Arsenal in August and September 1937: a brilliant start and a TV first.

By Tony Attwood

The 1936/7 season had ended in disappointment for Arsenal who had for a long time looked capable of winning the league.  Instead Man City made a late rush to win the league for the first time.

As the table above shows, Arsenal were a fair distance behind Man City (with two points for a win) but had a goal average that was not too far behind the champions.  Other than that the slippage was both in home and away games – when Arsenal had done well in the 30s it was with a home and away set of results that were similar.  Too many home draws, too many away defeats had let the title slip.

And so the new season came around.  (For details of Arsenal in the summer please see 1936: From winning the Cup to an attempt on the life of the king.

Although we don’t have details of the game, it is more than likely that as per usual Arsenal strarted the season by playing a first team v reserves (sometimes called Reds against Whites) game at 3pm on 21 August as a warm up match.  However I have just one hesitation in suggesting this, because of the events on 16 September – which we will come to in a moment.

The season proper opened in fine style for Arsenal with the result 28 August Everton 1 Arsenal 4.  The team was


Male Roberts Hapgood

Crayston Copping

Kirchen Bowden Drake Bastin Milne

We might note the way Arsenal started the previous season


Male Roberts Hapgood

Crayston Copping

Hulme Bowden Drake James Bastin

 Alex James had now gone of course, but for the most part continuity was the name of the game.

The good news for Arsenal, other than the score was that Ted Drake got a hattrick.  Ted Drake, fit and form was the key for Arsenal’s success.  Bastin scored the fourth.

Highlight of the day was Liverpool’s defeat by Chelsea 6-1, and the champions defeat 3-1 away to Wolverhampton.  In the second division it seemed to be business as usual as Tottenham drew 0-0 at home.

On the following Wednesday Arsenal had their first home game of the season, and a second fine win, 3-1 against Huddersfield.   Not surprisingly the team was mostly kept the same, just Hulme replacing Birchin.  Drake, Bastin and Crayston (having fun by creeping up the field, with no one really fancying having a face to boot confrontation with him) getting the other.

This was followed with a 5-0 hammering of Wolverhampton on the second saturday of the new campaign.  Drake got two making it six in three games, Bastin scored a penalty to make it three goals in three, Crayston improbably scored for the second week running, and Hulme got the fifth.

The results of the day meant that Arsenal were now the only team in the league with a 100% record.   What’s more Arsenal had yet to be behind in a match,  Bolton were one point below with two wins and a draw, and third placed Leeds were on four points.  Everton were bottom with three straight defeats.

The habit of taking the lead in each match continued in the next game with Bowden giving Arsenal the lead at half time in the next mid-week away game at Huddersfield and at 1-0 up at half time things were looking good.   But Arsenal lost the match 1-2 away and this against a Huddersfield team who had thus far won their only home match but lost both away games.  Bolton on the same day won their fourth game to go one place above Arsenal.

For Arsenal to keep up their pressure at the top they needed a quick response but could manage no more than a draw against Leicester in the next game.  A third change was made at outside right – Milne moving across wings allowing Dennis Compton to play on the left, with Bastin staying in his deeper playmaker role.  Also the tinkering with the goalkeeper position returned, with Wilson now dropping out and Boulton coming back in.

Following this came the third successive away game in a row, this against early leaders Bolton and for this Arthur Biggs came in at outside left – his second game for the club.   The other change saw Leslie Compton appear for the first time this season replacing the injured Male.

After three wins and a draw in the first four Bolton had been beaten by Huddersfield away but they regained their form to beat Arsenal 1-0 and jump from fourth spot back to the top leaving Arsenal, the early leaders down in 5th.

And then, the following day, Thursday 16 September 1937 Arsenal played Arsenal Reserves in one of the most famous Highbury matches of all time.

I’ve speculated above that this self same fixture was played on the Saturday before the season began.  That is quite possible because it was the tradition at the time, but this game was something else.  It was the first live game ever on TV, and there was a certain logic in the choice.  BBC TV was run at the time from Alexandra Palace which is just three miles from Avenell Road (the location of Highbury Stadium).

And there was a further logic in choosing Arsenal since only a small number of locations had a TV that could pick up the Alexandra Palace signal, which only reached maybe 10 miles in each direction.   Arsenal was the logical choice on all grounds.

This historic TV and footballing event lasted around a quarter of an hour and it has been suggested on one web site that it included an introduction to the team as well as a little bit of the game.  If that is so it was something that Arsenal were going to repeat with the Arsenal Stadium Mystery in two years later.

The recording of the game itself has been lost but it is claimed on one site that the recording of Chapman and Whittaker as shown below was prior to this televised match.   Yet it also looks to me like the introducing of the team used in the Arsenal Stadium Mystery.   Because I am away from home at the moment of writing this I can’t be sure but there is something odd going on here.  Certainly this first TV match was most on the date I am saying, by which time Herbert Chapman had been in his grave for three and a half years.  Therefore this can’t possibly be right.

Decipher as you can, but I’ll try and come back with a clearer idea of what is going on where.  But anyway, its a nice clip so here it is…


It was the second time Arsenal had been used for a trial run; the first live football radio broadcast was their 1927 league match against Sheffield United.    (As we have recorded elsewhere Arsenal were deliberately chosen by the BBC to be in the first broadcast of Match of the Day in order to maintain the tradition.)

The experiment was deemed to be a success and preparations were made to take the idea further.  The next televised game was England v Scotland on 9 April 1938.

Two days later Arsenal played Sunderland at home.   After climbing to 5th with successive victories Sunderland had slipped back down the league following a 4-0 defeat to the fast improving Wolverhampton and approached the game in 9th.

Male returned, Bastin moved across to insight right, Davidson came in at inside left and Milne returned.   It worked as Arsenal were 4-1 up by half time, and then eased off, deciding that they had punished their visitors enough.   Hulme, Drake, Davidson, Milne got the goals.

The final game of the month was away to Derby, which should have been an easier match.  Derby had just lost 6-1 to champions Manchester City just a week after losing 8-1 to Stoke.  Indeed they had only won one game all season – a 2-1 victory over Everton.  But the Man City defeat had left them in 20th – a sorry state for a club that had come second in 1936 and 4th in 1937 – and indeed the club which had been top of the league at the end of September one year before.

Arsenal kept the same team that had won so well in the last match, and although it was goalless at half time the game went against Arsenal and the unexpected 2-0 defeat knocked Arsenal down to 7th having made the sensational start of three successive wins.  They had only won one game since and as a result of this defeat dropped from 2nd the 7th in the space of one match.

Here is the regular summary table…

Date Opposition Op pos Venue Result Pos Pts Crowd Av crowd
28.08.1937 Everton  17* away W4-1 3 2  53856 30324
01.09.1937 Huddersfield T  15* home W3-1 1 4 32758 44045
04.09.1937 Wolverhampton  2 home W5-0 1 6 67311 44045
08.09.1937 Huddersfield T  17 away L1-2 2 6 28405 17004
11.09.1937 Leicester City  15 away D1-1 2 7 39106 20402
15.09.1937 Bolton Wand  4 away L0-1 5 7 39750 25012
16.09.1937 Arsenal Res home
18.09.1937 Sunderland  9 home W4-1 2 9 65635 44045
25.09.1937 Derby County  20 away L0-2 7 9 33101 17228

*Position at the end of the previous season

The Arsenal ability to attract the crowds however had not diminished.   With the highest home average crowd in the league Arsenal were also adding hugely to the crowds of the clubs they visited with clubs such as Derby and Leicester seeing their home average crowd for the season almost double when the Arsenal were in town.

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.

The league table now looked like this

Manchester City, the champions, had a perfect home record but were no longer a frightening force away from home, and seemed to be having difficulty in adjusting to their position.  And overall away wins were looking to be hard to come by.

It was as if the approach of Sunderland in recent years had been noted and was now being copied everywhere.   This was the antithesis of the Chapman approach in which the counter attacking game was set up so that it could work as well at home as it could work away.

Meanwhile, after a dodgy start, Tottenham had won three games in a row and pulled themselves up to 7th in the second division.

Here is the rest of this series so far…

The statistics (these articles are added to as the main series continues)

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