By Tony Attwood
Please note a list of all the articles in this series so far, appear at the foot of the page.
April 1920 was a most curious month for Arsenal, for as quite often happened at this time, fixtures were packed in around the movable feast that is Easter, and as well as the regular Saturday games there were always one or two extra matches which made use of the lighter evenings to fit in a mid-week match later in the month, plus games on the public holidays of Good Friday and Easter Monday.
In fact Arsenal had no fewer than seven league games scheduled for the month of April 1920, and yet in addition to that, two friendlies were also arranged. Indeed rather oddly the first away friendly with Bolton was on Good Friday, 2 April, when Arsenal did not have a game scheduled. But Arsenal did have games on the next day (3rd), Easter Monday (5th) and on the Tuesday (6th). Yet they still wanted one more!
However there was a reason. Although the friendly game on 2 April resulted in a defeat to Bolton, in front of a surprisingly good crowd of 14,700. Arsenal used the match to give a game to Williamson (who had been first choice keeper but had now lost his place to Dunn). Also Cownley got a game at right back; he was the player who had initially been the replacement for Joe Shaw when he was injured.
Shaw himself on this occasion played left back – an experiment undoubtedly, while in midfield the club used Tom Whittaker for the first time, who had joined straight from the army in October. This is, of course, the same man who went on to become the trainer and physio under Herbert Chapman, and our post Second World War manager who won the league twice and the FA Cup once. (There is more about Tom Whittaker’s work at Arsenal in this article).
At centre half we had Butler who had been playing right half, and would go on to play centre half in future games. At left half there was Baker who had started the season at outside left and was being tried out in his new position of left half.
Outside right was Greenaway who had yet to play this season but was going to get a few games before the month ended, and we had White at inside right – another new name to the squad. Plus there was Pagnam who was coming back from injury, Hardinge who had lost his place at inside left but scored our two goals on this occasion and Toner who had also lost his place after a solid run at outside left.
So there was purpose, in addition to an attempt to draw in the crowds one more time for some extra money that was presumably shared between the clubs. Bolton were 8th in the league at the time of the match and with Arsenal’s mix-and-match line up a 2-4 defeat away from home was not considered too disastrous.
But why Bolton? Well, Bolton might have been chosen as a venue for this match as the game the following day was at Burnley, and the two grounds were only about 25 miles apart – an easy train journey from one ground to the next. At least one presumes the team did not travel all the way back to London only to set off the next morning all over again!
The league table ahead of Arsenal’s match with Bolton on 3 April showed Burnley up to 2nd and Arsenal languishing in 14th. The title favourites were very clearly WBA, four points clear of Burnley with three games in hand. Arsenal likewise had a game or two in hand over clubs above them, but obviously needed to win to make something of this. However Burnley had only lost three at home all season and it seemed unlikely.
Here’s the table before the game.
|1||West Bromwich Albion||34||24||2||8||91||42||2.167||50|
|8||Bradford Park Avenue||34||14||10||10||55||45||1.222||38|
It certainly looked tough for Arsenal, and so it turned out to be as on 3 April Burnley won 2-1 with Pagnam playing centre forward getting the goal. Shaw turned out again for the second day running, this time playing at right back.
The players now at least had Easter Sunday off before playing again on 5 April at Highbury, this time against the runaway leaders WBA who were 17 points ahead of Arsenal – with Arsenal having slipped down to 15th. And here we need to take a look at the bottom of the table.
|16||Preston North End||37||13||7||17||54||70||0.771||33|
Arsenal were now just four points away from Derby County who occupied the upper of the two relegation positions. What helped Arsenal was that they had two games in hand and there were of course five other teams between them and Derby. But Easter was a time of collapses and sudden positive runs and Arsenal most certainly could not rely on another team to slip up.
Arsenal had won three out of the last nine and were now playing the runaway leaders and… surprising all commentators of the day, Arsenal won 1-0.
Very unusually Arsenal kept the same team as had played the day before. Blyth got the goal in front of 40,000. According to the press report, at one stage a fire in a neighbouring chimney resulted in the whole ground being enveloped in thick smoke but the players battled on. This was after all the post-war period and people were used to battling on. Arsenal were back up to 14th.
But still there was no rest as on 6 April Arsenal now travelled to the West Midlands for the return game and this time lost 1-0, again in front of 40,000 as Tom Whittaker came in for his first league match. But once again Shaw had to drop out. Clearly his injury was continuing to trouble him. However other results went in Arsenal’s favour and they stayed in 14th.
Now there was four days rest before the next game on 10 April: the return match with Burnley – the return of the game that was lost in Lancashire 1-2 on 3 April. And this time, just one week later on 10 April, Arsenal used their home dominance to get a much welcomed win 2-0.
Only 20,000 turned up to Highbury to see Bradshaw and Pagnam get the goals, but Arsenal were up to 12th and had seven points and nine teams separating them from Blackburn in 21st.
However this match had an extra significance, for because of Arsenal’s defeat of Burnley, West Bromwich Albion were now eight points ahead with Burnley having only three games left to play. As a result WBA won the Football League title for the first (and up to 2018, the only) time.
Next up was the second friendly of the month, a game away to Clapton Orient on 12 April. Sadly, only one detail remains for this game – other than the disappointing score of a 5-1 defeat. Tom Whittaker now scored his first goal for Arsenal. One presumes that it was very much a second XI team playing against the O’s first XI.
There were now four games left in the season, two against Preston and two against Bradford (often referred to these days as Bradford Park Avenue or Bradford PA, to distinguish them from Bradford City, who as we have seen were also in the first division at this time).
Before the game Preston were 18th in the league, just one point above Blackburn, and so they now had far greater anxieties about relegation than Arsenal. Yet despite the importance for them of this game a below average crowd of 13,000 saw a 1-1 draw which left Arsenal in 13th and Preston in 18th.
White, the original number 9 at the start of the season returned at insight right and got the goal.
Meanwhile we have little information on the activities of Sir Henry Norris at this time, which almost certainly means that he was able to be at all the Arsenal games.
One thing we do know however, thanks to the research of Sally Davis, was that on 22 April he was present when Prince Albert visited the International Building Trades Exhibition at Olympia. It seems Sir Henry attended the lunch given in the prince’s honour and took part in a discussion about whether raising money for housing schemes through the issuing of housing bonds (a favoured way of raising money at the time) was likely to be a success. Sir Henry, whose knowledge of football was second only to his knowledge of house building, thought not.
One week on from the first Preston match, on 24 April the return match at Highbury drew 35,000, and the result (a goalless draw) was helpful in terms of ensuring there were no last minute concerns about the drop.
But Preston must have been a lot more anxious for these two draws had meant they had slipped into the relegation position of 21st. Three teams were now all on 35 points, separated only by a goal average of marginally over one hundredth of a goal.
It is also interesting to note that at the same time as this game was played, so was the cup final played at Stamford Bridge. The game Aston Villa 1 Huddersfield Town 0. The reporter for the Times was not particularly impressed by the quality of the game and stated in his report that the ball had gone out of play “just over 100 times.”
It was the sixth time Aston Villa won the Cup since their first win in 1887, and yet after this date they won the trophy just once more, in 1957. Since that date they have appeared in two more finals, the most recent of which at the time of writing was 2015 when they lost by the largest margin of defeat since 1903, losing 4-0 to Arsenal.
On 28 April 1920 Arsenal played out a goalless draw away to Bradford in the first of the two games against the club. The result was another goalless draw in front of just 7,000 (just over one third of Bradford’s average home gate for the season) this being Arsenal’s third draw, and second goalless draw in a row. Arsenal moved up to 11th, while at the foot of the table, with just one game to go, any one of five clubs could go down.
|05/04/1920||West Bromwich Albion||H||FL||W||1-0||40,000||14|
|06/04/1920||West Bromwich Albion||A||FL||L||0-1||40,000||14|
|17/04/1920||Preston North End||A||FL||D||1-1||13,000||13|
|24/04/1920||Preston North End||H||FL||D||0-0||35,000||13|
|28/04/1920||Bradford Park Avenue||A||FL||D||0-0||7,000||11|
Here is the table with one match to play
|1||West Bromwich Albion||41||27||4||10||100||47||2.128||58|
|9||Bradford Park Avenue||41||15||12||14||60||60||1.000||42|
|20||Preston North End||41||13||10||18||56||73||0.767||36|
As we have noted, the champions had already been crowned, and Sheffield Wednesday had been relegated a long time before. But any one of four teams could go down, depending on results on the final day. (Technically Bradford City could also be relegated but since that would have required Blackburn to win by 4-0, while Derby, Notts County, Preston and Blackburn all lost, that seemed unlikely).
The Henry Norris Files Section 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.
- Arsenal move into the London Combination in September 1915
- Arsenal in wartime: Norris’ genius for administration comes to the fore but reduces Arsenal’s playing staff.
- November / December 1915: the match fixing scandal comes to the fore: Norris is armed
Section 7: – 1916
- Arsenal in wartime: January 1916. The end of the first wartime league.
- Arsenal, February 1916: the 2nd league and a terrible tragedy on the pitch
- Arsenal: March – May 1916. The team in decline, entry to football taxed for the first time.
- Arsenal wartime league tables and player appearances: 1915/16
- Arsenal at war; Tottenham move out of WHL, Arsenal hit rock bottom. June to Sept 1916.
- Arsenal Oct 1916: a tragic death, a slow recovery
- Arsenal in wartime: November and December 1916
Section 8: 1917
- January 1917: Arsenal’s upturn continues, gang culture in London, turmoil in Russia.
- Arsenal in February 1917: Arsenal on the up, George Allison’s contribution.
- Arsenal – March 1917. Measles, price rises, women start to serve.
- Arsenal in April and May 1917. Norris goes missing, Arsenal continue winning.
- Norris at the Arsenal: Arsenal Players in the wartime league, 1916/17
- Henry Norris is knighted for setting up the Footballers’ Battalion. June 1917
- Sir Henry Norris promoted to Lt Colonel in recognition of his work in the War Office
- September 1917: Arsenal’s form definitely on the up.
- October 1917: Arsenal slip into sharp decline; Norris gains a new appointment
- Arsenal at the end of 1917. Crowds collapse, results poor, the war drags on.
Section 9: 1918 and the end of the war
- Arsenal in 1918: Chapman’s downfall, votes for women, schooling for all, Arsenal erratic
- Norris at the Arsenal: March 1918, crowds drop, rationing, the war turns
- April 1918: the third wartime league ends; Ireland rebels against conscription.
- The 1917/18 season; Arsenal’s players and the final league table
- Autumn 1918: Arsenal winning, the war grinds to an end, crowds return
- November 1918: war ends, FA / League quarrel, Henry Norris is called on (again).
- Norris at the Arsenal. 1-10 December 1918; allegations of corruption heard in court.
- Arsenal, 11 – 31 December 1918. A 9-2 victory, the chairman becomes an MP, footballers unionise.
Section 10: 1919, the reform of football, the promotion of The Arsenal.
- The first suggestion that Arsenal could be elected to the 1st division.
- Arsenal in January 1919: rioting in the streets and the question of promotion
- What the media said about the election of Arsenal to the 1st division in 1919
- Arsenal prepare for the vote on who should be promoted to the First Division
- March 1919: The vote to extend the league and what the media said
- Why did the clubs vote for Arsenal rather than Tottenham in March 1919?
- Arsenal in March 1919: the London Victory Cup and its consequences
- April 1919: the end of wartime football (at least for 20 years)
- May 1919: war football ends and the wonderful Alf Baker is signed
- Summer of 1919. Widespread rioting as Arsenal prepare for division 1.
- August 1919: Arsenal return to the First Division for the next 99 years
- Arsenal establish themselves in the Division 1 amidst scandal, profiteering and strikes.
- October 1919: Chapman banned for life, Leeds kicked out, Whittaker joins
- November 1919: Arsenal solid but in debt, Labour advances, another goalscorer, Norris honoured.
- 1919: The first Christmas for the new expanded league
Section 11: 1920 – the second half of the first post-war season