On this day the Arsenal programme printed a rebuttal of allegations in the South Wales Football Echo and Express, which had claimed that the Arsenal players came out for the second half of a match between Arsenal reserves and Cardiff City reserves smoking cigarettes!
Now in those days smoking was not as frowned upon as now, and the level of smoking in the general population was much, much higher than today, but Arsenal decided that such a report, if not challenged, would harm their image.
As a result, Arsenal took legal action against the paper, and indeed more than that, actually publicised the fact that they were taking this action by commenting on the matter in the programme for the next reserve game at Highbury – that on 3 December 1949.
Here they stated that following the article they had received “numerous letters from Arsenal fans from far and near,” adding that they had “placed the matter in the hands of the club’s solicitors.” Following the article was a note that since the matter was now heading for the courts, they could say no more.
It was clear from the off that Arsenal’s directors were angry at the slur, not only because they felt the allegation was false but also because Arsenal had worked hard across the years to develop its reputation as a club associated with Christian traditions of fair play and decent behaviour. So annoyed were they that they took the unusual step of legal action against the newspaper.
On the same day the newspaper printed an explanation of the events saying that since publishing their original story they had found that the items in the players’ hands were not cigarettes but smelling salts capsules.
In short the paper was admitting that they had made an assumption which was detrimental to Arsenal, and run the story without checking. Whoever would have thought that of a newspaper?
Given that the newspaper had made an apology I suspect the case was dropped, with quite possibly the newspaper paying some compensation to Arsenal, but that of course we don’t know, and since Arsenal was a private company, details were not required to be given in the annual accounts. The fact that Cardiff had apologised was given a full run out in the programme of 3 December.
The fact that the South Wales Football Echo should choose Arsenal to be on the receiving end of such knocking copy shows that the media attacks upon Arsenal, which as the AISA Arsenal History Society has shown, go right back to the early days of the club, was continuing.
Why Arsenal should be picked upon in this way, above and beyond the way most clubs are treated, is probably down to the association with the military. Newspapers loved nothing more than shock-horror tales of soldiers behaving badly, and given that the very name of the club stressed this association, Arsenal were always seen as fair game.
The famous closure of the Woolwich Arsenal ground in 1895 because of crowd behaviour was initially proposed for the whole of the second half of the season, but later this was reduced to six weeks. And yet as the article on the subject on the AISA Arsenal History Society website shows, “an almost identical episode of ref bashing at Wolverhampton Wanderers next season in October 1895 led to their ground being closed but for only two weeks. At least one non-local reporter put the disparity in the harshness of the sentences from the FA, down to Arsenal’s role as the pre-eminent southern professional team.”
It was ever thus. Here are the anniversaries for this day.
3 December 1904: David Neave’s first match; Small Heath 2 Arsenal 1. He was born in Arbroath and started his football career with non-league Scottish clubs Forfar Athletic, Montrose and Arbroath, before joining Arsenal.
3 December 1915: The West London and Fulham Times, for which Henry Norris had regularly written on football matters, published its final edition, as a lack of advertising in wartime and restrictions on what could be said in the media brought about its end.
3 December 1918: Sir Henry Norris asked a soldier, Lieutenant Niss, to launch his campaign in the general election.. The Lieutenant made much of Sir Henry’s service to his country and the need to repatriate all Germans (not least so that they did not compete for jobs) and the view that Kaiser Wilhelm should be prosecuted for war crimes.
3 December 1919: George Curtis born in West Thurrock, Essex. He joined Arsenal in December 1936 and stayed with the club until 1947 making just 14 appearances either side of the war. He later went on to manage Norway.
3 December 1921: An away win over Blackburn left Arsenal still bottom of the league but with a game in hand and a better goal average than the clubs immediately above them.
3 December 1923 Sir Henry Norris obtained a writ for libel against the Fulham Chronicle which claimed that as a result of a detailed piece arguing for free trade “a torrent of wrath” had been unleashed on Sir Henry by the local Conservatives and called him “a disgruntled and embittered man” who acted from “personal malice”. The defendants apologised, expressed regret and Sir Henry was awarded costs and 100 guineas as damages. Sir Henry, as always, gave the money to charity.
3 December 1925: The question of the Irish border was finally settled with the British government acquiescing on the issue of Irish contributions to pensions, and the Irish accepting the existing border as permanent.
3 December 1932: For the fifth away match running Arsenal scored 3+ goals – a feat not repeated until 2008/9. They scored 21 goals in these five games, this final game being Portsmouth 1 Arsenal 3.
3 December 1919: George Curtis was born in West Thurrock. He started out with Anglo in Purfleet, and moved straight from there to Arsenal who placed him with Margate on loan until bringing him back for the April 1939 games.
3 December 1949: The Arsenal programme printed a rebuttal of allegations in the South Wales Football Echo and Express, claiming that the Arsenal players came out for the second half smoking cigarettes!
3 December 1962: Arsenal beat Chelsea 4-1 in final of the London Challenge Cup. It was Arsenal’s 10th win of the competition and was revenge for the 1960 final which Arsenal lost 3-1 to Chelsea.
3 December 1983: Tommy Caton’s first game, a 0-1 home defeat to WBA. It was part of a sequence in which Arsenal won just one game in nine.
3 December 2011: Wigan 0 Arsenal 4, making it six wins and a draw in the last 7, going from 15th to 5th in just two months. Arteta, Vermaelen, Gervinho and Van Persie got the goals.
3 December 2016: Arsenal beat WHU 1-5 away with goals from Özil, Alexis (3) and Oxlade-Chamberlain from 25-yards. The main focus in the subsequent media coverage was that one of the goals should not have been allowed.