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GCR Books

Arsenal in January 1933: Top of the league and defeated by Walsall.

By Tony Attwood

Here’s the first division league table for the end of 1932…

But there was one other little nicety for the supporters of Arsenal, apart from being five clear at the top of the league, as they came to Highbury, for they were able to inspect the new maps at Underground stations.  For in January 1933 not long after the old Highbury Hill station had been renamed Arsenal, the new underground map came out.  This one replaced the curling lines that approximated to the actual route of the trains, with the new diagrammatic straight line approach designed by Harry Beck.  And there was the underground station “Arsenal” plain for all to see.  The only underground station named after a football club.

And indeed excitement there was in the air as on 2 January Arsenal played away to one of their two rivals in the league – Sheffield Wednesday.   Although the score was held at 1-1 at half time, the end result was certainly not what Arsenal wanted – a 3-2 defeat.  Jack got the goal in the first half and Bastin scored a penalty in the second, but it was not enough.

With Villa not playing the Wednesday took over in second position – still three points and a lot of goals behind Arsenal, but it was felt to be an ominous sign.

There was however a certain consolation for Arsenal, for although this was an away defeat, it was only the second such in the whole season.  While most clubs had a considerably inferior away form when compared to their home performances, Arsenal, as they had in their title winning season, were picking up points as easily away from home as at home.   Indeed it was the failure to do this in 1931/2 that cost them the league.

Here are the home and away records after the 2 January games for the top teams, showing the goal average and points for home and away added together.

Arsenal then had another away game on 7 January, this time at Sunderland who before the game were in 8th.  And here Arsenal were actually ahead at half time, 2-1, but again by the final whistle were down 2-3.  Lambert came back in for Coleman at centre forward and duly obliged with two goals, but it was not enough.

Thus the question was raised: had teams finally worked out how to play against Arsenal’s high speed counter attacking style with that very quick pass out of the defence through the half backs on onto the forward line?  Maybe finally they had.

However Sheffield Wednesday were unable to take advantage of another Arsenal slip, drawing 0-0 at home to Derby.  Villa on the other hand made up ground a little with a 1-0 away win at Bolton, leaving Arsenal still on top but only by two points, and Villa three points behind with a game in hand.

And now we had a break for the traditional 3rd round of the FA Cup, and it contained what is said to be one of the biggest upsets of all time: Walsall 2 Arsenal 0 on 14 January 1933.  You can read more about the game via that link and for the subsequent impact see also here.

However there are a few key facts that are generally ignored when the result is mentioned (usually rather boringly by the press each time Arsenal get drawn against Walsall in the FA Cup or the League Cup).

The first simple fact is that Arsenal, who were top of the league and who had been scoring so freely through the season, had just lost two tough away games in a row, and Chapman decided to rest a significant number of players.  But some of the players he tried out as replacements were very inexperienced, and certainly not prepared for the ground or the atmosphere that they had to play in.  There were reports and pictures suggesting that the overcrowding was so great that the hostile crowd were on the touchline and sometimes even on the pitch.

It was 0-0 at half time, but as everyone knows, Arsenal lost.  But what is not normally mentioned at all is that another result on the same day pitched second place Sheffield Wednesday at home against Chesterfield, also of the Third Division North, like Walsall.  That one ended 2-2.   And again, also on that day we had Gateshead (again Third Division North) 1 Manchester City 1.  Aston Villa drew 2-2 with Bradford City.

In the replays most of the big teams got through except we had Chesterfield 4 Sheffield Wednesday 2 – which given that Sheffield Wednesday had, in the five seasons up to this round of games, won the league twice and come third three times – a far better run of results than Arsenal.

My point is that yes this was a shock, but the mythologising of it has failed to take into account the fact that shocks like this happened every year at this time – and within the context of 1933, the knocking out of Sheffield Wednesday was actually a bigger shock than the Arsenal result.

At the time these stories made the papers, because the press were then able to turn it into a human interest story rather than trying to say anything intelligent about football, but at that moment in history, the Wednesday story was the big news.

Here’s one other snippet that is never publicised: what did Walsall do next?  Having beaten Arsenal on January 14, they then had a home game against Mansfield the following Thursday.  Walsall won 8-1.  It would be interesting to know the crowd, but sadly I can’t find a record of that.  They ended the season fifth in the Third Division North.

Seven of the Arsenal team could be called regulars that day.  Sidey made one of his three appearances that season, while Black, Warnes and Walsh each made their one and only appearance ever for the club.  On 20 January 1933: Thomas Black was sold to Plymouth for whom he went on to play over 160 games for Plymouth.  Billy Warnes, left the club in May.  Charlie Walsh also made but this one appearance, and left soon after the Walsall game for Brentford.

The question then was – were Arsenal burned out?  The club had just lost three games in a row (two in the league and the cup defeat).  Worse, since beating Sheffield Utd 9-2 Arsenal had won one, drawn one and lost four.  Hardly the form of a team about to take the world by storm.

Next, on 21 January Arsenal played Manchester City who were 18th and had a terrible away record of just two wins, no draws and ten defeats.  It was a “must win” for Arsenal, before all their credibility was destroyed.

And win Arsenal did – 2-1 with Bastin getting both goals.  Hapgood and John were missing in defence replaced by Cope and Sidey.  Coleman took over again as centre forward.   Better still Sheffield Wednesday could only manage a draw against Blackburn Rovers, and so although Aston Villa beat Liverpool 5-2, there was now a three point gap between Arsenal and the followers.

At this time, Football League fixtures were scheduled for fourth round day, but then immediately postponed as in most cases one of the two clubs drawn together in the league for that day were still in the cup.  So it was on 28 January, with only two of the scheduled games going ahead and none of the top three were in league action.

Here’s the regular table of results etc with a guide to the abbreviations below

Date Opponent Op Pos H/A Result Pos Pts Crowd AC
2.1.1933 Sheffield Wed 3 A L2-3 1 37 64,492 16,704
7.1.1933 Sunderland 8 A L2-3 1 37 36,707 17,254
14.1.1933 Walsall A L0-2 11,150 5,279
21.1.1933 Manchester City 18 H W2-1 1 39 32,456 41,958
  • Op pos, is the league position of the opposition before the game
  • Pos is Arsenal’s position after the game
  • AC is the average crowd for the home team through the season, providing a comparison between the crowd on that day (in the previous column) and the norm expected by the home side.  Arsenal’s average was 41,958.

Sheffield Wednesday’s average gate is of interest here.  Here they were challenging to win the league, and yet their average gate was down 2.6% on the previous season.  Even when winning the league for the second year running in 1930 they only got an average crowd of 25,588.  But as we can see, the ground could hold 64,492, as it did on this day.

The table at the end of the month read…

As for Tottenham, they finished the month fourth in the second division, after losing to Man U.  They got through the third round of the FA Cup, but lost to Luton Town at the end of the month in the fourth round.

The current series being researched and published is Arsenal in the 1930s.

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