On 24 October 1936, The East Stand, Highbury opened for the game against Grimsby. It had cost the club £130,000; less than the weekly wage of a player by 2020! With the West Stand opened three years earlier, the great vision of Sir Henry Norris, who had moved Arsenal from Plumstead to Highbury in 1913 was completed, although sadly he had passed away and did not see his dream fulfilled.
But despite Arsenal now being acclaimed as the team of the 1930s, by the time the stand was opened, it was felt that Arsenal had problems with their squad. The club had won the league four times between 1931 and 1935 and in the one season when they missed out, they had come runners’ up in both the League and the FA Cup.
But the media had turned on Arsenal’s manager George Allison, who was accused of endlessly chopping and changing the team and not knowing what he was doing. At the heart of the matter was the problem of away form with the club having just one win away from home thus far in the season.
The newspapers noted, repeatedly, that all the teams that had risen to the top had faded just as quickly: Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa, Everton, and even last season’s runaway champions Sunderland had not maintained their dominance. Arsenal had been at the top longer than others, but now their demise was excitedly predicted by journalists at large.
An away defeat on 3 October to Man U who were 17th prior to the match amplified the concerns as for the fourth away match running Arsenal failed to score. Indeed Arsenal’s last away win was on March 4. Since then Arsenal had now won 0, drawn 3 and lost 7 of their last 10 away games.
Then on 4 October the nation was appalled to receive the news of the Battle of Cable Street between Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists who dressed in uniforms that were based on those of the Blackshirts, and anti-fascist demonstrators. The following day the Jarrow March began with 207 miners marching to London in protest against poverty and unemployment.
An away draw with Sheffield Wednesday left Arsenal (the team of the 1930s) 17th in the league. For their next game were facing newly promoted Charlton. Arsenal got their first away goals in a 2-0 win.
Elsewhere the UK’s Prime minister Stanley Baldwin chose to confront King Edward VIII about his relationship with the married (but soon to be divorced) Wallis Simpson. The nation was agog.
And so we get to 24 October 1936 as the East Stand was opened for game against Grimsby. It had cost £130,000 and with the West Stand having opened three years earlier it completed the building of a stadium fit for the team of the 1930s. The game ended goalless.
After that Arsenal did get an away win, against Liverpool but by the end of the month Arsenal had sunk to 17th, their lowest position since 8 March 1930 when they were 19th.
The boo-boys, as Chapman had labelled them, were out in force, and the newspapers were clear the glory days of Arsenal were over. But in writing off Arsenal the journalists were premature.
Arsenal did recover and came 6th in the League, but more importantly won the FA Cup for the second time. The following season they came third in the league and then in 1937/8 Arsenal won the League for the fifth time in eight years. Highbury, as ever, remained full.
- 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.