Arsenal have reached double figures in FA Cup matches on four occasions:
- 5 October 1889: Royal Arsenal 11 Lyndhurt 0
- 29 October 1892: Royal Arsenal 10 City Ramblers 1
- 14 October 1894: Woolwich Arsenal 12 Ashford United 0
- 9 January 1932: Arsenal 11 Darwen 1.
There are two main differences between the first three of these results and the last. The first is that the earlier games were played in the preliminary rounds, in years when Arsenal were required to qualify for the competition proper which began (as now) in January.
The second is that although the earlier three games were against minor opposition, the matches were played under the old off side rule in which an extra defender was required between the attacking player and the goal, rather than the one plus goalkeeper, as required today.
So, let’s take a look at the last of these four games: Arsenal v Darwen.
Darwen had reached the quarter finals of the FA Cup in 1879 and the semi-finals in 1881 and are reputed to be one of the earliest clubs to use professional players in the competition. Considering that this article is primarily reflecting on Arsenal’s highest scores in the Cup we might also note that in the 19th century Darwen were a club of some merit. In 1881 Darwen beat Sheffield Wednesday 5-2 in the fourth round and Romford 15-0 in the quarter finals.
Darwen entered the Football League in 1891 and by 1892/3, they were in Division 1 but were relegated after one season and so joined Arsenal in Division II when Arsenal joined the Football League in 1893/4. But while Arsenal struggled for a mid table position in that season Darwen finished third and won their way back to the first division via the play offs (then known as test matches).
However despite this success Darwin left the league in 1899 when they did not apply for re-election. They had spent eight seasons in the League, two of them in the top flight.
They then joined the Lancashire League, then the Lancashire Combination, which is where we find them in the 1930s when they came to play Arsenal.
During the period when the Arsenal / Darwen match occurred Darwen won 5 trophies in three years including their league title twice – so reaching the third round of the cup was not of itself an utter surprise.
But harder times came, and in the 21st century a series of winding up orders were served against the club, and on 14 May 2009 the club was wound up in the High Court after 134 years of football. As is the way of football a new club was formed within days: AFC Darwen.
As for the match against Arsenal, and the score line, it has to be remembered that although double figures were rare in the cup large scores were not unknown. For example on 28 November 1931 Northampton beat the Met Police in round 1, 9-0. On the same day Bath City beat Nunhead by the same score in the same round.
Darwen, to get to Highbury, beat Peterborough and Pletton United 4-1 in the first round, and Chester 2-1 in the second round.
We all know the story of how Herbert Chapman used the match one year later against Walsall to experiment with the team by bringing in a few of his reserve players – with disastrous results. However this was not the case against Darwen as Chapman played what was his regular first team for the match.
Indeed with the exception of the goalkeeper (not unusually for him, Chapman was on his third regular keeper of the season by the time the FA Cup came around) the team was exactly that which had played the opening four games of the league season in August and September, and which went on to play the whole season except when interrupted by injury.
That team was
Jones Roberts John
Hulme Jack Lambert James Bastin
This was indeed the team (with the exception of the keeper) that won the league in 1930/31.
The result then was perhaps not so surprising. Bastin got four, Jack got 3, Lambert got 2 and Hulme the other 2. (Alex James as always playing the deeper role ready to receive the ball quickly from Roberts and knock it forward to any one of Hulme, Jack, Lambert and Bastin).
Afterwards it was reported that Arsenal gave Darwen a set of their kit, and that Darwen continued to play in the Arsenal colours. However Wikipedia has both the old and new Darwen playing in an all-red strip, so something in the story or Wiki’s reporting of club colours is not right.
Arsenal went on to reach the FA Cup final in 1932, beating Plymouth, Portsmouth, Huddersfield and Manchester City, before losing the final to Newcastle.
They also were runners up in the league that year – a season which included a nine match sequence in which David Jack scored 14, including a goal in every single league game.
But here’s one curious fact. In the three matches leading up to the Darwen game, Arsenal suffered three successive defeats.
- 25 December 1931: Sheffield United 4 Arsenal 1
- 26 December 1931: Arsenal 0 Sheffield United 2
- 2 January 1932: West Bromwich 1 Arsenal 0.
The key difference in the team was that Charlie Jones – the ballwinner and most committed tackler in the side – missed those three games. He was back for the Darwen game, but I am not sure we really would have had much to do.
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