November 1936: Arsenal reborn, TV starts, the king demands, the palace burns down.

By Tony Attwood

Arsenal had ended October 1936 in a singularly parlous position – one that had not been seen for many a year…

Two points away from a relegation place was absolutely not what anyone was used to in terms of Arsenal in the 1930s, although as we have previously seen, this type of collapse soon after success was not unknown for other clubs in the 1st division in the inter-war years.

Although Arsenal remained unbeaten at home, their away form was particularly depressing showing one win, one draw and four defeats, with just three goals scored across those matches.   The only thing in Arsenal’s favour was that the table was particularly compacted at this time and a victory in the club’s game in hand could take them up six or seven places on its own.  A run of victories (unlikely as that seemed) could do the club the world of good.

The month commenced with the regular match against Racing Club de Paris, with Arsenal running out winners 5-0, having taken a comfortable 3-0 win at half time.  Kirchen, Drake and a hattrick for Milne produced the goals.  But the game was most notable for the experiment with the left footed Bastin, who played right half – feeding the balls from the back three quickly onto the inside forwards.  It clearly worked a treat.

Although at the time not too many people noticed, the next day, 2 November 1936, the BBC launched the world’s first regular television service.

Back with the football Arsenal thus began the month of league games feeling slightly more positive than before, and with time to recover and prepare for the home match against Leeds United the following Saturday.

Leeds were currently in 21st position and had lost all seven of their away games thus far, letting in an average of fractionally under three goals a game.   Anything other than a win for Arsenal would have shown that the rot had well and truly set in and relegation was a possibility.   But a refreshing result of a 4-1 win came as the top two both lost, as did the teams just ahead of Arsenal, allowing the club in one fell swoop to move up to 13th.  Not what was expected before the season began, but better.

There was more news that would have been missed by most but which had a profound impact on the world, on 12 November when – Alan Turing’s paper “On Computable Numbers” was formally presented to the London Mathematical Society, introducing the concept of the “Turing machine”, and ultimately, digital technology.

Birmingham, on the 14th, were the next opponents.  They were one place behind Arsenal, but this game was away, where thus far Arsenal had been having real difficulties.  But the good run continued (if a two games can be called a run) and Arsenal won their second away game of the season – and for the first time in the season got two wins in a row.  They were now up to 8th and the 3-1 victory also meant seven goals in the last two league games.  Quite an improvement.

Yet again the match was followed by a news item, and this time virtually no one knew about it because of a government black out on the news.  On 16 November King Edward VIII informed the Prime Minister of his intention to marry the divorced Wallis Simpson. Baldwin dutifully told the King that any woman he married would have to become Queen, and the British public would not accept Wallis Simpson as Queen, what with her being divorced and all. The King then told Mr Baldwin that he wass prepared to abdicate if the government opposed his marriage.

But as I say, at this stage, the public was kept in ignorance and so could focus on the third game of the month: at home to sixth placed Middlesbrough who themselves had won their last three games, and were unbeaten at home.   And suddenly no one could stop Arsenal as they can out 5-3 winners on 21 November.  In three matches Arsenal had moved from just outside the relegation zone to fourth.

But it must be noted that Arsenal were helped on this day in that only one of the top six (Sunderland) actually won, and several of the top sides suffered sizeable defeats.

So we came to the final game of the month – against West Brom.  Having had a modest start to the season, three wins out of four games in October had taken them up to 15th, but just as November had been a break through month for Arsenal so it was a disaster for WBA as they lost all four games – this last 2-4.

Thus Arsenal had had an unexpectedly good run of results, aided by playing some modest opposition – but wins are wins, and four wins out of four had lifted Arsenal from 17th to 3rd.  It was an extraordinary rise – and on this day with even top placed Sunderland losing Arsenal were just two points behind the leaders (Portsmouth – who had drawn at home) with a game in hand!

So what had happened?  What had caused the turnaround.

The most obvious fact was that Drake came back into the team, played all four games and scored in every game getting six goals in all.   In fact the whole forward line was now much more settled reading:

Kirchen Bowden Drake, Davidson, Milne.

It was Milne’s first run since the opening part of the previous season and he clearly enjoyed himself getting five goals in the month.

But perhaps the strangest move was that of left winger Bastin, across to right half, following the experiment with this in the Paris game.  Seemingly the manager thought Bastin no longer had the turn of speed that he had used to destroy defences in 1930, but he could still pick out the perfect pass.  However he still had a licence to roam forwards, as witness his goal against Middlesbrough.  In this way Arsenal found the perfect cover for the injured Crayston.

So suddenly Arsenal were back in the goals – with 16 in four games, more than they had scored in the opening 12 games of the season.  If they could only keep up the performance through the six games in December, then things really could be looking up, and what had appeared to be a most unpromising month could suddenly become yet another season with a trophy.

Here’s the month’s summary.

Date Opposition Op pos H/A Result Pos Pts Crowd AC
01.11.1936 Racing club Paris away W5-0
07.11.1936 Leeds United 21 home W4-1 13 13  32,535 43,353
14.11.1936 Birmingham City 14 away W3-1 8 15 39,940 22,991
21.11.1936 Middlesbrough 6 home W5-3 4 17 44,829 43,353
28.11.1936 West Bromwich 21 away W4-2 3 19 27,609  21,742

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.

As column six in the table above shows, the league position was turned upside down, and I am showing the home and away split in the table below to show how Arsenal were already one of the best performing away sides in the league.

This indeed was how Chapman had built his teams, with the quick counter attack that would work as well away from home as at home.  Suddenly with the forced reshuffle of players they had learned how to do it all over again.

Meanwhile in the second division Tottenham were once more at their most erratic.  Two 5-1 home wins against Bradford City and Chesterfield were undone by a final home defeat to Plymouth leaving them in 14th place, 13 points behind the leaders Leicester.

There is however one more event to mention in this momentous month, and this time everyone noticed.  On 30 November the Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire.

You might also enjoy…

Arsenal in the 30s: the series


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