14 February 1925: the first trial of the new offside rule

 Although crowds after the first world war were much higher than those before the war, there was a feeling in football, that the game needed to be made more exciting in order to attract even higher numbers of people to games.

This was particularly felt when in 1924 Huddersfield won the league scoring just 60 goals in 42 games as opposed to West Brom, the 1920 champions who scored 104 goals in the same number of games.  The number of goals had been declining generally, although in 1924/5 there was something of a small recovery elsewhere in the league.

But Chapman’s tactics worked and were being copied which meant that goals were becoming more scarce, so something had to be done.

What’s more crowd numbers were certainly drifting down – the average crowd in 1919/20 was 29,252 in the first division.  It dropped each year until by 1924/5 it was over 7,500 lower at 21,609.  (Interestingly Arsenal, this season were the best-supported team with an average attendance of 29,485 – thus proving Sir Henry Norris right in his view it was the location of the ground that brought in the crowds, as much as the success – or as it was that season – lack of it).

The British nations and the recently formed Fifa thus decided to make the game more attractive by changing the offside rule from three opposition players behind the ball when kicked in the opposition half to two.

In order to experiment with this idea a number of League games were played under the new rules including two games on 14 February 1925 of which Arsenal v Huddersfield Town was one.  The build-up to the match included several meetings so that agreement between the clubs could be gained as to the application of the new law, and it is more than likely that Sir Henry Norris used this as an occasion to meet with the then Huddersfield manager Herbert Chapman.

Huddersfield who were heading for the title, won 5-0, which did little for Arsenal’s precarious league position but a lot for the future of the club.  It was Arsenal’s worst home defeat since 28 October 1893 when Arsenal lost to Liverpool by the same score. It seems to have cemented in Sir Henry’s mind that it was time for a change.

It is also reported in many books that part of Chapman’s subsequent revolution at Arsenal was to adjust the defence, with the centre half pulled back to play in between the two fullbacks. This is a gross simplification of a much more complex set of changes that Chapman created, which included playing in a different style away from home to that used at home, and having a deep-lying inside forward (who effectively became a mid-fielder) who could receive the ball out of defence and immediately pass it on to a fast running winger.

It was never as simple as pulling the centre half further back, but it was a response to the new offside law first tried out on this day.

Henry Norris at the Arsenal:  There is a full index to the series here.

Arsenal in the 1930s: The most comprehensive series on the decade ever

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

100 Years in the First Division

The 1919 Affair

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