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.

16 January 1946

A series of FA Cup replays were played on this day in 1946, with 30 minutes of extra time and then if scores were still equal the game continued until someone scored. The Middlesbrough and Blackpool match played 31 minutes after extra time and slightly shorter games were played out with Nottingham Forest v Watford,and QPR v Crystal Palace. The Middlesbrough game was thus the longest official football match ever played in England at 151 minutes.

Indeed 1945/6 was a strange season.  It had been agreed by the Football League that there was not enough infrastructure operating in the country after the end of the second world war to set up a new League programme, and so the wartime leagues continued as before.  Besides too many players were still away from their clubs and clubs had not had enough time to arrange for transfers to plug the gaps in their squads.

But the FA Cup came back after its wartime suspension, and for one season only, it was played on a home and away basis after the six preliminary rounds involving non-league teams.

The home/away system for this one season meant that draws were less likely over the two legs, and of course this reduced the chances of giant killing considerably, as the smaller clubs can often pull off a shock once, but rarely twice against the same team.

However there were inevitably some drawn games.   And this was a problem as there was also a partial ban on mid-week games being played as the government attempted to get the rebuilding programme underway. The lack of power also meant no floodlighting was allowed and thus a midweek replay kicking off at 2.15pm might have tempted supporters to take an afternoon off work and very few were allowed.

In the FA Cup replays that did happen it was agreed that in the event of a draw the game would continue until someone scored.

In the 4th round games on 26 and 30 January 1946, Blackpool beat Middlesbrough 3-2 and Middlesbrough then beat Blackpool 3-2.  The replay on 4 February 1946 is recorded as resulting in Blackpool 0 Middlesbrough 1.

In his memoires, Arsenal manager, Tom Whittaker reported on this match.

“I remember the third game between Middlesbrough and Blackpool, on the Leeds United ground, lasting 30 minutes of extra time, and then, played to a finish, going another 31 minutes before the Middlesbrough captain, George Hardwick, brought merciful relief with a penalty.”

From what I can make out, Nottingham Forest v Watford, 3rd round replay on 16 January 1946 was finished in the same way, as was QPR v Crystal Palace on the same day.

Apparently the FA then ordered the practice to be stopped, and presumably reached a compromise with the government about additional replays if required.

None of this affected Arsenal as they fared poorly in the Cup this season losing 0-6 to West Ham away on 5 January and winning 1-0 in the second leg on 9 January 1946.

Indeed the whole season was something of a disaster for Arsenal as we finished 13th. Allison had only continued running the club at White Hart Lane through the war out of loyalty to the club and the board, and was very reluctant to manage this first season back. But the board wanted Tom Whittaker as manager, and he was not yet available, and so Allison stayed on.

He then wrote his autobiography, “Allison Calling” and finally was able to retire. That autobiography totally contradicts the work of fiction produced by previous Arsenal manager Leslie Knighton, but as is the way of things it was the false story of Knighton that hit the headlines. I imagine Allison was outraged by Knighton’s book but was by probably told by the board to stay quiet “for the sake of the club”.

Just another of those little quirky things that has slipped out of most history books.

15 January 1921

The first north London derby in the League and what happened next

On 15 January 1921 the result was Tottenham 2 Arsenal 1; and that caused a fair bit of interest because it was the first league derby between the two clubs following Arsenal’s move to north London. 

There had been a few previous friendlies which seemed to have calmed Tottenham’s anger at the move much of which centred on the concern that having two clubs within a couple of miles of each other. 

Their view, based it seems on no evidence, was that crowds would be diminished with both team playing locally.   However Henry Norris argued the opposite.  He said that three teams in the area (there was Clapton Orient as well, who when Arsenal moved, were in the same division as Arsenal) would keep football in the local papers every day.  That in turn would raise public awareness and excitement, and so crowd numbers would go up.

Indeed the Tottenham objection to Arsenal’s move was disappointing, given that when Tottenham had applied for a place in the Football League in 1908 (having been playing in the Southern League) it was Arsenal’s vote which had given them the place.  

Tottenham had in fact resigned from the Southern League (as their rules required) before the election was held for new teams to enter the Football League, and to their horror (and despite the fact that Tottenham were by then previous FA Cup winners) they failed to get elected.

This left them without a league, but then another team dropped out – but Arsenal then stepped in.  You can read the full story here.

So it was disappointing that Tottenham did not reciprocate Arsenal’s favour in getting Tottenham into the League, when Arsenal proposed the move to Highbury. They were either being vindictive or clearly did not believe Henry Norris’ vision that crowds would go up if there were three league teams all playing within a few miles of each other

In fact in 1913/14, Arsenal’s first year in north London, not only did Arsenal’s crowds leap up (by a staggering 142%, despite their having dropped to the second division), Tottenham’s went up by 17% as well.

As a result in 1913/14 Tottenham had an average home gate of 28,020.  Arsenal had an average of 22,745.

By 1920/1 Tottenham’s average crowd had risen to 36,010 while Arsenal were now hot on their heels with an average crowd of 35,540.

The crowd at this first north London derby was 39,221, but the return match at Highbury a week later got a crowd of 60,600.  So both teams got an above average crowd for their home derby game, but it was Arsenal who got the big benefit.

However as Arsenal’s crowd continued to grow, Tottenham’s slipped back, although in overall terms north London had by now become the centre of football in terms of crowds.  Tottenham, in 1922/3 were the second most supported club in England, Arsenal the fourth.

And then the unthinkable (at least from Tottenham’s point of view) happened.  Arsenal’s average crowd in 1923/4 at 29,950 was the second largest in the country, while Tottenham’s at 28,420, was fourth.  And this despite neither club being anywhere near challenging for any trophy.  Tottenham ended the season in 15th, Arsenal in 19th – just above the relegation zone.

Of course thereafter, once the Chapman revolution happened, the crowds went up even more, but we should not forget it was Norris’ vision that was right.  Put two or three clubs in the same area, and the local papers will have a football story every day.  Supporting one of the local clubs would be a central part of life for the menfolk in the area, and the children would grow up with that notion.  It was not success that bred the big crowds, he argued, but local rivalry and a good transport system.  (And of course not being by the river).

14 January 2006: Thierry Henry and Cliff Bastin

On 14 January 2006 the score was Arsenal 7 Middlesbrough 0. Henry scored a hat-trick, and on the AISA Arsenal History Site you can see a video of the match. 

And indeed seven goals is enough by itself to make it worth celebrating this match.  But there was also something else, for those goals for Henry meant that he had equalled Cliff Bastin’s record as Arsenal’s top scorer.

Clifford Sydney Bastin was born on 14 March 1912 in Exeter and played for his school and local recreation teams.

On leaving school he started to train as an electrician, but also joined Exeter City FC.  His first game was for the Reserves in the Southern League against Bath City on December 24, 1927 age 15.   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 fact that he only played 17 times for Exeter was something of an accident – at least according to legend.  For the story that is told is that Herbert Chapman actually went to St James Park to watch a Watford player he was contemplating signing, but Chapman was so taken with Cliff that he negotiated to buy him instead.  True or not, the signing is the indication of what Chapman did.  He travelled the land to see players, and having seen one he thought make do it, he would buy him. 

Bastin in his autobiography however says that Blackburn were also after him, and that before Arsenal arrived he had already had a dispute with Exeter over wages, they trying to pay him lower than the norm, probably thinking that as a 16 year old, he wouldn’t really know what’s what.

However when Chapman arrived, Bastin turned down the offer of Arsenal.  Again in the autobiography Bastin tells of Chapman pursuing him to his house and making another pitch for his signature.  Eventually Bastin agreed, but then needed his mother’s permission.  She apparently said, “Do as you please.”  So he signed.

Arsenal paid £2,000 for Bastin on 27 April 1929, and Bastin himself tells the tale that when he turned up at Arsenal on the first day the doorman wouldn’t let him in, thinking he was just another supporter trying to get autographs.

This was the time when Herbert Chapman was changing the role of the wingers, as part of his complete re-writing of the tactical approach following the change in the offside rule in 1925.   Wingers, up to this point had been playing up and down the line.   Chapman’s idea was to get the wingers to come inside, either with the inside forwards dropping back, or with them moving out to the wing to receive the ball if it came lose in a tackle from the full back.   Bastin, he thought, 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 was part of the revolution that emerged post-1925 and it was aided by the additional facts that Bastin became a dead-ball specialist, and was 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 Bastin scored 150 goals in 350 games for Arsenal.  He won the league five times and the Cup twice.    He was capped for England 21 times.

Cliff Bastin played in the friendly against Germany in May 1938 when England won 6-3 – he scored the first goal.  You can also see him in “The Arsenal Stadium Mystery” film and in the 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 he 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 with age catching up and his hearing gone he then retired.   His total including cup games for Arsenal was 178 goals in 395 games.

In retirement he ran a café back in his home county, wrote for the Sunday Pictorial and went on to be a publican.  He died aged 79 in Devon.  In 2000 Exeter named one of their stands after him.

One can only hope Thierry knew a little about the modest man whose record he went on to beat.

13 January 1919: Football in the days of the pandemic

In January 1919, with the war over, but the wartime football leagues continuing, discussions began about how the official Football League could be resumed.

And on 13 January 1919, there was a meeting of the Football League with representatives of all the 40 League clubs – except Glossop North End, which the Hill-Wood family had now pulled the plug on.  Indeed unlike Henry Norris who had bailed out Woolwich Arsenal with his own money in 1910, the Hill-Woods were made of less stern stuff, and having abandoned one club, now decided to go looking for a club that might make money rather than just lose it.  They did indeed find one – but not for several years yet.   

The meeting’s agenda for the Football League included the issues of getting to away fixtures by train (not all lines were working, and rail prices had risen by 50% – and motor coaches did not arrive until 1925), the demands of the Players’ Union on wages, the state of the pitches, which had been neglected during the war and an extension to the season, to reduce the number of midweek games.  There was also a debate on uniting the Football League and the Southern League.

Arsenal’s chairman, Sir Henry Norris, now no longer required on a daily basis at the War Office, took his full part in these debates, once more putting forward the view that there should be no maximum wage for players – although he was alone in this plea. Overall the League wanted wages cut, the Union ultimately settled on £2 a week.

The FA followed this with their own meeting the following day, formally allowing players to be paid (which they were being anyway), and allowing matches on days other than saturdays, and public holidays.  As had been the case before the war, 1 May was designated as the day on which clubs could start registering players for the new season.

A third meeting then took place in the evening of the same day (14 January) which voted to extend the football season in 1919/20.   This was curious because with no extension to the number of clubs, there was no reason to go for an extension.  But then, when has football management ever been logical?

It also became clear at this meeting that following the previous days’ meeting Claude Kirby, chairman of Chelsea FC, had written to the Football League Management Committee demanding Chelsea be reinstated in the First Division, given that they had only been relegated because of the match fixing activities of Liverpool and Manchester United in the last season before the cessation of the league for the duration.

On 18 January 1919 Arsenal played top of the league Brentford in the London Combination wartime league in front of 30,000 at Highbury.    

And this is of note because this crowd appeared despite the fact that Spanish flu had arrived in the UK in May 1918, and had since reached unprecedented heights.  The government said nothing, but the local authorities advised the public to catch later trains to avoid the crush, wear extra layers of clothing, wash drinking glasses more thoroughly and avoid shaking hands and kissing.  Theatres banned children from attending performances and removed their carpets.

Other advice included eating plenty of porridge and cleaning teeth regularly.  Hospitals were overwhelmed, and the shortage of gravediggers led to bodies lying unburied for days.  Nothing was done to control the size of football crowds.

Eventually the pandemic subsided in the summer of 1919 with over a quarter of a million people in Britain having died.

And throughout talk of football continued. Having launched their notion that Chelsea and Arsenal should be in the First Division next season as part of the plan to increase the league by two clubs, the influential magazine Athletic News also noted that if neither were elected to the expanded league for the 1919/20 season, London would have no teams in the top tier of English for the first time since 1903/4.

Of course that might have been a cause of some rejoicing among the teams of the north, who might welcome the absence of away games at such a distance.  But there was a danger in pursuing this line, because the Southern League were still making noises about joining the Football League, and the London Combination was also talking up the possibility of their continuing with an enlarged London and the South East league.  Given the current transport issues, this could well be an attractive idea.

Besides, the clubs getting the biggest crowds were in London, and London now had six teams of note, and if none were in the top division, they really might well leave the League en masse.

And then, at this moment of much pondering about the future, Charles Sutcliffe wrote an article concerning the future of football.  This was highly significant for when Sutcliffe spoke, football tended to listen.  He had been a player, a referee, and was the founder of the Referees’ Association.  Later he became a member of the Football League Management Committee, introducing, among other things, automatic promotion and relegation.

He now proposed that the two top teams from the second division in 1914/15 should be promoted as everyone naturally expected.  But in addition there should be a voting system to find two more clubs to join them in the first division.  This, he said, would allow other clubs to put right the wrong done to Chelsea, who had been relegated because of the match fixing of Man United and Liverpool, and allow the clubs to vote for one other team to join Chelsea in the expanded top division.

The idea was instantly accepted.  No one even considered stopping football until the pandemic had run its course.

If you would like to read more on this period of Arsenal’s history, and indeed see extracts from publications of the day on these topics, you might find the article “Arsenal in January 1919: rioting in the streets and the question of promotion” interesting.

Tony Attwood

12 January 2012: AISA at the House of Commons

On 12 January 2012: Philippa Dawson, a direct descendant of Jack Humble (Woolwich Arsenal’s first chairman, and a director into the 1920s) addressed an AISA Arsenal History Society meeting in the House of Commons.  She was the first member of the family to do so for four generations.  The meeting was also addressed by Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North, who as you may recall in 2015 became the Leader of the Labour Party.

Jack Humble was one of the men who founded Arsenal at the Dial Square Cricket Club in 1886.   He was also a player for the club, and from the early days a member of the committee that ran the club.

In 1891 he was part of the committee that proposed the historic motion that Royal Arsenal FC should become a professional club and two years later was elected the first ever chairman of Woolwich Arsenal FC as Arsenal entered the Football League.

In 1906 after 20 years service to the club as player, administrator and director Jack retired from his position, but four years later when the club was taken over by Henry Norris, Jack was the only one of the previous directors that Norris sought out and brought back to the club.

Jack took up his position immediately it was offered and in 1913 he effectively took over the running of the club while Norris travelled across London seeking a new ground for Arsenal to play at.

Jack Humble continued as a director once Arsenal had moved to Highbury.  In the first world war he served his country using his expertise gained from his years working at the Royal Arsenal factories, before returning once again as a director in 1919 with Arsenal back in the First Division.

He was also still on the board with Norris (by then Lt Col Sir Henry Norris, his titles arising from his work as the head of conscription in the War Office) when the historic invitation was put out for Herbert Chapman to take over as manager, and Jack continued to serve on the board until 1927, living to see Arsenal’s first triumph, in the FA Cup.

As such Jack Humble was the only man who was directly and centrally involved with Dial Square, Royal Arsenal, Woolwich Arsenal, The Arsenal and Arsenal FC – from the very foundation of the club to Herbert Chapman.

In her speech Philippa Dawson revealed that after Jack’s death members of the family had moved to America and had taken with them many of Jack’s mementos and papers, and it is believed that they are still extant, in the United States.

The Celebration at the House of Commons was part of the activity of the AISA Arsenal History Society, which was involved in unearthing the detail about Arsenal’s past.  At the launch copies of the cover of the Society’s book, “Woolwich Arsenal: the club that made history” were on show, and one of the discoveries about the club’s early days (the battle with Royal Ordinance Factories FC) was revealed. 

11 January 1915: Launching the Footballers’ Battalion

Despite calls for it to be abandoned by the media, the 1914-15 Football League season was played out in full.  The first world war was thus far not affecting most people in the country, there was no threat of invasion, and there was no conscription.  Besides, it was widely reported at first that “it would all be over by Christmas”.

But by the January 1915 several Arsenal players had resigned from the club with chairman Henry Norris’ permission to join the new Footballers’ Battalion.  However it was not something that happened everywhere, and there is no doubt that the northern clubs were far less active in encouraging either young men in general or in terms of their own employees, to join the army.  Indeed Charlie Buchan reported that he was told by Sunderland that if he volunteered, the club would sue him for breach of contract.

As for the war itself, on New Years Day 1915 the battleship Formidable was sunk off Lyme Regis by a German U-boat.  512 men out of a complement of 780 were lost.

Also on this day The Arsenal (as they were called during this season) were away to Barnsley and lost 0-1 in front of 5,000.  Barnsley were only just behind The Arsenal at the start of the match in the table, and so the result was not much of a surprise.  Indeed from here on, the southern clubs were starting to be at something of a disadvantage for, as noted, they were more and more likely to be losing players to the army.

But before too much doom and gloom could settle in, the following day, 2 January 1915, Harry King scored four as Arsenal beat Wolverhampton 5-1, just one week after beating Leicester 6-0.  It was the start of a run of four successive victories that made promotion once more look a real possibility despite all the odds.

And to add to the fun on 6 January Birmingham beat Glossop North End 11-1, the highest score of the season.  No wonder the Hill-Woods (who owned Glossop) wanted to get out of the club.  They did in fact abandon the club at the end of the season, and finally got their hands on Arsenal in 1927 after forcing Henry Norris out.

Next up on 9 January 1915 Harry King scored his third hat trick in his record breaking run as Arsenal beat Merthyr in the FA Cup.  Merthyr at the time were in the second division of the Southern League, although they had recently spent one season in the top division.   The game was drawn as a home match for Merthyr but was switched in the hope of gaining a bigger crowd.  They may have been hoping for more than 9,000 but it still gave them a decent payday.  The Arsenal progressed to the second round (all first and second division clubs entering in the first round proper at this time, non-league clubs playing a series of preliminary rounds as now).

And so we come to Monday, 11 January, and it seems more than likely that Henry Norris was in Shepherd’s Bush when the new Footballers’ Battalion (which he was very instrumental in setting up and to which he applied to join) marched through the streets to White City where it was barracked.

However recruitment for the Battalion was by no means over as the following Thursday there was a major recruiting event held at the Royal Albert Hall.  

By now Norris was recognised as one of the leading forces in the recruitment of volunteers.    On 16 January the two football teams of which he was a director played each other, with the result Fulham 0 The Arsenal 1.  Only 10,000 turned up, but The Arsenal must have been pleased with the result – and indeed it turned out not just to be the fourth win in five league games, but also part of a winning sequence of six games in seven.

But of course the reality of the war was still present, and on 19 January German zeppelins bombed Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn, killing more than twenty people.

On 23 January Arsenal were at home to Stockport and dispatched them 3-1 in front of just 6,000, showing just how far the war was disrupting the pleasure activity of the working men – even though there was still no conscription at this time.   The following day saw the Battle of Dogger Bank in which the British Grand Fleet defeated the German High Seas Fleet.  It was a major victory for the British forces.

The season continued to its end, and Arsenal finished 6th, according to the newspapers that printed the final league table, although in fact they were 5th – the company that had the contract to work out the goal averages which separated teams on the same points, getting their maths wrong).

Professional football was then abandoned, and although the Football League set up regional competitions for its members in the north, the clubs in the south were abandoned to their own fate.  Fortunately, Henry Norris as ever stepped in, and proposed the “London Combination” which gave football a chance of continuing in the south east for the duration.

After the war the clubs voted to continue the Combination as a reserve team league – although only for teams in the south.

The complete history of Henry Norris time at Arsenal has been written up on the AISA Arsenal History Society website – there is an index to this most detailed account of the period 1910 to 1927 ever published, here.

10 January 1925: Arsenal’s manager drugs the team

Leslie Knighton was Arsenal’s first manager at Highbury, and the first manager in the current 1st division run which has lasted over 100 years.

He stayed for six years in which Arsenal came 10th, 9th, 17th, 11th, 19th and 20th.  To give a context to this, the 21st and 22nd clubs were relegated each season.

He would probably not cause us more than a moment’s notice 101 years on from his reign were it not for the fact that in 1947 (22 years after he left Arsenal) he wrote his autobiography which contained a vast array of interesting but uncorroborated statements, about his work at Arsenal.  It was serialised in a Sunday newspaper and contained an unrelenting outspoken attack on Sir Henry Norris, Arsenal’s chairman who had hired, and eventually sacked him, and who by this time had long since passed away.

Interestingly at the same time George Allison, who had managed the club from 1935 to 1947 (winning two League titles and the FA Cup) and who had been with Arsenal from 1910, and thus who also worked with Henry Norris, also published his autobiography.  Allison had become internationally famous as a journalist and broadcaster, had served his country in the War Office during the first world war.

Allison is very positive about Norris in his work, yet it is Knighton whose scandal-laden autobiography is always quoted, while Allison’s commentary is ignored despite his greater fame, longer service to the club and much greater success.

Indeed virtually every scurrilous and negative story you may ever heard about Norris will have come from Knighton’s autobiography (although a few have been added later by Tottenham fans), and yet it seems that until the AISA Arsenal History Society published its history of “Henry Norris at the Arsenal” no one had ever checked out any of these bizarre tales. It was just the Knighton fantasy repeated over and over.

At the start of 1925 Arsenal was the leading force in London football, not very high up the first division table but still above Tottenham and West Ham in the first division with Chelsea and Fulham in the second.   What’s more, Arsenal were also getting the top crowds in the League.

Then as now clubs in the first division joined in the FA Cup in January; Arsenal were drawn away to West Ham in what was then called the First Round Proper.

Knighton wrote at length about this match with Chapter X of the autobiography titled, “I dope Arsenal for a Cup tie.”  In essence he says that prior to the game he was approached by a famous (but unnamed) Harley Street doctor who offered pills that would boost the players’ performance.  This he welcomed because, he says, WHU were such a strong team.

Up to this point Arsenal had, under Knighton, generally gone out in the first or second round in which they played, while WHU themselves despite one cup final appearance were very much a mid to lower table side.

Yet Knighton speaks of West Ham’s “mighty reputation as tough fighters.” And then suddenly along comes an anonymous but “distinguished West End doctor,” who offers him a set of pills to give to the players.  The doctor then leaves, Knighton doesn’t know who he is, and that’s that.

The FA Cup 1st round was scheduled for 10 January 1925 but much of London was beset by dense, heavy and unremitting smog and so the match at West Ham was postponed.  However Knighton states that shortly before kick off the players each took the pill which is odd because the weather reports show it was clear from first light that the game would not be played.  A check of the weather reports for the time shows that in London “between the 10th and 12th there was persistent dense fog, some of it freezing.”

Yet Knighton portrays events as the players getting ready, taking their pills and then the fog comes down.  But no, that simply isn’t true.

The match was then scheduled for 12 January but as the reports state the fog was still there (which was how it tended to get before the Clean Air Act, yet again he suggests the pills were taken just before kick off. 

On 14 January the WHU game was finally played although this time he claims the players refused to take the pills because of unacceptable side effects. It was a draw.

The following Wednesday Arsenal played West Ham in the replay at Highbury, with 34,160 in the crowd, and this time it was another draw (2-2), Brain getting both goals for Arsenal.  Again it is said that Arsenal players were offered the pills before the game, but again refused to take them.

Finally on 26 January the FA Cup tie against West Ham was settled, once more without recourse to pills, in a replay at Stamford Bridge, the result being West Ham 1 Arsenal 0.

So we are left with a question in relation to the drugs which ultimately were never used in a game, given by a gentleman whose identity Knighton did not know.  Apart from it being all so odd (including taking the pills when it was clear the game was not going to be played) how come not a word of this leaked out to the press at the time?  Players were paid pitiful wages in those days and the chance of a couple of pounds extra in return for the story of the year would surely have been too much to resist.  But we never heard a word of it until Knighton wrote his autobiography. 

But what the story does do, in the biography at least, is take the focus away from what was happening to Arsenal’s form – as Arsenal were by now in freefall and missed relegation by one place.

It is but one of a whole series of bizarre tales from Knighton’s autobiography, but at the heart of it all are the attacks on Sir Henry Norris who is presented as an appalling man.  Perhaps I might just offer one more tale, to give a feel of the volume.

Knighton complains throughout his tenure he was never given a transfer budget by Sir Henry, and had to scrape around for players. Yet the records show constant transfers Knighton’s period at the club, often at the high end of fees paid at the time.   But in the end, he says, he was reduced to playing the brother in law of the club’s physio on the wing, as he had no one else available because of Norris’ unwillingness to pay for players.

Like the rest of the autobiography the tale is false, for although Dr Jimmy Paterson was the brother in law of the club’s doctor, he was also a significant war hero and one of the most famous players of the era. Dr Paterson had won the Scottish League with Rangers, been awarded the Military Cross for bravery in the war, played for the Scottish League against the English League, and when returning to London after the war, was offered contracts by every London club. 

The book is full of tales like this, many of which can be proven to be quite untrue, and yet the tales of the evil Norris, all of which originate in the Knighton autobiography, live on.

Thus the moral of the tale is, be careful to create your own autobiography.  Just in case someone writes about you to excuse their own awful behaviour and failings, long after you’ve gone.

You can read more about the final months of Knighton’s reign at Arsenal in these articles…

9 January 2007: putting six past Liverpool

Arsenal had just beaten Liverpool 3-1 away on 6 January when they had to return to the north west to play them again in the League Cup on this day in 2007.   On this same day Arsenal signed a deal with Colorado Rapids owned by Stan Kroenke; Arsenal’s first venture into the USA and the first meeting with the man who eventually bought the club.  I wonder if that influenced Mr Kroenke.

We normally have a video of a famous match on the Arsenal History Society blog each day and so I don’t normally write about it here, but this one is so good, I thought I’d mention it here as well.  You can catch all the goals on today’s page.

The team was…


Hoyte, Toure, Djourou, Traore (Connolly 88),

Fabregas, Song,

Walcott (Diaby 74), Denilson,

Julio Baptista, Aliadiere.

Subs Not Used: Poom, Lansbury, Randall.

Jeremie Aliadiere ran on to Kolo Toure’s pass to score the first.  After that Fowler scored for Liverpool.  The commentators on TV suggested this was to be expected and Liverpool would now saunter on to a victory, but that first goal was a jolly good try by Arsenal, but this is Liverpool, and well, you know, Liverpool don’t muck about.

However a Baptista free-kick, followed by a Song goal, and then another from Baptista and it was 4-1 at half time.  Baptista got two more and managed to have a penalty saved, with Liverpool picking up two compensation goals at the very end.

It was the first time in over 75 years  that Liverpool had conceded six goals at home.  Better still Arsenal had just beaten Liverpool 3-1 on the previous Saturday.  Indeed Arsenal had now scored 13 in the last three games.  Boring boring Arsenal all over again.

Of course Liverpool had their excuses, what with Gonzalez going off with a shin injury early on, although it should be remembered that it was Gonzalez who tackled Walcott and injured himself in the process, the silly blighter.

But it wasn’t just the score – it was the quality of the goals including a 25 yard free kick from Baptista.

The game came as part of a five match winning run in which Arsenal scored 17 goals, but it did not end up as the season we hoped for, after seeing all those goals go in.  Three consecutive defeats in February and the same again in March knocked us out of the cups and down the league table.  However we did still finish in fourth, eight points ahead of Tottenham who had to settle for fifth, so that was something.  And we had the memories of those defeats of Liverpool.

8 January 1927: the start of it all

8 January 1927: Sheffield U 2 Arsenal 3 as Arsenal started the journey to their first FA Cup final.  Prior to the arrival of Herbert Chapman, Arsenal had reached the cup semi-final twice – in 1906 and 1907, but had lost both times.

On New Years Day 1927 Arsenal had beaten Cardiff City in the League.  It was the first game for Harold Peel; Brain got a hat trick.   And this match was of particular significance since it came just one week before the third round of the FA Cup, and what Herbert Chapman did from here on is singularly interesting.   

Quite clearly Arsenal had no chance of winning the league since they were currently sitting 11th in the table, but Chapman felt he did have in his squad the firm basis of a team that could in the future win trophies.   So, in effect, he created two teams: one that would play to win the FA Cup, and another that would play in the league.   

And although occasionally including a few of the FA Cup team, the League team would also include both some experimental players and some experimental positional changes.  Any of the FA Cup XI who showed any sign of possible injury or fatigue would be given a rest

As you will know, 1927 was the year of Arsenal’s first FA Cup final, and at this point the club had never won a trophy – and winning trophies was exactly what Chapman was brought to Arsenal to do.

Here’s Arsenal’s team through most of their cup run of seven games that took the club to the final, showing in brackets the number of cup games played.

Lewis (6), Parker (7), John (7), Baker (6), Butler (6), Blyth (7), Hulme (7), Buchan (7), Brain (7), Hoar (7).

That is ten players out of the 11 who played in the final, played in either all seven, or six of the FA Cup matches that season.  The final player of the cup final XI was Cope who played in five of the cup games.

Meanwhile in the league matches in the second half of the 1926/7 season Arsenal’s team was anything but stable, for in these league matches 26 different players were used.   Of course there were many more league matches than cup games, but even so, it is quite clear that Chapman saw an opportunity to keep up the momentum of the 1926/7 season by challenging strongly in the cup, and this was to be achieved with a stable squad.

One other diversion occurred before we get to Arsenal’s opening FA Cup match of the season, in the week before the 3rd round of the cup. “St Ivel” writing in the Islington Gazette reported that Tottenham were about to lose their manager of 14 years as he had been poached by Middlesbrough.

This was Peter McWilliam, an important man in Tottenham’s history who had joined the club in 1913 just when Arsenal moved to within a couple of miles of White Hart Lane.   Tottenham finished at the foot of the 1st Division table in 1915, and thus contested with Arsenal a place in the expanded first division in 1919.  Having lost the vote quite heavily, McWilliam took Tottenham through their second division season, in which he won the title, and on to the winning of the FA Cup in 1921, as well as being runners up in 1922.  However after that Tottenham slipped back to mid-table.

It was money that enticed McWilliam north, the salary offered was stated to be £1500 a year – an extraordinary amount for a manager at the time.  That is around £87,000 today – but we have to remember football’s only source of money in the 1920s was the gate receipts.

Middlesbrough were always certain to win the 2nd division in 1927, and McWilliam joined the club as the season ended, but the following season he saw his side relegated back to the second, only to return to the first once more in 1929.

It is said in some accounts that in 1934 he became chief scout for Arsenal, having declined Arsenal’s offer to manage the club.  That seems highly unlikely to me; after Chapman’s death in January 1934, Joe Shaw took over the manager’s position, with George Allison as his mentor.  Allison’s autobiography makes it clear that he was appointed manager-in-waiting shortly after Chapman’s death, with only his contracts elsewhere prohibiting him from taking over the post at once.  Why on earth would Arsenal want a person who had failed at Middlesbrough and whose one trophy was an FA Cup with Tottenham, at a time when Arsenal had just won the league two years running, including once with the all-time record number of points?

It seems to me like another of those managerial fanciful fairy stories of the type which ex-Arsenal manager Leslie Knighton indulged in.  In the end McWilliam returned to Tottenham, by then back in the second division, leaving them on the outbreak of war, retiring in 1942.  It is said that during his time at Tottenham he devised the “push and run” style of play that in the media became known as a the “Spurs Way” of playing.   It may be better described as “pass and move”.

McWilliam’s greatest claim to fame however is that he worked with the very young Vic Buckingham who much later managed Ajax and Barcelona and has been credited with some of the evolution of “total football”.

But enough of Tottenham.  Let us now return to the start of Arsenal’s 1927 cup run, with its selected, dedicated cup team.  The run to the final began on 8 January 1927 with the game Sheffield United 2 Arsenal 3.

All the Arsenal directors were at the game except for Sir Henry Norris; thus William Hall, George Peachey, John Humble, J J Edwards and Samuel Hill-Wood all saw the match.  The Times called the result “one of the surprises of the day”.

But in the last three games prior to this match Sheffield United had lost 4-0 to Aston Villa away, beaten Aston Villa 3-1 at home and then lost 5-0 away to Manchester United.  As a result of these and other misadventures they were now 14th in the league.  Hardly a dead cert in a match against as wily a manager as Herbert Chapman.  Brain, Buchan and Hulme scored, and the only member of the FA Cup team missing was Baker who having missed all of October and November through injury had played the last two league games, but was clearly feeling the effect of being back in the thick of it.  Milne who had deputised during Baker’s absence once more played right half – but it was his only FA Cup match.

If the Times had really wanted to find a surprising result they might have picked Bournemouth’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool, or Reading of the Third Division South beating Manchester United 2-1, or even Walsall of the Third Division North losing to the London amateur team Corinthian 0-4.   The newspaper really was totally out of touch with reality.

Arsenal continued with their two team approach and won the cup – their first ever trophy, and then went on to win the League with a record number of points.  In all, through the 1930s, they won the FA Cup twice and the League five times, something all the more remarkable because they were the club’s first ever major trophies.

You can read the whole story about the rest of the 1927 approach to the final on the AISA Arsenal History Society blog where you can also find all the Arsenal anniversaries for today and see a video of a famous Arsenal cup win.

7 January 2018: the end of the glory

Arsenal as defending FA Cup holders, and the team that had won the cup three times in four years and a record number of times overall by the time this game came around, were beaten on this day in the 3rd round by managerless Nottingham Forest.  

It was the only defeat in the 3rd round of the Wenger era, in what turned out to be Arsene Wenger’s last FA Cup match.  But he still remains the manager with more FA Cup wins than any other manager in the entire history of the FA Cup and Arsenal the team that has won the FA Cup more than any other side.

The team for the game was


Debuchy (Akpom) Holding Mertesacker

Elneny Nelson Willock (Nketiah)

Iwobi Maitland-Niles

Walcott Welbeck

It was also a game to be remembered as one of the most extraordinary in terms of refereeing ever seen in the FA Cup with a total of seven cards being waved by the ref who had utterly lost control, in a space of five minutes!

On 84 minutes Joe Worrall of Forest and Mat Debuchy were shown yellow cards.  One minute later David Ospina got a card.  One minute after that both Danny Welbeck and Per Mertescaker got a card each.  On 89 minutes Joe Worrall received his second yellow, meaning the ref also had to bring out the red to send him off.

This was the first time that Arsenal had conceded four or more goals against a team from a lower division in a FA Cup tie since 16 January 1908 at Hull City in a first round replay.

Fate can play cruel tricks on football managers such as this, but of course it is not the defeat that Arsène Wenger is remembered for, but for being the seven times FA Cup winner in the space of 19 years from 1998 to 2017.

The man he overtook to gain this record was George Ramsey who had won the cup six times with Aston Villa between 1887 and 1920 – a total of 33 years, (although we should perhaps say 29 years, given that there was no FA Cup played from 1915 to 1919.)

Third in line is Six Alex Ferguson who took 14 years to win the cup five times.  On four wins is John Nicholson with Sheffield United across a 26 year spell from the end of the 19th century through to 1925.

Three managers won the cup three times: James Fielding of Blackburn is the only man to have won the cup three years running (1884-6), Charles Foweraker of Bolton in the 1920s, and Bill Nicholson of Tottenham in the 1960s. 

Mr Wenger’s run ensured that Arsenal would be top of the list of FA Cup winners, with 13 wins out of 20 appearances in the final.  Since then we have of course won it one more to make 14 out of 21.  Manchester United are second with 12 wins and 20 appearances in the final.

And just because it is fun to look back in time you might like to know that Arsenal’s first ever FA Cup match was on 5 October 1889 which resulted in an 11-0 victory over Lyndhurst.  That campaign saw Arsenal successfully get through the qualifying rounds of the Cup and took them into the competition proper, where on 17 January 1891 Arsenal lost 1-2 at home to league side Derby.

Indeed it was not until 1901 that Arsenal actually managed to get past the 1st round losing in the 2nd round to WBA.

The big breakthrough came in 1906 with a trip to the semi-final, repeated the following year, but the first final had to wait for Chapman’s arrival (the defeat in 1927), with the first cup win coming in 1930 where Chapman beat his old club Huddersfield Town, to win Arsenal their first major trophy (the first of seven League and Cup wins through that decade).