By Tony Attwood
As the football going public started to get used to the new nickel-brass 12 sided coin which came to be known as the threepenny bit, the first division table at the start of March 1937 looked like this
Since losing to Manchester City on 5 December Arsenal had lost one match in 14. But it was also the case that since losing to lowly Grimsby on Christmas Day, Manchester City were unbeaten in 15.
Charlton had won the 3rd Division (South) in 1935, and had only emerged from non-league football in 1921/2 with the expansion of the league. The feeling was that two consecutive promotions and then the league trophy was too much of a fairy story: they would falter.
But what of Manchester City? They had never won the first division – although they had won the second division title four times, most recently in 1928. They had managed a 3rd, 4th and 5th place finish since then, and had won the FA Cup in 1934 for the second time, but again there was a feeling that surely Arsenal with two FA Cup victories and four league titles in the last seven seasons would be strong enough to see off the challenge.
However there was nevertheless a real doubt, because Drake was clearly not at his best, and was suffering from a constantly recurring injury. He had last played in the goalless draw with Stoke, and in fact would not be seen on the pitch again this season. Although he came good with his quartet of goals in the cup match against Burnley, his last league goal had been on 3 February – and indeed that was to be his last of the season.
Kirchen and Bowden could and did play centre forward, but of these two only Kirchen could deliver goals with anything like regularity, and his 18 in 33 league games, although very good, was still not at the Drake level, or before him the Bastin level or going back to the start of the decade, the incredible achievements of Lambert and Jack. In midfield Alex James’ appearances were getting more and more intermittent as he needed to be wrapped up in cotton wool after each match, and as for the Boy Bastin, he was no longer a boy, and was now a midfielder. He only got five goals in 33 games through the season.
So if Arsenal were to make another title happen, they really did need for both Charlton and Man City to ease up a little – and above all for Arsenal to do what only one team had done thus far this season, and beat Manchester City at Maine Road.
But before that came WBA now sitting in 17th. Arsenal won 2-0, but ominously Manchester City simultaneously beat Brentford 2-6 away. Charlton lost 1-0 to Sunderland which seemed to confirm (if confirmation were needed) that of the upstarts it was Man City who needed to be seen off.
Nelson retained his place in the team but switched wings as Kirchen returned. Bowden played at centre forward but it was Davidson at inside left and Nelson who got the goals.
And then the big one game came along – Man City away on 10 April. Before that game City played one of their two games in hand, and beat Brentford again, this time 2-1 at home leaving them one point behind Arsenal still with one game in hand. This time Arsenal only had to make one change, but it was one they did not want to make. The eternally dependable Herbie Roberts was forced to drop out to be replaced by the inexperienced Bernard Joy at centre half. The change told and Manchester City ran out victors 2-0, to go top of the league. Almost 75,000 turned up at Maine Road, for not just the match of the day, but the match of the season.
Manchester City were now ahead, with a game in hand. The trophy was their’s to lose and with a form that read five wins and one draw in the last six (compared to Arsenal’s four draws, one win, one defeat), it now seemed quite clear where the title was going.
Two days after the monumental game on 12 April – Frank Whittle ground-tested the world’s first jet engine designed to power an aircraft, at Rugby. It was not great news at the time, but of course its implications affected the world.
Back with football Arsenal still had three league games to go, and Man City four, but it felt a hopeless cause especially when on 14 April Manchester City played their final game in hand and beat Sunderland 3-1. For Arsenal to win the league, Manchester City who had not been defeated since Christmas now had to lose two games out of the last three, while Arsenal had to win the lot.
Arsenal started ok with this impossible task, beating Portsmouth at home 4-0 on 17 April, but the small crowd showed just what the locals thought of it all. Both the Compton brothers played, and Dennis got two. Nelson scored again to make him look an interesting prospect, while Kirchen, playing at centre forward in the absence of both Drake and Bowden, got the fourth.
But then the news came in that Manchester City had beaten Preston 2-5 away from home. They were now three points ahead of Arsenal with two games to play, and a better goal average. Quite simply Arsenal had to win both of their remaining matches and Manchester City who had still not lost since Christmas Day, had to throw it all away at the last.
Arsenal next had to play Portsmouth again in a friendly in the “Coronation Cup” in Bath. Only one “unknown” played came into the team – Atter. He is a player with whom I am drawing a blank at the moment. He played in this friendly, and in one of the five post-season friendlies, but never for the first team in the league or cup. Any information on him would be welcome.
Matters in the league were resolved as was now expected, on 24 April when Arsenal lost 2-0 away to Chelsea. Bernard Joy was again dropped and Sidey came back into the team for this and the final game at centre half.
The last match of the season was at home to 19th placed Bolton on 1 May and was also the last game for Alex James. One of our five greatest players to be sure, and also a forgotten captain. During the war he served with the Royal Artillery and then became a journalist before being invited by Arsenal to coach the youth team.
As for Bolton they were still in danger of going down – indeed any two out of Bolton, Leeds, Man U and Sheffield Wednesday could go down, depending on the last day’s results. Although Man U had already completed their programme and were in 21st spot, a defeat for Leeds (who had a goal difference only 0.02 better) and the failure of Wednesday to win, could have changed things.
But as always when statisticians get excited over such fanciful possibilities they do not come to pass, and the league ended with Arsenal playing out a goalless draw, this being enough to keep Bolton up, and relegate Manchester United and Sheffield Wednesday.
For Wednesday it was just seven years since they had won the league two seasons running, and those seven years had included no less than four years of coming third, and an FA Cup triumph. Yet suddenly it had all gone hopelessly wrong.
Here is the end of season table showing home and away form. Allison had now re-established the Chapman tradition of a team that could win away through the counter-attacking tactics.
|14||Preston North End||42||10||6||5||35||28||4||7||10||21||39||0.84||41|
|16||West Bromwich Albion||42||13||3||5||45||32||3||3||15||32||66||0.79||38|
Here is the usual table of results for the month…
|03.04.1937||West Bromwich Albion||17.||home||W2-0||1||49||38,773||43,353|
*The Bath Coronation Cup
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.
Even though it deprived Arsenal of another title, I think one should also commemorate Man City’s run – not just because it was remarkable but because of what happened next. If you don’t know, and don’t want to wait, just take a peek on statto.com at the table for the end of 1937/8.
Here is Man City’s run to the top, from 11th to top of the league across half a season without losing a single game.
|23||02.01.1937||West Bromwich Albion||away||D2-2||10||24|
|40||17.04.1937||Preston North End||away||W5-2||1||54|
The summer tour which involved five games in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands will be dealt with in the regular “Arsenal in the Summer” article which will follow shortly. But given that Arsenal had played in the Coronation Cup we should note that on 12 May the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth took place at Westminster Abbey, London. The BBC makes its first ever outside broadcast covering the event.
Later in the month, to conclude the royal events we’ve noted earlier in the year, George VI passed the “letters patent” which effectively forbade the wife and descendants of the Duke of Windsor from using the title “Royal Highness”.
Before moving on to the extraordinary season that was 1937/8 I shall give the usual player details for the season, and then add a few biographies from players in the 1930s who have not yet been covered. Details of all the players who have got their own biography section are given in the Player Index which is in two parts: A to K and L to Z
Here’s the index of articles from the Arsenal in the 30s 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
- 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
- 69: March 1937: Arsenal top but Man City close in