Arsenal move into the London Combination in September 1915

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).


Sands   Shaw

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
1914/15 13.596 6.364 Manchester City 20.205 13820 8th
1913/14 21.979 10.738 Chelsea 37.105 22745 10th

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)

Shaw Liddell

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

Date Opposition Venue Result Crowd
4/9/1915 Tottenham Hotspur Home 2-0 14819
11/9/1915 Crystal Palace Away 1-3 4000
18/9/1915 QPR Home 2-1 4,000
25/9/1915 Fulham Away 3-4 9,000

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.

Section 2 – 1911

Section 3 – 1912

Section 4 – 1913

Section 5 – 1914

Section 6 – 1915

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