This is part of a series of articles tracing the history of Arsenal through the 1930s. There is an index of all the articles in the series thus far at the end of this piece.
By Tony Attwood
The table, at the conclusion of March 1934 read:
Arsenal were now once more equal on points with Huddersfield and 0.03 goals behind. There was in effect still just one goal in it. All that was needed was for the new signing Ted Drake to get going.
Certainly recent form was with Arsenal with six wins, one draw and one defeat in the last eight games. Arsenal weren’t scoring huge numbers of goals (three twice, two twice, and one four times) but they were getting the points. But as was noted at the time, with the exception of a game against Derby they had not had to face any of the top teams for a while.
This was all about to change as on 2 April Arsenal had to play the return match with Derby, and on 7 April they were due to play Huddersfield – two matches which it was felt could well determine the outcome of the season.
As the table above shows, by the start of the month Derby had slipped back to fourth having won just one of the last nine and in fact won 2 of the last 15, having won 10 in 12 earlier in the season. Arsenal’s victory by 4-2 confirmed the current form – Derby were now seen to have no chance of the league.
Cox continued in goal and once more Bowden took over from Jack at inside right. Drake played his fourth game.
So far Drake had scored just one, but reports said he was looking the part and bound to score soon – and indeed he now started with two goals, Bowden getting the other two.
The same day Tottenham, also with an away fixture, lost 2-0 at Stoke. The feeling was confirmed that it was now all down to Arsenal and Huddersfield.
Huddersfield didn’t play on 2 April (Easter Monday) but instead had a home game against lowly Liverpool on the Tuesday, 3 April. The teams had met on 30 March at Anfield and drawn 2-2 – itself something of a surprise since Liverpool had lost their previous match 5-1 away to Leeds United.
But they had recovered and on the last day of March they had had a home victory over Derby 4-2. However it was away from home that Liverpool had real trouble, for they had won just two, drawn three and lost 13 games. Huddersfield at home had won 13, drawn three and lost just one.
If ever there was a home banker (as the pools firms liked to call it) this surely was it. And yet, unbelievably it ended second placed Huddersfield Town 0, 19th placed Liverpool 2. It was one of the great upsets of the season.
Before the game the top of the table saw Arsenal top by two points, but with a goal average just one hundreth of a goal better than Huddersfield.
The result not only secured Arsenal’s position at the top but dented Huddersfield’s goal difference as well.
Meanwhile, away from football, in one of those events which of course was not noticed at the time, but which has affected everyone who has been on a public road, on 3 April Percy Shaw patented the cat’s eye road-safety device for the middle of (and later the side of) roads – with lights that shine back when car headlights point at them. He had started work as a labourer in a cloth mill at the age of 13 and got the OBE in 1965. It was the blackout in the second world war which finally gave the biggest boost to production and made the whole process a worldwide success.
Back with the football, the results above set up what was seen as the championship decider: Arsenal v Huddersfield Town on 7 April 1934. A win for Arsenal would leave Huddersfield four points behind, and with a further dent in their goal average. A win for Huddersfield by just one goal to nil would lift them back to the top on goal average by a different of 0.004 goals.
But Huddersfield had now had just one win one defeat and one draw in last three matches. OK for a mid-table club but no way to win the league. Their away form was better than average (six wins, seven draws, five defeats, as they still played on the counter attacking system introduced by Chapman) but it all gave Arsenal some hope.
For the first time since February Arsenal had Chapman’s first choice defence for the season back in place: Moss, Male, Roberts, Hapgood, Hill, John, and a certain certainty came back into the team. Drake scored again, which gave a positive feel up front. Beasley and Bowden got two more and so the result on 7 April 1934 was Arsenal 3 Huddersfield Town 1. 55,930 packed Highbury to see Shaw’s team take a major step to the second consecutive league title.
Meanwhile in other news (as they say) and by a curious coincidence, the other two members of the top four played each other and the result was Derby 4 Tottenham 3.
This meant that leading up to the next match on 14 April Arsenal were the absolute team in form with five wins and one defeat in the last six. Huddersfield and Tottenham had just lost their last two games, while Derby had two wins, three defeats and a draw in the last six. Further Arsenal and Huddersfield still had five games to play. Tottenham with just three to play were now mathematically incapable of catching Arsenal.
April 14 was one of those crazy days that existed in the football calendar at this time in which international matches were held just as clubs were trying to win the league or avoid relegation. This meant that Frank Moss (making his international debut), Eddie Hapgood and Cliff Bastin were all out of the team. Indeed Cliff Bastin scored for England against Scotland, six years after playing his first game ever – for Exeter Reserves against Bath City.
Arsenal’s team for the match against Liverpool was thus
Male Roberts John
Hulme Bowden Drake James Beesley
Those injuries had prepared for this moment – everyone was ready to step up and take their chance.
Incidentally also on 14 April 1934 Arsenal Reserves played Watford Reserves, a match which was advertised as “Admission 7d (including tax).” That was less than half a penny in 2016 prices and money.
Back with the first team Arsenal, using just six of the men who started the season under Herbert Chapman, played Liverpool away and won 3-2. Elsewhere Huddersfield Town kept up the chase with the key results being…
- Huddersfield Town 4 Newcastle United 1
- Tottenham Hotspur 5 Manchester City 1
- Wolverhampton Wanderers 3 Derby County 0
The table now read
Clearly Huddersfield could reach a total of 58 points from their remaining games. Arsenal thus needed two wins and a draw from their remaining four matches to be utterly certain of the title.
The first chance to get these needed results came on Wednesday 18 April, when Portsmouth v Arsenal was the only first division match on the sporting calendar. And to everyone’s surprise Arsenal lost 1-0. The team was that which had won the Liverpool game, plus the missing international players now returned to their club.
Portsmouth had just suffered five successive defeats, followed by a 2-0 win over Blackburn at home. They were 15th before the game with a fairly decent home record of nine wins, five draws and five defeats. For Arsenal it just all went wrong on the day.
Although now irrelevant to the league title’s destination, Derby lost again the following day 2-0 away to Leicester, to confirm their continuing decline. Thus everything was set for Saturday 21 April. Arsenal were at home to Sunderland, Huddersfield away to Middlesbrough.
Before the matches the table now read
With Middlesbrough in 17th place it was clear that Arsenal had the tougher of the two games even though they had home advantage. Huddersfield had the game in hand, but still were dependent on Arsenal slipping up. They had just done so at Portsmouth, but Huddersfield needed it to happen again.
But football being what it was, it all went the other way. The results were
- Arsenal 2 Sunderland 1
- Birmingham City 2 Tottenham 0
- Derby County 1 Aston Villa 1
- Middlesbrough 3 Huddersfield Town 0
Drake and Beasley got the goals. Drake was not scoring in every game, that was true, but now having played eight he had scored five – not bad for a player coming in at such a tense moment at the end of the season.
As for this day, it was in short a sensational set of results from Arsenal’s point of view and left everyone in no doubt where the championship was going.
Huddersfield now needed to win all three remaining games, while Arsenal had to lose their last two matches. The goal average was close enough to mean that in such circumstances Huddersfield probably would have enough of a goal improvement to take the title – but even then it was not certain. After that loss to Middlesbrough no one outside Huddersfield believed it possible.
On 25 April Huddersfield kept their faint hopes alive with a 1-0 win over Everton. Their game on Saturday 28 April was against fifth placed Blackburn. Arsenal simply needed a draw against 19th placed Chelsea to secure the title.
Chelsea, although in their customary lowly position, did have a decent home record having won 12 drawn two and lost six.
Arsenal’s team for the day was
Male Roberts Hapgood
Beasley Bowden Drake James Bastin
65344 turned up for the game and at half time Arsenal were 1-0 up through a goal from Alex James. Although Chelsea got two in the second half, Bastin scored again for Arsenal and the draw was secured. With one game to spare it was enough to give Joe Shaw the championship and make it two titles in a row for Arsenal. It was also Charlie Jones last game for the club. Huddersfield beat Blackburn 5-3, but for them it was all over.
There was one game left for both Huddersfield and Arsenal played out on 5 May. Arsenal beat Sheffield United 2-0 while Huddersfield beat Birmingham City away 3-1.
Extraordinarily, as it would seem to us today, the notion of celebrating Arsenal’s second successive triumph, the notion of Joe Shaw, the most unlikely league winning manager in the history of the club, and the notion of honouring Herbert Chapman one more time, seemed lost on the crowd. Only 25,265 turned up for the final game.
In that match nine of Chapman’s selected team for the first match of the season played. The two additions were Beasley, whom Chapman signed and Drake, who he had chased so hard, but who was finally signed by Allison, on Shaw’s behalf.
Fittingly as a look back to the past and on to the future Drake scored both goals. It gave him seven goals in the ten final games of the season that he had played for Arsenal, and was beyond any doubt a significant part of Arsenal’s triumph.
Here is the regular table summarising the April and May games.
- 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.
It was, to my mind, the most momentous season in Arsenal’s history. That Chapman could die just four days after he seemed perfectly well seems to us today incomprehensible. That Joe Shaw, one of the all-time great servants of the club should be the manager who could take over and take the team to the championship seems beyond belief within the context of his life both before this event, and indeed after, as he returned (seemingly very happily) to be reserve team manager.
To me the season reads like a story book, a sort of Roy of the Rovers event, and the tragedy of it all is not just that the season is hardly understood by many supporters, but that the club itself does not recognise the work of Joe Shaw.
This is why I have campaigned (without any success I must admit) for a memorial to Chapman, Shaw, Allison and Whittaker – the four men who worked together in 1925 and continued the success of the club into the post-war era.
Arsenal played 23 league games under Joe Shaw and had a win rate of 60.87%, the highest of any Arsenal manager who controlled the club for over 20 matches. He had started his career playing for Bury and Accrington Stanley (in the Lancashire Combination) before being signed by Woolwich Arsenal in 1907.
He played in the club’s first two FA Cup semi-finals and was an ever-present in the Arsenal side in second season at Highbury. He was club captain in the post-war era and became just the third player to play over 300 league games for the club.
He continued at Arsenal up to, and through, the second word war, and although he then took over at Chelsea for a short while he returned to Arsenal and became assistant manager to Tom Whittaker.
Joe retired from football in 1956 and died in 1963 at the age of 80. He deserves a fulsome recognition at the Emirates Stadium.
For details of how Joe Shaw did as a manager you might like to refer to these two sections:
Other articles on Joe Shaw
- Joe Shaw wins the league and introduces a genius
- Joe Shaw: are you Pat Rice in disguise?
- The greatest long term servant the club has ever had
- Alex Wilson drafted in by Joe Shaw
- Today we honour Joe Shaw, one of the greatest servants Arsenal has ever known
The current series being researched and published is Arsenal in the 1930s.
- 1: Life in 1930 and winning the first major trophy.
- 2: The cup winners who dropped out and the players who came in
- 3: How Chapman put his triumphant 1931 team together.
- 4: September 1930; played 8 won 7 drawn 1.
- 5: October 1930: A stumble, Villa are close behind, Man U have 12 defeats in a row.
- 6: November 1930: Scoring 5 in three games in one month.
- 7: December 1930: 3 games in 3 days and 14 goals scored.
- 8: January 1931: the biggest league win ever at Highbury
- 9: February 1931: the goals just won’t stop coming.
- 10: March 1931: hope, defeat, hope
- 11: April 1931: Arsenal win the league for the very first time.
- 12: Arsenal in the summer of 1931, the records and the Scandinavian tour
- 13: Arsenal in shock – July and August 1931
- 14: September 1931; the champions recover from a poor start.
- 15: October 1931: Arsenal lose to Grimsby
- 16: November 1931: Chapman’s exasperation with goal keepers
- 17: December 1931: A scoring sensation but a dreadful month
- 18: January 1932: A return to form and a record score
- 19: February 1932: From a faltering start to nine wins in a row
- 20: March 1932: Huge crowds, an emergency signing, better results, another semi-final
- 21: April 1932: Film of Arsenal in the Cup Final, and attempts to win the league.
- 22: Arsenal in the summer of 1932. Arsenal runners up in league and cup, Man U’s average gate drops below Plymouth’s, Stanley Matthews first game, and the greatest run in Arsenal’s entire history is about to begin.
- 23: August 1932 – preparing for the ultimate greatness.
- 24: September 1932: Arsenal’s first steps into immortality
- 25: October 1932: The rise to the stars
- 26: November 1932: Records fall, greatness beckons.
- 27: December 1932: Greatness and supremacy
- 28: January 1933: Top of the league and defeated by Walsall.
- 29: February 1933: New shirts, awful weather, a record score
- 30: March 1933: Top of the league but a month to forget
- 31: April/May 1933: Champions for the second time
- 32: 1929/33: All the men who played in the League for Arsenal.
- 33: Arsenal in the summer 1993: Champions and water shortages
- 34: August/September 1933 – the start of the new season.
- 35: October 1933 – a return to progress
- 36: November 1933 – displacing Tottenham.
- 37: December 1933: Chapman’s last month; Arsenal triumphant
- 38: January 1934: The death of Chapman
- 39: February 1934. Chapman is gone, but the club moves on.
- 40: March 1934. Chapman’s two teams fight for the title