This article is part of a series covering Arsenal throughout the 1930s from the first FA Cup and League triumphs to the outbreak of war. A list of all the articles appears at the end of this episode.
By Tony Attwood
At the end of 1936 the top of the first division table was indeed congested, and nothing as yet was certain. Sunderland were the reigning champions, Brentford had won the 2nd Division in 1935 and Charlton had won promotion in 1936 by coming runners’ up in the 2nd Division while Derby had been runners’ up in the top tier that season. And all of them were vying with Arsenal for dominance in the league.
Thus there was a significant amount of jostling for position among teams with recent successes, but there is no doubt that Arsenal was the team of the decade with four league titles and two FA Cups in the 1930s thus far.
As the new year began the league table looked like this…
|18||Preston North End||22||7||5||10||31||41||0.76||19|
|21||West Bromwich Albion||21||7||3||11||36||47||0.77||17|
On New Years Day Bolton approached their match against Arsenal not in the best of spirits, having just lost twice to bottom club Man U over the Xmas period, 0-1 away and 0-4 at home. Worse for them in approaching Arsenal was the fact that their home form was decidedly mediocre having won just three games, scoring 13 goals at home in their 12 games. In fact the game on Christmas Day was the start of a 14 match run without a win which took them quickly down to 21st place where they remained until mid-March. Indeed they would have been bottom had Manchester United not managed some equally poor form during the period.
Except that on this day, quite extraordinarily, Man U beat Sunderland 2-1!
Arsenal had been forced to field a very changed side for the Preston game at the end of the old year, and further changes were now required. Male came back but Hapgood was out. Roberts was still missing at centre half, Davidson was not available, and both first and second choice keepers were now by-passed meaning that Boulton continued in goal.
Elsewhere Bernard Joy was dropped as deputy centre half and Sidey therefore came in and made just his third appearance of the season. Leslie Compton continued to oblige at full back, once more swapping sides this time from right to left back to cover for the injuries.
And as a result of all these changes… Arsenal won 5-0 with Drake getting four and Milne the other.
The next game, against Huddersfield the very next day (January 2), was one in which we might have expected Arsenal, a team used to using the whole squad in Allison’s earlier seasons, to shuffle the pack. But this was not how it turned out – exactly the same XI played as had played the day before.
Huddersfield had not won a single away game, but they had managed five draws and were on a fairly decent run having won three of the last four games. They also had the benefit of not having played since 28 December, unlike Arsenal who could hardly have had time to get off the train and have a nap before coming back to the ground. As a result the 1-1 draw was acceptable. Kirchen got Arsenal’s goal.
Of the chasing pack only Charlton won. Sunderland lost while Brentford drew and as the holiday period finally came to an end the table still had Arsenal at the top – but perhaps just as importantly with a goal average that was now streaking ahead of the nearby teams…
The game scheduled for January 9 had looked for a few weeks as if it might be a clash between the top two, but Sunderland’s recent run of form had been similar to Arsenal’s in the earlier part of the season with just four wins in the last nine. Worse for them the last two results had been defeats to bottom of the table Man U (as noted above) and Preston.
As such some expected Arsenal to win at Sunderland, but the club still had a perfect home record of 11 straight wins. Roberts returned, and Nelson got a second game, as Arsenal continued to use their third choice keeper.
What happened this season with the Arsenal goalkeepers is sometimes called “rotation” but this is not the case. Herbert Chapman had often been one to change his keepers, dropping Bill Harper in 1927 only to sign him again in 1930, after he had dropped Keyser who had played in goal for the first 12 games of the 1930/1 season, being only once on the losing side. (There’s a lot of dropping in that last sentence, and this is deliberate. Removing one keeper and replacing with another was what both Chapman and Allison did. The use of three keepers in a season was normal – sometimes it was even four. Wilson had been replaced by Swindin, and now Swindin was replaced by Boulton. It happened. The keepers had to get used to it).
Thus there was no rotation, these keepers were dropped, sometimes to be brought back later in the case of injury or perceived loss of form by another member of the squad, sometimes never to be seen again. It is was something both Chapman and Allison did.
So although a draw was not all Arsenal wanted, there was still the consolation of being the first club of the season to take a point at Roker Park. And besides results elsewhere were still going in Arsenal’s favour leaving them first, at least for another couple of weeks. Charlton were the only winners of the top four thus moving them to within a point of Arsenal.
Arsenal thus were still the form team of the day with four wins and two draws in the last six. Charlton had four wins, a draw and a defeat, Brentford three wins, two draws and a defeat, and Sunderland were fading fast with three wins and three defeats.
But now, just as things were really coming to the boil, everything was put on hold as the FA Cup 3rd round took over, Arsenal being away to second division Chesterfield (promoted the previous season from Division III North). They were currently 13th in their league, but despite their modest position they had won four of the last six, their last match resulting in a 4-1 home win against Fulham.
For Arsenal however there were no nasty surprises and they ran out easy winners 5-1, Drake (2), Kirchen (2) and Davidson getting the goals.
The draw for the next round gave Arsenal a home game against relegation threatened Manchester United at the end of the month – something that in Arsenal’s current form looked eminently winnable.
But before that there was another home game – against Wolverhampton who were in 13th position. Their away record thus far did not look too frightening: two wins, three draws, seven defeats. True they had won six of their last seven league games and had handsomely beaten high flying Middlesbrough 6-1 at Molineux in the 3rd round of the cup, but even so…
The same team as beat Sunderland turned out – including Bastin now playing at inside right, and there was a straightforward 3-0 win, Bastin getting a penalty to open the scoring, followed by goals from Drake and Bowden. Brentford and Sunderland played out a 3-3 draw while Charlton won away at Birmingham.
And so Arsenal went onto the fourth round of the cup against Man U: top against bottom. A mini United revival of three wins in four over Christmas had faded and Man U had suffered two draws and two defeats in the subsequent league games. They were now with one win and 12 defeats away from home.
The 5-0 win to Arsenal was just about the easiest result of the day to predict. The team once more remained the same, as Bastin, Davidson, Drake, Kitchen and an supplementary own goal saw Arsenal through to the fifth round for the third year running.
Elsewhere Charlton, having been knocked out in the third round, played out a 2-2 draw with Middlesbrough and courtesy of the extra game went top.
Here’s the regular table. *Chesterfield’s league position refers of course to the second division. Their crowd average and that of Man U refers to league matches only.
|30.01.1937||Man Utd FAC4||22||home||W5-0||2||45,637||32,332|
The abbreviations, as always…
- Op pos, is the league position of the opposition before the game. Chesterfield’s position is obviously in relation to Division 2.
- 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 table for the end of January 1937.
Arsenal in the 30s
- 1: Life in 1930 and winning the first major trophy.
- 2: The cup winners who dropped out and the players who came in
- 3: How Chapman put his triumphant 1931 team together.
- 4: September 1930; played 8 won 7 drawn 1.
- 5: October 1930: A stumble, Villa are close behind, Man U have 12 defeats in a row.
- 6: November 1930: Scoring 5 in three games in one month.
- 7: December 1930: 3 games in 3 days and 14 goals scored.
- 8: January 1931: the biggest league win ever at Highbury
- 9: February 1931: the goals just won’t stop coming.
- 10: March 1931: hope, defeat, hope
- 11: April 1931: Arsenal win the league for the very first time.
- 12: Arsenal in the summer of 1931, the records and the Scandinavian tour
- 13: Arsenal in shock – July and August 1931
- 14: September 1931; the champions recover from a poor start.
- 15: October 1931: Arsenal lose to Grimsby
- 16: November 1931: Chapman’s exasperation with goal keepers
- 17: December 1931: A scoring sensation but a dreadful month
- 18: January 1932: A return to form and a record score
- 19: February 1932: From a faltering start to nine wins in a row
- 20: March 1932: Huge crowds, an emergency signing, better results, another semi-final
- 21: April 1932: Film of Arsenal in the Cup Final, and attempts to win the league.
- 22: Arsenal in the summer of 1932. Arsenal runners up in league and cup, Man U’s average gate drops below Plymouth’s, Stanley Matthews first game, and the greatest run in Arsenal’s entire history is about to begin.
- 23: August 1932 – preparing for the ultimate greatness.
- 24: September 1932: Arsenal’s first steps into immortality
- 25: October 1932: The rise to the stars
- 26: November 1932: Records fall, greatness beckons.
- 27: December 1932: Greatness and supremacy
- 28: January 1933: Top of the league and defeated by Walsall.
- 29: February 1933: New shirts, awful weather, a record score
- 30: March 1933: Top of the league but a month to forget
- 31: April/May 1933: Champions for the second time
- 32: 1929/33: All the men who played in the League for Arsenal.
- 33: Arsenal in the summer 1933: Champions and water shortages
- 34: August/September 1933 – the start of the new season.
- 35: October 1933 – a return to progress
- 36: November 1933 – displacing Tottenham.
- 37: December 1933: Chapman’s last month; Arsenal triumphant
- 38: January 1934: The death of Chapman
- 39: February 1934. Chapman is gone, but the club moves on.
- 40: March 1934. Chapman’s two teams fight for the title
- 41: April 1934. Joe Shaw wins the league for Chapman
- 42: 1933/34 League players, and how the goals declined but the crowds went up.
- 43: Arsenal in the summer 1934: Allison takes over from Shaw and Chapman.
- 44: August/Sep 1934: Allison starts with a bang
- 45: October 1934 – Arsenal finally blow away the north London curse
- 46: November 1934: vying for the top of the league, and the Battle of Highbury
- 47: Arsenal in December 1934: two steps forward, two steps back.
- 48: January 1935: Suddenly Arsenal’s form turns upside down
- 49: February 1935. Despite one slip, Arsenal remain top.
- 50: March 1935: Beating Tottenham by a record score
- 51: April/May 1935: Winning the league for the third time in succession.
- 52: Arsenal in the Summer 1935 after three championships in a row
- 53: September 1935: After three successive championships things get sticky
- 54: October 1935: Ok but not good enough
- 55: November 1935; Drake starts scoring again.
- 56: December 1935: beating the record, and record confusions. Ted Drake before and after the magnificent seven.
- 57: January 1936: the league won’t be won, but what about the FA Cup…
- 58: February 1936: an early example of rotational selection
- 59: March 1936: Wembley again but player rotation starts affecting the crowds
- 60: April/May 1936; Arsenal win the Cup. A match report and season’s end
- 61: Arsenal in the Summer of 1936
- 62: Arsenal players 1934/5 and 1935/36: the fundamental problem with the team
- 63: August / Sept 1936: 20 different players used in the first seven league games
- 64: October 1936: Arsenal in free fall
- 65: November 1936: Arsenal reborn, TV starts, the king demands, the palace burns down.
- 66: December 1936: once more top of the league as the king steps down
Latest addition: the Index of Arsenal players
The index of all the major articles on the site about Arsenal players is now complete. It comes in two parts:
We have around 1500 articles on this site, and a fair number are specifically about individual players who played for Arsenal. However this is the first time they have been fully indexed.
Of course there are many other sources of articles on Arsenal players but I do like to think that the articles here add a lot more detail, and have often found stories and issues that have been missed in other reports. I do hope you will give us a try.