October 1936: Arsenal in free fall.

By Tony Attwood

By the end of September 1936 it was quite clear that Arsenal had problems, with their squad, with Allison endlessly chopping and changing the team in an effort to find a solution, and thus with their results.

At the heart of the matter was the old problem of away form as the home/away table below shows.

Away form was problematic for all teams and even this early in the season no team was unbeaten, but it was clear, as it had been throughout the decade that any team that could master the away games issue would stand a good chance of winning the league.  This is exactly what Chapman had done, repeatedly taking Arsenal’s away form up to the level of the side’s home form.  But now Arsenal were at best, a modest performer away from home, and the fact that they had not scored in three away games suggested that even “modest” was an exaggeration for them when not at Highbury.

Worse, the image of Arsenal as the great team of the decade – the team that would not only win trophies, but overcome the rapid “fade” effect that had beset Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa, Everton, and even last season’s runaway champions Sunderland.

Thus on 3 October Arsenal were needing to buck their current away form and the possibility to do that came with an trip to Manchester United.  Man U had been promoted with Charlton at the end of the previous season, but while Charlton were flourishing, Man U were in difficulty.  They were 17th, but such was the bunching of the table, that they were only one point ahead of the team at the bottom, Leeds United.  But then, Arsenal themselves were only one point ahead of Man U.

This match marked the final league appearance of Pat Beasley. He was signed by Chapman and had won the league twice with the club, but missed out on the 1936 cup final.  He left on 8 October for Huddersfield and he played in the cup final of 1938 for them, and guested for Arsenal during the war.

But Manchester United had the home advantage, and as their home record at this time was the same as Arsenal’s (won 2, drawn 2, lost nil) and Arsenal’s away record was won 0, drawn 1, lost two, goals for nil, goals against four, things did not look so easy.

And so it turned out, as for the fourth away match running Arsenal failed to score.  Indeed Arsenal’s last away win was on March 4.  Including this game Arsenal had now won 0, drawn 3 and lost 7 of their last 10 away games.   This was Arsenal now in serious decline, and questions were raised about how much Allison could bring to the team, and how much he was still reliant on the quickly fading set of players that Chapman had left him.

But that weekend football was by and large forgotten, especially by Londoners, as on 4 October the nation was appalled to receive the news of the Battle of Cable Street between Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists who dressed in uniforms that were based on those of the Blackshirts, and anti-fascist demonstrators.

The route had been deliberately selected by the fascists to be one that would take the demonstrators through an area with a high Jewish population.  It was estimated that there were around 3000 fascist marchers, 6000 police and 20,000 anti-fascist demonstrators.  As a result of the disturbances a number of the leaders of the demonstrators were arrested and given prison sentences with hard labour.

Although earlier accounts showed this event as a victory against fascism, more recent analyses have suggested that fascism had a short-lived upturn in its support as a result of the march.

But almost immediately attention turned elsewhere as on 5 October the Jarrow March began with 207 miners marching to London in protest against poverty and unemployment.

Of course the football continued and on 8 October a second signing was made by Arsenal in the form of Frank Boulton.  He had started out with Bristol City, before moving on to Bath City, from where he was transferred to Arsenal for £700 going on to play 21 games through the season.

On the same day Pat Beasley was sold to Huddersfield for £750. He later moved to Fulham with whom who won a second division champions medal, was player manager for Bristol City, and manager of Birmingham, from 1950 to 1958.

On 10 October Arsenal were thankfully (in terms of results thus far) back home, but playing the team that had been one of Arsenal’s main challengers in the early part of the decade: Sheffield Wednesday.  The one hopeful factor however was that although Wednesday had stayed at the top longer than most (Champions in 1929 and 1930, and then third in each of the next three seasons), Wednesday’s decline, once it had started had been ever more rapid than Arsenal’s.   They had only just escaped relegation last season and were now currently 16th, just one place above Arsenal but with the same number of points.

Like Arsenal Wednesday had a poor away form, with just one point gained so far, but as luck would have it, they chose this day to get their second away point, in a 1-1 draw.   Kirchen returned at outside right, but otherwise the team remained the same.   Drake scored his third goal of the season – but it was his eighth appearance and this was not the sort of return rate that had taken the club up the table in previous seasons.

As a result Arsenal remained 17th in the league and for their next game were facing the side newly promoted with Man U – Charlton.  And it was away from home, on October 17.  Charlton were unbeaten at home, and Arsenal had still (as we have noted) not even scored a single goal this season outside of Islington.

And yet as luck would have it Arsenal broke their duck in every sense, scoring twice to win 2-0 – a win that lifted them to 14th.  Davidson and Dennis Compton got the goals.

Curiously one might have expected the result to go the other way, not just because of form, but also because on this day England played Wales (Wales winning 2-1).   Bob John played his 15th and final game for Wales, while Cliff Bastin played for England and scored.  Alex James took over his position at inside left.

Meanwhile as if the country did not have enough worry about with the rise of fascism and the issues that the miners marching from Jarrow were protesting about, on 20 October the UK’s Prime minister Stanley Baldwin chose to confront King Edward VIII about his relationship with the married (but soon to be divorced) Wallis Simpson.  The nation was agog.

On 24 October 1936 The East Stand, Highbury was opened for game against Grimsby.  It had cost £130,000 and with the West Stand having opened three years earlier, Chapman and Norris’ vision for the stadium approached completion – although of course neither were there to see it (Herbert Chapman and Henry Norris both passing away in 1934).

The game that graced the opening was not perhaps the most illustrious – for Grimsby – was the club against whom Arsenal had secured their biggest ever win in the league, earlier in the decade.  But the win over Charlton had lifted the spirits, and there was one again hope, although Grimsby were now a very respectable sixth and had won two of their four away games.

Sadly much of the optimism as had been gained the week before evaporated however as Arsenal could only manage a goalless draw.

On 27 October it was announced that Wallis Simpson had divorced her husband, removing the legal barrier to her marrying King Edward VIII.  It left the newspapers (although perhaps less so, the working classes) in a state of turmoil over whether it was permissible for the King to marry a divorced lady.

Back with the football, at this moment the last thing Arsenal really needed was a midweek trip to Sunderland to play in the charity shield, but that is what they got.  Sunderland were ninth, but had maintained their record at home, having won all five league games thus far.  (Their problem was like that of Arsenal, in that they had not won a single game away, but that hardly concerned either team on this day).

A poor crowd of 11,500 turned up to see Sunderland win 2-1.  For Arsenal both the Compton brothers played, Bernard Joy came in at centre half and Kirchin got the goal

Finally Arsenal had another away game – this time against Liverpool.  Liverpool were 17th before the game, and like other teams around them were able to win at home (three wins, two draws, no defeats) but had yet to win away.    Arsenal had now had their first away win thanks to the game against Charlton, but couldn’t keep up the momentum, and lost once more by 2-1.

Crayston had gained an injury in the previous game and was replaced by Cartwright, as Allison tried the combination of Bastin at inside right and Davidson at inside left.  He had tried this in the away game at Brentford earlier in the season, and it hadn’t worked then, and didn’t work now.   Kirchen got the goal.

Arsenal had now sunk to 17th, their lowest position since 8 March 1930 when they were 19th.   Arsenal did have some excuse then – they had just reached the semi-final of the FA Cup (and indeed went on to win it – their first ever trophy).  And besides expectations were lower then – that was to be Arsenal’s fourth FA Cup semi-final, and only their second victory. Besides there was no excuse.  Allison had been in charge of the team for two complete seasons, the club was getting the largest crowds in the country, season after season, and had had plenty of chance to improve the squad.

Here is the run down on what was by any standard a depressing month for Arsenal

Date Opposition Op Pos H/A result Pos Pts Crowd AC
03.10.1936 Manchester United 17 away L0-2 17 7  55,884 32,332
10.10.1936 Sheffield Wednesday 16 home D1-1 17 8 46,421 43,353
17.10.1936 Charlton Athletic  7 away W2-0 14 10 68,160 31,086
24.10.1936 Grimsby Town  6 home D0-0 14 11 51,202 43,353
28.10.1936 Sunderland  (C Shld)  9 away L1-2 11,500 28,670*
31.10.1936 Liverpool  17 away L1-2 17 11 39,251 23,798

The abbreviations, as always…

  • 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.  *The Sunderland average crowd only includes league games, and not this Charity Shield match.

The league table at the end of October did not make good reading.

Arsenal in the 1930s, the series

Arsenal in the 1930s: the players



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