Arsenal’s second season back in the 1st division: Aug/Sep 1920.

By Tony Attwood

And so we come to the start of Arsenal’s second season back in the First Division.  It was also the moment in which the Third Division was launched, being made up primarily of clubs from the old Southern League with the addition of clubs from the north of the country planned for next season – if enough could be found to apply.

For Arsenal however it was no a joyous day as the club opened its new season away to Aston Villa.  Villa had finished the previous season on the same number of points as Arsenal and just one place ahead of Arsenal on goal average.  However they were the second highest goalscoring team in the league that season (although with the third worst defence).

Now however it seemed (at least on this day) that they had remedied their defensive frailties – for they beat Arsenal 5-0, being the heaviest defeat thus far in the post-war era.  So what went wrong?

The team was Williamson, Shaw, Hutchins, Baker, Buckley, McKinnon, Smith, Groves, Pagnam, Bradshaw, Blyth: a very experienced team save for Smith who played at outside right.

James Smith was born in Preston and was 33 by the time he joined Arsenal.  He was a journeyman footballer who had played for Stalybridge Celtic, Bury, Stalybridge Rovbers, Accorington Stanley, Chorley and Fulham before coming to Arsenal.  He played the first seven games of the season before being dropped and replaced once more by the regular number 7, Jock Rutherford, who played all the rest of the season, except for three games.

My suspicion is that Smith was brought in as an urgent backup to Rutherford when Rutherford reported in injured before the start of the season.  Smith remained for the season but left on a free transfer at the end of the campaign, and I have no record of him playing anywhere else subsequently.  By then he was of course 34, and quite probably considered he had had enough of the game.

But it was the arrival of Jimmy Patterson, as well as the return of Rutherford that really kick started the season – as we shall see in the next episode.

On Sunday 29 August the rioting in Northern Ireland continued with 11 dead and many more were injured in continuing street battles in Belfast.  Meanwhile Great Britain played its one and only game in the football tournament of the Olympics in Antwerp.  GB lost and thus were immediately knocked out of the tournament.  The attendance was 5,000, compared with 50,000 at the Arsenal game the previous day.

On Monday 30 August Arsenal played their first home game of the season and beat Manchester United 2-0, using the same XI as played in the first match.  25,000 were at Highbury – not too bad for a Monday early evening.  Pagnam and Smith got the goals.

That the result of the first game was a complete fluke is further revealed by the fact that not only was it 0-0 at half time, but Aston Villa went on to lose their second match 3-1.  Indeed it was a mark of this season that after two games only three teams had 100% records: Bradford, Oldham and Huddersfield.  Tottenham for all their rush to the top last season in the second division were immediately below Arsenal having lost one and drawn one game thus far.  Two teams had lost both games: Burnley and Manchester United.

However fluke or no fluke, Aston Villa came to Highbury on 4 September and won again, although this time only by 0-1.

Arsenal had used the same team for both the first two games but in the third game Buckley at centre half dropped out and was replaced by Graham, suggesting that centre half was continuing to be the difficult position for Arsenal.  Voysey, Buckley, Graham, and Butler had all had a go at the position last season, plus Pattison who had played at number 5 in the final game.  Now it seemed the changes were starting again.

On 6 September the return game with Man U was played away and Arsenal took a point in a 1-1 draw with White, playing at inside right, getting the goal.  Thus in five games Arsenal had two wins, two defeats and a draw.

Next up on 11 September was the home game with Manchester City, with Arsenal getting a very acceptable crowd of 42,000.  The reports of the game noticed a general improvement in Arsenal’s play, although much of the commentary was on the fine late summer weather.  The result was a 2-1 win with Pagnam and Groves getting the goals.

Arsenal were now 12th in the league after five games, one point above Tottenham and one place above Manchester City, whom Arsenal played next. Man City had won both their home games thus far while Arsenal had only one draw and one defeat to show away from home.  It looked like a home banker.

In that regard the game ran true to form, Manchester City winning 3-1 with Blyth getting the lone Arsenal goal.  Arsenal had now scored six goals from five different players.

Away from the football, the following week, the Met Police Flying Squad was formed evolving from the “Mobile Patrol Experiment” which had been performing surveillance duties and gathering intelligence on suspected robbers and pickpockets, using a horse-drawn carriage with holes cut into the canvas

There was one match left – on 25 September, in which Arsenal drew with Middlesbrough 2-2. Graham got a penalty, and Pagnam (who would go on to be the top scorer) notched up his third of the season.  The local paper called the forward line “disjointed and badly led.”

On a different topic the programme for the match announced that the club was appealing against its rating assessment (the rates were a property tax levied in the UK before Thatcher introduced the poll tax, which itself was quickly replaced by the council tax – which was much the same thing).

The programme announced this appeal and used language that was refreshingly forthright when compared with the blandness of later years’ commentary, and accused  the London Borough of Islington of trying to “crush us out of existence.”  As Sally Davis comments, it has all the hallmarks of a piece of Henry Norris rhetoric, and the comment about the council was perhaps an indication that the bitterness of 1913 when the council had worked hand in glove with the Highbury Defence Committee to stop Arsenal moving to the area.

Finally the London Football Association County Cup returned with Arsenal drawn away to Clapton Orient in the first round, with the match played on Monday 27th January, Arsenal winning 2-1.  The team was primarily a reserve XI although Williamson continued in goal, and the two scorers were both first team regulars: Pagnam and Groves.

As for the crowd figures Arsenal had now played four home games and averaged 38,000, which was around 4,000 higher than the average for the whole of the previous season.

Here is the table for the games so far…

Date Opponents H/A Res Score Crowd Pos
28/08/1920 Aston Villa A L 0-5 50,000 21
30/08/1920 Manchester United H W 2-0 25,000 10
04/09/1920 Aston Villa H L 0-1 45,000 18
06/09/1920 Manchester United A D 1-1 30,000 17
11/09/1920 Manchester City H W 2-1 42,000 12
18/09/1920 Manchester City A L 1-3 30,000 18
25/09/1920 Middlesbrough H D 2-2 40,000 15
27/09/1920 Clapton Orient (LFACC) A W 2-1

The league table at the end of the month showed that Arsenal had not done much to improve  their goal scoring ability, although the most curious results so far came from West Brom who had managed merely five goals in seven games, having scored 104 in 42 last season.

Aston Villa, at this point last season had been in mid-table with the same points as Arsenal.

Pos Team P W D L F A GAv Pts
1 Aston Villa 8 6 0 2 19 12 1.583 12
2 Bolton Wanderers 8 5 1 2 19 7 2.714 11
3 Huddersfield Town 7 5 1 1 6 3 2.000 11
4 Everton 8 4 3 1 17 10 1.700 11
5 Liverpool 7 3 3 1 18 8 2.250 9
6 Sunderland 7 3 3 1 12 6 2.000 9
7 Blackburn Rovers 7 3 2 2 10 6 1.667 8
8 Bradford City 7 4 0 3 13 9 1.444 8
9 Newcastle United 7 3 2 2 13 9 1.444 8
10 Burnley 7 3 1 3 10 8 1.250 7
11 West Bromwich Albion 7 1 5 1 5 7 0.714 7
12 Tottenham Hotspur 7 2 2 3 10 11 0.909 6
13 Manchester United 7 2 2 3 9 10 0.900 6
14 Manchester City 7 3 0 4 13 16 0.813 6
15 Arsenal 7 2 2 3 8 13 0.615 6
16 Oldham Athletic 7 2 2 3 9 17 0.529 6
17 Bradford Park Avenue 7 1 3 3 9 14 0.643 5
18 Preston North End 7 2 1 4 7 14 0.500 5
19 Sheffield United 8 2 1 5 8 17 0.471 5
20 Middlesbrough 7 0 4 3 7 11 0.636 4
21 Derby County 7 0 4 3 7 13 0.538 4
22 Chelsea 7 1 2 4 5 13 0.385 4


Below is the full list of articles in the series with two or three new articles a week being added.  For an index to the two big scandals – Arsenal’s promotion and the case of Jimmy Patterson please see the top of the index to the series at Henry Norris at the Arsenal

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