Arsenal between the wars

By R J Nicolle

Arsenal-the pre-war days.

I was born in 1923 in the Channel Islands, where I have spent all my life except for the War years (spent in the UK and overseas).

My Father watched the 1932 “over the line” Cup Final and that set the allegiance in stone.

Pre-war, we football fans in the Islands followed our favourite teams via the radio and newspapers, the latter arriving by sea a day late. We were masters, however, of football statistics and could quote, at length, teams, scores, etc from way back. It was the only way we had of compensating for the lack of watching our heroes in the flesh. One of my earliest memories was reading an account of a possible Arsenal signing being discounted “due to his unpleasant eating habits”.

Another Arsenal story going the rounds at the time, involved a match at Highbury when the Gunners had a particularly poor first half. As the team was about to leave the dressingroom to re-enter the fray, Wilf Copping, the England and Arsenal wing-half (a real fiery terrier of a man) stood up and in a menacing voice said “Everyone will now get STUCK IN”.

I well recall the radio commentaries of the Cup Finals and Home Internationals. In order to assist listeners to identify where the play was on the field, the Radio Times would publish a small diagram of a pitch, split into 10 numbered squares. The commentator might say “so-and-so has the ball and is moving down the wing”……and in the background a voice would say “Square 5”. It sounds hilarious now!

At School, we copied our heroes religiously. Press photos of players like Ted Drake and Cliff Bastin with their hair parted in the middle, resulted in wholesale forays to the barber for a similar fashion (and a later confrontation with our parents!).

I remember being very impressed in 1932 to learn that Herbert Chapman, the legendary Arsenal manager, had persuaded the owners of London’s Piccadilly Underground Line to re-name the nearest Station to Highbury, “Arsenal”. The only Tube Station to be named after a football club.

In 1938, Arsenal paid a world record fee of £14,000 to Wolves for the Welsh inside forward, Bryn Jones.

The Club never seemed to be out of the news and in 1939 there appeared the first ever film centred around a football team. *The Arsenal Stadium Mystery” became a must for Arsenal supporters throughout the UK and in the Islands.

The plot (a best forgotten murder mystery) was purely secondary to glimpses of our heroes on the field…….in black and white, of course!

The second World War started later in 1939 and by June 1940 the Germans were rampaging across France (and nearing the Islands). The British Government, realising that the Islands could not be defended, due to their proximity to France, arranged shipping to evacuate Islanders to the UK for safety and to avoid inevitable Occupation.

My School was evacuated to Oldham in Lancashire and so I began a closer relationship with English soccer and in particular with my beloved Arsenal………..

To be continued….


The Woolwich Arsenal site exists to celebrate and describe the history of Arsenal as seen through the eyes of fans at the time, and to uncover elements of our history that have been at best lost, or at worst re-written by Tottenham.

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One Reply to “Arsenal between the wars”

  1. Nice read.

    On the subject of Arsenal films there was actually an earlier one and I wondered if anyone knew the name.

    It’s about a footballer who has a row with a crowd member and storms off. There’s something about a lottery ticket and he has to go to France to try and collect on it or something but there are quite a few scenes of Highbury and of a match..

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