6 October: Changing the facts to fit the prejudice



6 October 1888: How the media used an obscure match from this day to do down an Arsenal record.

On 6 October 1888 Preston beat Stoke 7-0, with Jimmy Ross scoring four.  When in December 1935 Ted Drake created the all-time 1st division record of scoring seven in one game the story was put about that Drake’s achievement was not a first and that Ross had done the same on 6 October.

It was a complete fabrication.  How strange that someone should bother to make it up just to knock Arsenal!  So let’s look at the story as a whole. To start with the obvious, on Saturday 14 December Arsenal played Aston Villa away.

As we all know Ted Drake scored seven that day, and according to Tom Whittaker in his autobiography (George Allison, the manager, not going to the game as he was ill), Drake had just eight shots on goal, scoring with seven and the other hitting the bar.  Drake said that the shot actually came down off the bar and bounced downwards and into the goal, although the goal was disallowed with officials ruling the ball had not crossed the line.

However, Drake still secured the goal-scoring record in the final minute of the game making this the individual record for scoring in a top division match, establishing a new record which stands to this day.

The question then arose in the press (as anxious then as now to do down any Arsenal claim to success) this was not an all-time record.  For those who set themselves up as being the arbiters of football’s history claimed that Jimmy Ross had also scored seven in the game between Preston and Stoke on 6 October 1888.  So Ted Drake was not the first, and that story circulated for months.

In fact, the official record books kept by the League show Ross only scored four.  He had never claimed seven, nor had his club.  What he did claim, and what is undoubtedly true is that he actually scored 8 against Hyde in the FA Cup – but not seven in a top flight league match.   It was a typical anti-Arsenal bit of fantasy reporting.

What is true is that the record for the most goals scored in a league match came just 12 days later as Bunny Bell of Tranmere Rovers scored nine in the Football League Third Division (North). That was on Boxing Day as Tranmere beat Oldham 13-4.  The report says Bell also missed a penalty.

But there was something very odd about this Tranmere game.  Tranmere had played Oldham on the day before – Xmas Day, as was the habit of the league at the time – and had lost 4-1 away to Oldham.  So what had made them able to reverse their defeat and win by such an outrageous score the next day?

Tranmere weren’t even the top-scoring club in the league that season, and didn’t get promotion.  And Oldham weren’t pushovers either – they finished the season seventh in the league.  Nor did they have anything like the worst defence.  Crewe, who finished one place above them, let in more goals.

Even more oddly Tranmere didn’t keep on getting high scores.  Yes they scored six twice, but otherwise there was nothing unusual about their results.

So did Tranmere really scored 13 on that day?   Presumably yes.  But was it a normal game?  I suspect not.  I have no information on the game, but I would not be surprised to find that Oldham turned up two men short – or something like that.  It did happen from time to time in the third division in the 1930s.  Even the official Tranmere web site has only the slightest details of the match, which seems to suggest that there are no contemporary reports from the local paper – which again seems most odd, since copies of all local newspapers are kept in the National Archives.  More likely the contemporary reports don’t confirm the claim. Journalism – it’s a funny old game.




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