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.

Arsenal anniversaries 23-29 May

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

23 May 1998: The Arsenal video of “Hot Stuff” enters the top 10.

24 May 1919: when friendship broke out between Arsenal and Tottenham

24 May 2015 Wilshere’s best goal and a Theo hattrick: the video

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

25 May: The videos against Brighton

26 May 1989: “It’s up for grabs now”. Arsenal win at Liverpool – the video

26 May 1989: Arsenal win the league at Liverpool

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

27 May 2017: Arsenal win the cup for the record number of times: the video

28 May 1934: George Allison becomes manager of Arsenal

28 May: Arsenal’s lack of games on 28 May, and videos of games against Burnley

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

29 May 2019: The Arsenal video you might not want

21 May 2017: the end of the run

21 May 2017: Arsenal ended the league season with a 3-1 win over Everton to make it seven wins in the last eight league games – but it was not enough to retain their record of the second-longest-ever run in the Champions League. 

Real Madrid hold the record number of consecutive participations in the UEFA Champions League with 21 from 1997–98 to 2017–18. Arsenal (from 1998–99 to 2016–17) participated in 19 consecutive campaigns – more than any other English club, and indeed second only to Real Madrid.

Arsenal in fact finished 2016/17 in fifth place and that meant entry into the Europa League, although the league season’s end was not quite the end of the affair, for in 2017, Arsenal had one more match however – the Cup Final against Chelsea.

Arsenal won that game 2-1 which confirmed Arsenal as the most successful FA Cup team ever (13 wins), while Arsene Wenger became the most successful manager in the tournament’s history with seven wins. Wenger’s achievement was particularly memorable because he overtook the record of George Ramsay. Ramsay won his first three FA Cup finals in the 19th century, at a time when the number of teams entering the competition was much smaller than today, and Aston Villa became known as the dominant force in the FA Cup.

Arsenal beat Wednesday in cup final replay (the video)

17 May 1929: Cliff Bastin signed from Exeter

On leaving school Cliff Bastin he started to train as an electrician, but also joined his first club was Exeter, playing for the reserves for the first time on December 24, 1927.   He was in the first team by the following April aged 16 years 1 month playing against Coventry City in a 0-0 draw.    In his home debut for the first team he scored two in a 5-1 win against Newport County.  In all he played 17 times for Exeter and scored six.

The story that is told is that Herbert Chapman actually went to St James Park, Exeter, to watch a Watford player but was so taken with Cliff that he negotiated to buy him.  Certainly Chapman did travel the country following up reports from Arsenal scouts, so the story does have a ring of truth although travelling to Exeter to watch a Watford player when Watford was so much closer seems unlikely.

But however it happened Cliff Bastin was duly signed for Arsenal for £2,000 (about £400,000 in today’s money using comparative wages probably around £4m using transfer fee inflation) on 27 April 1929. I suspect it was a bit like watching Martinelli for the first time, without any knowledge of what one might see.

Because of his youth, Cliff earned the nickname “Boy Bastin”.  Within a year he was the youngest ever FA Cup winner.

At this time Herbert Chapman was changing the tactics of the Arsenal wingers, following recent changes in the offside rule.   Wingers, up to this point had been playing up and down the line.   Chapman’s idea was to get the wingers to cut inside, either with the inside forwards dropping back, or with inside forward moving out to the wing to receive the ball if the move into the centre broke down.   Boy Bastin was the ideal player to do this since he had played both on the wing and as an inside forward.

It was a tactical innovation that to take advantage of the change of the offside law. But more than this Bastin became a dead-ball specialist, and dangerous in the air at the far post – another rare trait for a winger at the time.   In his first full season (1930-1) he scored 28 goals in 42 games playing in each game at number 11.  Arsenal won the league after being 14th the previous year.

In all he scored 150 goals in 350 games for Arsenal – a remarkable achievement for a player who spent all his games on the wing.   He won the league five times and the Cup twice.    He was capped for England 21 times.

Cliff Bastin also played the game used as the backdrop to “The Arsenal Stadium Mystery” film and in the 1942 movie “One of our aircraft is missing”.

In 1936 Bastin suffered from a serious attack of the flu, which led to an inner ear infection, which in turn led to the onset of deafness.  Although his form declined somewhat he was able to keep playing, and during the last three pre-war years he often played as a half back rather than a winger.

War broke out when Bastin was 27 and was excused war service for failing the army hearing test, instead serving as an ARP Warden at the Highbury.   During the war he played 241 games and scored 70 goals.

He played in the first six matches after the war in the 1946/7 season but then retired.   His total including cup games for Arsenal was 178 goals in 395 games.

In retirement, he ran a cafe, wrote for the Sunday Pictorial and went on to be a publican, and died aged 79 back in Devon.

16 May 1891: The date in Arsenal’s history that has been completely mis-reported.

On 25 April 1891 Royal Arsenal FC held it annual dinner. The club at this time was an amateur side, and there was no talk of the club turning professional. Indeed when a list of the teams that Arsenal would play in the coming season was announced it contained the usual assortment of other local amateur sides, plus Cambridge University.

The actual vote to turn professional came on 2 May 1891 in an Extraordinary General Meeting where the members voted by 250 to 10 to turn professional. And because the cup competitions that the club played in were for amateur sides only, this was followed by the resignation of Arsenal from the London FA and Kent FA. (Various history books including Arsenal’s hand book for many years made the point that Arsenal were expelled from the FAs for turning professional, but detailed research by Andy Kelly revealed that this was not the case).

Sadly Arsenal’s own official handbook reported for years thereafter in its summary of the club’s history that Arsenal were reduced to near bankruptcy by not being able to play local teams, while some simple research would have shown that the same teams that were played before, were still happy to play Arsenal as a professional side. And why not – Arsenal were the most famous team around, and always drew the biggest crowds, so the coffers of the amateur clubs received a big boost when Arsenal came visiting.

Arsenal turned professional for two major reasons. First the players were working men who deserved reward for their work – so the idea was that they should be paid.   But worse, professional teams in the Midlands were starting to tap up Arsenal players by offering to pay them to play. And there were, at this time, no rules against tapping up.

The thinking at Arsenal was clearly also that if the club became a professional side, they would be the ones who could attract the best players by recruiting amateurs from local sides in London and Kent.

So on 16 May 1891 at its AGM Royal Arsenal voted in favour of paying players, but against forming a limited company. The local newspapers also said that the club had offered to resign from the London FA and Kent FA and were waiting for a reply.

In fact although the Arsenal handbook for many years in its history section reported that Royal Arsenal were thrown out of the two associations, and were unable to find local teams to play, the fixture list shows this was not the case and during 1891-92, the club played against eight out of the nine amateur teams that they were regularly playing season by season with other teams now applying to play the region’s only professional side.

That left one issue: what the local associations would make of it all. The Arsenal handbook for many years said that the club was thrown out of the Kent and London FA for becoming professional, but in fact although the issue was debated, the vote was to keep Arsenal in the associations (not least because of the extra money playing the most famous club in the region would generate).

And so the big step forward was taken, but not in the way that the Arsenal handbook reported it for many decades thereafter.

Arsenal Anniversaries 16 May – 22 May

16 May 1891: Arsenal turn professional, but the consequences were not as reported.

16 May 1998: Arsenal 2 Newcastle 0. FA Cup final.

17 May 1929: Cliff Bastin signed

17 May 2014: FA Cup Final – Arsenal v Hull City

18 May 1910: Arsenal allowed to continue despite debts

18 May 2023: Everton 1 Arsenal Women 4

19 May 2001: The video that doesn’t really tell you what will happen…

19 May 2001: … What no one could have guessed.

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

20 May 1993: Winning the FA Cup – the video

21 May 2005: Winning the FA Cup on penalties

21 May 2017: Arsenal make it seven wins in the last eight before Wenger breaks the record

22 May 1902: Remembering Jack Lambert

15 May 2004: Arsenal complete the season unbeaten

15 May 2004.  Ever since that day, those of us who were at Highbury have been saying, yes, I was there.   And so of course on the anniversary of the day, we celebrate the day the Invincibles came Invincible.  

Sir Alex Ferguson’s had spent the week telling anyone who would listen how his Rangers team had been heading for an unbeaten season and then lost the very last game – and how he wouldn’t be surprised if that happened to Arsenal.  Which is how it felt at half-time with the score Arsenal 0 Leicester 1.  I remember tears welling up as the final whistle blew, trying like mad to hide the fact from others around me, and then realising that the guy next to me was sobbing uncontrollably. It was that sort of moment.

It was a time when there was talk of the new stadium, of Arsenal buying David Beckham and talk of Patrick Vieira going to Real Madrid.  There is always talk. But what there really was, was the unmistakable fact of the league table.  And the laughter we had at every journalist who through the season had said it would not be done.

What makes the day extra memorable is that Leicester City did turn up and made a game of it at the start.  They expected Arsenal to be nervous, and Arsenal were, so they exploited it.  On 26 minutes Vieira passed to Sinclair (ooops – wrong team) and the ball went to our old boy Dickov and he headed in.  Talk about parking the bus, this was 11 men on the Leicester goal line from that point on.

Half time was horrible.  Surely we could not lose, not as Sir Alex predicted?   Not to relegated Leicester!   But then on 47 minutes, Dennis Bergkamp chipped the ball over the top of Frank Sinclair.  Sinclair turned, brought down Ashley Cole in the area and for the next six weeks (or so it seemed) we waited for Henry to step up.  Surely this could not be the day Henry hit it into the north bank…..No, of course it wasn’t.  1-1.

Then on 66 minutes Bergkamp did that wonderful thing he liked to do – he stopped, with the ball, looked up, looked around, considered the windspeed, noted the temperature, checked for any gravitational anomalies, measured the gradient, took into account the inward gasps from the crowd, re-checked who was where, noted the position of the sun, made sure the cameras were rolling, rounded a divot, and simply passed an impossible ball to our Patrick who had about 25 square miles of space through which to walk the ball around Ian Walker.  2-1 to the Untouchables.

It wasn’t just that we were Invincible, it was Bergkamp, Henry and Vieira.  And I am going to add Lehmann.  Not a player normally spoken of with the other three, but still, the only man ever to keep goal through a whole season in the top division and not lose a game.  An amazing achievement.

But there was sadness too.  Kanu was going, as was Wiltord.  Martin Keown made his last appearance too, and there was talk of the replacement already having been found – what the Guardian called “the Swiss prodigy Philippe Senderos”.  Hmmm.

Of course we stayed after the game to see the players walk the pitch.  Mr Wenger was there with his daughter shaking supporters’ hands and just smiling, smiling, smiling as he walked around.  You might remember the way when, at the final whistle, he would turn and go straight down the tunnel.  On this day he looked like he would never leave.

You might recall that at Highbury there was that corner of the ground between the clock end and the west stand where the away support was housed.  Leicester took up all their places even though they were relegated, and many stayed to see the celebration, and as Arsenal walked past them on the lap of honour, they too applauded.  It was a nice touch.

On the North Circular road everywhere there were cars on the roads with red and white, windows down, horns blaring.  It was our day, and we were not going to let it end.

Attendance: 38,419.  I was there.

15 May 2016: The most amazing St Totteringham Day

15 May 2016: Arsenal sat third and Tottenham second in the league ahead of the final day’s games, with Tottenham needing just one point (at relegated Newcastle) to secure second and end above Arsenal for the first time since 1995. 

Here is the league table before the final game

1Leicester City372311367353280
2Tottenham Hotspur371913568303870

Outside of supporters of Tottenham and Arsenal not too many people were interested in who came second, and the media spent weeks and weeks blowing the trumpet on behalf of Leicester City, and besides Tottenham were widely expected to knock Newcastle around, what with Newcastle having won just eight games in the whole season.

What’s more, for the second season running a certain Harry Kane was top scorer and seemed certain to keep adding goals against a side who were themselves the lowest scorers in the league.

Indeed, even more to the point Newcastle had a goal difference of -25 while Tottenham had a goal difference of +38. No, it was quite clear, Tottenham were not going to lose this final game of the season and so would come above Arsenal.

And to add to all the advantages Tottenham had, Newcastle then had a player sent off. And yet, despite all of this, Tottenham lost 1-5, while Arsenal beat Villa 4-0 to secure second place, and achieve one of the most unlikely St Totteringham’s Day victories ever.

The media didn’t really notice any of that, so fixated were they on Leicester, but the final table read and St Tots Day was duly celebrated. It was also the last time before 2023 that Arsenal came runners’-up in the league.

1Leicester City382312368363281
3Tottenham Hotspur381913669353470

11 May 2005: Arsenal knock in seven: the video

Arsenal anniversaries 9 May – 15 May

9 May 1891: Arsenal vote to become the first professional team in the south

9 May 2019: Arsenal beat Valencia to make it to the Europa final – the video:

10 May 1941: Arsenal draw in the wartime cup final at Wembley

10 May 2017: Arsenal beat Southampton on this day. The video

11 May 1925: Arsenal advertise for a new manager

11 May 2005: Watch Arsenal knock in seven

12 May 1910: Arsenal discuss merging with Tottenham Hotspur

12 May 1979: Arsenal beat Man United in FA Cup final – the video

13 May 2018: Wenger’s last match with Arsenal – the video

13 May 2018: Arsene Wenger’s last match as manager – the story

14 May 1938: Arsenal players forced to give Nazi salute

14 May 2013: Arsenal knock in four. The video

15 May 2004: Arsenal complete the unbeaten season: what it was like, being there.

15 May 2016: Tottenham lose and miss St Tots