The Arsenal handbook 1930: after winning the first major trophy

By Tony Attwood

The Arsenal handbook for 1930 (officially titled “The Arsenal Football Club History and Fixtures 1930/31”) has been on line for a while now courtesy of Andy Kelly but for those of us reaching a certain age it is not that easy to read, and so as part of the “Arsenal in the 1930s” series I thought I would put a transcription up.

Page 1 of the handbook has the list of club officials as you might expect and the history of the club begins after that taking up the first eight pages.   It was not the first history of the club that was ever produced by a long way, but it reached a wide audience, and thus is particularly notable, not least because it continued some of the myths surrounding the early club, myths that were not unravelled until the publication over 80 years later of “Woolwich Arsenal: the club that changed football.”

In what follows I am presenting the article as it is published.  I’ll be writing a further article pointing out some of the errors in this 1930 version of the club’s past.

The handbook, which in total ran to 40 pages of print plus four cover pages sold for 2d – two old pence.   At the time of conversion to the contemporary currency that would have been under 1p, although the penny has been devalued multiple times since then.

I have been faithful to the text that follows in all but one regard.  The tendency in the 1930s was to make paragraphs as long as possible.  To make it a little easier to take in, I’ve included a few extra page breaks – not least because should you wish you can see how the original looked via the link above.

Here then is the “History of Arsenal Football Club” by “Recorder”  


To us who regularly follow a sport which for many years has been a recognised force in the life of the nation and who are connected with a club which has just won one of the world’s outstanding trophies, it is indeed a far cry back to the year 1886 which witnessed the foundation – unheralded and unsure – on the outskirts of London of a club for the promotion of a sport which although making rapid headway, had not yet won recognition as a national institution.  

The bunch of Midland enthusiasts headed by an ex-Nottingham Forest player, J. H. Beardsley, who in that year inaugurated the Royal Arsenal Football Club cannot possibly have had any conception of the eminence to which the game they played and the club they were founding were going to rise in less than half a century.

It was an era in which a number of clubs were founded, but few such organisations can have started their careers in less promising circumstances than the club which had its birth in the Royal Oak, Woolwich in 1886.  For Royal Arsenal were pioneers in the Metropolis of the Association game, for London and the South – and particularly Woolwich  – were devoted to the Rugby game.

But the courage of the founders was rewarded.  In the opening season the matches were played on Plumstead Common to which the public had free access and the results were most promising.  Ten games were played of which seven were won, one drawn and two lost, with a goal record of 36-8.  This was an inspiring start and the committee were emboldened to seek the acquisition of a private ground, and the first pitch obtained was that which went by the name of the Sportsman’s ground.  They did not remain there long, for on the occasion of a match against Millwall the rain had rendered the pitch so unsuitable for play that a hurried move had to be made to an adjoining meadow, known as the Manor Field which proved so satisfactory that the committee rented it for a further season.

In the playing sense the club had been most successful, especially in 1889/90 when three out of four cups for which the club entered were won.  Success stimulated ambition, and in the following season another move was made, this time to the Invicta ground, which was an enclosed decidedly superior to those which had previously housed the club as it possessed luxuries such as stands, terracing, and dressing rooms.  

Another successful season was experienced, and the club now took a momentous step, which imperilled their existence, for in 1891/92 the club followed the example of clubs in the north and embraced professionalism.  This action was most displeasing to their neighbours in the South, and at the outset Woolwich Arssenal – as the club was now styled suffered a serious boycott.  Nor was that the full extent of their troubles for in the following season the landlord of the Invicta ground demanded a rental which was quite beyond the pocket of the club.  A bold policy was called for, and the committee did not hesitate.  A limited liability company was formed and the Manor Field ground was bought, an enclosure which was to be their home for twenty years.

As had been the experience of the Northern clubs, Woolwich Arsenal soon recognised that the League system was the essential consequence of professionalism.  The Football League had now been in existence for four seasons and in 1892 the club circularised other organisations in the South with a view to forming a similar competition.  

The idea did not meet with a successful response at first for the project failed, but a year later the Southern League came into being.  But by that time Woolwich Arsenal had found other accommodation.  They had applied for admission to the Second Division of the Football League, and in 1893 admission to that body was obtained, the club being the first London club to be elected a member.  Their example has since been followed by eleven other Metropolitan clubs.

The club played for eleven years in the Second Division, and the playing results were always satisfactory, for in not a single season did they fail to secure 50 per cent, of the possible number of points.  Finally in 1904 after narrowly missing the honour in the two previous seasons Woolwich Arsenal won promotion to the First Division in company with Preston North End.  

The club was not found wanting in the higher sphere, and while a gratifying level was maintained in the League great feats were being achieved in the Cup.  In 1905-06 they reached the semi-final, falling to the mighty Newcastle United, and in the next season the feat was repeated, Sheffield Wednesday (the ultimate winners) knocking them out.

But if all was well on the field difficulties were increasing behind the scenes.  During the twenty years which had elapsed since the club’s foundation football had grown and the expenses of a professional club had swollen in proportion.  

The support at Plumstead had always been of a high quality, the loyalty of our followers being above praise, but the quality was not commensurate with a First Division status.  In addition, competition was growing and Woolwich was inadequately served in the matter of transport from the City.  

Matters became increasingly acute, but the position was relieved in 1910 by the arrival on the scene of Mr (now Sir) Henry Norris and Mr William Hall.  The situation, however did not improve, and in 1912-13 after a disastrous playing season the club finished bottom of the division and were relegated.

The situation now seemed to call for some special measures.  After a careful review of the circumstances from every angle it was decided to move the club’s headquarters from Plumstead to Highbury.  Subsequent events have more than justified this venture the difficulties of which were enhanced by the outbreak of war in the succeeding year.  In the year 1913-14 (the first season of play at Highbury) the club – now styled plain “Arsenal” – only missed promotion by goal average, and in the abnormal war-time season a good effort was made.  After that League football was suspended.

In 1919 the League competition was resumed and the club was re-admitted to an enlarged First Division by vote.  Up to 1925 results were not all that had been hoped, and there was many an occasion when First Division status was in jeopardy but thanks to team spirit and co-operation this disaster was avoided.  

In 1925 came the appointment to the managership of Mr Herbert Chapman under whose guidance the club has won unprecedented success in the field.  In 1925-26 Arsenal were runners-up in the League and in the next season they had the honour of contesting the FA Cup Final v Cardiff City – unfortunately without success.  

But success was only postponed.  After two good seasons, 1929-30 proved the year of victory for the FA Cup was won at last.  But that “annus mirabilis” deserves a chapter to itself.

The management of the club has been reorganised in recent years, but those at present in charge do not forget their debt to those who weathered the storms of the past: members of the Board like Sir Henry Norris, Mr W Hall, Mr J Humble and Mr G.M Leavey; our past managers, Mr T.B. Mitchell, Mr Harry Bradshaw, Mr Phil Kelson, Mr G. Morrell and Mr A. L. Knighton; great players of the past like Andy Ducat, Jimmy Ashcroft, Tim Coleman, David Neave, Bobby Templeton, Rody McEachrane, Jimmy Sharp, Percy Sands, Joe Shaw, Dr J.A. Paterson and Charles Buchan, to mention but a few.  

These men did great work for Arsenal, and the management of today are resolved that the Arsenal of today shall prove in every way worthy of those who have served in the years that are passed.

Season 1929-30

All the other events of last campaign are, of course, dwarfed by the great achievement of winning the FA Challenge Cup for the first time.  It was not out of their turn that Arsenal gained their success.  Their record in the competition during the previous four seasons had been second to none, for in addition to being finalists in 1927 and semi-finalists in 1928 they had been in the sixth round in 1926 and 1929.  Thus for five successive years Arsenal have had a place among the last eight.  

Nor can it be said that, when success finally came their way, it was undeserved.  No team yet has been known to win the Cup without a measure of luck, and Arsenal do not claim to be any exception to that normal.  

Fortune was most noticeably in their favour in the tie against Birmingham.  In the first match a draw was only narrowly effected after a seemingly winning position had been lost, while in the replay, which we won by a penalty goal in the second half, it must be admitted, without detracting the smallest credit from the heroic performance of our defence, that we were distinctly relieved to emerge from the first half on level terms.  

In the semi-final tie against Hull City there were also times when defeat seemed a certainty.  All cup winners have experienced these moments, and in our case they are more than outweighed by the brilliant performances in other ties.  Our victories at Middlesbrough and at West Ham won universal praise, while our play against Chelsea in the opening tie and against Huddersfield Town in the Final was of a high order.  

With regard to the Final it is universally agreed that, not only was the contest conducted in a fine spirit which did honour to all concerned, but also the quality of play was higher than is usual in this nerve wracking match.

The subject of the Cup Final cannot be left without, firstly, sympathising with Huddersfield on account of their disappointing experience of being losing finalist for the second time in three years (not to mention reaching the semi-final in the intervening year) and congratulating the Yorkshire team on their fine showing, and secondly once more acknowledging the invaluable help of Lewis, Jones, Williams, Roberts, Haynes, and Thompson who did splendid work in the earlier rounds but were unable for various reasons to share personally in the concluding triumph.

Mention, too, cannot be omitted of the magnificent skill in management of Mr Chapman for without his constant vigilance in direction, backed by his unceasing enthusiasm, this great success would not have been achieved.

Our performances in the League were not all that had been hoped, although our final position (14th) and our final total of points (39) would both have been improved but for the prolonged distraction of the Cup ties.  

The most disheartening period was that of November and December when an inexplicable series of “home” defeats in spite of high general level of play brought us seriously low in the table.  Throughout the season it was loss of points at home which was pulling us down.  Away from home results were most satisfactory, only four clubs in the division having a better record on tour.

Most pleasing feature of all was the outstanding brilliance of the football shown by our players in some of the matches.  The display in the first half of the game at Blackburn and the whole of the match at Liverpool was of a standard far higher than is usual in a League match, but unfortunately the results were not in accordance with the skill displayed.  

Besides these games, probably the displays at Hillsborough on September 7th and against Blackburn Rovers on March 29th were the best of the season.

While the players on whom we had relied in earlier seasons maintained their high quality of skill, there was an encouraging response to the call to League service on the part of junior players.  Lambert and Seddon, called up to regular first team duty after prolonged experience in the second team, fulfilled the hopes that had been placed in them, while Bastin and Haynes who in the course of the season experienced First Division play for the first time, gave promise of a successful future.

The London Combination Championship was won by the reserves team for the fourth year in succession.  The performances of the second string were always of high standard, and except as is inevitable on the rare occasion of an “off day” they purveyed a class of play which was above that to the other teams in the competition.  

In the opening half of the season it seemed that Swansea Town would be the chief rivals, but after Christmas the Welsh club fell behind and Brentford and later Tottenham Hotspur were the chief contenders of our supremacy.  After the beginning of March, however, this contention was never very disturbing and at the close of the season Arsenal finished nine points higher than the second club in the list.  A record number of goals and a record number of points were scored.

There were few changes in personnel during the season, the only departure being that of H. B. Peel to Bradford City on December 11th.  The acquisitions were three, viz. J.J. Williams from Stoke City on September 14th, D. Halliday from Sunderland on November 8th, and A.E. Humpish from Wigan Borough on January 8th.

During the close season there have been four departures.  J.D. Butler, an Arsenal player since 1914, has gone to Torquay United, J. Forst has joined Crystal Palace.  J Shaw has signed for Brentford and S.A. Dobbin has also left Highbury.  

The newcomers at present number two.  G.C. Male from Clapton and G.Keizer from Margate.  These in conjunction with the players retained from last season, compose a striking list, and it is confidently expected that in the coming campaign Arsenal would make a showing in every way worthy of the fine record which they have won in the past.

Elsewhere in the handbook there is the London Combination Final Table 1929/30.  The title “London” combination was something of a misnomer given that it included Swansea Town, but it was a league that attracted good crowds and a lot of interest.

In reading this table – the top of which is reproduced below, please do note that although throughout the texts in this series the league table has been presented in the contemporary style, as this table is taken directly from the handbook, the format there (of placing the defeats column before the “draw” column) is maintained here.  

P W L D F A Pts
Arsenal 42 30 7 5 132 55 65
Tottenham 42 25 11 6 120 50 56
Southampton 42 26 14 2 101 81 54
Reading 42 22 13 7 97 74 51
Swansea 42 22 14 6 101 76 50
Brentford 42 20 13 9 113 76 49
Cardiff 42 22 15 5 82 63 40

The handbook also records that Arsenal had won the Combination in 1927. 1928, 1929, and 1930, this giving an indication of exactly how Chapman had built up his extraordinary team of the 1930s.

Appearances in the Combination are also recorded…

Players Games Goals
Allison 13
Baker 4 1
Bastin 16 13
Brain 28 20
Butler 25
Cope 28
Diaper 1
Dobbin 13
Frost 8
Halliday 16 24
Haynes 30 1
Humpish 17
Hulme 9
James 1
John 2
Johnstone 22 13
Jones 4 3
Lambert 16 18
Lewis 5
Maycock 27 10
Parkin 15 3
Peel 13 3
Preedy 24
Robinson 42
Seddon 19
Shaw 122
Thompson 28 5
Warnes 5 4
Williams 20 8
Own goals 3

Most of the players listed above have articles about them on this site.  Links will be added shortly, but you can find details of all our player articles (most of which are considerably more extensive than Arsenal player articles to be found elsewhere), in

Finally the kick off times of matches in both the First Division and the London Combination are given, and these I must admit gave me something of a surprise.

  • August 30 to October 11: 3.30pm
  • October 18:  3.15pm
  • October 25: 3pm
  • November 1: 2.45pm
  • November 8 to January 17:  2.30pm
  • January 24:  2.45pm
  • January 31:  3pm
  • February 7: 3.15pm
  • February 14 onwards: 3.30pm

Now as I understand it the Summertime Act of 1916 which took the clocks forward in the spring to BST and back to GMT in the autumn was not amended until the second world war when Double Summer Time was introduced.  That means that the time in relation to daylight in 1930 would be the same as in 2017.  Sunset on February 14 would be 5.14pm GMT.  That would mean that match would finish a few minutes before sunset.

Of course sunset doesn’t mean darkness, but on rainy, cloudy days in February is it quite possible for the skies to be dark by sunset.  I wonder how they managed!

The commentary on the history presented above, with notes on some of the errors therein, will be published shortly.

Arsenal in the 30s

1930s: the players, the crowds, the tactics

Joseph Szabo, his visit to Arsenal, and the way it changed SC Braga’s history.



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