By Tony Attwood
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On 28 April 1934 Arsenal went into their penultimate match of the season as firm favourites to win their second trophy in a row, but still needing a point to secure the championship.
The title had been won the previous year by Arsenal under Herbert Chapman. This year it was won under Chapman for the first half of the season and Joe Shaw for the second half. But just as Arsenal had won the league last season at Stamford Bridge by beating Chelsea 3-1, this year they went there again, and got the draw they needed.
Last season the crowd was 72260, this year a mere 65,344. Victory in the final match beating Sheffield Utd 2-0 on 5 May 1934 rounded it all up.
The main chatter from the press was that Newcastle went down – having won the league back in 1927 and the Cup in 1932. Also relegated were Sheffield United who had been in the top division for 40 consecutive years.
Journalists were, then as now, also distracted by the plight of Manchester United of the second division who missed relegation by one point only through a win on the final day.
But most interesting of all was the fact that Arsenal’s manager was Joe Shaw. He had played for Arsenal, managed the reserves, and it was he who took over after Chapman’s death partway through the season.
Joe was born in Bury in 1883, and thus was just three when Arsenal was founded. He joined Bury and then moved to Accrington Stanley. Woolwich Arsenal by then were a first division side, and when Joe moved it was a significant leap from the Lancashire Combination to the top league in the land.
Joe Shaw played his first game for the first team in September 1907 and went on to play a total of 309 games for the club. Joe was part of the 1912/13 campaign which saw Woolwich Arsenal relegated and was thus one of the players who played under the old club pre-1910 and the new club created by Henry Norris.
He played for the two seasons in the second division and was Arsenal’s first captain at Highbury.
He continued to play on until 1922 and then retired, and was immediately appointed as a coach by the first post-war manager, Leslie Knighton.
When Knighton was at last removed from his post, Herbert Chapman was brought in, and he made Joe the reserve team manager. Chapman argues in his book of articles written for the Express newspaper, that the reserves should always play in the same tactical format as the first team – which was a fairly revolutionary idea. Thus Joe Shaw mirrored Chapman’s work week by week, month by month.
In “Forward Arsenal!” Bernard Joy says of Shaw and Whittaker, who ran the club under Chapman, “Their personalities helped fashion the club and Chapman relied on them for discipline, tone and smooth working of the administrative machinery.”
Eddie Hapgood added, in his book, “Shaw is cut of the same mould as Whittaker. Kindly, helpful, always ready to lend an ear to a player`s troubles.” Joe Shaw was in charge of the reserves for 12 years and they won the Combination nine times.
Thus when Chapman died in January 1934 it was obvious that Joe Shaw should be appointed Caretaker Manager. The story of what happened is told in the article Joe Shaw wins the league and introduces a genius.
Joe made it clear from the off that he was only there for that half-season, and was happy when George Allison took over at the end of the season, leaving the Shaw/Whittaker axis in place below the manager.
After the second world war, Joe worked briefly with Chelsea, but when Allison retired in 1947 Tom Whittaker brought his old pal back to the club, and the two old-timers gave Arsenal two league championships and an FA Cup win.
Upon his retirement, Joe was appointed club ambassador – although it was not a job that Shaw particularly wanted and in 1958 he retired fully from the club, after 49 years with Woolwich Arsenal, The Arsenal, and Arsenal. The one man who was with the club in the pre-Norris era, the Norris era, and the post-Norris era of Chapman and beyond.
During this time he was there for seven championships, three F.A. Cup victories, and nine reserve league titles.
He died in 1963 at the age of 80, the greatest long term servant the club has ever had and one who in my opinion, should be much more celebrated at the club than he is.
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: 100 Years in the First Division