Today of all days

Arsenal’s history one day at a time

This series takes a look at what was happening to Arsenal and in the world around them on this day at one point in Arsenal’s past.

The series has articles for each day from 21 October onward – just scroll down the page to find the date you want

29 May 1968 Sammy Nelson’s first team debut in a 4-0 victory over Japan.

He was one of Bertie Mee’s first signings – and was employed initially in the reserves on the left wing before moving to left back. 

Sammy was born on April 1st 1949 in Belfast, and he joined Arsenal on his 17th birthday in 1966, right at the end of the Billy Wright era, which gives us two anniversaries in one.

Soon after he joined, Arsenal changed manager, and the new man, Bertie Mee, retained Sammy Nelson to play in the reserves, initially on the left wing, then later at left back.

He made his first team debut on 25 October 1969 playing at left back.  Bob McNab had been injured in the previous game and substituted – but he was back after missing just one match, so Sammy had to wait until December 6 for his second game – which like the first ended in a draw.  In all he made four appearances in the league and he played in the drawn home game with Blackpool in the FA Cup 3rd round.

It was injuries to Bob McNab in 1971/2 that gave him more of a chance and he played 24 games and scored one goal.  He also played six FA Cup games, but didn’t make the final.  He was however by now playing for Northern Ireland and won 51 caps through his career.

The situation of Nelson only playing when McNab was not, continued until 1975/6 when McNab left, and Sammy became the first choice in the position, playing 36 league games that season.

He also played in three FA Cup finals (1978, 1979 and 1980) and the Cup Winners’ Cup final against Valencia.

He was finally displaced from the first team in 1980 by Kenny Sansom, and he left for Brighton, having played 339 league games, scoring 12 goals.

Amazingly though that was not the end of the highlights for him, as he played in the Manchester United v Brighton Cup final of 1983.

After retirement he went on to be a coach at Brighton, before moving into insurance and working on the Legends Tour at the Emirates.

28 May 1934: George Allison becomes manager of Arsenal

George Allison was one of our great, great Arsenal managers winning two league titles, an FA cup victory and a third place.  Among other things he won the League title for us in that extraordinary trio of seasons in which three different managers won the league in successive years.

George Allison was with the club from 1910 when he started editing the programme, until his retirement as manager after the second world war – an Arsenal man through and through. 

When he started out as a journalist in London, few of the Fleet Street based journalists wanted to go to Woolwich Arsenal to watch matches because of the time it took to get back to Fleet Street after a game and file their copy. 

But the press in Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle etc expected some sort of report from Woolwich when the Reds were in the first division.  So Mr Allison went to the matches and wrote half a dozen reports for different papers, all under different names, each with a slightly different perspective.

He later became the voice of football commentaries in the early days of BBC radio broadcasts, until Herbert Chapman banned the BBC from the ground, on the basis that the commentaries were giving away too many tactical secrets which Allison had picked up because of his closeness to the club.

Although not revered as Chapman is, his trophy haul is identical to that of Chapman, and his unpaid service to the club during the second world war when the team was forced to play at White Hart Lane, was immeasurable.

His autobiography, published upon his retirement is a fundamental source of information on Arsenal’s history, and counters the wild conspiracy accusations made by Chapman’s predecessor Leslie Knighton, which was published two weeks earlier.

27 May 2017: Arsenal win the FA Cup for a record number of times.

27 May 2017: Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-1 to win the FA Cup for a  record 13th time. 

It also made Arsene Wenger the manager with the most FA Cup victories in history.  Alexis and Ramsey got the goals, while Moses was sent off for one of the most blatant and appalling dives in the history of the FA Cup. 

It also made Arsenal the only team to win the FA Cup three times in four years, twice.  The results also meant Arsenal won nine of their final ten games of the season.

As things stand in 2021 Arsenal have won the FA Cup 14 times, and been runners’ up seven times making a total of 21 appearances. The nearest team to them are Manchester United with 12 wins and eight defeats in the final, making 20 appearances.

Chelsea and Tottenham are next with eight wins and Liverpool come in fifth with seven, half the number of wins that Arsenal have had – although they have equalled Arsenal for being losing finalists seven times.

Mr Wenger is also the person to have won the FA Cup more than any other single person with seven victories to his name. Even the managers from the late 19th century when only a handful of teams entered the competition did not get to that total.

26 May 1989: Arsenal win the league at Liverpool

What can one say about this evening 23 years ago?

Liverpool were on a sensational run of league titles winning the league 11 times between 1973 and 1990, and having won the league in 1988 they undoubtedly expected to win it again in 1989.

Compare this with Arsenal’s two titles in 1971 and 1989. 

And yet, amazingly despite only one championship through the whole period up to that night in 1989, on this day we won the league at Liverpool by 0-2 at Anfield.

Perhaps what is also interesting is that after that defeat and Micky Thomas’ winner – followed by an attempted head stand, Liverpool only won the league once more – the following season before going into a barren spell that went on and on and on and…

All we can do is think of what we remember from that night.  I remember George Graham trying to keep everyone calm.  A hopeless task.  I remember Perry Groves saying that Graham, when bringing him on as a substitute, had given him the instructions, “go on and run around a bit”.

I seem to remember Micky Thomas being back in defence just after scoring the second goal – mopping up a Liverpool attack.

I remember feeling so desperately sad with 10 minutes to go that we had come so close.

I remember phone calls into the night from friends saying thank goodness those Merseysiders had been beaten at last on a ground where they were renowned for the penalty in front of the Kop with five minutes to go.

And watching it on TV, the commentator doing all the usual rubbish about Arsenal “keeping their powder dry” and so on and so forth.

Oh and I remember how Arsenal also handed out flowers to the Liverpool fans before the match.

They don’t write history like this any more.

25 May 1949: Bryn Jones suffers career ending assault by a policeman

On this day Bryn Jones was hit by a policeman during a riot after a match in Brazil against Vasco de Gama, and the resultant injury curtailed his Arsenal career. 

On August 4th 1938 George Allison, the Arsenal manager broke the British transfer record in signing Bryn Jones from Wolverhampton, for £14,500.  So outrageous was the fee seemed (and what with this being Arsenal) questions were asked in Parliament.

But his transfer record stayed far longer than most (not least because of the second world war).  It was not broken again until September 1947 when Billy Steel went from Morton to Derby.

Bryn’s transfer was the second time running that Arsenal had broken the record, for the previous transfer record was David’s Jacks transfer from Bolton to Arsenal in October 1928 for £14,500.

Arsenal did not appear in the transfer records list again until December 1971 when Bertie Mee transferred Alan Ball from Everton to Arsenal for £220,000 in what turned out to be a failed attempt to keep the Double Winners at their high standards.

Bryn Jones started well, scoring three in his first four games, but then that was it – he couldn’t score again in the 30 games played that season.  Perhaps the mantle of succeeding Alex James was too much for him – and certainly the press soon got on his back.  The media, then as now, love nothing more than a big money Arsenal transfer not living up to the media’s hype. 

In “Forward Arsenal”, Bernard Joy (another Arsenal player played alongside Bryn) wrote…

Do we write Bryn Jones down as a gamble that failed, or would he have been a success eventually? The outbreak of war in September 1939 prevented us from ever finding the complete answer. There were signs before then that, as James had done, he was weathering the bad patch which always seems to follow a change of style from an attacking to a foraging inside-forward. […] My own view, however, is that Jones’s modesty was the barrier to achieving the key role Arsenal had intended for him. He could not […] regard the spotlight as a challenge to produce his best; all the time it irked him, making him self-conscious and uneasy.

Bryn Jones served with the Royal Artillery in the war and aged 34, made 26 appearances in the first post-war season and scored just 1 goal.  In his final season he played 7, and scored 1.

After leaving Arsenal he coached at Norwich from 1949-51 and then ran a newsagent’s shop in Highbury.  He died in October 1985.

24 May 1919 when friendship broke out between Arsenal and Tottenham

Football matches between Arsenal and Tottenham started in November 1887 – with Royal Arsenal being under one year old.  The teams played just 15 miles apart, so games between the sides were an obvious proposition, and were played regularly until 1889 when Arsenal beat Tottenham 10-1.

After that there was a pause until 1896 when there was a rapid series of friendlies, followed by the first non-friendly games – which were in the United League.

The final match for Woolwich Arsenal in the United League was a 2-3 defeat away to Tottenham Hotspur on 29 April 1899 in front of 7000 spectators.  The following season both clubs entered the Southern District Combination, a competition that lasted for just one season.

This competition also ended with a game against Tottenham on 24 April 1900 at Plumstead.  The match was abandoned after 65 minutes due to abusive language from the crowd.  Woolwich Arsenal was ordered to post notices instructing the crowd to behave properly, but the referee was also criticised for his handling of the game.  The game was not replayed.

In 1913, as we know, Arsenal moved to Highbury.  Further animosity between the clubs culminated on 26 May 1913 when Tottenham’s demand for an EGM of league clubs to stop Arsenal’s move was defeated at League’s AGM.  The League had in fact ruled in relation to the proposed move of Woolwich Arsenal to Fulham, at its AGM in 1910,  that it had no control over where the clubs played, only over which division they played in.

But we must also remember that objections of this type were not that unusual.  Orient joined with Tottenham in making the objection to the move, and Tottenham had also successfully objected to Chelsea’s application for a place in the Southern League in 1905.  (Chelsea then immediately applied for a place in the Football League and this was granted).

So these were times with a lot of animosity between the clubs – and perhaps a difference of viewpoint too.  We know that Norris valued having rival clubs nearby arguing, correctly as it turned out, that the proximity of clubs would keep football in the local papers every day of the week, in a way that having just one local club could not.  Tottenham obviously saw things differently.

After the move of Woolwich Arsenal to Highbury, the clubs didn’t play each other in the football league, Arsenal being in the second division, Tottenham in the first, but they were drawn together in the London FA Challenge Cup, and then, perhaps surprisingly played a friendly at White Hart Lane in August 1914.

This shows a certain amount of forgiveness and the crowd of 13,564 must have been very encouraging for such a friendly at a time of heightened tension on the international front.

Then during the war years a real bond between the clubs evolved with Tottenham using Highbury for wartime friendlies.

But then there was another set back over the issue of Arsenal’s election to the first division upon the expansion of the league.    I won’t repeat the details here – save to say that many of the assumptions made about what happened have been proven by an examination of the records to be wrong.

Finally on 24 May 1919 Arsenal played a friendly at home against Tottenham.  This was just 10 weeks after the election of Arsenal to the first division and the relegation of Tottenham to the second.  Playing this friendly seems quite extraordinary, given the amount of animosity we are led to believe existed between the clubs.

The fact that it took place suggests that Tottenham’s anger at their relegation after coming bottom of the league in 1915, when football stopped due to the war, emerged later.

Tottenham were promoted back to the first division at the first attempt, and after that matches between the two sides became more intense.  But that friendly on 24 May 1919 just ten weeks after Arsenal had been elected to the first division and Tottenham relegated to the second, is quite telling, I think.

23 May 1891: Arsenal kicked out of football… or not?

On this day the Woolwich Gazette ran a report on the recent AGM of Royal Arsenal FC which occurred a couple of days earlier and past the motion to the effect that “In accordance with the resolution adopting professionalism, the Club had resigned from the Kent and London Associations, but they had not yet received letters accepting their resignations.”

This reflected the fact that at an EGM the members of the club had voted in favour of professionalism.  However this gave the club a problem since the competitions run by the London FA and Kent FA (of which Arsenal were until this moment members) were for amateur clubs only – so the club took the honourable course and resigned. 

But it wasn’t just honour that caused this move – Royal Arsenal had been very annoyed by the fact that both FAs had scheduled cup matches for Arsenal on the same day during the 1890/1 season, and both had refused to change the date when Arsenal politely asked.

The story later circulated that Arsenal had in fact been kicked out of the FAs and as a result found it hard to find any teams to play against, while being forced to make long and arduous journeys to the north of the country to find such matches as they could get.

In fact both FAs turned down Arsenal’s resignation, and this for one simple reason.  For the rest of the clubs in the south east, the matches against Royal Arsenal were their money-spinners – Arsenal always attracted the biggest crowds, and the clubs were not likely to give up on that.

Unfortunately, subsequent publications, including the Arsenal handbook which for many years published a brief Arsenal history, got the story wrong and suggested Arsenal had been kicked out of both FAs and had subsequently struggled.

22 May: remembering Jack Lambert

Jack Lambert, one of our greatest ever players, was born on this day in 1902.

Jack was an enigmatic player both in terms of what we know about him, and in terms of his own personality and was one of our greatest goalscorers ever.

He played local football for Greasborough and Methley Perseverance, before being rejected by The Wednesday after a trial run, then playing non-league with Rotherham County, playing without getting very far with Leeds, and finally managing to get a run with Rotherham United in the 3rd Division North, where in getting 13 goals in 44 games he looked as if he had found his level.

There are now two rival stories as to what happened next.  One says that Leslie Knighton, paid  £2,000 for him in January 1925.  The other is that Herbert Chapman had seen him while managing Huddersfield, and so, on moving to Arsenal, he signed him £2000 in the summer of 1926.  The latter seems much more likely, since if Knighton had broken the alleged limit of £1000 per player he would have played him at once, especially in a season when Arsenal were struggling for goals.

His record at Arsenal is one of the most interesting that you will ever see.  The following figures relate to league matches only.


Tragically, Jack Lambert was also the first player in Chapman’s side to be regularly booed by supposed Arsenal fans.

But this early problem for Jack was forgotten by many (although I think not by Jack) when he broke the club goal record with his 38 goals in 34 league games, including seven hat tricks, as Arsenal won the league for the first time.  

His final appearance was in September 1933 and in October he moved on to Fulham where he played for two seasons before retiring as a player aged 35.

He then moved on to become coach of Margate, who at the time were run as a nursery club for the side, before moving back to Arsenal in 1938 as coach of the reserve side (according to one report) or the youth team (according to another).  Tragically he died that year killed in a car accident in Enfield (although yet again there is a disagreement as an alternative source says that he was not killed until 1940).

So why did Chapman stay with a player who had had no previous record of success in the top division, and who had been rejected by other clubs?  One answer probably comes from the fact that at the time the reserves played in a regular Saturday afternoon league which unlike today was not a league for young players.   Arsenal regularly won the Football Combination in the 30s, and it was here that Jack showed signs of the standard that Chapman had known him capable of.

There is another point: Jack Lambert’s first real goal scoring return came in 1929/30 (18 goals in 20 games) when Arsenal came 14th in the league, which means that his goalscoring saved Arsenal from relegation that year.  But that was also the year Arsenal won the cup, and Jack played in all 8 FA Cup matches, scoring five goals, including one in the final.

So why did people turn on him.   Reports suggest that he was incredibly nervous as a player, saying on one occasion, “Even the thought of setting foot on the pitch, fills me with dread.”

He is now forgotten by most Arsenal fans, but his name and his sadly short life should be remembered.

21 May 2005: winner the FA Cup on penalties (with 10 men)

21 May 2005

On this day Arsenal won the FA Cup beating Manchester United on penalties.

In the game, there was no Henry – he was injured, so we had Bergkamp up front on his own with Gilberto Silva, Reyes and Pires playing behind.  Sol Campbell was not used although fit – Senderos playing instead.

During the game Bergkamp was replaced by Ljungberg,  Robin van Persie came on in place of Cesc Fàbregas, and Edu replaced Pirès for the last 15 minutes.

Much of the game involved Man U appealing for handball every time the ball hit any part of an Arsenal player while Keene got ever more fractious.

Reyes had got his first yellow card for a marginally late tackle on Silvestre,  In the second half he did it again and got a warning.  Scholes then attempted to get Reyes carried off with a horrible tackle, but he too just got a yellow card.  Quinton Fortune assaulted Ljungberg in the face with his arm but got no card, and so feeling himself immune to the laws of the game committed an awful high tackle on Edu.  The ref lost control.

At the very end Ronaldo ran towards the goal but was stopped by Reyes, and the ref, having let an awful lot go desperately tried to salvage his reputation with a second yellow for Reyes seconds before the final whistle.

In the shoot out Scholes took the second penalty and it was saved by Lehmann.  The other penalties were scored so Vieira walked up and scored the final penalty – his last kick before leaving Arsenal for Juve and the ignominy of having a championship removed by the courts for repeated match fixing by his new club.

20 May 1993: winning the FA Cup at the second go

Arsenal 2 Sheffield W 1 (FA Cup final replay). 

This was the third and final game against Sheff W at Wembley, and the 17th and last cup match of the Cup Double Season as Arsenal became the first ever team to win the League Cup and FA Cup in the same season.  

When Linighan scored, Jonathan Pearce commentating, pronounced, “The boy from Hartlepool is in the big pool of London football, and he’s become the biggest fish of them all.”  Which was fairly typical of the commentator even if not particularly illuminating.

Ian Wright scored to make it 10 FA Cup goals, and five League Cup goals, in total,  An all time cup scoring record.