Two league titles and an FA Cup: Arsenal’s forgotten manager.

In 1930 Arsenal came 14th in Division One, their final poor league season before going on a run that saw them come first five times, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th once each in the next nine seasons before the outbreak of war.

Quite what would have happened to the club if the second world war had not curtailed league football from 1939 to 1946 of course we can’t know, but the club suffered badly in the war, being run as it was out of a single small room at White Hart Lane.

The club moved back to Highbury for the 1946/7 season, but despite having two sensational forwards in Reg Lewis (29 goals in 28 games) and for the second half of the season Ronnie Rooke (21 goals in 24 games) Arsenal struggled and came in 13th.  Just about back to where there had been for the 1929/30 season.

Reports suggest that the wartime manager, George Allison, who himself had won two of those 1930s titles, was by now completely exhausted, having virtually run the club on his own for the seven war seasons.  He wanted to retire immediately the war was over, but the board persuaded him to do one more campaign as they waited for the pre-war assistant manager and coach, Tom Whittaker, to return and take over.

Allison, always the faithful servant of a club that did not always treat him as well as he deserved, agreed to do so, and left the club in the summer of 1947, his final act for the club being the publication of his memoirs “Allison Calling” in 1948.  Its 230 pages contain a huge array of insights into Arsenal by a man who had been involved with Arsenal since 1910 (when he started writing the club programme while a Fleet Street journalist), but it was overshadowed by the scurrilous and factually ludicrous autobiography of Chapman’s predecessor as manager, the disastrous Leslie Knighton.

The wild Knighton tales from his autobiography have been the basis of newspaper reporting of Arsenal’s history during the Norris era ever since, despite it quite clearly being an utterly inaccurate volume set out simply to justify Knighton’s failings as a manager.  The fact that Knighton won nothing and nearly had Arsenal relegated twice, compared with Allison who won the league twice and the FA Cup once, and managed Arsenal for seven years in the war without payment of any kind, tells us more about Fleet Street and its desire to knock Arsenal, than anything else.  The fact that some people still use Knighton as a source without checking any facts at all (for example Kevin Moore’s crazy “What you think you know about football is wrong” published last year, and the Mirror’s suggestion of a pre-war corruption scandal in a report earlier this year) tells us a lot about the state of football journalism in the 21 century.

Today is the anniversary of George Allison’s departure from the club.  He deserves more recognition than he has received.

31 May 1884: Frank Bradshaw born. Frank was the youngest of eight children, and is recorded as playing for Oxford Street Sunday School, Sheffield Wednesday, Northampton Town, Everton before finally reaching Arsenal.

31 May 1890: Royal Arsenal won a five a side competition in Islington.  It is the first known link between Arsenal and their ultimate long-term home.

31 May 1893: Woolwich Arsenal elected to Division II of the Football League. As part of their attempts to fight those within the club who were opposed to the direction of Woolwich Arsenal, there had clearly been some private negotiations with the League, resulting in Arsenal being the first Football League club in the south.

31 May 1907 Norman Sidey born.  He  joined Arsenal as an amateur from Nunhead (in the Isthmian League) in March 1929 before turning professional two years later in February 1931.

31 May 1915: Zeppelins appeared over London for the first time.

31 May 1920: The Football League and the FA held their AGMs. Hilariously the League overturned their decision of the previous meeting and voted to take over the Southern League Division 1, re-creating it as Division Three.  They further agreed that they would also create a second Division Three for clubs in the north, as soon as enough clubs applied.

31 May 1935: Having re-introduced speed limits on British roads, the government now introduced the driving test for everyone who had not held a licence before this date.

31 May 1937: First appearance of Lawrie Scott.  George Allison changed him from a winger to a right back, and he played in the reserves for two years, until the outbreak of war, at which time he became a Physical Training instructor for the RAF.

31 May 1937: Arsenal beat Copenhagen 5-1 (Scorers Crayston, Davidson, Lewis, Biggs, Nelson).  This was the third match of a five match series taking in Sweden, Denmark and Belgium.

31 May 1941: The wartime season ended with a replay of the Football League War Cup final, at Edwood Park Blackburn.  Arsenal lost 2-1 to Preston in front of 45,000 fans.

31 May 1947: George Allison resigned, ending a 37 year association with the club.  His final act was to write his autobiography: Allison Calling (a title which makes reference to his long-term work as a radio commentator). In the book Allison’s description of Henry Norris (who Allison knew from 1910 onwards) and his style of work contrasts starkly with that in Knighton’s autobiography, and calls into question many of Knighton’s assertions. Ludicrously it is Knighton’s book, written 22 years after he left the club but published within weeks of the Allison book, which is used as the prime source of history by many writers.  Allison, like Chapman before him and Whittaker after him, won two league titles and the FA Cup.  

31 May 1961: Peter Storey joined Arsenal as an apprentice. He later wrote a most readable autobiography called “True Storey‘s;  My life and crimes as a football hatchet man,”  

31 May 1967: Don Howe’s final game as a player.  After 342 games for West Brom he had played 70 games for Arsenal and scored one goal.  He then became reserve team coach under Bertie Mee.

31 May 1972: Arsenal played away to Miami Gatos (USA) and won 3-2 in front of a crowd of 4,725.    George, Radford and Kennedy scored.  Quite what the point of this single post-season game, no one knew, but it was typical of the club at the time.

31 May 1980: Alan Sunderland played for England for the only time: Australia 1 England 2.   Brian Talbot won his final cap for England in the same game.

31 May 2013: Arsenal reported that Freddie Ljungberg had taken on an ambassadorial role with the club. 

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