1 September 1923: Arsenal lose their 3rd match in a row at the start of the season.



1 September 1923

I don’t normally commemorate losing matches but in the light of the opening of 2021/2 season when the club lost three in a row, it seems relevant. In fact Arsenal lost all four opening games in 1923/4 and were bottom of the league. The manager, Leslie Knighton, survived one more season and was then replaced by Herbert Chapman.

After a home defeat to Newcastle by 1-4 and a 0-1 away defeat to West Ham in August 1923, Arsenal played the return game with Newcastle on this day.  In contrast to Arsenal, Newcastle had won both their opening matches and if anything the 1-0 victory against a clearly struggling Arsenal side was something of a disappointment to the locals.

For the third game in a row Knighton kept the same back six as had served the club so extremely well in the last part of the previous season, and made just one more change bringing in Ernest Wallington who had joined the club from Watford.  He replaced Young and it was his one and only game for Arsenal, which suggests it was not a success.

The game against Newcastle was commented on by the press as being a “bad-tempered” game with the referee repeatedly lecturing players on their behaviour.  The result meant that Arsenal were now at the foot of the table going into their fourth game of the season, away to West Bromwich who were unbeaten and sitting fourth from the top.

Meanwhile, Arsenal reserves, the Football Combination champions of the previous season lost to Brighton, a club that had not even had a side in the Combination last season.  It was not a good omen.

Worse was to come on Saturday.   Arsenal lost 0-4, and thus had played four, lost four, scored one and conceded 10.  Eight players (the six defenders, plus Woods and Turnbull), had played in all four games.  Eight other players had been used in the remaining four positions.

Finally however, a change was made in the defence for match number five, at home to West Ham with Butler dropping out, being replaced by Graham who had played 17 games the previous season, mostly at centre half.  Voysey who had been playing at inside right dropped out and was replaced by Earle, who had had one game in that position at the end of the previous season.

West Ham had made a decent start to their first season in the top division with one win, two draws and one defeat thus far.   But the goal tally (scored one, conceded one) told a story of a club defending like mad, anxious to concede nothing at all.  Their one goal had been in the victory over Arsenal, and Arsenal had learned the lesson: attack strongly from the off and get an early goal, as it was unlikely that West Ham would be able to change shape and start attacking.

As a ploy it worked.  1-0 up in ten minutes and 2-0 up at half time Arsenal went on to win 4-1 with two from Stan Earle, and one each from Woods and Graham.

On 15 September, with Arsenal having moved one place up the table after their win over WHU, there was another home game – this time the return against West Brom, and a second victory was clocked up, by 1-0 with Clem Voysey scoring.

It is at this point that Sally Davis reveals a point about the organisation of the directors of which I was not aware before: that each year one of the directors took on the responsibility of being the director for the Reserve team – the team that we may recall won the London Combination for the first time in 1922/3.   She suggests that Henry Norris had taken on this task one season while chair of Fulham, and now was doing it again for Arsenal.

I find that a very interesting thought, for it shows a different side of the man.  The image of the autocratic wealthy businessman with his chauffeur-driven car, with his knighthood and his rank of Colonel in the army, balanced here against the man who would take on the role of going not to the first team games but to the reserve matches.  Indeed we have already found him at one of the youth team games this season. Quite an insight I feel; and I wonder how many Arsenal directors of the present day take on such duties.

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