Why season openings don’t always tell us what is going to happen


“Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football” is the definitive history of Arsenal from its inception as a league club through to its first year at Highbury, and reveals dramatic elements of Arsenal’s early days that have never been revealed before.

“Making the Arsenal” is a journalist’s inside view of the events around Arsenal’s collapse in 1910 and the rescue that paved the way for the move to Highbury and the arrival of Herbert Chapman.

Both books are now available on Kindle and in print.    Please see here for more details.


New managers don’t always get things right from day one.  Last season for example Mr Emery started with two defeats, but then recovered.  Going the other way around, although on this day in 1986 George Graham got off to a winning start, he then went on to win just two of his first eight games.

But nothing can compare to the contrasts of the opening of the 1946 and 1947 seasons.  In 1946 Arsenal were ill-prepared for the new campaign and in retrospect clearly should have done much more – but they rectified matters part way through the season with the signings of Mercer and Rooke.

Which was part of the reason why on this day in 1947 Arsenal started a campaign with their best opening spell thus far in their history, and the title won at the end of the season.

23 August 1911: George Cox was born in Warnham near Horsham in Sussex.  He signed for Arsenal as an amateur in November 1933 from Horsham, before turning professional the following month on 19 December.

23 August 1919: The pre-season match between the first team and the reserves (generally at this time called the Reds against the Blues) was played.  Fans were allowed in, but there is no record I can find of the attendance numbers. The Reds won, as they were supposed to, 5-0.

23 August 1920: Lionel Smith born.  He played for various local non-league clubs and signed for Arsenal as an amateur in April 1939, but his progress was stopped by the second world war.  

23 August 1922: The seat that Sir Henry Norris represented in the Commons chose their next candidate: Sir Harry Greer.  There were still stories circulating in the press that Sir Henry himself might move to another constituency, although it seems clear he had told his party that he was pulling out of politics totally and nothing ever came of this idea. 

23 August 1947: League Debut for Archie Macauley and Don Roper.  One year on from the worst Arsenal start since 1923, 58184 turned up to see McPherson, Logie and Rooke make it Arsenal 3 Sunderland 1 on the opening day of the season – a season which saw Arsenal open with six consecutive wins and go undefeated in the first 17 games.  See also here.

23 August 1952: Arsenal 2 Villa 1 started the march to the First Division title for the last time until Mee won the double in 19 years later.

23 August 1952 Lycurgus Burrows died.  By retaining an amateur status he had managed to be registered for both Tottenham and Arsenal at the same time – playing for Arsenal between 1893 and 1896.

23 August 1955: Arsenal 3 Cardiff 1.  Tommy Lawton scored a hat trick but Arsenal then did not win another game until 1 October when they defeated Aston Villa 1-0.

23 August 1958: Tommy Docherty signed for £20,000 from Preston North End for whom he had played 323 league games.  He went on to play 83 times for Arsenal before moving on to Chelsea.

23 August 1958: George Swindin’s first match as manager:  Preston 2 Arsenal 1. Arsenal however then won five of the next six, scoring 24 goals in the process.  But he never won an opening day’s match.

23 August 1966: Arsenal 2 WHU 1.  Radford and Baldwin scored in Alan Skirton’s final game for Arsenal.  He scored 53 goals in 145 league games as a winger, including two in the previous game.

23 August 1971: Derby County 2 Arsenal 1.   Brian Clough was already known as a manager who prepared his team differently for each individual game, and here he certainly proved the point.  Derby attacked in waves giving Arsenal no chance to settle into their own routine or launch their own attack. Bertie Mee looked baffled.

23 August 1975: Arsenal 0 Stoke 1. Arsenal won only two games in the first ten and ultimately ended the league in 17th.  For an in depth account of the period see here.

23 August 1977: Having lost the opener of the season Arsenal needed to win, and on 23 August they did that beating Everton 1-0 with 32,924 in Highbury.  It was Everton’s second consecutive defeat, and indeed they would have had more goals had Everton’s new keeper Woods not been on top form.

23 August 1980: A 1-3 away defeat to Coventry in the third match looked to spell difficulty, but Arsenal won three and drew the other two games in the first six, including a 2-0 win over Tottenham.  Not scintillating form, but a decent enough start

23 August 1986: Arsenal 1 Man U 0.  George Graham started his career as Arsenal manager.  Unfortunately this was one of only two wins in the first eight.  Charlie Nicholas scored.

23 August 1996: Paul Dikov sold to Manchester City for £1m.  He had played 22 league games and scored four goals in his six years with Arsenal.

23 August 1997: Luis Boa Morte’s first league game as the press increased their criticism of “foreign imports”.   Overmars scored his first goal for Arsenal.  Southampton 1 Arsenal 3. The third league game of the 2nd Double Season 

23 August 2000: Brian McGovern sold to Norwich.  He played one game for Arsenal, and five games for QPR while on loan.

23 August 2006: Theo Walcott became the youngest Arsenal player to play a match in a European competition, playing against Dinamo Zagreb.  He was 17 years 129 days old.

23 August 2008: Arsenal lost 1–0 to Fulham in the second game of the season but then went on to win the next three games to go top of the league.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.