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.

13 December 2012

On 13 December 2012 Sky Sports News carried an interview with Stewart Robson in which he described Arsene Wenger as “a dictator” adding, “Tactically Arsenal are all over the place at times, they’re under-prepared defensively, and if you have that you’re always going to lose several football games in a season and not win trophies.” 

In fact Arsenal won the FA Cup three times in the next five years and ended up between second and fourth in this and the subsequent four seasons. Although that was considered to be not enough by some fans at the time, who would often cite the mantra “Fourth is not a trophy” is was subsequently shown that reaching the top four each season was not as easy as the fans thought.

There is of course a long history of ex-Arsenal players who come back as media commentators and who are highly critical of their former employers.  However there can surely be none who has taken this criticism of the hand that formally fed, as far as Stewart Robson.

Stewart Robson was born 6 November 1964 and played 150 league games for Arsenal scoring 16 goals.  He also played 126 games for West Ham and Coventry, and managed Southend for three matches, winning one and losing two of his games.

Robson was born in Essex, educated in minor public schools and joined Arsenal as a schoolboy.  He made his début on 5 December 1981 aged 17, against West Ham and was named Player of the Year in 1984 by Arsenal supporters, but following a series of injuries and the change of management to George Graham he was moved on and left in January 1987 after a grand total of 186 games and 21 goals.

His anti-Arsenal comments were not heard at first – and indeed it is fair to say that when they started they were utterly focussed on Mr Wenger.   These anti-Wenger complaints reached an outrageous peak in 2012 and in August of that year he was sacked by Arsenal from his then job of co-commentating on Arsenal TV.  Quite how he ever imagined he could get away with it on Arsenal TV is unknown.  By the time he left many fans were demanding he be removed.

But Bob Wilson certainly did his bit as on 26 February 2013 he was quoted on as calling Stewart Robson “bitter” over his criticism of Mr Wenger after Robson stated on the BBC, “I hope it [Wenger’s exit] is sooner rather than later because I certainly won’t miss him because Arsenal have been going down the wrong road for quite some while.”

With Robson then saying that Mr Wenger didn’t have “an actual game plan” Bob Wilson said,  “This is a guy who worked for this club up to a few weeks ago, doing the pre-match stuff on the opposition, who then went to a newspaper, without naming anybody who had given him the so-called facts about him [Arsene Wenger] being a dictator,” Wilson told the BBC.   “Today, he’s been on every half hour on Radio Five Live, and this is a guy who obviously is a bitter guy because he’s no longer got a role or any employment here.”

But although Bob was right about him being bitter over getting the sack, Robson had been using Arsenal TV to promote his wild theories for some time before his sacking.  Of course there is such a thing as journalistic integrity and honesty to your views, but that normally implies resigning from an institution that supports the man you think is an idiot, not being paid by it.  Robson promoting Anti-Wenger propaganda at Arsenal TV was rather like me working for the right wing Daily Mail and putting forward a vision of socialism.

But of course Robson didn’t only use Arsenal TV to put forward his views.  On Sky Sports News on December 13 2012 he had described Arsene Wenger as “a dictator” whose “time at Arsenal should have ended years ago.”   He said that Mr Wenger “has a lack of tactical nous which is costing points every year.”

Robson, citing no evidence at all through his rant, told Sky Sports News that the manager had a reluctance to listen to his backroom staff.  Referring to the defeat on penalties by Bradford, Robson added, “It was a poor performance, but one I’m not surprised about. Time and time again Arsenal don’t earn the right to play, and tactically (Bradford boss) Phil Parkinson showed he’s a better coach than Arsene Wenger.”

“I’m more embarrassed with the way Arsene Wenger conducts himself these days. He doesn’t do any tactical stuff on the side of the field, they tell me he doesn’t do too much work on the defensive side in training, yet he’ll have a rant at everybody else.

“There’s backroom staff that will challenge his decisions – Steve Bould, Neil Banfield, Terry Burton – but they can’t challenge him because he’s a dictator in many ways.

“Why isn’t Steve Bould doing more coaching? Because – time and time again – I don’t think Arsene Wenger sees the danger. When the team are making mistakes he doesn’t rectify them, and the reason he doesn’t rectify them is he doesn’t know what the mistakes are.

“In my view it was time up three or four years ago. The fans have stuck by him, they always say ‘in Arsene we trust’, that can’t be the case any more.  Tactically Arsenal are all over the place at times, they’re under-prepared defensively, and if you have that you’re always going to lose several football games in a season and not win trophies.”

Now such a wild rant would probably be enough for most people, but Robson, knowing he would get wall to wall coverage by the anti-Wenger media continued into the summer of 2013.    The Independent, for example, on Friday 07 June 2013 reported that Robson was now suggesting that, “Manager Arsene Wenger should not be trusted to spend Arsenal’s summer transfer budget.”

Speaking to Talksport on the same day, Robson said, “I am not expecting any marquee signings at Arsenal. There is a lot of talk about it, but I don’t know if I would trust Arsene Wenger with that money.  Over the last few years some of the players that he has said were going to be world class haven’t ended up like that – people like Philippe Senderos, Denilson, Marouane Chamakh, Armand Traore, Sebastien Squillaci, Nicklas Bendtner, Carlos Vela, Emmanuel Eboue, Park Chu-young, Lukasz Fabianski, Gervinho and Andre Santos.”   [This is of course nonsense.  There is no record of Wenger calling these players ‘world class’, and one could put together a list of players who didn’t become world class but who signed as backups for Premier League teams.

“Over the last two seasons they have spent some money on Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski, Mikel Arteta, Nacho Monreal, Per Mertesacker and Andre Santos. They haven’t been top-class players.

“Arsene Wenger doesn’t appear to want to sign the top-class players, or what other people would describe as top-class players.   He goes out and says: ‘I can buy you cheaper players for a better price who are going to be world-class players in the future’, but that hasn’t been the case in the last few years. Some of the players who he has bought have regressed under him like Andrey Arshavin and Thomas Vermaelen. Nacho Monreal hasn’t been a good signing…” (Just to be clear and to give one example, Vermaelen was bought for £5m and sold for £15m to Barcelona).”

So bizarre and outrageous were these statements that it was probably only because of their rank stupidity that no one actually bothered to sue Robson for slander.

Of course by then Robson was yesterday’s goods.  I think we might also add by way of possible explanation the disappointment Robson had, not just by not quite making it as a top player at Arsenal because of his injuries, but also not really developing his management career after a brief sojourn at Wimbledon and even briefer time at Southend.  He was also technical director of Rushden and Diamonds before their collapse and from then on confined himself to “commentary”. And indeed maybe he became so bitter because of his failure to get football work after he stopped playing.

He was then heard working on other TV channels and doing some overseas commentaries, where his wild rants could find a new audience.  There appears to be an awareness that even those media outlets who were desperate for anti-Arsenal and anti-Wenger quotes realised that Robson was hardly a viable spokesman for the Wenger-Out lobby and thus his chance to rant in the UK has been diminished as most broadcasters and serious newspapers had less and less to do with him.

Robson’s case is one of the saddest of all for an ex-player.  He could have worked for the club and done some other broadcasting too, but he was left with the unique selling point for his “talents” of having been “sacked by Wenger for speaking out”. 

But it wasn’t the speaking out that did him, it was the rubbish that he spoke without any supporting evidence.

In fact Arsenal showed enormous forbearance in putting up with him for as long as they did.  Had he been an employee of mine he would have gone the moment he said his first anti-Wenger comment on Arsenal TV.  But maybe that’s just me and my old fashioned values.  I don’t think you criticise your boss in public and keep your job.

12 December 1946

Ronnie Rooke signed for Arsenal aged 35 from Fulham on this day.  Before signing for Arsenal he had never played in the top division of English football and remains the oldest player to make his Arsenal first team debut.  David Nelson and Cyril Grant went to Fulham as part of the deal.

Arsenal’s record during the 1930s was something to behold: League Champions five times, Runners Up once, Cup Winners twice, losing finalists once.  The question was asked more than once, could anything stop Arsenal?

The answer of course was yes, but it wasn’t a football club.  It was the second world war.

Unlike the first world war where, in expectation that it would be a small thing which the professional army would have sorted out by Christmas, the league programme for 1914/15 was continued and completed. But the moment war was declared in 1939 the League programme was stopped, and a short while later the first of a series of wartime leagues was set up.

During the second world war Arsenal’s ground was taken over by the military and the matches were played at White Hart Lane.  George Allison, who had been thinking of retiring from management even before war was declared, battled on through the war and (again against his wishes) was persuaded to manage the club for the first post-war season 1946/7 while the club waited for Tom Whittaker to return.

As a result the 1946/7 season was a disaster and it soon became clear that even finishing in the top half of the league looked unlikely. 

Arsenal lost the opening game away to Wolverhampton 6-1.  Our goal was scored by Reg Lewis.  The second match gave no relief to Arsenal fans – a 3-1 home defeat to Blackburn.  Reg Lewis scored.  The third match was a 2-2 draw at home to Sunderland in front of 60,000 people.  Reg Lewis got both.  In the fourth match we lost away from home to Everton 2-3.  Reg Lewis scored.  Twice.

You’ll have started to see a pattern here.  Arsenal, despite clearly being way off the form that had led the club to dominate the 30s had in their midst a scoring machine called Reg Lewis.

Although many players were unable to continue after the war, Reg was still only 26, and he came back to professional football with a bang.  Arsenal however never recovered from their poor start in the first post-war season, but in the second half of the campaign, Reg found he had a fellow goalscorer in the team: Ronnie Rooke.  He took up Reg’s position on December 14 1946, with Reg injured, and scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Charlton.

By the end of the season the power of the Arsenal team was clear for alongside Reg’s 29 goals from 28 games Ronnie had 21 goals from 24 games.

The following season Reg and Ronnie scored 47 goals between them as Arsenal won the First Division title in 1947/48 with Tom Whittaker now enthroned in his first year as manager.

So where, one may ask, did Ronnie Rooke come from?

In answering this question, we have perhaps the strangest part of the story of all.  Ronnie played for Fulham before the war, but was 35 years old when football resumed in 1946.  And yet despite this was still signed by George Allison.  Allison’s scouting team had pretty much gone, or lost touch with who was available where, and so he was ready to take on anyone at least to get him through to the end of the season.  35 year old Ronnie was the man he found.

Amazingly the plan worked and not only did Ronnie get his 21 goals in 24 League matches in his first season, in the championship season of 1947-8 he scored an unbelievable 33 League goals.

Ronnie was born on 7 December 1911 in Guildford and started out with Crystal Palace in the Third Division South, playing 18 games and scoring four times.

Then he went on to Fulham in the Second Division in November 1936 scoring   57 goals in 87 league games, including all the goals in Fulham 6 Bury 0 in the FA Cup.

During the war he was in the RAF and upon being demobbed he joined Arsenal. Perhaps even more amazingly Ronnie kept going for one more year, getting 14 goals in 1948-9 before moving to Crystal Palace, as player-manager on 20 June 1949. He scored 70 goals in just 94 matches for Arsenal.

After Palace Ronnie went on to be player manager of Bedford Town in November 1950, and later worked as a porter at Luton Airport, dying of lung cancer in 1985 aged 73.

Persuading George Allison to stay with Arsenal for the first post-war season, while they waited for Tom Whittaker to be available to take up the post, was not the best reward for a man who had served Arsenal since 1910 (when he took over as programme writer and editor when Henry Norris moved to the club).  But in the longer run it paid off. 

It is to Allison, and his idea of playing Ronnie Rooke and Reg Lewis together in 1946/7 that we owe the 1947/8 Championship.

11 December 1881 and 11 December 1886

Two events for the price of one: 11 December 1881 Thomas Tindal Fitchie was born.  Five years later on the same day, Arsenal’s first and only game under the name Dial Square was played, with Dial Square beating Eastern Wanderers 6-0. 

So let’s start with the latter and then take ourselves on to Mr Fitchie to see the connecton.

When the Arsenal History Society was formed there was no evidence we could immediately lay our hands on to show this game actually took place, but our research eventually found the relevant missing newspaper evidence, including the only contemporary report of the match – something which had been lost for 100 years.  After this match against Eastern Wanderers, membership of the Dial Square club was expanded from just those who worked in the Dial Square factory to everyone working for the Woolwich Arsenal.

I took the view (before the discovery of the newspaper report) that the game against Eastern Wanderers couldn’t have taken place as reported, providing evidence about the distance the workers would have had to travel after the morning shift in Woolwich, the lack of transport across the Thames and so on.  My point being they wouldn’t have been able to get there in time. But others in the history society were made of sounder stuff, they found a public ferry that was available on that day, and then beat my negative approach into the ground by finding that report of the score in a local newspaper.  It did happen.  Dial Square FC did play its one and only match on this day in 1886, before mutating into Royal Arsenal FC.

But then what of Thomas Tindal Fitchie who celebrated his fifth birthday on the day of the match?  How does he fit into the story? And indeed why?

TT Fitchie was in fact the only man ever to be signed by Arsenal five times.  He became a travelling salesman with Jacques & Co, a sports goods and games manufacturer. Arsenal encouraged his football career as it allowed them access to the clubs and the players who were his team-mates. He was what we might call a travelling player-scout. We get a hint of his life through a list of the clubs he turned out for

  • West Norwood
  • Woolwich Arsenal
  • Tottenham Hotspur
  • Woolwich Arsenal
  • London Caledonians
  • Woolwich Arsenal
  • Queen’s Park
  • Fulhm
  • London Caledonans
  • Woolwich Arsenal
  • Queen’s Park
  • Norwich City
  • Queen’s Park
  • Brighton and Hove Albion
  • Woolwich Arsenal
  • Glossop
  • Fulham

He had the nickname “Prince of Dribblers”, which makes him a very early Stanley Matthews, as well as obviously being a good businessman.

Fitchie came to Woolwich Arsenal in November 1901, played three games and scored three goals.  He went off on his salesman career, and came back in 1903 for an away game at Lincoln, and then was away again until he played away against Notts County in December 1904 when with Arsenal in the first division, he scored a hat trick – quite a return!  In his run he scored six in nine games, before he was off again.

He then managed to curtail his business operations long enough to play for Scotland against Wales in March 1905 – the first of four caps (he scored once).

In 1905/6 he scored nine goals in 22 games in the league and two goals in five FA Cup games (he played in the semi-final against Newcastle) and was top scorer.

But still they couldn’t hold him at the club, and his wandering continued.  He didn’t play in the next two seasons, but played 21 times in 1908/9 and scored 9 times. In all, he played 63 times for Arsenal and scored 30 goals.

But this was a remarkable man – not content with all he had done so far he joined The Pilgrims, a British side that toured the USA in 1909 as a freelance club demonstrating the game.

By 1909, football in the United States was flourishing, with four leagues in the New York/New Jersey area active, plus two state cup competitions.  A similar story of developing interest was to be found across the US from New England to the south west.  Slowly semi-professionalism was being introduced and when the Eastern Soccer League was founded in 1910 it seemed that football would soon play a major part in American sporting life.

As for the Prince of Dribblers he concluded his career in 1912. So what else do we know of him.

The first thing we have to recognise is that Thomas Tindal Fitchie was an amateur player – although he was undoubtedly paid for his trip to the US (where he probably set up some new business venture).

Other than that, at first we didn’t know, so I did the obvious thing.  I wrote an article on the Arsenal History Society site appealing for more information, and what should I get back, but an email from Andrew Fitchie saying…

“TT Fitchie was my granddad and I have carried out a fair amount of research into his playing days. I still have his international caps, his jersey badges (the international kit was owned by Lord Roseberry in those days so no swoping shirts!!). Sadly his four medals were stolen from my Dad. I have original Glasgow newspaper reports for pretty much all of his games for Queens Park and the four internationals.

“As a young boy, I heard a great deal about his time as an amateur when professionalism was beginning in earnest. This fuelled my love of football.

“TT was a travelling salesman with Jacques & Co a sports goods and games manufacturer. They encouraged his football career as it allowed them access to the clubs and the players who were his team mates – a bit like sponsorship, I suppose. As an amateur, he was not permitted to be paid. if he scored, he would often find a guinea in his boots after showering.

“In 1909, his great friend Vivian Woodward (Spurs and England and also an amateur), asked him to go on the Pilgrims tour to the States. They sailed on the Cunard Line – SS Mauritania – and I have his US immigration note from the Ellis Island landing in New York in autumn 1909. There was a lot of media interest since this was in fact the second Pilgrim’s tour and senior FA reps were also with the team. The Pilgrims handed out some heavy thrashings but also occasionally met their match because some of the teams were Scots and Irish immigrants (miners )who knew how to play.

“TT broke his ankle badly mid-tour and in those days it was touch and go if he would play again. He did, as you say in your summary of his career. In 1912 he got married – so that probably stopped the wanderings!! He served in France with the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders in the Great War and, like many soldiers, contracted a lung disorder from which he eventually died in 1947.

“During the first season he was capped for Scotland he was playing for Queens Park against Hearts at Tynecastle. Against him was Charlie Thompson, centre half, an established internationalist. They were good pals but Charlie had joked that TT should not be playing inside left because he was not naturally left footed. TT proceeded to nutmeg big Charlie twice in a row in front of the home crowd.

“Incidentally the Arsenal 08/09 team photo season has TT as an insert – so clearly he was hard to track down!!

“I just wish I had met him.”

And that is how history works.  Well, it does sometimes. We do some research, and then the person who really knows what’s what in the story comes in and helps us out.

10 December 1908

From The Courier, Plumstead, Thursday, December 10, 1908 (page 6)…

“Greenaway, the young Coatbridge forward, has nearly set the grass on fire at Woolwich Arsenal, where he would seem in peril of being spoiled by praise. He was one of Manager Morrell’s discoveries, and cost the Arsenal next to nothing. Greenaway, being a modest lad, wears the same-sized hat as when he went to Plumstead.”

David Greenaway was a Scottish player who played as an outside right.  Between 1908 and 1920 played 161 league games and scored 13 goals with Arsenal – and so he was a member of the 1910 squad when Arsenal were rescued from collapse by Henry Norris, and who carried on and played in north London.

He came in as the number 7 for the second game of the 1908-9 season (Notts county away, lost 1-2, crowd 13,000) and then became a fixture, playing 36 league games four FA Cup games and scoring three goals all in the league.  (The web site Perfect People has David playing in the first game of the season – that’s not right.  The first match was September 2, three days earlier, against Everton.  We lost 0-4 – which is quite possibly a reason why Greenaway came into the team immediately after.)

He was born in Coatdyke, Lanarkshire in 1889, and played junior football with Shettleston.   Shettleston, from the East End of Glasgow were at least until recently still playing at Greenfield Park in the West Region of the Scottish Junior Football Association.

So, at the age of 19 he came south after just playing junior football – which suggests he actually came to Woolwich in order to find work at the armaments factory, and then managed to get into the Arsenal team.   He obviously was a decent player because he really did go straight into the first team – although the manager had used three different number 7s during the previous season and the stats show that none of them (W Garbutt, HG Lee, J Mordue) had the manager’s full confidence.

We can also notice that in the summer that he joined, Arsenal changed managers, with Phil Kelso going and George Morrell coming in.  By then the financials were in decline, so at 19 Greenaway might not just have been better than last season’s players, he might well have been cheaper.

However although he made the move to Highbury, after Jock Rutherford signed in November 1913 from Newcastle, Greenaway was dropped.  He played eight times in 1913/14 and six the following season.

He was still young enough to fight in the war and served his country with the Royal Field Artillery.  He returned to Highbury for the first post-war season (1919-20) but only played three games that year.  He didn’t play at all the following year, and left the club.

There’s no details of where David Greenaway went after that, nor have I found details of when he passed away.  He seems to be one of those players we have simply lost in the mists of time – or more accurately moved to another part of  the country and had no further connection with football.

9 December 1973

9 December 1973: probably the first ever mention of an Arsenal back four who were drilled to move forward and back together to catch the opposition offside.

On 8 December Arsenal played Derby County in a mid-week game with a 2.15pm kick off. It was Arsenal’s third consecutive draw and their sixth in an unbeaten in the league – it ended Derby County 1 Arsenal 1.  The crowd was 25,161, the goal for Arsenal was an own goal by Derby.

But with both Derby and Arsenal sadly remembering recent past glories as they sank into mid-table gloom such talk as there was after the weekend’s action was of a match at Birmingham which ended in a near riot, with two players being carried off the pitch as a result.  The press however had largely got fed up with football, and most photographers seemed to be employed in taking pictures of cars queuing to get petrol.  

As for Arsenal this was a game where such opportunities that there were (and there  were not many) were missed, leaving an own goal (in which Newton, trying to intercept a Radford-Ball exchange merely managed to scoop the ball past his own keeper) and a goal from a Derby corner headed in by McFarland as the only highlights.

Except there was one post-match incident the following day.  For the first time, as far as I know, a commentator (Alan Road of the Observer) writing on 9 December 1973, noted that highly drilled precision of Arsenal’s back four, looking, he said, “like guardsmen,” as they “stepped up smartly” to catch Derby off-side.   George Graham had moved on at the end of last year, but it would be nice to think that he noted this development in an old exercise book, ready to be considered again should he ever move into management….

The reason for the smallness of the gathering was easy to see – the match was played on a Tuesday, kick off 2.15pm. Because of the government restrictions on the use of electricity no floodlighting was allowed for football matches. Both clubs appealed for the match to be played later in the season but for reasons that never became apparent the league said no in that imperious manner that it and the FA have so often adopted across the centuries.  

Matters were made gloomier by the news that Arsenal had been fined £2000 for making illegal approaches to Phil Parkes and Gerry Francis of QPR.  It is an issue that is hardly mentioned in history books now, and yet it showed something was seriously wrong at the club.  This was Arsenal, after all, the club that prided itself on doing things properly, managed by a man who constantly spoke against any changes from the old ways of doing things, and who wanted to run the club as a military camp.

The smallness of the crowd got through to the players – as was to be expected given that much of the game was played in silence.  The pace was slow, and when Charlie George (yet again) went off injured after 17 minutes, having already scored, much of what sparkle there was, disappeared.  Just before the interval Parkin tried a shot, it went wayward but Dougan moved in and headed home.  

Nine minutes into the second half Hornsby, acting as if Armstrong was his mentor, ran through, and took a shot. McAlle got in the way and it went into the net.  On 67 minutes an attack from Wolverhampton was not cleared and after a considerable amount of to and fro Richards headed in. With no away support in the ground, the silence on the terracing was total.

Who could have imagined that this passing comment about Arsenal’s back four could have become such a theme of journalists in the years to come.

8 December 2012

Between 20 October 2012 and 1 December 2012 Arsenal played eight games of which they won two – an astonishing 5-2 win over Tottenham and a 1-0 win over QPR.

They lost three (to Norwich, Manchester United and Swansea) and drew with Fulham, Aston Villa and Everton.

Ahead of the game on 8 December Arsenal lay 10th in the league, not quite as low as this season, but still fairly low in the table; 15 points off Manchester United at the top and five points behind Tottenham H who were in the coveted fourth spot.  Arsenal were one place and two points above Liverpool.

1Manchester United15120337211636
2Manchester City1596028111733
4Tottenham H158252823526
5West Bromwich Albion158252419526
7Swansea City156542317623
8West Ham United156451917222
9Stoke City155731412222

The game on 8 December was against West Bromwich Albion who were surprisingly up in 5th.  Arsenal won 2-0 with both goals coming as penalties from Arteta.  Each time he used exactly the same tactic lobbing the ball gently straight to the middle of the goal as the keeper dived to one side.

At this point Arsenal then went on a four match unbeaten run in the first three of which they scored 13 goals.  There were a couple of defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea but all told the rest of the results in the league were won 15, drawn 4, lost 3.

The run was concluded by eight wins and two draws, giving us fourth place and pushing Tottenham out of the Champions League spot they so wanted.  We also ended up third highest scorers in the league with 72 goals.

Which perhaps goes to show that where club sits in early December is not necessarily where the club will end up at the end of the season.

It is also interesting that just eight years ago the top nine of the Premier League included two clubs that are no longer even in the Premier League.  Times change.

7 December 1940

On 7 December 1940: Jack Lambert, then Arsenal’s reserve coach, died in car accident aged 38.  He had played 143 league games for Arsenal and scored an amazing 98 league goals making him the most prolific goal scorer who played over 100 games, in Arsenal’s entire history.

And yet Jack Lambert was an enigmatic player both in terms of what we know about him, and in terms of his own personality.

He played local football for Greasborough and Methley Perseverance, before being rejected by The Wednesday after a trial run, then played non-league with Rotherham County and  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 then 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.

If Knighton did sign him in 1925 then that blows another hole in the story of Sir Henry Norris not allowing Knighton to buy any player costing more than £1200.  And it seems odd that a player bought with a decent transfer fee that would have stretched Norris’ patience, should not play for the first team in 1924/5 when Arsenal were struggling, and eventually ended the season one place above relegation.  Surely, having paid that money, Knighton would have risked him for just one game at least.

Likewise it is odd that Chapman did not even try the man out for a single game in 1925/6.   So it seems more likely that Chapman did indeed buy him in the summer of 1926.

Whatever the truth of the story, his record at Arsenal is one of the most interesting that you will ever see.  The following figures relate to league matches only.


If Knighton bought the man, it is amazing that from such a low start Chapman still persevered with the player.  Another story (without any backup evidence sadly) that circulates is that Jack was booed by some parts of the crowd and that Chapman was so annoyed that he wanted the “boo-boys” as they were called then, ejected from the ground.  

Indeed the Jack Lambert issue is the first incident of Chapman’s side being booed by supposed Arsenal fans – something that reached a crescendo after the cup defeat to Walsall.

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.  Those who had booed him presumably changed their minds and claimed always to have liked Jack.

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 Arsenal, 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 the accident was not 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 1930s, and it was here that Jack finally 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 in such a modest team no mean feat.  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.

And we must remember who he was playing alongside during the peak of his career: Cliff Bastin, Alex James, David Jack and Joe Hulme.  Not a bad set of players.

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 of course now forgotten by most Arsenal fans, but his name and his sadly short life should be remembered – and it would be good if we could get the variant reports of his life resolved.

6 December 1997

On this day Arsenal beat Newcastle U away 1-0.  Nothing much in that you might say, but it was part of a sequence in which the club won only two out of eight. 

Must have been a pretty shocking season you might now be saying.   We yes except we still went on to win the Double for the second time.  Yes, this was Game 17 of the second double.  Here are the results up to this day in 1997, and then the one after. 

  • 18 Oct, Crystal Palace, Away.  Drew, 0-0
  • 26 Oct, Aston Villa, Home.  Drew, 0-0
  • 1 Nov, Derby County, Away.  Lost, 0-3
  • 9 Nov, Manchester U, Home.  Won 3-2
  • 22 Nov, Sheffield W, Away.  Lost 0-2
  • 30 Nov, Liverpool, Home.  Lost 0-1
  • 6 Dec, Newcastle U, Away.  Won 1-0
  • 13 Dec.  Blackburn R, Home.  Lost 1-3

Just in case that stretch of results is a bit numbing here’s the summary.  We won 2, drew 2, lost four.

You might remember what happened thereafter.   But in case not, here’s another hint.  In the third round of the FA Cup we got Port Vale.  Our full first team was playing, and we drew 0-0.  In the replay we went through on penalties after extra time.

But we still went on to win the double.

That season we played 38, won 23, lost six and drew nine.  We won the league by five points.  An in case you don’t believe me about the Port Vale thing, our team in the 0-0 draw was Seaman, Grimandi, Keown, Bould, Winterburn, Parlour, Vieira, Petit, Overmars, Anelka, Bergkamp.

Shall I just do a bit of that again?  Parlour, Vieira, Petit, Overmars, Anelka, Bergkamp.

I have to admit that team took me by surprise.  I idolised those players, their genius, their ability, the joys they gave me, their everything.  And they drew 0-0 with Port Vale, and just managed to win the replay on penalties.

Now there is a point in this.  Bad times and good times are mixed.  But we tend to remember one without the other.

In fact if we go back to 2000-1 Man United won the league losing 8 games.  Go back to the 1950s and 1960s (significant as the last era in which Tottenham won the league), losing up to 11 games a season was not unusual for the winning team.

My point here is twofold.  First is that just because George Graham’s 1990/1 team won the league losing just one game in a season, and Mr Wenger’s final championship came with no defeats at all, it doesn’t mean that it is always like this.  Indeed after the one-defeat season (“you’ll never see that again” said the media “that was a fluke”), we went back to the norm.

For a while.

The other is that to claim that one is a long term supporter, and that this is the worst team ever, is either to suffer from terminal amnesia or to be a complete moron.

Consider if you will, 1994/5 in which we played 42, won 13, drew 12 and lost 17, letting in 49 goals en route to coming 12th.  A fairly awful defence you might say.  Yup – a team that regularly lined up at the back as Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Bould, Keown.

Now I will be fair and say that Adams was injured for some of the season although still managed 20+ games – and those fellows Bould and Keown could play a bit too.

And we came 12th.

The following season we came fifth, under Rioch, and that was another dreadful year – not because we clawed our way up the league but rather because of the style of play and the fact that players like Ian Wright were demanding a transfer. 

Oh and in case you were thinking that I am being unreasonable in my analysis I will do the FA Cup for those two years too.

1994/5 Millwall, 3rd round, lost 0-2 at home

1995/6 Sheffield United, 3rd round, lost 0-1 away after a draw at home.

My point therefore is simple – we readily forget the past, and make up all sorts of excuses and reasons to explain something we don’t like in the present.   But t can be helpful to check the facts from the past, rather than just see it through our imaginations.

5 December 1921 & 1960

Two for the price of one today.

Monday, 5 December 1921 was a very black day in the history of football in England, for on this day the FA cited opinions (ie fantasies) about football’s unsuitability for females and instructed clubs belonging to the association “to refuse the use of their grounds for such matches”. The League took up the fantasy and also, to their eternal shame, instructed clubs not to let women use their grounds.  As a result the ban destroyed women’s football and, pouring even more shame on the League and FA, the ban was not lifted until 1971.  Even to this day, the FA has (perhaps typically) never apologised.

The cause of this appalling diktat was not just the rampant sexism which has always been part of the FA, but also a fear by some clubs that women’s football was becoming more popular than the men’s game.

However, what was really needed were innovations to make the men’s game more attractive to spectators – such as covered areas for standing spectators and more goals – and these eventually did come in (the change in the offside law in 1925 did make a significant difference to goalscoring).  But the FA has never been forward looking and its automatically reactionary approach took the day. The women’s game was destroyed.

5 December 1960

The London Challenge Cup was a competition that Woolwich Arsenal FC entered from the 1908/9 season (when the competition was first formed) onwards.

In its early years the competition ran through four rounds with the semi-final and final being played on neutral grounds.  This changed in 1933 when all rounds were played on the ground of one of the participating teams (the home team being the first drawn from the hat, as in the conventional style).

From the start, the competition attracted both Football League and Southern League teams plus leading amateur teams – Arsenal for example playing Bromley in 1909 and Tufnell Park in 1914.

There was an unofficial change in the early 1930s when the first division clubs moved over to playing their reserve teams.  This change was similar to that which Arsène Wenger introduced with the League Cup many years later – the selection of the players was entirely a matter for the clubs and not a formal matter of policy by the London FA who organised the competition.

However change was afoot, and by 1966/7 it was compulsory for all league clubs to enter the Football League Cup (until that date some clubs, including Arsenal, refusing to take part).  The London Challenge Cup was thus of even less significance than before, and it finally ceased with the 1973/4 competition.

It was revived in 1990 for non-league teams, before being discontinued once again ten years later.

Arsenal’s first ever match in the competition was on September 28 1908 –a 1-0 away victory over Fulham.  The club’s final match was on November 12 1973 in the semi-final, played away to Tottenham in which Arsenal lost 0-3.   The team on that final occasion is worth recording as it includes a few famous names:

Barnett, Rixon, Nelson, Powling, Tones, Matthews, Chambers, Hornsby, Ritchie, Price, Brady.

Arsenal reached the final on 16 occasions, winning the competition eleven times including on 5 December 1960, our 12th appearance in the final. We lost to Chelsea on that occasion, but got to the final again the following two seasons, winning each time. We played in the final for the last time in 1969, beating Wimbledon.

4 December 1926

In the match day programme for this day Sir Henry Norris threw down the gauntlet to the FA in public over the way it had treated our player Tom Whittaker, who had suffered a career ending injury while playing for England in Australia.  The game resulted in a 1-0 win over Bury, but the big interest was in what the FA would do against such a public challenge.

Also at this time (on either 3 or 4 September the FA made Tom Whittaker what it called its “final offer” of £350 in compensation for his career-ending injury suffered in June 1925 on the FA tour of Australia.

Both Sir Henry Norris and Herbert Chapman expressed themselves outraged by this – not just arguing that this was too little, but arguing that £350 was an insult to a player who had gone on tour on behalf of the FA, to promote football in another continent.  Sir Henry decided, and the Arsenal board agreed, that the club should no longer stay silent on this issue (as it had done up to now), and that they would make a public complaint concerning the affair.  The club gave £100 to Whittaker (which may not seem much, but the club had continued to employ him while he was developing his skills as a physio, and would indeed continue employing him until his death) and minuted their profound disapproval in the records of the board’s proceedings.

But then they went further for in the match day programme of 4 December the club ripped into the FA with no holds barred.  This was intended to bring the matter to the attention of both the FA and football journalists, as of course it did.  And it had a profound impact beyond this matter, because this was Sir Henry throwing down the gauntlet to the FA in public – something that although not contrary to any rule, was against the understanding that disputes within football were settled by football’s authorities behind closed doors, and and not aired in public.

This incident over Whittaker’s future was of course not the first battle between Sir Henry and the authorities – we may particularly think back to the allegations of match fixing in 1913 when Henry Norris wrote a newspaper article in the West London and Fulham Times concerning the match on 24 March 1913 which he had attended, between Liverpool and Chelsea, in which he accused both teams of match fixing.

There was a formal enquiry, Liverpool were exonerated and Norris was warned as to his future behaviour.  However it was only two years and at least three more accusations of match fixing later that another match involving Liverpool was thought to be so obviously fixed, that this time there was no chance of the matter being hushed up.

So Sir Henry had a history of breaking the silence of the authorities in matters wherein he believed they should be called out.   Now having been called out for severely embarrassing the League with the opening report of match fixing and being strongly reprimanded by the League, he was not letting go.

We may also recall just how strongly Sir Henry had disagreed with the footballing authorities on other matters such as his long running campaign to get the maximum wage of players removed and instead have a limit on transfer fees.  Such a move would have benefited the players but restricted the ability of wealthy club owners of buying success through offering ever higher transfer fees.  Indeed the free-for-all that was the transfer market meant that it was impossible for the League to keep track of exactly how much had been paid, and where the money had gone.

Indeed if we go back to an earlier incident, there had been the payment to amateur player Dick Roose who, with Arsenal, exploited the very ill-defined rules on the level of expenses amateur players could legitimately claim.  It was yet another long-running dispute between Henry Norris and the authorities as was the case of the contract of Clem Voysey which in fact resulted in two inconclusive FA inquiries of the management of Arsenal. Arsenal vs the FA was in short a long running and on-going battle.

Sir Henry had also invented the notion of the payment per goal for Charlie Buchan, a brilliant piece of publicity which the League for some reason did not like (other chairmen seemed to object largely on the grounds that they hadn’t thought of it), and which was subsequently outlawed at the AGM of 1926 – another rap on the knuckles for Sir Henry and another example that the authorities really didn’t like the free-thinking attitude of a man who had not come up through the ranks of the aristocracy and established football families.

And above all we must remember that Arsenal, for all that the club did for the League by joining the Football League not the Southern League, were considered outsiders from the very start.  With their thoroughly working class origins, their ground being closed because of crowd behaviour, their radical ideas such as merging Fulham and Arsenal, the notion of ground sharing at Craven Cottage, their move across London, and their rise from outsiders to become the best supported clubs in the country, the club was simply “not one of us”.

Thus Sir Henry was a dichotomy for the FA and League.  He had cast football in a most positive light with his creation of the football battalion in the first world war, and was clearly recognised by the state through the award of his knighthood and his promotion from having no rank to the rank of Lt Colonel in the army as part of his work in the War Office.  But Sir Henry had an attitude towards women (particularly in regard to arguing for equal pay for women at a time soon after the pre-war arson and attacks by the Suffragettes, while the authorities were doing everything they could to stop women playing football) and other progressive views (like not limiting the pay of players) which did not sit easy with the powers that be.

Thus throughout his time in football Sir Henry had been a thorn in the side of the League and FA.  He had supported the Football League by rescuing one of its few southern members from bankruptcy in 1910, but he had what the officialdom of football must have considered to be seriously dangerous views on social matters.  Yet he had been recognised for his extraordinary work in recruiting volunteers, organising conscription, while being proven absolutely right in warning against conscription in Ireland, and finally playing a major role in organising the demobilisation of troops.   And now here he was again engaged in an all out assault on the Football Association.

The programme in which the attack on the FA was published was for the match which resulted in a 1-0 win against Bury.  It was Arsenal’s second successive win, which brought some relief after four games without a victory in the league,

The Daily Express ran the story of the programme notes on 6 December, asking the FA to comment on the article in the Arsenal programme.  No one would speak to the paper on the record, but there were enough people in the FA who did not like Sir Henry for it to have been easy for the paper to find someone who would give them some good anonymous copy.  Arsenal historian Sally Davis speculates that the person interviewed by the Express was Charles Crump, who was on the FA Council, and was noted as an opponent of Sir Henry’s forward thinking views, and that might very well be right.

So on 6 December the Express ran a piece stating the FA’s position, saying that Whittaker had been treated “handsomely” and claimed that it was the FA and not Arsenal who had been paying Whittaker’s wages from the date of the injury until the date of the settlement, and that Arsenal had not even re-signed Whittaker for this season.

This latter point might well have been technically true.  Whittaker would not be re-signed as a player since he could not play and was unlikely ever to play again, but Arsenal had taken him on as trainer of the reserve team, and he was by now giving the club advice and guidance on the use of the new technology of electrical treatment for players’ injuries, to speed up the recovery process.  (This notion of electrical treatment might seem a little worrying to anyone who has not experienced it but the use of very mild electric shocks to help speed up the recovery from muscle injuries is still very much one of the options today – I write as one who has had it himself after a sporting injury).

As might be expected, Sir Henry was not going to accept this sort of statement from the FA and so he wrote a letter to the Express, which it published on 7 December, noting that all the FA had offered Whittaker was one year’s salary, and only after a lot of haggling, and this for an injury which ended his career.  What’s more they had started out with an offer far less than even this very minor offer.

Worse, he claimed, the FA had behaved intolerably by not insuring its players for the tour, and that if they had not scrimped on this matter, there would be no problem. Sir Henry also called the FA “impudent” for responding to the commentary in the programme anonymously.

The FA chose not to respond to Sir Henry’s commentary, and there the matter stopped, at least for the moment, but the battle lines were well and truly drawn.