15 April 1921: Arsenal contemplate getting to an away game during the rail strike

By Tony Attwood

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1921 was a time of great industrial unrest in Britain, and on 3 April coal rationing was introduced, as a result of the miners’ strike.  The board of directors at Arsenal were undoubtedly already trying to work out how they would complete their away trips to Bradford, Liverpool and Newcastle in the coming days if, as expected the railway timetables were disrupted or totally suspended due to a lack of coal for the train.

In the years before the war the major unions involving transport workers, railwaymen and miners came together in the Triple Alliance with a view to co-ordinating action in the event of attempts by employers to cut wages.  However during the war, the state had taken control of these key industries and had held back on any cuts in pay in order to avoid strikes during wartime and the possibility of political unrest.

The regulations prohibiting a reduction in salaries were removed on 31 March 1921, and pay cuts were almost immediately introduced.  The miners refused to accept this and were locked out.  It was expected that the Triple Alliance would now bring much of the country to a standstill by calling out everyone involved in transport, but there were delays and at first the miners alone came out on strike.

While the nation waited to see who would blink first in the growing industrial confrontation, the football continued.  Arsenal played Sheffield United away on 2 April and the result was a 1-1 draw with Rutherford scoring Arsenal’s goal in front of 35,000.

After this came the two games against Bradford who were looking to be certainties for relegation, and in the home match on 9 April  a crowd of 30,000 saw Arsenal win 2-1.  Goals from Toner and Rutherford saw Arsenal through, and the match was nominated as a benefit game for Arsenal’s long-serving quartet of Bradshaw, McKinnon, Hardinge and Rutherford with each player guaranteed a minimum of £500.

Arsenal remained in 9th position but there was now hope they might creep a little further up the table as they had a game in hand over Middlesbrough who were now just one point ahead.

However, by now the railways were becoming unreliable and so for the away game at Bradford, Arsenal travelled by coach on Friday instead of taking a Saturday morning scheduled train as was normal procedure.  It should be remembered that many of the roads were still little more than tracks, rather than tarmac (which was only invented in 1902) although the government had started to classify roads as A roads, B roads and unclassified.  Signposts however were very erratic and often missing.

However, while Arsenal were making their way to the game on 15 April, the executives of the non-mining parts of the Triple Alliance voted against strike action after differences between the mining unions and the transport unions emerged; in Trades Union circles it became known as Black Friday.  However there was some action as members of the Alliance were told by their unions not to handle imported coal – and this part of the deal held firm.

Despite the very long coach trip Arsenal won the game 1-0, with Toner getting the goal.  They were still one point behind Middlesbrough with a game in hand, but there was now a three-point gap between Arsenal and the club immediately below them: Manchester United.

The following day policemen on motorcycles began to appear on London’s streets, and the day after that (25 April) Arsenal beat Preston 2-1 at home, Hopkins and McKinnon getting the goals.  Finally, Arsenal had moved up from 9th to 8th just one point below Tottenham, although the crowd of 12,000 was disappointing even allowing for the fact that the match was played on a Monday afternoon.

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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