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April/May 1936; Arsenal win the Cup. A match report and season’s end

Here’s the league table at the end of March

What the table doesn’t show is that Arsenal had been trying out all sorts of players in recent matches as they prepared (successfully as it turned out) to get to the Cup Final.  Having done this, they now had six games in 25 days to prepare for the match at Wembley against Sheffield United.

The first game of the month was on 1 April 1936 and this was Bernard Joy’s first match in front of a staggeringly low crowd of just 10,485 at home to Bolton.  Joy was Arsenal’s most famous amateur player of the era and his book “Forward Arsenal!” became a central source of information for what life within Arsenal was like in the 30s.   Unfortunately the book also took in the history of Arsenal in earlier days and solidified a whole series of ill-founded myths which henceforth became seen as facts.

As for the reason for the lowness of the crowd, Allison’s experimentation with reserve team players in the first team had now become a talking point in football.  Allied to this was the fact that Arsenal had not won in their last five games, largely because of the experimental teams the Allison was now putting out.  Besides Bolton were hardly an attractive draw; they were currently 16th in the league with just two wins, seven draws and seven defeats away thus far.

Apart from Joy, Ronnie Westcott made his second and final appearance for Arsenal at  centre forward, and scored.  The result was, perhaps predictably. a 1-1 draw.

Of course now all attention turned not to the top of the league where the result was pretty much a foregone conclusion but rather to the Cup Finalists Sheffield United who had been relegated to the second division at the end of last season.

From January through to March they had gone 15 games unbeaten but having just lost two in a row around the time of the cup semi-final were thought to be vulnerable.  They had no game on 1 April but sat fourth in their league.

Next up for Arsenal on 4 April was a home game against Brentford, and the failure of Arsenal to win any of their last six league games had become something of a talking point.

On this occasion Arsenal had something of an excuse however because England played Scotland on the same day with Hapgood, Male, Crayston and Bastin all excluded from the Arsenal team because they were playing for their country.

Brentford had started their spell in the first division with two wins, but had then gone 16 games during which they just got two more victories.  Then on Christmas Day a revival had begun with a win over Preston and they lost two of the remaining 22 games in the season!

When Arsenal faced them they had risen back to ninth having slipped into 21st spot (one above bottom) at one point, and were on a run of four wins and a draw in the last five.

Bernard Joy kept his place at centre half, but elsewhere only Wilson, Beasley and Copping could be called first team players.  The rest was a mix of occasionals and up and coming players such as Leslie Compton.  The result was another 1-1 draw (Arsenal’s fourth in a row and seventh game without a win), with Dougall getting the goal.

On 10 April Arsenal played West Brom at home and finally won. Arsenal had now gone seven games without a win, five of which games were draws, including the last four.   It was the first home win since 1 February and the second since beating Middlesbrough on 9 December.  It was indeed no wonder that the crowds were down.  West Brom themselves were in no great shakes having won just one game in the last eight.

One of the prime differences in this game was that the defence was, to put it simply, Arsenal’s proper defence, with all six players from keeper to half backs being the in the team selected for the first match of the season, and the cup final.  Elsewhere most of the experimental players dropped out and in came Alex James and Cliff Bastin.  Crayston, Dunne, Hulme and James scored.

Prior to this game, which took place on Good Friday, West Brom were 20th one place and one point clear of the relegation spots, currently occupied Aston Villa and Blackburn. They had won three, drawn two and lost 12 of their away games so far.  With the team Allison put out and WBA’s position, the result was pretty much a foregone conclusion which is perhaps why nearly 60,000 turned up.

The following day, 11 April 1936 saw the last appearance for Frank “Tiger” Hill against Middlesbrough away.  He subsequently went on to manage five different league teams over a 20 year period post-war.  

Boro were 5th in the league and thus likely to provide much stronger opposition that WBA, and so it turned out, with Arsenal getting a 2-2 draw.  It was the club’s fifth draw in six games.

Once more Allison restricted his use of experimental players and some of the team who would clearly not make the cut for the cup final (such as Dunne and Sidey) were by now becoming well known as reasonable back up players.

On the same day, far away from football, Billy Butlin opened his first Butlins holiday camp, in Skegness.   The camps became very popular but faded from the public mind once overseas holidays became the norm from the 1960s onwards.

Following the normal Easter tradition Arsenal then had a third game in four days, the return match against WBA who had been so obliging three days before.

This match on 13 April 1936  was the last game for Ehud “Tim” Rogers who had played 16 league games and scored five goals.  He moved on to Newcastle but his time ended sadly as the result (with Arsenal once again playing a less than familiar set of names in the XI) was West Bromwich 1 Arsenal 0 – meaning Arsenal had won just one of their last ten games.

That defeat took Arsenal down to 7th in the league, and the club had just one more league game before the Cup Final.   However before that, on 14 April 1936 Allison finally resolved the issue of Arsenal’s long term replacement for the brilliant but desperately unlucky Frank Moss, by signing George Swindin for £4000 from Bradford City.  Swindin had a glittering career at Arsenal winning the league three times with the club as well as the FA Cup.   He subsequently, and with considerably less success, went on to be Arsenal’s manager.  However he did not enter the squad until September.

So Arsenal proceeded to their final warm up match before Wembley on 18 April 1936 and at least it was another win, this time against relegation threatened Villa, the score being Arsenal 1 Aston Villa 0. Unfortunately it turned out to be Arsenal’s only win in the last six games of the season and one of only two in the last 14 as the 3 times champions fell from grace – at least in the league.

But there was a huge significance in the game – Drake return, he remained fit, and he scored as Arsenal won 1-0.  Eight of the team that would play in the Cup Final the following week played in this game, and they came through unscathed. That was all Arsenal wanted.

Attention of course now turned to Sheffield United, the other finalists, currently playing in the second division as noted earlier.  Interestingly their progress after beating Leeds to get to the quarter final of the cup had been something of a mirror of Arsenal’s:

Game Date Opposition Venue Result Score Pos Pts
31 22.02.1936 Manchester United home Draw 1-1 1 40
32 07.03.1936 Charlton Athletic home Draw 2-2 1 41
33 11.03.1936 Plymouth Argyle away Draw 1-1 1 42
34 14.03.1936 Burnley away Draw 1-1 1 43
35 26.03.1936 Fulham home Loss 0-1 2 43
36 28.03.1936 Newcastle United away Loss 0-3 4 43
37 04.04.1936 Barnsley home Win 2-0 3 45
38 10.04.1936 Doncaster Rovers away Draw 0-0 3 46
39 11.04.1936 Port Vale away Draw 1-1 4 47
40 18.04.1936 Bradford City home Win 3-0 4 49

Thus they had slipped from top of the league and to fourth and by and large out of the promotion race.  The run saw two wins in ten games, meaning that as far as the Wembley match was concerned what the cup final offered was two teams who were only occasionally able to experience a win.

On the morning of cup final day the second division league table looked thus…

In theory Sheffield United could go up, but it seemed unlikely for they would have to recover their league form after the cup final, and two of the three clubs above them would have to falter at the last.

On 21 April 1936 as Arsenal prepared for the Cup Final the demolition of the old East Stand at Highbury began, even though Arsenal had two more home games (against Chelsea and Leeds) to play.  The new stand was opened on October 24, 1936.

And so, on 25 April 1936 Arsenal played their fourth cup final.  So far they had won one and lost two of those finals – each of which had been under the guidance of Herbert Chapman.    This time they balanced the tally by winning.  It was Arsenal 1 Sheffield U 0. 

At the time the owners of the Wembley stadium were in dispute with the newsreel companies that provided news broadcasts to cinemas to show between movies and which had for several years been showing extracts from the Cup Final.

Gaumont British Film Company initially had offered £900 to film inside the ground, but this was refused; Wembley wanted £1,500. As negotiations stalled and the day got closer, Wembley Stadium backed down and said they would take the £900, but the film company then said it would now only pay £500.  With stalemate the media were banned from inside of the stadium.

But in these days, filming was a young and rather gung-ho industry and so crews were deployed in nearby blocks of flats and autogyros were hired to fly reporters over the stadium.  Inside the stadium the official Wembley camerman was the only person allowed to film the event and there were reports of Wembley paying local residents whose houses overlooked the ground not to allow film crews in.

However radio broadcasting was allowed – although George Allison (the normal commentator) did not take part, his place being taken by Ivan Sharpe and Norman Creek.

This was for Arsenal the first cup final in which they played in the red shirts with white sleeves (the previous three finals having seen them play in all red shirts).  The club also wore the club badge on their shirts (something that was only done on special occasions, such as cup finals.)

For Arsenal the huge news was that Ted Drake was available having come through the match against Villa unscathed the previous Saturday.

In the third minute Sheffield United were nearly a goal up after Alex Wilson dropped the ball to the ground and fumbled it, trying to pick it up.  For some time after that Wilson did not look fully secure in what was the biggest moment of his career, but with the entire standard defence restored to the team – the same players from 1 to 6 as played on the opening day of the season – the old hands took control.

Alex James gradually found his way back into the game, and made up for the uncertain game that Bastin was having while the full backs of Male and Hapgood played exactly as their profile suggested: like they had seen all this many, many times before.

However despite the solid defence it seems to have been a poor game, as cup finals often are, and it took a moment of Bastin recovering his normal instinct and Joe Hulme playing, as he had all the way through the FA Cup run at outside right, for Arsenal to show how it should be done – and how they had been doing it all through the decade.

With United’s attacks restricted to long range shooting because of the solid defensive wall before them, after the early mishap, Wilson refound his confidence too, and Arsenal looked increasingly secure.

But it seems that having experimented with unexpected tactics previously, it seems that Allison decided to play a tactical game, just as he had to secure the victory over Bristol Rovers in the third round.  This time he sent Crayston forwards.  This clearly bemused the opposition, as James, Hulme and Bastin stepped up the pace and quickly Arsenal became the superior force, with the second division players unsure how to adapt to the strange site of Crayston in the opposition half.

Then in the 74th minute James started a new assault passing to Bastin. Bastin dribbled past Hooper, crossed for Ted Drake, who at last drove the ball into the roof of the net with his left foot.

Sheffield tried an instant response, and indeed Dodds hit the bar shortly after the re-start.  Later in an interview he claimed that Copping had thumped him in the back and put him off – but such an incident, if it did occur, would have been part and parcel of football at the time.  It wasn’t the open warfare of the 19th century game, but it certainly wasn’t the refined approach of 21st century football either.  True, Drake did give away a few free kicks for the use of his elbows, but that again was normal for the day.

And so Arsenal won the game, and Allison had his second trophy in his first two years of management.  

Here is the usual table of results for the month up to the cup finals.

Date Opposition Op Pos H/A Result Pos Pts Crowd AC
01.04.1936 Bolton Wanderers 16 home D1-1 5 37 10,485  41,960
04.04.1936 Brentford  9 home D1-1 5 38 28,303  41,960
10.04.1936 West Bromwich Albion  20 home W4-0 5 40 59,245  41,960
11.04.1936 Middlesbrough  5 away D2-2 5 41 31,006  18,771
13.04.1936 West Bromwich Albion  21 away L0-1 7 41 42,286  23,110
18.04.1936 Aston Villa  19 home W1-0 5 43 55,431  41,960
25.04.1936 Sheffield Utd FAC Final N W1-0 93,384

The league table after the cup final showed…

Sunderland, having gone out of the FA Cup early had already finished their programme and were champions.   Arsenal however still had three games to play.  Technically they could have finished second, but as we have seen in other seasons, once a trophy was won, the results declined dramatically.

The first of Arsenal’s post Cup Final matches was on 27 April – the monday after the cup final.   Arsenal were hardly likely to be on top form – despite the fact the match was a London derby against Chelsea who were sitting in 12th place.   Drake continued to play in the lineup along with most of the Cup winners – only the older members of the squad (James and Roberts) were given a break.

Despite the game being on a Monday early evening over 40,000 turned up at Highbury for the 1-1 draw – Drake scored Arsenal’s goal.

Two days later (thus making it a run of Cup Final on Saturday, Chelsea on Monday and now Bolton on Wednesday) Arsenal were at it again.  Milne, Hulme and Davidson came into the team, Bastin and Beeasley being among the absentees.  Cox replaced Drake.  Arsenal lost 1-2 to 14th placed Bolton, but I am not sure too many people noticed.

Finally on Saturday 2 May, Arsenal played their fourth game in eight days drawing 2-2 at home to Leeds.  They were already assured of sixth place, but a win would have given them fifth – not that anyone particularly cared.  Tickett, Kirchen, and perhaps surprisingly Bob John, all got outings.  Bastin and Kirchen got the goals.

The season was over.  For five consecutive years Arsenal had ended the season in first or second place.  Now they were sixth.  But they had won the cup.

Here are the last three games…

Date Opposition Op Pos H/A Result Pos Pts Crowd AC
27.04.1936 Chelsea 12 home D 1-1 5 44 40,402 41,960
29.04.1936 Bolton W. 10 away L 1-2 5 44 29,479 26,868
02.05.1936 Leeds United 13 home D 2-2 6 45 25,920 41,960

The abbreviations, as always mean…

  • 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 in league matches 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.

And that was it.  1935-6 was over.

Arsenal in the 30s

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