By Tony Attwood
Arsenal entered the 1938/39 season as Champions, having won the league for the fifth time in eight years. In the seasons they did not win the trophy they had come second, third, and sixth. Additionally they had won the FA Cup twice during the 1930s.
Rather amazingly the trophy haul for the two long term managers of the era was now equal: two league titles and an FA Cup for Chapman and for Allison. The extra title was won by Joe Shaw who took over after Chapman’s sudden death.
Arsenal were not (as is sometimes claimed) the club with the most league titles (Sunderland and Villa had both won the league six times by this date) but three of Sunderland’s triumphs and four of Aston Villa’s had come in the 19th century when competition was, to say the least, somewhat less strenuous – and within much smaller leagues. Certainly, in the era after the first world war Arsenal’s achievements were unmatched. While Arsenal were winning five titles, their nearest challenger after 1918 was Huddersfield with three titles, and Sheffield Wednesday and Liverpool with two each.
In the first division, Aston Villa and Manchester United now returned after two and one years in the second division respectively. Such returns (which were common) showed that the difference between the top two divisions were just as great as they are in the modern era. Although occasionally teams from the second division could flourish briefly after promotion, as Tottenham did for one season, they then often rapidly returned from whence they had come.
On 4 August 1938 George Allison had broken the UK transfer record signing Bryn Jones from Wolverhampton for £14,000. So outrageous was the fee perceived as being (and what with this being Arsenal) questions were asked in Parliament. Indeed it was the second time running that Arsenal had broken the record, for the previous transfer record was David’s Jack’s transfer from Bolton to Arsenal in October 1928 for £14,500. Because of the 2nd world war, the Bryn Jones record remained for far longer than most – it was not broken again until September 1947 when Billy Steel went from Morton to Derby.
Thus Herbert Chapman had made the purchase of players for high fees part of his approach in turning Arsenal from being regularly threatened with relegation to being first division champions, and Allison continued the approach, mixing big name signings with players promoted from within. In both cases the funding came from one base: Arsenal throughout the 1930s had attracted the largest crowds of any club. And this was not just at Highbury but also in away games, where clubs would often see double the average attendance turn up for an Arsenal match. With income from both home and away fixtures being shared between the clubs playing the match, it meant Arsenal’s income was beyond that of everyone else.
But in addition to spending money, Allison, like Chapman, had an astute sense of tactics, and the ability to move players from one position to another with great effect, as he had done with Les Jones the year before.
In the case of Bryn Jones the consensus was that he was to be the successor to Alex James as an inside forward – and this is certainly what Allison had in mind.
However although most commentaries mention this, they then also suggest that Jones was a disappointment because of his low scoring rate. But this is to misunderstand Arsenal’s tactics completely. In his last full season, before injuries reduced his playing time, Alex James played 40 games and scored three goals. Indeed James never scored more than four goals in any season for Arsenal. So quite why a lack of goals is described as part of the failure of Bryn Jones is hard to understand. The goals were to be scored by the centre forward and two wingers – that was how Arsenal played throughout the 1930s.
Besides which, due to circumstances beyond Jones’ or Arsenal’s control, Bryn only had one season in his prime at Arsenal – and although it may not have been a stunning season by his high standards, he was moving into a club with its own style and approach, and there is every chance that had he been able to play two or three seasons the Arsenal way, he would certainly have become the player everyone expected.
Moving on to 1938/9, for the first time since 1914 Arsenal began the season with a friendly against another team. On that occasion the match was an away game against Tottenham. This time the opposition was the same but the game was held at Highbury. There is evidence of Arsenal playing friendlies between the first team and the reserves (sometimes called the Reds against the Whites) on the Saturday before the season started, in front of paying spectators, but details do not seem to have been kept by the club.
This game however was a fully advertised friendly and there is evidence of it being called the “Jubilee Benevolent match” (although there is also a suggestion that it was arranged as part of the deal that brought George Hunt from Tottenham to Arsenal – the first player ever to make the move). It was ironic that if this was the case, by the time this friendly was played, Hunt had already moved on to Bolton.
It is suggested that this picture comes from this game, although again it is difficult to know, and the crowd in the seats looks more like that which turned up for the 1st team v Reserve matches of earlier years.
Arsenal lost the game to Tottenham 0-2 at Highbury which was an inauspicious start given that Tottenham were a resolutely second division team at the time, and Arsenal put out their first team most of whom had just won the League a couple of months earlier.
Arsenal’s team for the day was…
Male Joy Hapgood
Griffiths L Jones Drake B Jones Bastin
The following Saturday the season began in earnest with a home game against Portsmouth. There was one change in the lineup, Kirchen replacing Griffiths. 59,940 turned up and despite all I have said above about Bryn Jones replacing non-scoring Alex James, Jones scored. The other goal was an own goal. Arsenal were up and running.
And then, immediately, there was a friendly to play on the following Monday – the regular fixture against Rangers in Glasgow. Allison used this fixture to experiment, and to give some of the regular back up players, first team playing time.
1937/8 was the first season in eleven that Rangers had not come first or second in the Scottish league (they had come third) and neither had they won the Scottish Cup. But they had regrouped and presented a team which not only went on to be Champions of Scotland but also scored 112 goals in 38 league matches in doing so.
Les Compton replaced Hapgood, which was expected, but Les Jones was tried out at right half, Collett came in to replace Copping, Bryn Jones played at outside right (!) and the rest of the forward line was Bremner, Carr, Drury and Cumner. Arsenal lost 1-0. But the changes are significant – Allison had no need to make these positional adjustments and it was clear he was experimenting on how to use Bryn Jones.
Back with the league in match 2 of the campaign, Jones scored again when exactly the same team as in the first league match played Huddersfield away, and gained a 1-1 draw. It was a decent start to the league campaign.
But then on 8 September came the third league game of the campaign an away game with Brentford who had put in a strong showing last season, and looked for a while as if they might challenge to be champions. So far they had won one and drawn one game, and the 0-1 defeat for Arsenal was a disappointment for Arsenal fans, especially as Arsenal had been able to play the same line-up for the third league match running.
Some changes were then felt to be required as on 10 September Arsenal returned to Highbury to play Everton who were now top of the league having won all three of their opening fixtures. Everton had won the league in 1932, but had struggled for the last three seasons in the lower part of the league. Now however they were looking like their old selves, and with Arsenal looking increasingly uncertain Everton beat Arsenal 1-2 at Highbury.
Although there was some pleasure that Bryn Jones had scored again, there had not been too much pleasure at the way Arsenal were playing as a team, and so for this match Carr came in as centre forward instead of Drake who had not yet scored, and Nelson played on the wing instead of Kirchen. Nelson had played eight games the previous season, scoring three, and had looked like a possible long term player for Arsenal, but on this occasion it was not to be. Everton’s perfect start continued.
On 13 September the news was dominated by an event that is still seen as a key moment in the history of the era: the Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met the German Chancellor Adolf Hitler in an attempt to negotiate an end to German expansionist policies.
But meanwhile the football continued. The midweek game was another home match – this against Derby. Drake returned, Les Jones moved into defensive midfield replacing Crayston and Bremner took over at inside right. Derby had won three, drawn one and lost one of their opening games, and were sitting in third position, although it was noted that all three of their wins were by 1-0. But this time they went further and won 2-1. Arsenal had now played five and only won one game in the league and were now 19th! This was more than Arsenal’s seemingly regular poor start to a campaign – especially when starting as Champions.
On 17 September, Reg Cumner, who had joined Arsenal the previous May from the Margate nursery side, made his first league appearance for Arsenal away at Wolverhampton – the team Arsenal had pipped to the league title at the very last, back in May. Cumner replaced the injured Bastin.
Wolverhampton like Arsenal had not maintained last season’s progress although their decline was less dramatic, and they were currently sitting 7th, having drawn their first four games before beating Brentford 1-0. However at last Arsenal got their second win of the season 1-0 with a goal by… Cumner. It raised Arsenal to 16th
Then Arsenal had another friendly match – this time against Swiss Wanderers. Although there were changes (both the Compton brothers played, for example) it was a first team line up that turned out for the game in front of 16,000 at Highbury.
Swiss Wanderers was a non-de-plume for the Swiss international team who were on tour at the time. A page from the programme is shown below.
On 24 September Arsenal played their final league match of September at home to newly promoted Aston Villa. Moving up to 5th in the league (having been as low as 14th after a defeat to Everton in the fourth game of the campaign) Villa had scored nine goals in their last two games conceding just two. Bremner continued at number 8 with Cumner covering for the still injured Bastin at outside left. All in all it looked as if the management and team had determined primarily to stop the rot and not be defeated again. And in this they succeeded. The result was a 0-0 draw. At least after six straight wins Everton had at last lost, 3-0 away to Huddersfield.
But despite these results the league table looked far from exciting from the point of view of both the teams who challenged for the title to the bitter end of last season.
Even after all these matches there was still one more to go: the Charity Shield between the league champions and the Cup winners (Preston). Ted Drake scored both goals as Arsenal won 2-1 at Highbury. It was the fifth win in eight years for Arsenal but the crowd were not interested; only 7,233 turned up.
Elsewhere there were other matters to distract attention. On 27 September the RMS Queen Elizabeth was launched at Clydebank, the largest ship in the world. Two days later Prime Minister Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement agreeing with Germany determining to resolve all future disputes between the two countries through peaceful means. One day later Neville Chamberlain returned to the UK from Munich, and at Heston Aerodrome waved a piece of paper that he said proclaimed Peace for our time speech – a phrase that became the basis for his speech later that day – an agreement celebrated with George VI on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. The piece of paper waving became an iconic moment in the history of the UK.
Here is the regular chart for the month.
|Date||Opponent||Op Pos||Venue||Result||Pos||Pts||Crowd||Av crowd|
|26.09.1938||Preston North End||home||W3-2||7,233||39,102|
Here are 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.
Average crowds all relate to home league games only.
Here is the full series to date
Arsenal in the 30s
- 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
- 70: April / May 1937: Arsenal slip back and Man City triumph – for the moment
- 71: Arsenal players 1936/7, Arsenal crowds in the 30s, and comparisons with earlier years
- 72: Arsenal in the summer: the overseas tour of 1937
- 73: Arsenal in August and September 1937: a brilliant start and a TV first.
- 74: Arsenal in October 1937: Allison decides it is time for a total change.
- 75: Arsenal in Nov 1937; a tactical signing changes the game
- 76: Arsenal in December 1937; a settled team and a revival
- 77: Arsenal in January 1938: two steps backwards but a new genius emerges.
- 78: Arsenal in February 1938: a true resurgence takes us top of the league.
- 79: March 1938: Arsenal at the top and a fifth title looks possible
- 80: April/May 1938: from no titles to five in one decade – and the most amazing title of them all.
- 81: Arsenal in the summer: 1938. The Nazi salute; the world record signing.
- 82: Arsenal players in the 1937/38 title winning side, and comparisons with earlier seasons