The Arsenal drugs scandal: where does the truth lie?

by Tony Attwood

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Leslie Knighton, Arsenal’s manager from 1919 to 1925 would hardly be commented upon at all 100 years on, were it not for the fact that in his retirement over 20 years after leaving Arsenal he wrote an autobiography of his days as a manager, part of which was serialised in a sunday newspaper.

For years, what Knighton said in his book and newspaper articles was taken as the truth, even though George Allison (under whom Arsenal won two league titles and the FA Cup, and who was also nationally famous for his work as a journalist and as a live football commentator on radio) also wrote an autobiography which was published at the same time and which utterly contradicted Knighton’s tale.

Perhaps one of the most notorious of Knighton’s stories was that he was so worried about losing to West Ham (who were in fact a very modest club in terms of their results at the time) in the FA Cup  that he twice gave Arsenal players drugs to enhance their performance.   Both games were postponed and the players refused to take the drugs (he claims) for the third attempt at playing the game (when in fact that match was actually played).

What makes the story so odd is that first, WHU were not a particularly fearsome side at the time – they were just a regular middle of the table team.  Second, Knighton claims that the drugs were given to him by a man who just turned up at his office one day, gave no identification, claimed he was a Harley Street specialist, and an Arsenal fan and wanted to help, and then left, never to be seen again.

Although Knighton comes across as a bit of a dope in his writings, was he really so stupid as to take unknown drugs, from an unknown passer by, and dish them out to the players, not once but twice?  That seems to push dopiness a bit far.

However the final clincher on the tale is the fact that Knighton gave the players the pills just before the game, and yet the reason the match was postponed on two occasions was a dense smog that hung over that part of London for almost a week.  There was never any chance either game could possibly be played – and everyone knew this all day, each day of the match.

It is all just so unlikely, that the weirdest thing becomes why the story has continued to be reported.  Could it be that the journalists who have written about Knighton subsequently have just failed to check the facts?  Or is it that they just love to seize upon anything that makes Arsenal look bad?

Here are the anniversaries…

13 December 1890 Old Westminsters 1 Arsenal 4 in London Senior Cup.  Arsenal had hopes in this trophy having reached the final the previous year, but went out in the next round.

13 December 1897 Arsenal 3 Rushden 1 in United League.  Only 1,000 turned up, but it was Arsenal’s fourth successive win in the United League.

13 December 1902: Arsenal were involved in one of the greatest FA Cup shocks of the era: Brentford 1 Arsenal 1.  In this season Brentford came bottom of the first division of the Southern League with two wins and one draw all season

13 December 1913: Clapton Orient 1 Arsenal 0 in the north London derby, with 27,000 in the ground. It was Arsenal’s only defeat in the month – the other five league games being won.

13 December 1919: 60,000 turned up for Chelsea 3 Arsenal 1.  White got another goal for Arsenal but was injured in the match missing the next three games.  The Times reported the game to be the “best display of football…in London this season.”

13 December 1924: WHU lost to Everton 1-0, one of seven defeats in 12 games in the run up to Arsenal’s FA Cup tie with WHU.  It was this set of results that led Arsenal manager Knighton bizarely to describe WHU as “fearsome” in his autobiography and explain why (he claims) he gave the Arsenal team drugs prior to the game (which was postponed due to fog).

13 December 1924: Arsenal suffered a 1-0 defeat to Burnley who were 18th in the league having only won one out of nine games at Turf Moor before this match.  6000 turned up – the lowest crowd Arsenal’s first team played in front of all season. The Times said that Arsenal showed “A lack of finish”.

13 December 1930: Chelsea, having lost 6-2 the previous weekend, beaten Sunderland 5-0, while Sheffield Wednesday beat Birmingham 9-1, and  Huddersfield beat Blackpool 10-1, with Huddersfield having not won a single one of the last six games. Arsenal drew 1-1 with Liverpool but scores elsewhere show the 1925 offside rule change reverberated through the league for years, not weeks.

13 December 1960: Rangers 4 Arsenal 2, in the continuing series of games initiated by Herbert Chapman.  This was the 12th match in a series that finally ended in 1968/9.

13 December 1975: Last game of 49 for Geoff Barnett.  He then moved on to Minnesota Kicks. He later managed the Kicks, before returning to England to run a pub, and then went back to Minnesota where he worked as a “Starter” at a golf course.

13 December 1976: Alan Hudson signed from Stoke.  He had been a mainstay as playmaker for Chelsea, but their financial crisis, and Hudson’s singular nature led to his transfer to Stoke in January 1974.

13 December 1976: John Radford signed for West Ham.  He had played 475 league games for Arsenal and scored 149 goals, winning the League, FA Cup and Fairs Cup.  He played one season for WHU, and one for Blackburn before dropping into non-league football.

13 December 1988: David Hillier’s first appearance (a testimonial v Shrewsbury).  He went on to make over 100 appearances for Arsenal before playing for Portsmouth and Bristol City, retiring from football in 2003.

13 December 1997: After the 1-3 home defeat by Blackburn Ian Wright was warned by the police about his abusive behaviour towards a group of Arsenal fans.  Match 18 of the 2nd Double season – it was the last defeat before the Double was achieved.   The second double: part 1, part 2, part 3.

13 December 1998: Arsenal lost 3-2 away to table topping Aston Villa.  Having taken a 2–0 lead, both scored by Bergkamp, Arsenal let in three goals in the second half.  This debacle was followed by a 19 match unbeaten run, which took Arsenal to the edge of winning the championship themselves.  This was the only game in which Arsenal conceded more than one goal all season.

13 December 2000: Tomas Danilevicius signed from Lausanne Sport for £1m.  He played two league games and one FA Cup tie before being loaned to Dunfermline.  After that he returned to Beveren in July 2001 before going on to Italian football.

13 December 2012: On Sky Sports News S Robson described Arsene Wenger as “a dictator” adding  “Tactically Arsenal are all over the place at times, they’re under-prepared defensively, and if you have that you’re always going to lose several football games in a season and not win trophies.”  Arsenal won the FA Cup three times in the next five years and ended in the top four in the league in this and the next three seasons.

13 December 2015: Aston Villa 0 Arsenal 2 followed one win in the previous four, but still took Arsenal back to the top of the league with goals from Giroud and Ramsey.

13 December 2016.  Everton 2 Arsenal 1.  The result ended a run in the League, 10 wins and four draws and started a run in which Arsenal only won 8 of the next 18, leading to the club missing out on the Champions League for the first time after 19 consecutive years – a record which was only surpassed by Real Madrid.

13 December 2017: Arsenal 0 WHU 0.  This meant Arsenal had not won in three League games since beating Huddersfield 5-0.

One Reply to “The Arsenal drugs scandal: where does the truth lie?”

  1. Arsenal used to be respected during David dein regime i dont know if it was because of his position in some high profile office but since he left Arsenal the team became a joking place for almost every journalist even the way some refs handle our games makes me think that we are looked as an orphan.

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