During the first year of the first world war, the Football League continued with its matches, much to the outrage of the national press.
There was however good reason to keep going. There was no conscription, the vast majority of the population remained at home, and although a few German boats fired at seaside towns along the eastern coast, and a small number of German planes flew over London, there was not much to disturb the everyday life of the kingdom. Indeed during the early months of the war the populace was regularly told it would all be over by Christmas.
At the end of that first season the Football League met and agreed to abandon the formal league programme, and they immediately set up temporary wartime leagues for clubs in the midlands and the north. The clubs in London and the south however were left to fend for themselves, with no arrangements made for them.
These clubs quickly nominated Henry Norris, chairman of Arsenal, as the man to create a league for the southern clubs and he and his fellow chairmen rapidly instigated the London Combination which was up and running 4 September 1915 with an Arsenal home game against Tottenham, and 14,819 in the ground.
Having learned their lesson in the first world war, the footballing authorities were much faster to react in the second war, declared on 1 September 1939. The League programme completed three games but was abandoned on 2 September (Arsenal beat Sunderland 5-2 on that day to make it two wins and a draw – the first-ever unbeaten season!), and a new set of regional leagues were up and running by 21 October.
In the first world war, Tottenham’s ground was closed and used for the testing of Enfield rifles, with Tottenham playing most of their “home” games at Highbury, (although at least one of their “home” matches against Arsenal was played at Clapton Orient’s ground).
In the second world war, it was Arsenal who found their ground closed, and so George Allison, who had been planning to retire from the club at the end of the 1939/40 season, was persuaded to continue to run Arsenal almost single-handed from a small room in the White Hart Lane ground.
Throughout both wars, clubs were allowed to use guest players to make up their numbers, and all players worked as amateurs. Any trophies won were not counted as part of the official collection.
The first campaign of the second world war began on 21 October and Arsenal’s league was designated League South A Division. Arsenal dutifully won the league suffering just one defeat in the 18-match campaign.
High scores were commonplace (Arsenal scored 19 goals in the first three matches of that first season, and they did rather well in the opening campaign of the 1940/41 season as well scoring 39 goals in the first 11 matches in the “South Regional League”.
Then came the away game Northampton Town at their three-sided ground shared with Northants County Cricket club. Arsenal had already beaten the Cobblers 5-4 at Highbury in October, but the away game on this day went even further with an 8-1 victory.
But it wasn’t the only time Arsenal scored eight in that 19-match campaign, for on 28 December Arsenal repeated the score with a victory over Luton Town.
Yet even these were not the highest scores of the season for on 8 February Arsenal beat Clapton Orient 15-2. Leslie Compton who had limited himself to two in each of the demolitions of Northamton and Luton, now decided to let rip and knocked in ten. Sadly there were only 2780 in the ground to see it.