When the media claimed Arsenal players came onto the pitch smoking




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The Arsenal History Society is part of the Arsenal Independent Supporters Association – a body which gives positive support to the club, and has regular meetings with directors and senior officials of the club to represent the views of its members to the club.  You can read more about AISA on its website.


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Arsenal in the 1970s: Every match and every intrigue reviewed in detail.3 December 1949

On this day the Arsenal programme printed a rebuttal of allegations in the South Wales Football Echo and Express, which had claimed that the Arsenal players came out for the second half of a match between Arsenal reserves and Cardiff City reserves smoking cigarettes!

Now in those days smoking was not as frowned upon as now, and the level of smoking in the general population was much, much higher than today, but Arsenal decided that such a report, if not challenged, would harm their image.

As a result, Arsenal took legal action against the paper, and indeed more than that, actually publicised the fact that they were taking this action by commenting on the matter in the programme for the next reserve game at Highbury.

Here they stated that following the article they had received “numerous letters from Arsenal fans from far and near,” adding that they had “placed the matter in the hands of the club’s solicitors.”   They then said that since the matter was now heading for the courts, they could say no more.

It was clear from the off that Arsenal’s directors were angry at the slur, not only because they felt the allegation was false but also because Arsenal had worked hard across the years to develop its reputation as a club associated with Christian traditions of fair play and decent behaviour.

On the same day the newspaper printed an explanation of the events saying that since publishing their original story they had found that the items in the players’ hands were not cigarettes but smelling salts capsules.

In short, the paper was admitting that they had made an assumption that was detrimental to Arsenal, and run the story without checking.  Whoever would have thought that of a newspaper?

Given that the newspaper had made an apology I suspect the case was dropped, with quite possibly the newspaper paying some compensation to Arsenal, but that, of course, we don’t know, and since Arsenal was a private company, details were not required to be given in the annual accounts. The fact that Cardiff had apologised was given a full run out in the programme of 3 December.

The fact that the South Wales Football Echo should choose Arsenal to be on the receiving end of such knocking copy shows that the media attacks upon Arsenal, which as the AISA Arsenal History Society has shown, go right back to the early days of the club, was continuing.

Why Arsenal should be picked upon in this way, above and beyond the way most clubs are treated, is probably down to the association with the military.  Newspapers loved nothing more than shock-horror tales of soldiers behaving badly, and given that the very name of the club stressed this association, Arsenal were always seen as fair game.

The famous closure of the Woolwich Arsenal ground in 1895 because of crowd behaviour, was initially proposed for the whole of the second half of the season, but later this was reduced to six weeks.  And yet as the article on the subject on the on this website shows, “an almost identical episode of ref bashing at Wolverhampton Wanderers next season in October 1895 led to their ground being closed but for only two weeks. At least one non-local reporter put the disparity in the harshness of the sentences from the FA, down to “Arsenal’s role as the pre-eminent southern professional team.”

It was ever thus.

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