Arsenal in the summer – the overseas tour of 1937

by Tony Attwood

This article was update 23 Jan 2017, with information about Frank Moss

In the 1930s it was not commonplace for Arsenal to play end of season tours, and completely unknown for them to play pre-season friendlies, other than matches between the first team and the reserves (matches which I believe took place but for which I can find no written evidence).

The last major tour had been in 1931, when following a game against Northampton to help raise the funds for rebuilding the ground after a fire (the connection being that Northampton was Chapman’s first club as manager), Arsenal played a Danish XI, combined XIs in Copenhagen, Stockholm and Gothenburg, the Swedish national team, and Gothenburg.  After that there were no more foreign tours.

In 1932 there was a third and final game against Northampton, while in 1933 there was a match against Cliftonville.  In 1934 there were no post-season games, and in 1935 there had been a friendly against Norwich in support of a local good cause.

Now in 1937 Arsenal revived the tradition.   Arsenal had gone on occasional overseas tours from the Woolwich Arsenal days, and we have recorded in 1908 Arsenal finished the season by playing 8 games in 9 days in Scotland!

What made these series of games stop and start I really don’t know, but I imagine that relationships between Arsenal and Scandinavia had been well enough established by the 1931 tour for someone, either at Highbury or in Denmark or Sweden to press for a repeat.

Arsenal were of course now also playing the regular games against Sporting Club de Paris and against Rangers during the season, and these continued without pause, but as I have said, the end of season tour was an occasional.

However before the summer tour could depart on 14 May 1937 Alf Kirchen scored on his international début, one of two goals he got in three games for England.

Also there was sad news concerning Frank Moss, who had been Arsenal’s first team goalkeeper until he was injured playing for Arsenal.  He did come back and play for Arsenal a handful of times but was advised by the medical team to retire in the summer of 1937, at the age of 27. He had played 161 matches for Arsenal in total.

Frank Moss was then appointed manager of Heart of Midlothian as the club’s youngest manager and the first Hearts manager to have total control over team selection. He led his side to a second-place league finish in his first season in charge, but with the suspension of football in 1939 he resigned and left football for good.

As for the Arsenal tour, five matches were arranged

  • 25 May 1937: Gothenburg. 1-1 (Scorer Milne)
  • 28 May 1937: Copenhagen 4-1 (Crowd: 20,000) (Scorer James, Lewis 2, Davidson)
  • 31 May 1937: Copenhagen 5-1 (Scorers Crayston, Davidson, Lewis, Biggs, Nelson)
  • 2 June 1937: Copenhagen 3-0 (Crowd 22,000) (Scorers Nelson, Lewis, Nelson, Atter)
  • 6 June 1937: Feyenoord 3-0 (Crowd 55,000) (Scorers Biggs 2, Milne)

The 28 May game was the first senior appearance for Reg Lewis and as can be seen above, he scored twice as Arsenal won 4-1.  He had signed in May 1935 and turned pro on 15 March 1937 just in time for the tour.  

Reg’s first league match came on 1 January 1938.  He got a league winners’ medal in 1948 and a cup winner’s medal in 1950 as his scoring knack continued through his time at Arsenal and he ended his career with 103 league goals in 154 games.  Had the war not intervened, I have no doubt that he would have become the top goalscorer of all time, and even Thierry Henry would have had a problem reaching his total.

The 31 May  game saw the first appearance of Lawrie Scott.  George Allison changed him from a winger to a right back, and he played in the reserves for two years, until the outbreak of war, at which time he became a Physical Training instructor for the RAF.  He started playing in the post-war seasons and went on to play over 100 first team games for Arsenal.

On 2 June Reg Lewis played his third game in a row in which he scored, in a 3-0 win over Copenhagen suggesting a clear talent for the future.  And then, as noted above, on 6 June 1937 Alex James bowed out, arguably our greatest ever player playing his last ever game..  He played 231 league games as a deep lying inside forward scoring 26 goals.  He later became a youth coach but died of cancer aged 51.

Away from football the news was varied.   On 12 May there was great excitement as not only was King George VI married to Queen Elizabeth, but the BBC made this the subject of its first ever outside broadcast.

On 21 May nearly 5000 Basque children refugees from the Spanish Civil War arrived at Southampton seeking sanctuary.  There were no protests against immigration.

On the political front Neville Chamberlain became Prime Minister on 28 May, while there was considerably interest as on 1 July the 999 emergency number was introduced. Few private homes had phones but the government was busy putting a red phone box in every village that had a Post Office, thus bringing access to the emergency services to much of the population.

I’ve mention coal mine disasters several times through the articles that make up “Arsenal in the 1930s”, and there was yet another on 2 July at Holditch Colliery in Staffordshire in which 30 men died.  Back with politics on 28 July there was an assassination attempt on King George VI in Belfast by the IRA.

Returning now to football, the tour of Scandinavia was clearly a PR exercise in that Arsenal throughout primarily used their first team squad with a few “outsiders” getting the occasional game.  These included Scott at right back in the third match, Sidey playing four of the games at centre half (Atter playing the other game), Cartwright at outside right for one match, Griffiths and Nelson sharing the inside right position throughout the tour. Lewis got three games at centre forward, and Biggs the final game as well as one game at outside left, and Griffiths and Nelson sharing the outside left spot.

Not everyone went however: there was no Bastin, Drake, Roberts or Bowden, and it looks as if Boulton was the only keeper who was taken.  But perhaps taking this most famous of Arsenal players was part of the commercial deal, or perhaps Alex just wanted to have a holiday and play a few games before hanging up his boots forever.  It certainly must have been one hell of a wrench for the man regularly lauded as one of the greatest Arsenal players of all times.

The Arsenal in the Summer series is listed below.  For the full index of Arsenal in the 30s please see here.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *