By Tony Attwood
March 1937 opened with the table looking like this
Arsenal were two points behind the leaders but still with a lot of games to play. Manchester City’s rise up the table had been erratic but the latest surge had been quite sudden and they still had a game in hand. Brentford had two in hand and could overtake Arsenal if they won both.
So anything was possible and the unexpected could most certainly happen – and as the coming reports will show, that certainly turned out to be true.
March showed Arsenal having a heavy schedule as a result of Easter coming early this year and it included three games in four days at the end of the month. Six league games in all were on the calendar, but first there was the little matter of the FA Cup quarter finals against WBA.
West Brom were 19th in the league and Arsenal had already beaten them away in the league 4-2 the previous November.
Their route to the cup quarter finals had not been too difficult…
…and the club had a strong home record in the league (eight wins, two draws, four defeats.) They had also won their last two league games but these games were both against modest opposition – 3-2 against Grimsby, 6-4 against Sunderland. So perhaps their league position belied their true strength.
Reaching the 3rd round of the Cup this season was the greatest triumph of Spennymoor (of the Northern League), and indeed it is still seen as the highlight of all their FA Cup ventures. Sadly the club folded in 2005 and were replaced by Spennymoor Town.
Darlington were near the bottom of Division III (North) when the clubs met while Coventry were fifth in division II but having a really poor run and were slipping down the table fast.
So it was argued, when the draw was made, WBA were more keen on holding onto their first division spot, and had had a very easy ride through the cup thus far. Arsenal should move into the semi-finals with ease.
Unfortunately football rarely delivers what ought to happen and West Brom found themselves 2-0 up by halftime. Arsenal never recovered and lost 3-1.
In the other games Millwall (currently seventh in Division III (South) caused the absolute upset of the day by beating Manchester City whose recent progress up the first division table has been noted in these chronicles. Tottenham lost to Preston 1-3 at White Hart Lane, which meant there was no crowing to be heard from N15, and Wolverhampton drew with Sunderland.
Arsenal’s team for the West Brom game was as strong as possible. Drake was out with an injury and Kirchen moved across to centre forward, while as in the previous round Bastin returned to his old position on the left wing – and dutifully scored Arsenal’s goal. But as in three of the last four seasons Arsenal went out in the quarter finals and the Cup was not going to be retained. Worse, John Milne who had taken over Bastin’s old position on the left wing (with a couple of appearances on the right as well) was injured. He had scored nine goals in 19 games this season, and his departure was bound to have an impact.
Arsenal now had to pick themselves up and prepare to play the league game postponed from the Saturday because of the cup match – at home to Liverpool.
Liverpool had won just three of their last 12 league games, and were sitting 17th in the league – a place they had occupied for much of the season. Their away record of two draws, three wins and 11 defeats suggested Arsenal should win with ease. But that had been the case with the cup match, so predictions were muted.
Arsenal did in fact win – although not with ease, getting a 1-0 victory courtesy of Kirchen who was now back on the wing (Bowden moving across to centre forward). This was now the third league match in a row that Kirchen had scored in – getting a total of five in those three games. Bastin played inside left and Dennis Compton played on the wing, with Bob John playing right half.
But the result took Arsenal back to the top of the league, which is always a psychological boost – although the fixture played when most people were at work, attracted Arsenal’s lowest home crowd of the season, just 16,145.
13 March saw Arsenal away at Leeds United who were currently in 20th position, although with a strong home record (their problem being that they had won only one away match and lost the other 16!)
Leeds’ recent results had been terrible: a 0-2 home defeat to Birmingham, a 2-2 home draw with Bolton, a 7-1 away defeat to Everton and a 1-4 away loss to Brentford.
But as we’ve noted at home they were a different proposition, although on this occasion Arsenal took the lead and never let it slip. 2-1 up at half time Arsenal won 4-3, with Kirchen yet again on the scoresheet – getting two. Bastin scored a penalty and Bowden got the fourth. That made it four games in a row that Kirchen had scored in, and seven goals scored in those four games.
Even more remarkable Kirchen was on the wing once more, and Drake was back at centre forward after missing the last two league games. Bastin played right half and John left half in a makeshift defensive midfield.
Ominously Manchester City and Charlton both won 3-0 suggesting strongly that Arsenal could allow no slip ups if they wanted to grab the title again.
So three games gone in the month, and Arsenal were still top of the league after two straight wins. Leaving the FA Cup was starting to look more like getting rid of a distraction rather than a lost opportunity.
Next, on 20 March, there was Birmingham at home. Birmingham had had something of a turnaround since losing to Charlton at home on 23 January – a defeat that left them 20th in the league. Since then they were undefeated in seven, a run which had included four wins. And indeed several of those performances were impressive including a 5-0 victory against Liverpool and a 4-0 win over Brentford (in their last match). As a result they now sat comfortably in midfield, and were ready to take on anyone.
Arsenal would have fancied their chances, but had to settle for a 1-1 draw, this time having Bowden (who had taken over the number 9 jersey from Drake) doing the goal-scoring honours. It was also the 421st and final league game for Bob John and who had been a reserve for most of this season. He went on to be a trainer with West Ham, Crystal Palace and Torquay.
Elsewhere however there was a huge surprise – with Derby beating Charlton 5-0 – exactly the sort of result that Arsenal were looking for if they could not deliver a victory themselves. Portsmouth won at Huddersfield, Brentford beat Middlesbrough 4-1, while dark horses Man City drew away with Everton.
But there was now no time to look back for 26 March was Good Friday – a day for a full league programme and Arsenal were again at home, this time to Stoke.
Leading into that match the top of the table showed just five points separating seven clubs, with Manchester City once again back in seventh still having two games in hand.
Arsenal’s home game against 16th placed Stoke attracted a large crowd but turned out to be a damp squib, ending goalless. Stoke had lost five of the last six games so more was hoped for. Elsewhere Charlton and Portsmouth lost, while Brentford drew, but there was some notice taken of the fact that Man City won 5-0 away at Liverpool. 26 March 1937: This was also Ted Drake’s last game of the season. He only played 26 games in the league this season but he still scored 20 goals in the league. In the cup he played three and scored seven (and yes that is not a mistake – he got two against Chesterfield, one against Man U and four against Burnley. But the games he missed through injury were considered to have cost Arsenal a commanding lead in the league.
The next day Arsenal had to rush up to Middlesbrough who had just won four of the last five and were now sitting in third position. Arsenal tried some squad rotation at this point with Drake and James dropping out and Bastin and Davidson who had missed the Good Friday game coming back into the team. Joy also replaced Roberts at centre half.
The result was another draw – this time 1-1. That was three draws in a row for Arsenal who were now sitting in third. Man City were now four points behind Arsenal, and still with those two games in hand.
There were of course no games on Easter Sunday, but Easter Monday had another full programme with Arsenal playing the return game against Stoke – this ending with another 0-0 draw.
This time the line up changes showed more than rotation because in came Arthur Biggs at number 9 for his first ever game – and indeed his only game of the season. (He played two more next season, but didn’t score a single goal). Also making a rare appearance was David Nelson at outside right. Leslie Compton returned at right back.
Elsewhere Charlton won and Middlesborugh drew but the result that had everyone talking was the one in which Man City hit another five against Liverpool, and now were just three points behind Arsenal, still with those two games in hand.
Man City had drawn two and won four of their last six, as compared to Arsenal who had drawn four and won two. Every other team had lost at least one game in the sequence, and a set of fixtures that had looked as if the title was there for the taking for Arsenal, now had the club looking over its shoulder. There was no saying that City’s run would continue, but if they won those two games in hand they would be top – and even if they didn’t their 10 goals against Liverpool in two games meant that they had crept very close to Arsenal’s goal average. One more sizeable win and a draw could well be enough to take them to the top.
The table now looked like this
Here is the usual table of results for the month…
*League matches only
The abbreviations, as always…
- Op pos, is the league position of the opposition before the game. Chesterfield’s position is obviously in relation to Division 2.
- 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.
- 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
- 65: November 1936: Arsenal reborn, TV starts, the king demands, the palace burns down.
- 66: December 1936: Top of the league as the king steps down.
- 67: January 1937: Arsenal unbeaten as the goalkeepers change (again).
- 68: February 1937: Seven in the cup, and all to play for in the league