29 October 1932: Arsenal and the first division, 89 years ago.

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29 October 1932 – by Tony Attwood

On 29 October 1932 the score came in on the radio and in the evening papers: Arsenal 8 Leicester 2.  Yet although it made the headlines, it was not a total surprise.  After all in the previous three seasons Arsenal had won the FA Cup (their first ever major trophy), the League (scoring 127 goals and a record 66 points along the way) and then in 1932 had come runners-up in both competitions (a rarity in the era when Doubles were unknown).

The only possible worry that Arsenal might have had, and one that the press has started to play on somewhat, was that Jack Lambert, who had scored 39 1st division goals in the title-winning season of 1930/1, had scored a mere 26 last season.  Shock horror, Arsenal in decline!

And ludicrous though that might sound today, in one sense the papers were right because 1931/2 was Lambert’s third, but as it turned out, final season as top scorer for Arsenal.  For in 1932/3 that position was taken over by Cliff Bastin, the boy wonder who had been signed from Exeter in 1929 aged 17.  This season he got 33 goals.

Ahead of this game Arsenal were second in the league table, one point behind Aston Villa, and were receiving criticism in the press.  They may have scored 28 goals in 11 games (more than any other club in the league) but they had let in 17, ten more than Villa.  That, the newspaper men said, would be Arsenal’s undoing.

Thus far Arsenal had won 9, drawn 2 and lost 1 in the league.  But on this day Hulme (3), Bastin (2), Coleman (2), and Jack got the goals in front of 36,714 and for the first time in the season Arsenal hit the top of the league.

However, there were worries, for when on 8 October  Arsenal had played Derby County drawing 3-3 that had turned out to be the 258th and final appearance of Tom Parker – the club’s first trophy winning captain.  Tom had been one of Chapman’s first signings in 1926.

Having played 38 games the previous season, and 41 in the championship winning season the notion of him not being in the team was a shock, but he was now 34, and Chapman was never a sentimentalist when it came to team selection.   Now George Male who had come up through the ranks (joining in 1929) stepped up to the first team.

Male went on to spend half his football life with Arsenal, a time which also included two spells managing Norwich (leading them to league victory in 1933/4), and another period with Southampton.

The third match of the month was an away fixture with Blackburn who were 17th having won only one home match thus far.  But Chapman’s chopping and changing of the team carried on, this time Jones, who had come in at right half after the first two games, made way for Frank Hill for his debut following his transfer from Aberdeen the previous May.

The press were appalled.   Yet “Tiger” Hill went on to hold the position as his own through the rest of the season, except for a period out through injury, ending up with 26 league appearances.

Thus 15 October 1932 was also George Male’s first appearance as a right-back v Blackburn.  The story is that Male didn’t believe he could play right-back but a chat with Chapman convinced him he “was the best right back in the country”.  It turned out to be true.

In the 3-2 win Bastin, Jack and Coleman got the goals.  Coleman had now played eight games and scored in seven of them.  Aston Villa beat Sheffield Utd 3-0, but Huddersfield could only draw, and the feeling grew that as two years ago, this was going to be a Villa vs Arsenal season.

League match number 11 was an away match with Liverpool who were sitting mid table with two wins, two defeats and a draw thus far.  The result was another 3-2 win, and another goal for Coleman; Bastin getting the other two.  Aston Villa won the Birmingham derby match to keep up their challenge, although Huddersfield’s 0-3 home defeat to Blackburn suggested their hopes were over.

And still the team changes continued.  After two years in which it seemed Chapman could put out the same team week on week, now Roberts was out through injury and Haynes replaced him for his fifth game of the season.

At this point there was a pause as on 26 October, a day on which international matches were played (Alex James playing his final international of eight appearances for Scotland – scoring four goals for his country in those games) Arsenal played Islington Corinthians – a team that had been formed earlier in the year to raise money for local charities.

Away from football however life in England was most certainly not running smoothly as the hunger marchers began to arrive in London, and there was considerable unrest on the streets.

Football was of course seen as a great distraction from clashes between police and protesters, and the papers were duly ordered to cover the games not the civil unrest, and in this regard Arsenal obliged beating Leicester City 8-2 at Highbury on 29 October, and for the first time in the season hit the top of the league.  Leicester were 20th winning only once so far in the season, having conceded 26.   Arsenal were scoring as regularly as Villa (Arsenal having knocked in 28 against Villa’s 25 before this match) but Villa had a far superior goal difference due to a much tighter defence.

And on this day it all went absolutely Arsenal’s way, for while Highbury had its goal fest Villa went down 3-1 away to West Bromwich Albion.  For the first time in the season, Arsenal hit the top of the league having gone ten without defeat, eight of those games being victories.

This time there was only one change in the team – Roberts was back at centre half. Hulme 3, Bastin 2, Coleman 2, Jack got the goals in front of 36714.   Indeed, it turned out to be quite a day for high scores in the first division as Sunderland also beat Bolton 7-4.

Although this was the end of the league action for the month it was not quite the end of the football for Arsenal, for having played Corinthians in the previous mid-week, Arsenal now flew to Paris for the first of two Armistice Day commemorative matches against Racing club de Paris on 31 October 1932.  It finished Racing Club de Paris 2 Arsenal 5.  Four goals from Cliff Bastin and (of course) one from Lambert, completed the scoring in front of a crowd of 30,000.

As we can see Arsenal were underachieving this month in terms of home crowds – due in part to the social situation in the capital mentioned above.  But other clubs were responding to the awareness of what Arsenal had become, all three away games that Arsenal played in this month far exceeding the home clubs’ normal gate; Blackburn more than doubling their average home crowd, Blackpool nearly so.

The league table at the end of the month looked like this…

Pos Team P W D L F A GAv Pts
1 Arsenal 12 9 2 1 36 19 1.90 20
2 Aston Villa 12 8 3 1 26 10 2.60 19
3 Derby County 12 7 3 2 27 15 1.80 17
4 West Bromwich Albion 12 7 2 3 25 18 1.39 16
5 Huddersfield Town 12 6 3 3 21 15 1.40 15
6 Leeds United 12 5 5 2 15 11 1.36 15
7 Portsmouth 12 6 3 3 27 23 1.17 15
8 Sheffield Wednesday 12 6 2 4 28 20 1.40 14
9 Newcastle United 11 6 2 3 23 18 1.28 14
10 Everton 12 5 2 5 20 20 1.00 12

Finally, a word about Tottenham now languishing in division 2.  Having only managed two wins in the first eight games their form now improved with four wins and a draw in October, a run which saw them go 12 games undefeated in Division 2, scoring 23 goals in five games.  Having started the month in 16th they concluded October in fourth.   Their crowds were starting to rise too.  Not to Arsenal’s level of course, for when there wasn’t trouble on the streets Arsenal were the best-supported club in the land, but they certainly started getting bigger crowds.

100 Years in the First Division: the absolute complete story of Arsenal’s promotion in 1919.

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