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September 2020
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Arsenal History: An appeal for help.

By Tony Attwood

If you know your Arsenal history – especially if you know your wartime Arsenal history, I would love to hear from you.

On this day in 1940 – the first season of the wartime league during the 2nd world war – Arsenal  beat Crystal Palace 3-1 in what Ollier describes as 2nd round of the Football League War Cup.  A second match was played the following saturday away to Palace, and again Arsenal won.

This format of matches played home and away was the same as in the first round in April in which Arsenal beat Notts County twice.  But in the third round, Arsenal lost to Birmingham 1-2 in one “home” match (played of course at WHL) and that was that.  There was no return leg at Birmingham.

Now the “Magic of Football” website says

“The competition consisted of 137 games (including replays) which commenced in October and were all complete bar the final by January 1940. However, with London under constant threat of the commencement of bombing raids, no floodlights could be used and so it was decided to play the final during the summer months. The date was set as Saturday 8th June 1940, with West Ham United and Blackburn Rovers due to contest the final at Wembley Stadium.”

This note about the games uses the same phraseology to that of Wikipedia and it looks like one was copied from the other.

However looking at Arsenal’s record, Arsenal were playing a full league programme in the autumn and early winter of 1939 in the League South “A” Division.  Four games in November, six in December.  Hardly time left for cup matches.

Spartacus Educational declares that “The government imposed a fifty-mile travelling limit and the Football League divided all the clubs into seven regional areas where games could take place. London clubs arranged for their regional competition to begin on the last Saturday in October. One group was composed of Arsenal, Brentford, Charlton, Chelsea, Fulham, Millwall, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United. The other group included Aldershot, Brighton, Clapton Orient, Crystal Palace, Leyton Orient, QPR, Reading, Southend and Watford.”

This clearly does not accord with Arsenal playing Birmingham on May 18, unless WHL had moved north.  Indeed nor does it accord with Arsenal playing Notts County twice.

I’ve searched high and low to find a way to resolve these contradictions.  Birmingham were not in the same wartime leagues as Arsenal in 1939/40, and Arsenal clearly got through the first two rounds of the Cup in April and May.   So was there another match which Birmingham won, or did Arsenal pull out of the competition for some reason?  I’d love to know.

Here are the anniversaries I am sure about…

4 May 1908: William Curle signed from Rutherglen Glencairn.  He played three times in the 1908/9 but then either stayed in the reserves or retired from football as he did not sign for another club.

4 May 1918: The third season of wartime football ended with the final game in the National War Fund trophy series.  Sadly no details seem to be available of the tournament as a whole, but it didn’t attract big crowds, and only 1500 turned up for Brentford 1 Arsenal 1.  There was one more war time season to go.

4 May 1925: The date on which Leslie Knighton was sacked as manager is not clear – it was between this date and 9 May.  The story of Knighton’s entire career in every gory detail including all his vast number of false claims, excuses and downright lies is contained in our series on Henry Norris at the Arsenal

4 May 1926: John “Jack” Lee signed as an amateur by Arsenal from Horden Athletic.  It appears that three weeks later he then became a professional with the club and played in the 1926/7 season.

4 May 1931: Northampton 0 Arsenal 1.  Chapman returned to his earlier days as manager, in the second in a series of three friendlies at Northampton, to raise money for the local hospital – a common type of post-season friendlies.

4 May 1935: Despite losing 0-1 at home to Derby on the last day of the season George Allison made it three championships in a row for Arsenal under three different managers.  The defeat meant Arsenal equalled the club’s all-time goal difference record of 69 set in 1904.  A draw and they would have beaten it.

4 May 1940: Arsenal 3 Crystal Palace 1 (Football League War Cup, 2nd round 1st leg).  Arsenal also won the return leg but  were knocked out after just one game against Birmingham in the 3rd round.  But why only one match?  “The Ball is Round” website says “The competition consisted of 137 games (including replays) which commenced in October and were all complete bar the final by January 1940” – but the Arsenal games reported by the normally 100% reliable Fred Ollier suggest otherwise.  It remains a mystery.

4 May 1953: Three days after Arsenal had won the league in the final match of the season the club played a home game against Tottenham, and lost 0-2.  The proceeds of the match went to the Lord Mayor of London’s National Flood Disaster Fund.

4 May 1959: Arsenal 2 Birmingham City 1.  Dave Bowen’s last game.  He moved on to Northampton Town as player manager.  Arsenal ended the season in third, following three successive wins following seven before that without a win.

4 May 1962: Ian McKechnie left Arsenal for Southend.  He was signed as an outside left, but became a goalkeeper and played 23 times for Arsenal in that position.

4 May 1969: Reykjavik 1 Arsenal 3.  First games for Charlie George and for Eddie Kelly.  This was part of a three match tour – the Iceland game being followed by two matches in Malta.

4 May 1976: Bertie Mee left his post as manager.  He managed 539 league games – the largest number of any manager until Arsene Wenger, and won three major trophies, as did Chapman and Allison.  But his win percentage of 44.71% making him 10th best manager, worse than not only Chapman and Allison but also Howe and Neill.

4 May 1987: Cesc Fàbregas born.  It is said that Barce would not let him play in youth matches for fear of other clubs poaching him.  Also that Pep Guardiola gave Fàbregas his shirt as consolation when Fàbregas’ parents divorced.

4 May 1987: QPR 1 Arsenal 4.  Martin Hayes scored his 19th goal in 31 starts to make him far and away the top scorer for the season.  Second highest was Quinn with eight.

4 May 1994: Arsenal won the Cup Winners Cup for the one and only time by beating Parma 1-0 in Copenhagen.  Ian Wright missed the final through suspension, Alan Smith scored the goal

4 May 2002: Arsenal won the FA cup and Ljungberg became the first player since 1961 to score in two successive cup finals, and so the 3rd double was completed.  Tim Lovejoy, commentating said, “Oh no, he’s got through.  Oh, it’s alright.  it’s only Ray Parlour.”

4 May 2003: Arsenal 2 Leeds 3.  The championship was lost by this defeat, but this was the last defeat before the run of 49 league matches unbeaten.  Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp scored.

4 May 2004: Portsmouth 1 Arsenal 1.  Reyes scored to keep the belief in the unbeaten run alive in the 36th league game of the unbeaten season.  Two to go – but the last three had been drawn which started a few worries and predictions from Ferguson that Arsenal, like Ferguson’s Rangers, would lose at the last.

4 May 2006: Man City 1 Arsenal 3.  Arsenal continued to battle for 4th place with Tottenham.  In the end Arsenal ended up two points above Tottenham with a far superior goal difference as well.

4 May 2008:  Jens Lehman – the only player ever to play every match in a season and be unbeaten – came on as a sub for the game v Everton for the last home game of the season.  He was given an overwhelming ovation and in his unique style he turned and bowed to each side of the ground.  It was his final appearance.

4 May 2013: QPR 0 Arsenal 1.  Walcott scored after 40 seconds.  It was the fastest PL goal of the season and took Arsenal into 3rd place while QPR headed for relegation.

4 May 2015: Hull 1 Arsenal 3 in a match described as a typical piece of one sided refereeing from Mason, every Arsenal semi-foul called but Hull allowed to do pretty much what they wanted.  Another not given penalty for Arsenal and the Hull game came from a non-given foul.  The match was the last in an 11 match unbeaten run.

3 comments to Arsenal History: An appeal for help.

  • Uncle Mike

    Just as May 3 is a great day in Arsenal history (1971 and 1998), so too is May 4 (1994 and 2002). But I saw that 1962 entry, with Ian McKechnie, and thought it said “Ian McKellen.” It helps to pay attention.

    As far as I can tell, Sir Ian never played organized sports. But he would have been just short of turning 23 at the time my eyes momentarily fooled me into thinking he’d played for Arsenal, so it is possible, had he not caught the acting bug. He’s from Burnley, but I found a source that says he supports Wigan, due to family roots in the Manchester area.

  • Nigel

    Tony, re The League War Cup 1939-40
    I think I have the answers to your questions thanks to ‘Soccer at War 1939-45’ by Jack Rollin and further enhanced from ‘Arsenal: A Complete Record 1886-1990’ by Fred Ollier.
    Yes there were 137 games played as there was a preliminary round consisting of nineteen matches and six replays. Arsenal were not involved at this stage. After this the competition went national rather than regional, although looking at the results until the third round it could have been partially regional as there were no north/south extremes but certainly further than the league restrictions. The first round consisted of 32 matches followed by the second legs of the same number. As you have pointed out Arsenal beat Notts County 4-0 on the 20th April 1940 in the first leg and on the 27th won 5-1 away in the second leg. In the second round of sixteen matches followed by sixteen second legs Arsenal beat Crystal Palace 3-1 at home (WHL) in the first leg on May 4th, and then won 2-0 on May 11th in the second leg away. The third round was played over a single leg so Arsenal were knocked out at home (WHL) to Birmingham City 1-2. There was then Quarter, Semi and Final rounds in which West Ham United beat Blackburn Rovers 1-0 at Wembley to win the League War Cup 1939-40.
    These matches were mingled in with the league fixtures using more or less the same players so there was obviously a lot of football going on. In the South C division of the league you can add Southampton and Portsmouth as ten clubs were in competition.

  • Nigel, very many thanks. So the other sites talking about the competition being played early on, with the final then delayed, are wrong, and Olier is right – as he always is. Thanks

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