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9th March 1935: Highbury packed to the rafters

by Andy Kelly

9th March 1935 saw the top two teams in the First Division play each other at Highbury. Free scoring Arsenal were averaging almost 3 goals per game and going for their third consecutive title. They had just beaten neighbours Tottenham 6-0 at White Hart Lane. Sunderland, although not as potent in front of goal, were only two points behind and had beaten Arsenal 2-1 at Roker Park earlier in the season.

Pld W D L F A Pts
1 Arsenal 31 17 8 6 91 37 42
2 Sunderland 31 15 10 6 68 39 40
3 Manchester City 31 17 5 9 62 46 39
4 Sheffield Wednesday 32 15 8 9 55 50 38
5 Derby County 31 14 7 10 61 49 35
6 Everton 31 13 9 9 70 62 35

Expectation was that this game would be a cracker and decide where the title would finish at the end of the season. On top of this Arsenal were being watched by larger and larger crowds. The average attendance at Highbury before the game was 45,757, their highest ever. On 20th October 70,544 witnessed a 5-1 win against Tottenham. This was only the second time more than 70,000 had squeezed into Highbury. Even away from home football fans wanted to see Arsenal, 79,491 paid to watch the 1-1 draw with Manchester City at Maine Road.

By 3pm on 9th March 1935, 73,295 had packed into Highbury. Quite astonishing when you consider that the official capacity was only 72,000! Unfortunately the game was not a classic, in fact it was far from it as the match report below shows.

 Click on the report to see it larger

Following this anti-climax, Arsenal retained their place at the top of the table and went on to win the title. Highbury would only see crowds of 70,000 two more times, both in FA Cup games: 1938 against Preston and 1951 against Northampton.

The picture below gives a good idea of what a big crowd looked like at Highbury. It shows a view from the North Bank on 31 January 1934 when “only” 68,828 packed into Highbury. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

73,295, however, is not Arsenal’s record home attendance. During the Champions League campaigns of 1998-99 and 1999-2000 Arsenal played their home games at Wembley. Three games pulled in crowds greater than the 1935 game with 73,707 watching the 0-1 defeat against Lens.

Here is a list of all Arsenal home games with attendances greater than 70,000:

24   February 1926 Aston Villa FA Cup 2-0 71,446
20 October 1934 Tottenham Hotspur League 5-1 70,544
9 March 1935 Sunderland League 0-0 73,295
12 February 1938 Preston North End FA Cup 0-1 72,121
27 January 1951 Northampton Town FA Cup 3-2 72,408
30 September 1998 Panathinaikos Champions League 2-1 73,455
21 October 1998 Dynamo Kiev Champions League 1-1 73,256
25 November 1998 Racing Club de Lens Champions League 0-1 73,707
22 September 1999 AIK Champions League 3-1 71,227
19 October 1999 Barcelona Champions League 2-4 73,091
27 October 1999 Fiorentina Champions League 0-1 73,336

The 27 January 1951 game against Northampton Town is particularly fascinating – why would such a crowd turn up?

We can imagine that there was a reasonable number of Northampton supporters there – the journey from Northampton into Euston by train is only one hour, and from Euston it is an easy trip to Arsenal station on the underground.

But even so… Arsenal had had a poor December losing four games in succession, but crowds were just extremely high at this time, despite Arsenal only coming 5th this season.  The league match on January 13 1951 against Middlesbrough at Highbury had seen 65,038 squeeze in, and the third round of the cup game against lowly Carlisle United had attracted 57,932  for a disappointing 0-0 draw. Crowds at the time were simply large.

7 comments to 9th March 1935: Highbury packed to the rafters

  • nicky

    1.Note the rare bare-headed men in the Highbury crowd of 80 years ago.
    2.My greatest “attendance” was in February 1948 v Burnley, when there were 62,000 in the stadium and a further 20,000 outside trying to get in!

  • Andy Kelly

    My biggest at Highbury was 54,161 in the FA Cup game v Man Utd in 1988. However, the 51,148 v Everton 4 days later was when I felt the most squashed. I found it hard to comprehend how they could have crammed another 20,000 into the ground 50 years earlier.

  • coaster

    Sept 1967 Arsenal v spurs was the biggest Highbury crowd I attended. 62000+ We won 4 nil and I think our scorers were John Radford, George Graham, Terry Neil and Colin Addison. The atmosphere was electric a far cry from the sanitized Emerites

  • Stephen Vallins

    AS WE ARE COMMENTING ON HIGH ATTENDANCE MATCHES DATE A BIT VAGUE EVENING KO OCTOBER 1963 I WAS 11 AT HIGHBURY AGAINST TOTTS 66.000 SPLIT FROM MY FATHER WENT TO A STEWARD WHO TOOK ME INTO THE MAINSTAND . I WATCHED THE GAME FROM AN AISLE ABOVE OR NEXT TO WHERE THE PLAYERS ENTER PITCH . MY FATHER HAD TO COLLECT ME FROM THE MAIN ENTRANCE BEFORE THE END OF THE GAME WHEN WE LEFT ARSENAL WHERE LOSING 4 2 ON THE WAY BACK TO THE CAR WE HEARD TWO ALMIGHTY ROARS WE HAD NO IDEA WHAT THE FINAL SCORE WAS TILL WE HAD A MORNING PAPER 4 4

  • Allan Churchill

    @ Stephen Vallins,
    I was at that game as well. I was 15 at the time. I travelled up on the tube by myself. The attendance was 68,000 and I was on the North Bank (a bit squashed). If I close my eyes I can still see Geoff Strong’s header coming straight towards me and in to the goal in the last minute. One of the greatest moments I have ever witnessed at a football game, right up there with Adam’s scoring to win the League in 1998. You would have thought we’d won the league and the cup instead of drawing that match. Mind you we had been in Spurs shadow for a couple of years with their double success in ’61.

  • Stephen Vallins

    Re Allan Churchill.we suffered a few years football with THE ARSENAL but i got on the pitch when we won the FAIRS CUP on a rain soaked night i wonder what the attendance was that evening

  • Dave Butler

    I was also at that game in 1963 (4-4) against Spurs. The official attendance was just short of 68,000. The atmosphere was electric. This was The great Spurs team we were playing and (sorry) they were very good. That we came from 4-2 down at half time to a 4-4 draw made it a magnificent spectacle. It was one of the games that was unforgettable even after all of these years. You have to remember, to put this in its context, that the Arsenal team then were (besides George Eastham) very average and the Spurs team (it only lasted a couple of years)were the very best in the land. Wonderful to have been there.
    I really like this particular very late St. Totteringham’s Day. Absolutely wonderful.

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