed David Nelson from the Edinburgh Junior side St Bernards.  He played 17 times in the next two seasons, but as with so many his was a promising career interrupted by war.  He returned briefly in 1946 before going to Fulham.

On 6 May England lost to Austria 2-1 and the side included Male, Hapgood (captain) Crayston, Copping, Bastin and Bowden – six players, just one short of the record seven, also held by Arsenal.

Then on 9 May 1936 Bernard Joy became last amateur player to play for England in a full international in a second defeat for England – this time losing 3-2 to Belgium.  Male, Hapgood, Crayston, and Copping joined Joy in the team.

Although Joy was listed as an Arsenal player for this match, he then went on to play in the Olympics for Great Britain in August, and was there listed as a player for Casuals and it seems certain that he was included in the game for England (having only played a couple of matches for Arsenal) as a try out for the Olympic side.  Presumably, having seen he was worth taking to Berlin, “arrangements” were made to restore his club registration to Casuals and thus ensure he was an “amateur” playing for an amateur club.

On 10 June 1936 Arsenal released Frank Hill and Ehud Rogers.  Hill moved on to Blackpool after playing 76 league games.  Rogers had signed for Arsenal in 1934, making 16 league appearances and scoring 5 goals and moved on to Newcastle.  

At the start of July sporting attention was turned elsewhere as Fred Perry won his third successive men’s singles tennis title at Wimbledon.  He was the last British player to win until 2013, and until the time of writing (2016) the last English player to win the title.  Indeed lawn tennis fans had quite an exciting summer as on 28 July Great Britain won the International Lawn Tennis Challenge (now known as the Davis Cup) for the last time until 2015.

Back with the football on 13 July 1936 Jimmy Dunne was sold to Southampton. He never replicated his amazing goal scoring form that he showed at Sheffield Utd and after he was dropped was described in the press as the most expensive reserve in English football.  His story really is quite remarkable, and if you have a moment I’d urge you to follow the link above to read about it.

But then on 16 July the nation’s collective heartbeat stopped as George McMahon tried to shoot King Edward VIII at the Trooping of the Colour.

After that outrage to the nation, attention turned to the Berlin Olympics which ran from 1 to 16 August.  Britain entered an amateur football team including Bernard Joy, as we’ve noticed, and lost in the quarter finals 5-4 to Poland.

Finally, in yet another reminder of just how dangerous coal mining was there was yet another disaster on 6 August – an underground explosion at the Wharncliffe Woodmoore Colliery in South Yorkshire.  58 men lost their lives.

And that was the summer of 1936.  On 29 August 1936   the season started over again as Arsenal beat Everton 3-2 with Alex James as captain.  James, Bowden and Hapgood scored.

We’ll pick up the story of the 1936/7 season shortly, after a review of the player records for 1935/6.

The series thus far…


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