By Tony Attwood
The final game of the 1914/15 season had taken place on 24 April, and a curious affair it was too. Arsenal’s manager had already left, and the players had been told that their contracts would end after this game. There was no talk at that time of keeping football going, although it was clear that the 1st Division in Scotland would continue.
The team that was put out for that last match of the era on 24 April 1915 was most curious, and looking at it, I have often wondered if Punch McEwen was not having one of his famous jokes, by giving out a team sheet that was completely wrong. If only we had a report saying exactly who played where. Here is the team, set out according to the numbers allocated to the team (remembering of course, players did not wear numbers on their back).
Graham Buckley Bradshaw
Rutherford King Benson Blyth Lewis
The big oddity was playing Benson at centre forward – Benson was the regular left back. King had played at centre forward through the season and was the top scorer, but he was moved to inside right. Bradshaw had never played left half, he was the club’s inside left. And Percy Sands was a centre half, not a right back – although to be fair he had played there fore.
Maybe it was a reflection of the players who were left, and maybe they did play in those positions but whatever the situation, Arsenal won 7-0. It was Arsenal’s highest score since getting eight in each of two separate games in the first eight games of 1903/4 – the season Arsenal were promoted from the second division.
In that season Arsenal had two players who scored 20+ goals. In 1914/15 King ended the season as top scorer with 26 goals in 37 games. Bradshaw was the only other player to make double figures – 10 goals in 29 games. Two players played every match: Lievesley and Shaw.
The crowd figures were not published in detailed analysis at the time, but we can use the figures provided by EFS Attendances to show what happened across the last two seasons before the cessation.
|Season||Div 1 av||Div 2 av||Top club crowd||Top club av||Arsenal||Pos|
Arsenal’s position in the final column, to be clear, was their position in terms of crowds. Arsenal were of course a second division team for both these seasons, but we can see that in both campaigns Arsenal had an average attendance in the second division, above the average attendance that was achieved by all the clubs in the first division.
In the final column Arsenal’s position shows their position in terms of attendance across all 40 league clubs. Thus in the second division Arsenal were getting attendances not only above the average for the first division, but also above such clubs as Blackburn, Sheffield Wednesday, Sunderland, WBA and Sheffield United.
Indeed in 1914/15 Arsenal were getting bigger crowds than Tottenham (who were in the first division), Tottenham’s average being 13,270.
Inevitably all the club’s attendances were down once the war started, but the amount they were down was very varied. Huddersfield for example declined by only 6.2%. Leicester fared worst with a decline of over 61%. For the first division the average was down 38.1% while in the second it was 40.7%. Arsenal in the final year before the cessation of the league, were down 39.2%.
So although the club was in trouble with its debts there was a brighter side. First, those debts were not repayable during war time, and second, when the fixtures resumed there was every reason to assume that Arsenal would return to its 1913/14 level. Indeed with promotion, Arsenal could become one of the best supported clubs in the country.
And so now on 4 September 1915, Arsenal ran out to play again, but now in the London Combination. The first match was against Tottenham – not a bad choice given that the idea of the new league with its guest players had to be sold to the fans and this first match brought in the highest crowd at Highbury for the season: 14,819.
The line up for Tottenham game was
Beale (guest Man Utd)
Fordham Buckley Graham
Rutherford Groves Thompson Bradshaw Lewis
Thus Beale of Man U was the first ever guest player to play for Arsenal. Arsenal beat Tottenham 2-0 on 4 September.
As for Henry Norris, we have no details of which events he attended, but by now the results of his efforts at constant fundraising and constant recruitment were paying dividends and he probably had far too many events to attend to get to them all.
In the first weeks of September there was a swimming competition between two of Norris’ brigades, a fund raising concert in the parish hall at Christ Church (the HQ of the 177th) and on 8 September the 177th and 182nd marched once more through the streets. Norris the showman was equal to Norris the recruiter.
Arsenal’s second wartime game was away to Crystal Palace on 11 September. Arsenal put out the same team as in the first game, but this time lost 3-1 in front of just 4000 people. The third match was on 18 September at home to QPR, and another home win by 2-1. but the crowd was again down to 4,000. Sands, Wallace, Hardinge and King all returned for Arsenal.
Away from football, there was a curious event, which showed that to some degree life could still go on beyond the war – especially for the rich. On 21 September Cecil Chubb acquired Stonehenge at an auction for £6000 – about half a million pounds in today’s money. He had started out as the village saddler but went on to get a double first at Cambridge and become a very successful lawyer, wherein he made his fortune.
At the end of the war he donated Stonehenge to the government on the condition that the public were given free access to the stones thereafter. In return he was made a baronet.
On 25 September British forces took the French town of Loos, but with major casualties, and the fighting there continued to 14 October with the British using poison gas for the first time.
Back home on 25 September Arsenal played Fulham away, with the result – a second defeat 3-4, in front of 9000 fans. Here are the results
Because the London Combination (unlike the Midlands and the North West Leagues) were run outside the ambit of the Football League, no weekly record of the league tables was kept. We do have the results however.
There were 12 teams in the League, and matches were as normal played on a home and away basis with the competition continuing until January. We do however have the final league table.
The Henry Norris FilesSection 1 – 1910.
- Part 1. How Arsenal fell from grace.
- Part 2: heading for liquidation and the first thought of moving elsewhere
- Part 3: March and April 1910 – the crisis deepens
- Part 4: the proposed mergers with Tottenham and Chelsea.
- Part 5: The collapse of Woolwich Arsenal: how the rescue took shape.
- Part 6: It’s agreed, Arsenal stay in Plumstead for one (no two) years
- Part 7: Completing the takeover and preparing for the new season
- Part 8: July to December 1910. Bad news all round.
Section 2 – 1911
Section 3 – 1912
- 11: 1912 and Arsenal plan to move away from Plumstead
- 12: How Henry Norris chose Highbury as Arsenal’s new ground
- 13: Amid protests from the locals Arsenal’s future is secured
- 14: Arsenal relegated amidst allegations of match fixing
Section 4 – 1913
- How Henry Norris secured Highbury for Arsenal in 1913.
- Norris at the Arsenal: 1913 and the opening weeks at Highbury
- When Highbury opened, and “Victoria Concordia Crescit” was introduced
- The players who launched Arsenal’s rebirth and Arsenal’s games in October 1913.
- The rebirth of Arsenal after the move to Highbury: November 1913.
- December 1913, the alleged redcurrent shirts, and Chapman comes to Highbury for the first time
Section 5 – 1914
- Arsenal’s first ever FA Cup match at Highbury and a challenge for promotion: Jan 1914
- Arsenal February and March 1914; the wall falls down, the team slips up.
- The end of Woolwich Arsenal and of the first season at Highbury.
- Arsenal at the end of the world: May to August 1914.
- The newly named The Arsenal start their first season and go top of the League
- As the death toll mounts Arsenal keep playing: October 1914
- November 1914: The Times journalist goes to a reserve match without realising it.
- December 1914: The Footballers’ Battalion formed by Arsenal chairman and others
Section 6 – 1915
- January 1915: Arsenal players start to leave their club for their country
- Arsenal in February and March 1915: the abandonment of football is announced and the result is… curious
- April 1915: New revelations concerning perhaps the most important month in Arsenal’s history
- Norris promoted, the League loses interest but football pulls itself back together.