By Tony Attwood
Arsenal had ended October 1936 in a singularly parlous position – one that had not been seen for many a year…
Two points away from a relegation place was absolutely not what anyone was used to in terms of Arsenal in the 1930s, although as we have previously seen, this type of collapse soon after success was not unknown for other clubs in the 1st division in the inter-war years.
Although Arsenal remained unbeaten at home, their away form was particularly depressing showing one win, one draw and four defeats, with just three goals scored across those matches. The only thing in Arsenal’s favour was that the table was particularly compacted at this time and a victory in the club’s game in hand could take them up six or seven places on its own. A run of victories (unlikely as that seemed) could do the club the world of good.
The month commenced with the regular match against Racing Club de Paris, with Arsenal running out winners 5-0, having taken a comfortable 3-0 win at half time. Kirchen, Drake and a hattrick for Milne produced the goals. But the game was most notable for the experiment with the left footed Bastin, who played right half – feeding the balls from the back three quickly onto the inside forwards. It clearly worked a treat.
Although at the time not too many people noticed, the next day, 2 November 1936, the BBC launched the world’s first regular television service.
Back with the football Arsenal thus began the month of league games feeling slightly more positive than before, and with time to recover and prepare for the home match against Leeds United the following Saturday.
Leeds were currently in 21st position and had lost all seven of their away games thus far, letting in an average of fractionally under three goals a game. Anything other than a win for Arsenal would have shown that the rot had well and truly set in and relegation was a possibility. But a refreshing result of a 4-1 win came as the top two both lost, as did the teams just ahead of Arsenal, allowing the club in one fell swoop to move up to 13th. Not what was expected before the season began, but better.
There was more news that would have been missed by most but which had a profound impact on the world, on 12 November when – Alan Turing’s paper “On Computable Numbers” was formally presented to the London Mathematical Society, introducing the concept of the “Turing machine”, and ultimately, digital technology.
Birmingham, on the 14th, were the next opponents. They were one place behind Arsenal, but this game was away, where thus far Arsenal had been having real difficulties. But the good run continued (if a two games can be called a run) and Arsenal won their second away game of the season – and for the first time in the season got two wins in a row. They were now up to 8th and the 3-1 victory also meant seven goals in the last two league games. Quite an improvement.
Yet again the match was followed by a news item, and this time virtually no one knew about it because of a government black out on the news. On 16 November King Edward VIII informed the Prime Minister of his intention to marry the divorced Wallis Simpson. Baldwin dutifully told the King that any woman he married would have to become Queen, and the British public would not accept Wallis Simpson as Queen, what with her being divorced and all. The King then told Mr Baldwin that he wass prepared to abdicate if the government opposed his marriage.
But as I say, at this stage, the public was kept in ignorance and so could focus on the third game of the month: at home to sixth placed Middlesbrough who themselves had won their last three games, and were unbeaten at home. And suddenly no one could stop Arsenal as they can out 5-3 winners on 21 November. In three matches Arsenal had moved from just outside the relegation zone to fourth.
But it must be noted that Arsenal were helped on this day in that only one of the top six (Sunderland) actually won, and several of the top sides suffered sizeable defeats.
So we came to the final game of the month – against West Brom. Having had a modest start to the season, three wins out of four games in October had taken them up to 15th, but just as November had been a break through month for Arsenal so it was a disaster for WBA as they lost all four games – this last 2-4.
Thus Arsenal had had an unexpectedly good run of results, aided by playing some modest opposition – but wins are wins, and four wins out of four had lifted Arsenal from 17th to 3rd. It was an extraordinary rise – and on this day with even top placed Sunderland losing Arsenal were just two points behind the leaders (Portsmouth – who had drawn at home) with a game in hand!
So what had happened? What had caused the turnaround.
The most obvious fact was that Drake came back into the team, played all four games and scored in every game getting six goals in all. In fact the whole forward line was now much more settled reading:
Kirchen Bowden Drake, Davidson, Milne.
It was Milne’s first run since the opening part of the previous season and he clearly enjoyed himself getting five goals in the month.
But perhaps the strangest move was that of left winger Bastin, across to right half, following the experiment with this in the Paris game. Seemingly the manager thought Bastin no longer had the turn of speed that he had used to destroy defences in 1930, but he could still pick out the perfect pass. However he still had a licence to roam forwards, as witness his goal against Middlesbrough. In this way Arsenal found the perfect cover for the injured Crayston.
So suddenly Arsenal were back in the goals – with 16 in four games, more than they had scored in the opening 12 games of the season. If they could only keep up the performance through the six games in December, then things really could be looking up, and what had appeared to be a most unpromising month could suddenly become yet another season with a trophy.
Here’s the month’s summary.
|01.11.1936||Racing club Paris||away||W5-0|
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.
As column six in the table above shows, the league position was turned upside down, and I am showing the home and away split in the table below to show how Arsenal were already one of the best performing away sides in the league.
This indeed was how Chapman had built his teams, with the quick counter attack that would work as well away from home as at home. Suddenly with the forced reshuffle of players they had learned how to do it all over again.
Meanwhile in the second division Tottenham were once more at their most erratic. Two 5-1 home wins against Bradford City and Chesterfield were undone by a final home defeat to Plymouth leaving them in 14th place, 13 points behind the leaders Leicester.
There is however one more event to mention in this momentous month, and this time everyone noticed. On 30 November the Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire.
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Arsenal in the 30s: the series
- 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 of 1936
- 62: Arsenal players 1934/5 and 1935/36: the fundamental problem with the team
- 63: August / Sept 1936: 20 different players used in the first seven league games
- 64: October 1936: Arsenal in free fall