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.

20 February 1933

On this day the Management Committee of the Football League announced that it had given Arsenal FC “permission” to wear shirts including “white collars and cuffs.” 

That may seem strange, but such was the stranglehold that the Management Committee retained over all matters, permission was indeed necessary for everything.  Any club defying the Committee risked being kicked out of the League.

However just having permission from the Committee was not enough, because having gained permission to use a new shirt design, the club then had to get the shirts made and it wasn’t until 4 March 1933 that the club actually appeared in the new shirts.

In these days, what we now call the kit was called a “costume” or a “three piece suit” as one of the papers reported it as being.  The new design was, it is said, created by Herbert Chapman, as part of his constant desire to make Arsenal different from every other club.  The first set of “costumes” were made in a factory in Nottingham and reported in the Daily Mirror on 4 March 1933.

Indeed the fact that the story made the national press reveals just how unusual it was in those days for a club to change its colours or indeed its kit design at all.

Unfortunately the change of design did not bring Arsenal much luck on the pitch as in the first four matches wearing the new style the club lost three and drew one match.

Tom Whittaker, writing about the change years later said that Chapman always held the view that half the battle of winning was to be well-dressed, although it is not quite clear why having white sleeves makes one more well-dressed than having red sleeves.

He also states that the idea for different coloured sleeves from the shirt came to Chapman after he was told about the idea of different coloured sleeves from the shirt being put to the chairman of Chelsea, who rejected the notion immediately.  Chapman however saw the possibilities and took it up.

19 February 1916

Bob Benson tragically died aged 33 on this day during a wartime game at Highbury on this day.  He had arrived as a spectator but was persuaded to play as Arsenal were a man short.

Robert William Benson, known as “Bob” was born in Whitehaven in Cumbria on 9 February 1883.

His first club is recorded as Shankhouse of the Northern Alliance, and then Shalwell (a district near Newcastle – although I can find no record of the club), and Wikipedia suggests that at the same time he worked as a coal-miner.  He signed as a professional for Newcastle in 1902.

He played only one game for Newcastle (v Liverpool) and left for Southern League Southampton in 1904 for a fee of £150, playing for the club for the first time on 1 October 1904 in a draw with Brighton.

Descriptions of him include “snuffing out [the opposition’s] moves with his sense of anticipation“.

He was also given the job of taking penalties, and clearly had a great sense of humour since he apparently adopted the process of running the full length of the pitch before kicking the ball.  But unfortunately, the joke turned a little sour as he kept missing, and so was relieved of his duty as penalty taker after a while.

He played 19 times for Southampton before leaving to move to Sheffield United (then in the First Division) for a fee once again of £150.

This time he did stay – for eight years.  He also got his penalty taking sorted for he scored 20 during his time in Yorkshire ,playing for them 283 times.

He also played in the England tour of South Africa in 1910 and for England in a full international in February 1913 against Ireland.

And so to Woolwich Arsenal – whom he joined in November 1913 after the move to the north of the river.  He played away to Bristol City on 29 November 1913.  It was a 1-1 draw in front of a crowd of 15,000.

He played at left back but for the final game of the 1914-15 season (the last match before the war and his last match for the club) he played at centre forward with HE King moving to number 8 in a patchwork end-of-season game. He scored twice in a 7-0 win at Highbury.  (There are suggestions elsewhere that he made a number of appearances at centre forward, but in league terms it was just the one).

The Football League was suspended in 1915 for the duration but The London Combination was founded in 1915 in order to provide some entertainment for those still in the country.  Normal rules of registration etc were abolished and players played where there was a vacancy and a game.

Bob Benson went to work at Royal Arsenal when the league stopped and on 19 February 1916 he went to a London Combination match between Arsenal and Reading at Highbury.  Joe Shaw did not make it to the game, and Benson took his place at the last minute, although he had not been playing since that match against Forest.    He collapsed on the pitch in the second half and died in the changing rooms a little later of a burst blood vessel.  He was just 33.

It is said he was buried wearing his Arsenal shirt, and a testimonial was held for him against the Rest of London.  5000 turned up and the proceeds went to his widow.

He played 54 first class games for Arsenal over the two second division seasons.

18 February 1978: Arsenal v Walsall

This would hardly be a game to be remembered, for it was a routine win against lower league opposition, in which Stapleton. Macdonald and Sunderland scored.

But two things marked it out. 

First it was an FA Cup match en route to Terry Neill’s first cup final.  Stapleton. Macdonald and Sunderland scored and 43,789 turned up to watch.

But second, it was the first meeting of the two clubs since Walsall beat Arsenal in 1933, a result which meant Walsall had won seven games against Arsenal, while Arsenal had only beaten Walsall five times.

The tie in 1978 seemed just about as easy as a fifth found tie could be, but the build up to this cup match gave many Arsenal fans the jitters.  The recent scores were…

  • 4 February 1978: Arsenal 0 Aston Villa 1 (Football League)
  • 7 February 1978: Liverpool 2 Arsenal 1 (Football League Cup Semi-Final 1st leg)
  • 11 February 1978: Leicester City 1 Arsenal 1 (Football League)
  • 14 February 1978: Arsenal 0 Liverpool 0 (Football League Cup Semi-Final 2nd leg)

So no win in the four games, and in addition Arsenal were out of the League Cup at the penultimate round.

Thus we come to Walsall.

Stories of Herbert Chapman’s last ever FA cup game (which the defeat to Walsall turned out to be) were dragged out ahead of the match largely because the press and broadcasters were too lazy to think of anything new to fill their time and their column inches.  But three goals in 12 minutes before half time made it certain that there would be no repeats, not least because throughout Sunderland showed why Hudson couldn’t get into the side.

For the first goal Price turned the ball to Stapleton who shot at the near post.  For the second Rix chipped a corner to O’Leary who flicked to Macdonald to score.  Sunderland, who ran much of the match, got the third from outside the area and Stapleton the fourth from the near post.  For the visitors Buckley made it 132 goals in 250 games and Walsall left counting their financial take and hoping for promotion from the third division.

The team

Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Price, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Macdonald, Stapleton, Rix.

Scorers: Stapleton (2), Sunderland, Macdonald.

Interestingly none of the media made any attempt to get the real story of Arsenal’s defeat to Walsall – the array of young players that Chapman put out on that day, the fact that he then transferred several of them out of the club immediately, the condition of the ground with the fans spilling onto the pitch throughout the game…   It was all in the papers of the day, and makes interesting historical reading, but of course it would have meant the journalists doing a bit of research, and that would never do.

If you are interested there is a lot more about the Arsenal defeat to Walsall, and what happened after, on the Arsenal History Society website.

17 February 1999

1998/9 was an almost season; an up and down season for Arsenal.  Having won the double the season before, this time there were no trophies with Arsenal ending up second to Man U (one point and one goal behind) and going out in the FA cup semi-final, also to Man U.   However we did compete in the Champions League for the first time since it gained its new title, but there again didn’t get past the group stages.

By the standards of the previous season therefore, a failure, by the standards of the Rioch and final Graham seasons, a stunning success.

1998/9 started unpromisingly, with a 2-1 victory over Nottingham Forest on the opening day followed by four draws (0-0 away to Liverpool, 0-0 home to Charlton, 0-0 away to Chelsea, 1-1 away to Leicester.)  We had a goal scoring problem.

A 3-0 victory over the eventual Champions on 20 September 1998 made things look better, but then we had a 1-0 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday – the game in which Di Canio pushed the referee over and got a suspension for his pains.

It was an incident I remember well having been at the game with my pal Roger – I seem to recall it taking several moments for the ref to go down as he tried to keep his balance, and the tackling throughout the match from Wednesday was not so much industrial as primeval.

The result left Arsenal in 9th – seven points behind the leaders Aston Villa. But by the end of the year things were settling down as Arsenal went on a run in which they did not let in a goal.

  • 26 December 1998: Arsenal 1 West Ham 0
  • 28 December 1998: Charlton 0 Arsenal 1
  • 9 January 1999: Arsenal 0 Liverpool 0
  • 16 January 1999: Nottingham Forest 0 Arsenal 1
  • 31 January 1999: Arsenal 1 Chelsea 0
  • 6 February 1999: West Ham 0 Arsenal 4

By this time the table was looking better – I have extended it to the top 11 so you can see where Tottenham had got to by this time – we were five points off the leaders (Man U) with a game in hand although a far inferior goal difference.  Tottenham were in their customary mid-table 11th.

So the match on 17 February was an important test of our revival, and although the run of not letting in goals ended, but the result was considered very satisfactory given Man U’s position at the top of the league.

In this game Kanu made his league debut, and set up the goal in a manner that suggested that the low scoring that had marked so much of the early season might be coming to an end.

For the goal Ray Parlour passed to Kanu who did that thing where he looked like he had all the time in the world, sent the ball to Anelka and he scored from close range.   The United reply came from Andy Cole – who was always referred to in relation to Arsenal as “the one that got away”.

With the score at 1-1 Arsenal continued to counter attack, Seaman was superb, and United put on the pressure, eventually getting one of the penalties that they always seemed to get at home during that Ferguson era.  Johnsen took the ball on the edge of the area, Parlour stood his ground, Johnsen went down under seemingly no contact, and Dwight Yorke strode up full of bravado to take the penalty and push Man U to victory.

He missed the goal totally.  He also missed a sitter later on.

Man U then added their standard Plan B of having eight or nine player surround the referee for several decisions – the ref showing weakness by just flapping his arms and walking backwards.  It didn’t give confidence in his ability to run the game, nor in any sort of even handed approach on the part of referees.

I recall being hugely relieved at the end to have got away with a point.  It meant we were still in touching distance.  And Kanu did indeed look promising.

As for the results, between 20 December and 5 May we didn’t lose a single game.  Not a bad run.

We finished the league in second, but had clearly established ourselves as one of the two top clubs in the League.

A list of today’s Arsenal anniversaries and a video of one of today’s games from history are on the AISA Arsenal History society website.

16 February 1886

On this day Andy Ducat – one of the greatest Woolwich Arsenal stars and perhaps the greatest of them all, was born in London.

Early in his life his family moved to Southend where he played for local clubs Westcliff Athletic and Southend Athletic. have reported him as coming from Southend United – but I think Athletic is right.   Athletic continued until 1906 when they were wound up, and a completely new club – Southend United – which had nothing to do with the old club, was formed.

Andy joined Woolwich Arsenal in 1905 and made his debut in February 1905 in a 2-0 home win against Blackburn Rovers in front of 8000 fans.   He started out as a centre forward but later moved to right half (number 4 in the old style formation) and stayed for seven years, scoring 21 goals in 188 matches. 

He was the first of the Woolwich Arsenal players to leave at the height of his ability with Arsenal to go to a bigger club – Aston Villa.  Woolwich were a mid-table side when he left as part of a further attempt at cost cutting by Henry Norris after he had rescued the club from extinction in 1910.   So after being a present in almost every game in 1911-12 Arsenal sold him for £1000 (a huge sum at the time). 

And a year later, just as they prepared to leave Plumstead for the last time, Arsenal  were relegated.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing for Andy Ducat thereafter.  In September 1912 Ducat broke his leg in a game against Manchester City. As a result he missed the FA Cup Final against Sunderland in 1913.

However in 1920 something quite bizarre happened.  Ducat was still at Villa and the club reached the cup final where they played Huddersfield Town at Stamford Bridge.   According to stories, Jack Howcraft, the ref, entered the Villa dressing-room before the game and warned the Villa player Frank Barson that he would be sent off for any indiscretion.

This might seem bizarre, but according to one source, “On one occasion Barson’s hard tackling resulted in a seven month ban; after a game, he often needed a police escort to protect him from angry opposition fans.”  So on that basis, and given the reverence with which the FA Cup final liked to be seen, maybe the story is true.

According to the authors of “The Essential Aston Villa,” “the normally unflappable Barson was taken aback and his performance was uncharacteristically cautious for much of the game.”  Villa won 1-0 and Ducat got his cup winners’ medal.    In the same year (by which time he was 34) he got three more England caps.

Having gone to Fulham in 1921 he stopped playing professionally in 1924 and succeeded Phil Kelso as Fulham manager but his two seasons there were not a success, and he then moved to Casuals playing amateur football.

But he continued his career as a cricketer and played alongside Tom Hayward and Jack Hobbs.  In 1928, he made 994 runs in less than six weeks, including centuries four successive matches.

After retiring from cricket in 1931, Ducat became cricket coach at Eton as well as being a sports reporter before he died in 1942.  It is said he died while playing a cricket match at Lords – according to the morbid cricket historians who note these things he is the only man to have died during a match at Lord’s Cricket Ground.

15 February 2015

85 years to the day after Arsenal beat Middlesbrough on the way to their first trophy, two goals from Giroud saw Arsenal sail through the fifth round of the FA Cup against Middlesbrough, and hopes began to develop that the club might retain the FA Cup, something it had only ever done once before.  The match came in a run of eight wins and just one defeat in nine consecutive games.

The starting line for the match against Middlesbrough (who surprised City in the round before) was Szczesny, Chambers, Gabriel, Koscielny, Gibbs, Flamini, Cazorla, Özil, Alexis, Giroud and Welbeck.  On the bench we had Akpom, Coquelin, Rosicky, Walcott, Martinez, Mertesacker and Monreal.

This meant that Gabriel made his debut in the first team for Arsenal playing in the Mertesacker position. Santi Cazorla was the captain for this match.

In the next round of the cup Arsenal beat Manchester United 2-1 away, then it was 2-1 against Reading in the semi-final and the most glorious final of 4-0 against Aston Villa.

The 1930 run was quite different for it came at a time when Herbert Chapman was struggling as a manager.  He had been at the club since 1925, and although he had had two near misses for a trophy (runners up in the League, and beaten finalists in the cup) he had not actually won anything.  In the board room battles of 1927 Chapman had sided with the rebels led by the Hill-Wood clan, and they had indeed won, so they had shown their faith in Chapman as manager, refusing to accept his subsequent resignation.   Mind you, by this time the club was debt free and making a significant profit so the board were willing to fund Chapman’s extensive transfer plans.

But even so, at the time the 1930 run to the final began Arsenal were 16th in the League, just three points above relegation, having won two and drawn one of their last ten games.

But in the Cup everything was different as Arsenal beat Chelsea, Birmingham, Middlesbrough, West Ham, Hull in the semi-finals (after a replay) and then Chapman’s old club Huddersfield in the final as the managers famously led their teams out at a final for the first time ever.

14 February 1925

 Although crowds after the first world war were much higher than those before the war there was a feeling in football, that the game needed to be made more exciting in order to attract even higher numbers of people to games.

This was particularly felt when in 1924 Huddersfield won the league scoring just 60 goals in 42 games as opposed to West Brom, the 1920 champions who scored 104 goals in the same number of games.  The number of goals had been declining generally, although in 1924/5 there was something of a small recovery outside of Huddersfield.

But Chapman’s tactics worked and were being copied which meant that goals were becoming more scarce, so something had to be done.

What’s more crowd numbers were certainly drifting down – the average crowd in 1919/20 was 29,252 in the first division.  It dropped each year until in 1924/5 it was over 7,500 lower at 21,609.  (Interestingly Arsenal, this season were the best supported team with an average attendance of 29,485 – thus proving Sir Henry Norris right in his view it was the location of the ground that brought in the crowds, as much as the success – or as it was that season, lack of it).

The British nations and the recently formed Fifa thus decided to make the game more attractive by changing the offside rule from three opposition players behind the ball when kicked in the opposition half to two.

In order to experiment with this idea a number of League games were played under the new rules including two games on 14 February 1925 of which Arsenal v Huddersfield Town was one.  The build up to the match included several meetings so that agreement between the clubs could be gained as to the application of the new law, and it is more than likely that Sir Henry Norris used this as an occasion to meet with the then Huddersfield manager Herbert Chapman.

Huddersfield who were heading for the title, won 5-0, which did little for Arsenal’s precarious league position but a lot for the future of the club.  It was Arsenal’s worst home defeat since 28 October 1893 when Arsenal lost to Liverpool by the same score. It seems to have cemented in Sir Henry’s mind that it was time for a change.

It is also reported in many books that part of Chapman’s subsequent revolution at Arsenal was to adjust the defence with the centre half pulled back to play in between the two full backs. This is a gross simplification of a much more complex set of changes that Chapman created, which included playing in a different style away from home to that used at home, and having a deep lying inside forward (who effectively became a mid-fielder) who could receive the ball out of defence and immediately pass it on to a fast running winger.

It was never as simple as pulling the centre half further back, but it was a response to the new off side law first tried out on this day.

13 February 1892

First Crowd inspired Arsenal song as 3,000 chant “Ta ra ra boom de ay, the Arsenal’s won today”

On this day Arsenal played Chatham.  There were estimated to be10,000 in the ground with 3000 of those being Royal Arsenal supporters.

Our fans were pretty happy to be 3-0 up just after half time and according to the newspapers started singing this re-arranged music hall song as victory was all but secured. However, Chatham scored two late goals and the last few minutes were nail biting for the Royal Arsenal fans, but the Reds held out for a win.

This is the earliest crowd song mentioned in newspaper reports as being sung at a ground about the Arsenal team.

The origins of the song are from the Music Hall singer Lottie Collins who sang ‘Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay’ in a revue called Tuxedo in 1891. Her husband obtained the rights for England, and Lottie developed a suitably ‘burlesque’ dance to accompany it, which comprised energetic Can-Can style kicks that excited audiences. It made her a star.

Local football reports later in 1892 refer to players high kicking to get the ball and comparing them to Lottie Collins’ performance. It would not be beyond the realms of imagination to suggest that while regularly singing this song the supporters performed their own dance along to the chant – when there was room.

Lottie performed it at theatres and music halls across London through 1891 and 1892, often several times a night.  Tragically however her private life was less than happy culminating in 1898 when Lottie tried to commit suicide at 16, Highbury Crescent, close to the Highbury Station of the North London Railway. She eventually died on 1st May 1910 of heart disease aged 45.

Here is a performance and below are the original lyrics, in case you want to try a performance…

A sweet tuxedo girl you see
A queen of swell society
Fond of fun as fond can be
When it’s on the strict Q.T.
I’m not too young, I’m not too old
Not too timid, not too bold
Just the kind you’d like to hold
Just the kind for sport I’m told

Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-re! (sung eight times)

I’m a blushing bud of innocence
Papa says at big expense
Old maids say I have no sense
Boys declare, I’m just immense
Before my song I do conclude
I want it strictly understood
Though fond of fun, I’m never rude
Though not too bad I’m not too good


All together now….

12 February 1966

On this day Arsenal’s centre forward Joe Baker played his last Arsenal game.  He played 144 games for Arsenal and scored 93 goals – a terrific goal to game record – before going on to Nottingham Forest on 26 February.

Joe was signed by Billy Wright who brought a problem of his own – a lack of club management experience, and who joined a club with a problem – Arsenal’s huge historic reputation but a lack of trophies stretching back to 1953.

Under Swindin, Arsenal’s previous manager, the seasons had ended with us 3rd, 13th, 11th and 10th.  In the cup we had once reached the fifth round, once the fourth, and twice gone out in the third, including on one occasion to Rotherham.

In one sense almost anything would be an improvement – but in another there was clearly no sound base to the squad, and Wright had no base in club management experience.  He had been made manager of England’s youth team in 1960, but that was it.

Swindin’s final season first team outfit was

Kelsey, Magill, McCullough, Brown, Sneddon, Neill, McCloud, Eastham, Charles, Henderson, Skirton, with Petts, Griffiths and Strong coming in later in the season.

Wright started with

McKechnie, Magill, McCullough, Brown, Neill, Sneddon, Armstrong, Strong, Baker, Bramwell, Skirton.

Joe Baker was the big name summer signing, at centre forward, despite being only 5 feet 7 inches tall.  He was born in 1940 and went through some junior Scottish clubs before playing for Hibernian and was their top scorer for four years getting 102 goals in just 117 league games.

The Hibs board apparently refused to up his weekly wage from £12 to £17 and so sold him to Torino for £75k.   However Joe was involved in a serious car crash, while there, and Joe, like other Britains of the era who tried playing outside the UK did not fare well.

He then became Arsenal’s record signing in July 1962 and made his début on 18 August 1962 in the opening league game of the season away to the newly promoted Leyton Orient.   I remember it well – I was there with my dad.  (I also remember being at the match where he had a fist fight with Ron Yeates of Liverpool, and winning.  Both were sent off – Joe said in the press after that he had never been sent off before in his life – although there was another report of him throwing a journalist into a canal while in Italy.)

He was the top scorer for three of his four years with us, and got 100 goals in 156 games, playing alongside Geoff Strong who had come up through the youth and reserves teams.  Near the end of his career Wright sold Baker to Nottingham Forest for £65k – after which he moved on to Sunderland before going to Hibs again, and then Raith.

Baker retired in 1974, having scored 301 league goals in 507 games.  He also won eight caps for England (he was born in Liverpool – and was that rarity – a man who plays for England without having played for an English club).

After playing, Joe Baker was manager of Albion Rovers – which I think was probably a part time position.  He ran a pub and worked for Hibs but died tragically young at 63 while playing in a golf tournament.

11 February: the not an anniversary day

According to the book “The Gunners: Day to Day Life at Highbury”, Royal Arsenal played Millwall Rovers at the Manor Ground, Plumstead on 11 February 1888. This was (they say) the first Arsenal game at the Manor Ground.

But according to Roper (2004) although the first match was indeed against Millwall Rovers, but was not until 30 March 1888. So which one is it?  And why were Arsenal playing in Plumstead when they were Woolwich Arsenal?

Let’s deal with the name and location first. Arsenal’s first match was played as Dial Square played on the Isle of Dogs.  After that match they became Royal Arsenal, a name they happily held until 1893 when the club (by now professional) joined the Football League and became a limited company.

Then as now, limited companies are not allowed by law to have a name that suggests a royal connection, so they changed to Woolwich Arsenal, which was the name of the factory where the original players had worked, and indeed where many of their supporters worked.

But that didn’t mean they played in Woolwich – no, they actually had a ground in Plumstead initially called the Manor Field, but then becoming the Manor Ground in 1894.  And the first game at the Manor Field was indeed the one against Millwall Rovers, but not until 30 March 1888, and it wasn’t even called the Manor Field then but rather “Mr Cavey’s Field”.    Arsenal did indeed play Millwall Rovers on 11 February 1888 but this was played at The Sportsman Grounds.

Royal Arsenal  played at the Manor Field (under its varied names) between 1888 and 1890, before temporarily moving to the Invicta Ground, which was almost opposite. Following the split in the club between those who wanted the club to be professional and those who didn’t, Arsenal bought the Manor Field, leaving Royal Ordnance Factories FC to play at the Invicta.

The Manor Field was in essence a field, and was not turned into a football ground with terraces and grandstand until the creation of Woolwich Arsenal FC, and entry into the Football League in 1893.  And this was done in a matter of a few weeks, after the owner of the Invicta Ground conspired with some members of the Arsenal committee to take over the club, by doubling the rent and thus forcing the existing committee out.

The elected committee however moved to the ground opposite, and built a new “stadium” there in the summer so the club was ready to enter the League the following September.  Even then the battle was not over since the rebel group tried to bribe the owner of the Manor Field into which Arsenal were moving, to play the same trick and double the rent after the ground had been built, and thus force Arsenal out of business.  Fortunately for the club this landlord was a man of honour, and told the rebels where to go.

Where they went was to the Invicta Ground, setting up their own rival team Royal Ordnance Factories, which played for a few seasons in the Southern League before going out of business.

But yes, 11 February is an anniversary for on this day in 1888 Arsenal played Millwall Rovers at The Sportsman Grounds.   I am glad we got that sorted.