By Tony Attwood
Editorial note: The series on the 1930s continues, but is now being interspersed with articles on the players. There is an index to the articles on players here.
Arsenal entered the 1936/7 season with two problems.
First, the club had been so successful in the 1930s (four league titles, two FA Cup victories) that there was an expectation that they would continue in this vein. Moreover in the one season in which Arsenal won nothing they were runners up in both the League and the FA Cup.
But second, an analysis of the team suggested that they really didn’t have a squad strong enough to win the league again – or even to compete seriously to win it. George Allison had tried a number of inexperienced players in the latter part of last season and only two looked able to fill in the gaps: Leslie Compton and Bernard Joy. Additionally one, but only one major transfer had been done – a new (but very young and not very experienced) goal keeper had been found in George Swindon. There were reports that Leslie Compton’s brother Dennis was also an interesting looking player, but as with Leslie he would most certainly have to be developed over the next couple of years to become a first team regular.
So it was with a mixture of excitement and uncertainty that on 29 August the FA Cup holders played their first game of the season, and gained a 3-2 win over Everton. Everton’s fall from grace had been dramatic and was a warning to Arsenal, for having won the league in 1932 and the Cup in 1933 (at which time they came 11th in the league), they had subsequently endured seasons with them ending in 14th, 8th and 16th. On that past form Arsenal should have expected a win and that is what they got. Hapgood, Bowden James got the goals.
Arsenal’s team for this opening match was
Crayston Roberts Copping
Hulme Bowden Drake James Bastin
The team was fairly much as might be expected, although the goal keeping position is interesting. As we have seen George Swindon was signed on 14 April 1936 but had yet to make his first team debut. However after this one game in goal Wilson, the Cup Final goalkeeper was dropped and in came Swindon. Wilson made his way back to the reserves, who were in a long run of winning the Combination for five years running.
With most of the league having played their second game earlier in mid-week Arsenal had to wait until the Thursday for their second match of the season – this being against last season’s surprise package, Brentford who had come 5th last season. They had drawn their first match of this campaign, but saw off Arsenal 2-0.
In addition to Swindin getting his first game, Davidson and Beasley came back into the squad, as Bastin once more moved from outside left to inside right.
If there were no immediate shock waves at that defeat, there were certainly mutterings two days later as a second away game saw Arsenal draw 0-0 with last season’s third placed team Huddersfield. It wasn’t so much that Arsenal had drawn one and lost one in the last two games, but that they had not scored a goal in either of the last two, and had already used 17 players.
Chapman had built the initial Arsenal success on both a solid defence and an astounding forward line and although Arsenal had Ted Drake and Bastin was still playing, using Bastin as a deep lying inside forward removed his chances of scoring.
Allison’s experiments with players last season had of course been understood as part of his policy of resting players before the Cup Final, but now, at the start of the season, it seemed as if he did not know what team to choose.
This time Cartwright, John and Kirchen came in meaning that Male, Hapgood, Roberts and Hulme were the only players to play in all three opening games. That wouldn’t have mattered if Arsenal had won all three, but they had won only one. Questions were being asked.
Then came one of those moments that took away all thoughts of football, at least for a day or two as on 8 September when Welsh nationalists set fire to RAF Penrhos bombing school, thus creating the Tân yn Llŷn (Fire in Llŷn) protests. The UK government had been thwarted by local pressure for the site to be in Northumberland and Dorset, but then pushed through the development in Wales against enormous opposition.
Of course football does not wait on political events and the next mid-week game was the following day, on 9 September, and it saw Arsenal playing the return game against Brentford, this time getting a 1-1 draw. As such Arsenal now had four games and one win, and although the newspapers were not so crass as to publish league tables this early in the season had they done so they would have found Arsenal sitting in 13th.
For this match Sidey and Milne entered the fray, meaning that now with four games played 19 players had been used. Male, Hapgood and Bastin were the only three who had played all four games. There was however one piece of good news; Drake had scored his first goal of the season.
But even without league tables everyone interested in football was aware of something extraordinary happening in the league (aside from Arsenal’s dilemma with the team they selected). For newly promoted Charlton, in the top division for the first time, and having won two and drawn two were now actually top of the league. In 1934/5 they had won the Third Division (south). In 1935/6 then had come runners’ up in the Second Division, and thus gained promotion. Now here they were at the top of the first.
But after four games Arsenal were seriously in need of a win, and finally they got it against 12th paced Sunderland, who seemed to have fallen even faster from grace than Arsenal. Having won the title last season, blowing away all signs of opposition, as a result of this game they had two wins and three defeats and sank to 19th. Interestingly however they retained their impressive form from last season at home, having won both games at Roker Park, but having lost all three away games scoring one and conceding nine. That fact may have taken the gloss off Arsenal’s win against them but the win was none the less welcome for all that. Arsenal were 3-1 up at half time with Crayston, Beasley, Bastin doing the honours. Roberts scored a fourth in the second half.
On 19 September Arsenal played away to Wolverhampton. Their home record was one win and one defeat thus far, but they beat the Cup holders 2-0. The one suggestion that there might be a bit of good news at Arsenal was that this time there was only one change in the team, Sidey replacing Roberts.
The next match on 23 September 1936 was the annual game against Rangers, and for this Dennis Compton made his senior debut at outside left, while his brother played left back. If Leslie Compton was a footballer who played cricket, the Dennis was a cricketer who played football, and as a cricketer he ultimately played in 78 Test Matches (he was a slow left arm bowler, and one of England’s most remarkable batsmen scoring 123 centuries in first-class cricket). At the end of his career a stand at Lord’s was named in his honour. Bernard Joy, the other young hopeful, came in at centre half. Davidson and Drake got the goals in the second half. The crowd is not recorded.
Finally in this tumultuous month Arsenal played the new league leaders Derby who had for several years been threatening to make the final breakthrough at the top. Dennis Compton obviously impressed against Rangers as he stayed at number 11, Bastin’s traditional position, and indeed he scored on his league debut (Bastin taking over from James at inside right). Arsenal were 13th before the game and the draw was probably a very acceptable result, helping to move them one place up the table. All four goals came in the second half.
Arsenal thus had used 20 players in the first seven league matches of the season. Here are the results so far…
|05.09.1936||Huddersfield Town||3||away||D 0-0||15||3||32,013||15,812|
|19.09.1936||Wolverhampton Wndrs||14||away||L 0-2||13||6||53,097||23,787|
|26.09.1936||Derby County||1||home||D 2-2||12||7||63,390||43,353|
The abbreviations, as always…
- 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.
The league table at the end of September was thus:
At the end of the first full month of football Arsenal had lost as many games as they had won and were four points off the leaders with a game in hand.
The story of 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 1933: 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
- 42: 1933/34 League players, and how the goals declined but the crowds went up.
- 43: Arsenal in the summer 1934: Allison takes over from Shaw and Chapman.
- 44: August/Sep 1934: Allison starts with a bang
- 45: October 1934 – Arsenal finally blow away the north London curse
- 46: November 1934: vying for the top of the league, and the Battle of Highbury
- 47: Arsenal in December 1934: two steps forward, two steps back.
- 48: January 1935: Suddenly Arsenal’s form turns upside down
- 49: February 1935. Despite one slip, Arsenal remain top.
- 50: March 1935: Beating Tottenham by a record score
- 51: April/May 1935: Winning the league for the third time in succession.
- 52: Arsenal in the Summer 1935 after three championships in a row
- 53: September 1935: After three successive championships things get sticky
- 54: October 1935: Ok but not good enough
- 55: November 1935; Drake starts scoring again.
- 56: December 1935: beating the record, and record confusions. Ted Drake before and after the magnificent seven.
- 57: January 1936: the league won’t be won, but what about the FA Cup…
- 58: February 1936: an early example of rotational selection
- 59: March 1936: Wembley again but player rotation starts affecting the crowds
- 60: April/May 1936; Arsenal win the Cup. A match report and season’s end
- 61: Arsenal in the summer 1936: from winning the Cup to an assassination attempt on the king
- 62: Arsenal players 1934/5 and 1935/36 the fundamental problem with the team