Looking at 1933/34 most commentators become understandably fixated by two issues – the sudden and unexpected death of Herbert Chapman, and the fact that Arsenal won the league for the third time – and the second time running.
But there were many other issues – not least the sudden decline in the number of goals scored in the First Division.
I’ll deal initially with the players, working in the same way as previously showing the list of the players who played for Arsenal in the League this season. I have pulled together all the players who played between 1929/30 and 1932/3 in a previous article.
So first off, here are the 1933/4 players who played at least one league game. Once again I am adding links to such articles as exist on the site. I will in due course go back and add articles for the players missing.
|Cliff Bastin||Outside Left||38||13|
|Pat Beasley||Wing half||23||10|
|Ralph Birkett||Outside right||15||5|
|Ray Bowden||Inside right||32||13|
|Ernest Coleman||Inside forward||12||1|
|George Cox||Centre forward||2|
|Peter Dougall||Inside left||5|
|Ted Drake (also here)||Centre forward||10||7|
|Jimmy Dunne||Centre forward||21||9|
|Eddie Hapgood (and here)||Left back||40|
|Alfred Edward Haynes||Half back||1|
|Frank Hill||Wing half||25|
|Joe Hulme||Outside right||8||5|
|David Jack||Inside forward||14||5|
|Alex James||Inside left||22||3|
|Bob John||Half Back||31||1|
|Charles Jones||Outside left||29|
|Jack Lambert||Centre forward||3||1|
|George Male||Full back||42|
|Raymond Parkin||Inside forward||5|
|Herbie Roberts||Centre half||30||1|
|Norman William Sidey||Centre half||12|
Breaking down this list a little we can see that 24 players were used. The breakdown by the number of games goes like this:
- 9 or fewer games: 7 players.
- 10 to 19 games: 5 players
- 20 to 29 games: 5 players
- 30 to 39 games: 5 players
- 40 to 42 games: 2 players
The top scorers were Bowden and Bastin with 13, and Beasley with 10.
This was a huge decline in the number of goals scored, and we can see at once that this was nothing like the 1930/31 season for which the final table was
By comparison here is the final table for 1933/4
|7||West Bromwich Albion||42||17||10||15||78||70||1.11||44|
The key thing we notice here is the change in the number of goals. In this short space of time the number of goals by the top teams had declined dramatically. Whereas in 1930/31 the top three teams had between them scored 357 goals, in 1933/4 the top three had scored just 244 – a decline of around one third.
The goalscoring comparison
But comparing goalscoring across the years is a slightly difficult affair because obviously on some occasions we can have teams that just have exceptional forward lines, and other years when defences appear to take control. But it is interesting that in an sport where the authorities have been notoriously reluctant to change the rules the Football League authorities felt that a crisis had been reached in 1925, which is why they decided to change the offside rule to make goalscoring easier.
This concern was caused not just by a perceived decline in goals, but also a decline in the number of people going to first division football matches, and the belief that the two were linked.
Here are the details of the years that led to that decision. Crowd figures other than Arsenal’s are taken from European Football Statistics.
|Season||Average Div 1 crowd||Winner’s goals||2nd team goals|
What we can see is that there was indeed a general decline in the goals scored by the teams coming first and second in the first division. 1919/20, the first year after the first world war, was an exception – but an exception created by one particular club – West Bromwich Albion. Indeed the whole WBA saga for that year would be worth a book on its own as they rose from mid-table and a wholly average performance in the final year before the war to these exceptional heights in 1919/20, and then immediately back down to a mid-table position again in 1920/21.
As for the crowds these had generally been rising until 1914/15 – a season that the League had decided to continue playing, despite the outbreak of the first world war in July 1914.
The first two years of League football after the war saw the crowds leap to previously unimagined levels, but then as the table shows, the crowds started to decline until by 1924/25 they were back at the levels of 1913/14. There was a fear that the decline would now continue and that League football had had its day.
This was why the offside rule was changed: simply to create more goals. Here’s what happened. (* = Arsenal).
|Season||Average Div 1 crowd||Winner’s goals||2nd team goals|
What we can see is that crowds did start to go up again from 1925/6 onwards, although they slipped back a little after 1929/30. It is hard to draw exact conclusions but it could be argued that although the increase in crowds was small, it did reverse a drop in the average 1st division crowd of around 7500 across the previous five years.
Certainly the change in the off side rule in 1925 did increase the number of goals scored considerably – but the notion that it was lots of goals that drew people to matches was always nothing more than an assumption. It could also have been the economic situation of the country, the weather, how well the local team was doing, the ease of access and the facilities available to the crowd. As we have seen in other articles, the crowd at Woolwich Arsenal FC was affected by the imposition of compulsory saturday afternoon working in times of war, and the reduction of the workforce in times of peace and austerity. Football did not stand in splendid isolation from the realities of life.
The economic climate from around 1930 onwards was awful, and I have mentioned the hunger marches etc several times in my commentaries thus far. Indeed the situation was especially bad in the industrial north, where most clubs were based and undoubtedly many men simply didn’t have the money to go to a match.
As for the facilities of the grounds of other clubs, I must await comments from others on this for my knowledge is primarily limited to Arsenal, but I can say in that regard that Arsenal’s crowds increased greatly upon the move to Highbury, and then again with the arrival of Herbert Chapman – which coincided with the change of the offside rule. The improvement of facilities followed more slowly, and started to take place in the 1930s, although that was primarily with the building of the stands which provided seats for the more well-to-do supporters. The average man on the terraces was still left out in the rain.
As for the goals, the sudden drop in the number of goals Arsenal scored in winning the league was undoubtedly due in part to the difficulty Chapman had in finding an immediately replacement for his top scorers of the previous seasons. Even the briefest of glances at the league goalscoring records shows the problem
|Season||Top scorer||Goals||Second scorer||Goals||Third scorer||Goals|
Arsenal were dependent on big-scorers, and with Bastin forced into an inside forward role for part of the season, his numbers naturally went down while Arsenal used five different players at centre forward to try and solve their problem.
However when Ted Drake signed near the end of the 1933/34 season, Arsenal returned to form and in 1934/5 scored 115 goals.
So having the right centre forward meant everything to Arsenal. But there was another issue, for football has always suffered from the fact that, with the exception of the use of goal average to separate clubs on identical points, scoring multiple goals has limited effect. Rather obviously, in the period we are concerned with here, winning 1-0 brought the same advancement up the league table as winning 8-0: two points. On the other hand winning 1-0 brought in double the number of points as were secured by a 1-1 draw.
In effect there was often more to be gained overall by locking out the opposition and nicking one goal, than having a rampant attack. The fault was in the very basic concept of how to measure who won the league that was agreed in 1888 – and indeed so contentious was it that although the League kicked off for the first time on 8 September 1888, it was not until a League meeting on 21 November that year that the notion of one point for a draw and two for a win was finally agreed and the first league table in the modern style was drawn up.
But to return to our main theme, Arsenal had won the league in 1933/4 with the smallest number of goals scored since the offside rule changed in 1925. Also they won with the lowest number of goals conceded.
It might be tempting to suggest that because Joe Shaw was a full back in his long playing career with Arsenal he put more emphasis on defence in the latter part of the season, but the reality was that throughout the whole season Arsenal simply didn’t have a top scorer (remembering that even Ted Drake took a while to get going – although he did ultimately score seven goals in 10 league games by the end of the season), and the team was reshuffled to meet the resources that were available.
Overall in 1933/34 in the league Arsenal scored six once, and four once, otherwise the fans had to make do with three goals or fewer per game in the league.
As for the crowds, in 1929/30 Arsenal had the largest average crowd of any team in the country, and it stayed that way through most of the following decade
|Season||Best av crowd||Av crowd||Av crowd 1st division|
At the heart of the problem are two facts: no one quite knew what drew working class men to football matches, and football was unpredictable. Chapman would, of course, have signed Drake earlier if he could have persuaded him to come to London. He would have signed someone else if he could have found such a player. Bastin would not have been used in a more withdrawn inside forward role if there had been someone else who could play there.
But with Drake now in the team, there was a chance that the whole notion that it was goals beyond everything else that people came to see, could be tested.
Next up: Arsenal in the summer of 1934.
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
- 41: April 1934. Joe Shaw wins the league for Chapman