Arsenal in Nov 1937; a tactical signing changes the game

By Tony Attwood

Arsenal began November 1937 languishing in 9th place, with the football world was awash with rumours of the biggest shake up in Allison’s career as a manager about to happen.

Chapman had been known to be ruthless in his treatment of players, dropping them the moment they did not meet his expectations, and paying previously unheard of sums to bring in the player he wanted.  Allison it was said, was about to do the same.  Two wins in ten was not acceptable to Arsenal at any time, especially in the 1930s.

Here is how the table looked at the start of the month.

Despite lying ninth, Arsenal were only four points off the top of the league, and still with a very promising goal average.  Although they were still the bottom London club in the top league.   I’ve continued the table down to 12th to incorporate last season’s champions who were also languishing.

I noted at the end of last month that three players played their last game for Arsenal in the defeat to Middlesbrough.   On 4 November 1937 we were able to see why. Leslie Jones signed from Coventry for whom he had scored 70 goals in 138 games .  Tottenham had made an offer of £7,000 for him, but were outbid by Arsenal who included the Tottenham money and Bobby Davidson.  Jones played his first game just two days later in the 2-1 defeat to Grimsby – so just like Reg Cumner, he scored on his debut.

Part of the reason for Davidson’s departure was that he seemed to be constantly in trouble with refs – something that the Arsenal board and management did not like – it did not fit with the Arsenal image; so the deal suited both sides.

On 5 November 1937 Ray Bowden transferred to Newcastle for £5000 – an interesting profit for a player who was moving down a league and was starting to have injury problems with his ankle.   In all he played 138 matches for Arsenal and scored 43 goals.  It was a week of excellent business for Arsenal.

Then as the first game for Jones in an Arsenal shirt approached the issue of where he was going to play became the topic of the day.  He was known as a goal scorer – but where players had played before did not mean anything to Chapman – nor it seemed to Allison, who had after all learned from the master.   Jones most certainly was not going to replace Ted Drake, nor, it appeared, take Drake’s position when Drake was injured – as he still was when Jones arrived.  Besides, tucked away in the reserves Arsenal had a player who was already marked down as Drake’s replacement – Reg Lewis.  He hadn’t played for the club yet – still being too young, but Arsenal knew a prospect when they saw one.

For this reason Arsenal were happy to continue with Hunt as the replacement for Ted Drake for the moment, expecting to bring in Reg Lewis later in the season if need be.  Which means that from the very date of signing Les Jones was marked down as an inside forward – which is exactly where he played throughout the season – along with a few games even further back as left half.   His job was to get the ball forward perfectly to the on-running three front men as it came out of midfield, not to rush forward and score goals.  It is the misunderstanding of this positional issue that has led many historians to suggest that Jones’ transfer was a failure – I think this is quite wrong, as the rest of the season will show.

His arrival also had another impact that is ignored in most books that write about Jones.  It allowed Bastin to return to by far his most effective position – left wing, from which he had in the past been the club’s top scorer on occasion.

So yes, Jones’ transfer was about goals, but not about goals by Jones. Allison wanted to use him in a way that allowed the talents of Bastin and Drake to be maximised.

For the first game things did not work out too well.   On 6 November 1937 it was Grimsby 2 Arsenal 1.  It was the début for Leslie Jones who (contrary to all I have said above) scored the Arsenal goal.  But it was the fifth consecutive league game without a win and it might well have been that Jones was having trouble adjusting to his new role.  The team was…


L Compton Joy Hapgood

Crayston Copping

Milne Jones Hunt Bastin D Compton

On 13 November the result was Arsenal 1 WBA 1 – it was Arsenal’s sixth consecutive game without a win with just five goals scored in the last five games.   Worse, WBA were a very average team who had already let in 33 goals.   Leslie Compton scored in front of just 24,324 spectators.  

But hidden within this was more experimentation, for here the forward line ran

Milne Biggs Kirchen Jones Boulton

Now Arsenal were away to Charlton who had only lost one home game and were sitting in seventh position.  For this game Boulton came back in goal, Male returned at full back after seven games out, and most important of all Drake returned at centre forward with Bastin on the left wing – his first game in that position in a year and a half.   So the forward line now looked like this:

Kirchen Hunt Drake Jones Bastin

The idea was simple – the defence would have no idea who to mark, and it worked a dream.   Bastin got the first, Drake the second and the third was an own goal from Ford as the defence turned itself inside out trying to solve the conundrum.  It was Arsenal’s first win in seven.

The following weekend Arsenal were at home to Leeds, but still the crowds were not induced to return despite the fact that Leeds were fifth and were undefeated in the last four, Arsenal had a new player and had just returned to goal scoring ways – and were still only four off the top.   For once the team remained unchanged and Arsenal won again – this time 4-1.   Drake got two, Bastin a penalty and Kirchin the other.

The following day Arsenal flew to Paris for the annual game against Racing Club de Paris, the result being Racing 0 Arsenal 2.  Drake so recently back from injury was given the day off but Jones played, as the club practised with him in his new role.  Collett and Cartwright got outings as the half backs with a forward line of Kirchen, Hunt, Lewis, Jones, and Milne.  Hunt and Lewis got the goals.   Lewis’ reputation as the next best thing at number 9 was once more enhanced – as were his chances of getting a league game this season.

Here is the summary table for the month…

Date Opposition Op pos Venue Result Pos Pts Crowd Av crowd
06.11.1937 Grimsby Town  17 away L1-2 11 14 20,244 12,288
13.11.1937 West Bromwich Albion  14 home D1-1 10 15 34,324 44,045
20.11.1937 Charlton Athletic  7 away W3-0 9 17 55,078 28,336
27.11.1937 Leeds United  5 home W4-1 6 19 34,350 44,045
28.11.1937 Racing Club de Paris away W2-0

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.

As a result of the two wins in late November Arsenal’s position had recovered significantly and they were back to sixth, still four points off the leaders Brentford.  Once again the goal average stood out.  If the league remained this tight, that could be crucial.

Arsenal History on Kindle

The novel “Making the Arsenal” by Tony Attwood which describes the events of 1910, which created the modern Arsenal FC, is now available for the first time on Kindle.  Full details are here.

Also available: Woolwich Arsenal: the club that changed football (Kindle Edition)   For full details please see here.

For an index of the various series on this site please see the home page.

Here is the 1930s series to date…



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