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.

5 November 1983

On 5 November 1983 Tony Adams made his league début for Arsenal in a game against Sunderland which  Arsenal 1 Sunderland 2.  Tony Woodcock scored – it was his eighth goal in three consecutive games.

But although we remember Woodcock it is Tony Adams who we think of more often as he was part of the “famous back four” which became legendary in the football of the era. Indeed it is said that when Arsenal Wenger joined Arsenal the one instruction everyone said to him was, “don’t touch the defence”.

And yet, in many ways the back four was something of a journalistic shorthand, and as so often when we find ourselves talking of Arsenal and journalists, the facts and the reality don’t quite mix.

After all, was it really a back four of Adams, Bould, Winterburn and Dixon?  Or was it a back five, which also included Keown? Or even a back six also including Seaman? For those players most certainly played their part.

Obviously you can pick and choose any way you want to say it, but the question I asked myself recently was, how did they come together?  And I found that although I had a fair idea, I could not bring all the dates to mind, until I started looking a few things up.

Here’s what I got…

PlayerSignedSigned by…
AdamsSigned as a schoolboy 1980 (first game 5 November 1983)Neil
KeownSigned as a schoolboy 1980 left June 86 re-signed February 1993Neil, Graham
WinterburnSummer 1987Graham
DixonJanuary 1988Graham
BouldSummer 1988Graham
SeamanSummer 1990Graham

So here they are…  the earliest date (1980) to the last (1993, the re-signing of Keown) were 13 years apart, but if we leave schoolboy signings out of this for a moment, the actual spread of time in terms was 1983 to 1990.  Seven years.  Or excluding the goal keeper, 1983 to 1988 – five years. And yet the way they are talked about today one might have the impression that they were all signed at around the same time and played for a generation.

It is interesting to remember that two of these players were signed by Terry Neil, and that Graham let Keown go, and then brought him back again – something else that doesn’t quite fit the narrative.

Here is another set of data that took me by surprise.  And this perhaps explains why the notion of the back four, five or six has become such an enduring legend… The number of games each man played:


These are astonishing numbers, and seeing those it is no wonder that we revere these players and the back four, five or six that they created.

When one sees those numbers it is clear why these players became such a legend. Finding one or two players who play 250 games or more for the club is one thing. Finding six who all played in the defence during the same era and who all played over 250 games, that is something else. And that is why the legend of the back four lives on. It doesn’t matter if it is four, or five or six, they really were part of something utterly remarkable.

4 November 2001

On this day, in 2001, Arsenal went four down in 20 minutes in the worst half at home in Arsène Wenger years. It ended  Arsenal 2 Charlton 4. 

So why am I mentioning this on our site that promotes all the glory of Arsenal?

Because despite this being a catastrophe this was nonetheless League match 11 of the third Double season.  Which just goes to show – you can’t base everything on one game – although a lot of supporters seem to like doing that.

This was the season that Sol Campbell joined Arsenal, playing his first game for us on 18 August 2001.  We beat Middlesbrough away 4-0.

After that game Thierry Henry said, “I saw something today I never saw last season – we played as a team.  It’s the most important thing in football.”

Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and two late goals from Dennis Bergkamp had got the season going against Middlesbrough who had Steve McLaren as their new manager.

This result raised some eyebrows because the previous season, Arsenal had had a poor away form losing seven matches, and failing to win a single game against any of the top 12 clubs in the league!  How the press and broadcasters had loved that stat – it was quoted day after day, week after week rather like Arsenal’s failure to beat the rest of the “top 6” in recent times.

In fact in 2000/1 Arsenal only won five away games – failing even to beat Bradford City who came bottom.  But this double season of 2001/2 was to be the reverse.

For while in 2000/1 Arsenal lost only one and drew just three home games, in the Double season of 2001/2 the home and away results were… lost three at home, lost zero away.   It was the Unbeaten Away Season.

Arsenal started their romp through the Boro defence because Pires and Henry had found out exactly how to play together.  The ball was crossed to Henry, Ehiogu headed it (which simply ensured it reached Henry perfectly), Henry chested it down and volleyed it in.

Even Parlour’s sending off  for two yellows didn’t hurt and Arsenal kept pressing.  Cole was tripped by Ehiogu who was sent off, Pires scored from the spot and that was that.

Except Denis Bergkamp who came on as a sub wanted to make his mark.  His first goal was from a tap in after a cross from Cole, his second was a tap in after a cross from Pires.

The team:


Cole, Adams, Campbell, Lauren

Vieira, Pires, Ljungberg, Parlour,

Wiltord, Henry.

Subs: Jeffers, Bergkamp, van Bronckhorst, Grimandi, Wright

As a season’s opener, it all looked so fine and promising with that away form jinx of the previous season now put to bed once and for all.

Except… Arsenal don’t do it by the book.  In the next game we had a 1-2 home defeat to Leeds.

In fact although Arsenal went top of the league after the 5th match – a 3-1 away win over Fulham on 15 September, it wasn’t until game 32 that Arsenal hit top spot for good, staying there until the end of the season.  The final run involved 20 games without defeat, and 12 straight victories to end the season.

But the strangeness of that season, with its magnificent away record, were the three defeats.  Not defeats against top teams but home defeats to Leeds, as noted above, and then Charlton 2-4 on this day, 4 November, and Newcastle on 18 December, 1-3.

Which really does prove the point.  If you draw conclusions based on one, two or even three defeats, you might not necessarily draw the right conclusions.

3 November 1963

Today is the birthday of Ian Edward Wright MBE.   We all wish Ian a very happy birthday. 

Ian Wright played for Arsenal for seven years clocking up 128 league goals in 221 games.  During his time with us he won the Premier League, the FA Cup, the League Cup, and the Cup Winners Cup (although he was suspended for the final).  In his total career he played 581 league games, scoring 387 goals.  He also got 33 caps for England.

In terms of Arsenal goalscoring Ian Wright is second in Arsenal’s goalscoring list, having scored 185 league and cup goals in 288 games.  His 100th goal came in his 143 game – an achievement only beaten by Ted Drake who got his 100th goal in 108 games.

Top of the list, not surprisingly, is Thierry Henry with 228 goals in 377 games – but he took 181 games to get to 100.

All told 19 players have got 100 or more goals for Arsenal – among the more recent names in that august chart we have John Radford, Robin van Persie, Dennis Bergkamp, Alan Smith, Frank Stapleton and Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud.

The remarkable thing about Ian Wright’s footballing career always seems to me that when he first tried to get a professional contract with clubs like Southend and Brighton, he failed, and so went back to paying amateur football.

Eventually he got signed as a semi-pro with Greenwich Borough and after a handful of games was seen by Crystal Palace, and then signed for them aged 21. In his second season with the club he knocked in 33 goals in all competitions as Palace were promoted.

As he got towards 100 goals for Palace he was selected for England, before coming to Arsenal in 1991, for a club record fee at the time of £2.5m

He scored a hat trick in his league debut for us (against Southampton) and another in the last match of the season, making it 31 league goals in that season including the five scored for Palace before the transfer.  He was the League’s top scorer and was Arsenal’s top scorer for six seasons in a row.

When Arsène Wenger came to Arsenal. Wright was 33, but with the change of diet and training regime he was able to become the second highest scorer in the Premier League in 1996/7 scoring against 17 of Arsenal’s 19 opponents in the League, a record for a 20 team Premier League season that was later equalled by van Persie.

He became the top scorer by scoring a hat-trick against Bolton, and memorably removed his Arsenal shirt to reveal a t-shirt bearing the logo “Just Done It” one goal too soon.  But he did get the second goal in the same game, and took off the Arsenal shirt again to make “just done it” a valid claim.

He retired from playing in 2000 and later moved into punditry.  He has never hidden his support for Arsenal and it is said that his shouts from the broadcasting gantry when Arsenal scored in the 2020 Cup Final in front of an empty stadium, were heard by every Arsenal player on the pitch.

2 November 1974

Arsenal 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0, on this day in 1974 might hardly seem a day worth commemorating in the history of Arsenal – especially when we note that the crowd was 27,572.

In the build up to the match Eddy Kelly asked for a transfer, Jimmy Rimmer asked for an assurance that Shilton wasn’t going to be signed, and Arsenal managed to avoid defeat for two matches running for the first time since getting a couple of draws in September.

Thus it was not the best of times but what makes this interesting is that it was only the fourth season after winning the first double – a sign of just how quickly things can change, both in terms of going up and going down the snakes and ladders board of football.

In 1969/70 Arsenal had come 12th in the league – something we tend to ignore because we also won the Inter Cities Fairs Cup that year.  1970/1 you will of course know: the double.  1971/2 we slipped to fifth but made the Cup Final again. 1972/3 we were runners’ up in the league and cup semi-finalists. It all made Arsenal look like serious contenders for trophies.

And then… 1973/4 we slipped to 10th, and 1974/5, the season of the crowd dropping into the 20,000s, Arsenal ended up 16th.  One year later we were 17th and in both those seasons looked for a while to be very serious candidates for relegation.  Which would have put the kibosh on AISA’s 100 years in the First Division celebrations last season.

In the end we missed relegation by just four points, a horror that was only slightly lessened by the fact that Tottenham only missed relegation by one point, and Chelsea did actually drop down – along with Carlisle United.

Yet the 1974/5 season opened promisingly with a 1-0 away win at Leicester, but that was followed by a 1-0 defeat at home by Ipswich.  A 4-0 win against Manchester City four days later made the horizon look a little bit more promising. But then the horror struck.

In the next ten games Arsenal got three draws and suffered seven defeats.  During that spell we also went out of the League Cup – to Leicester.  It really was a gruesome time, for on 19 October 1974 after a 2-0 away defeat to Tottenham, we were bottom of the League, one point behind Luton Town, and two points behind QPR and Tottenham themselves.

What made matters worse was the vision of Bertie Mee, the man who had brought us the “impossible” double, in that he adopted a vision of military discipline combined with retrenchment.  He fought players over salaries, he proposed winding up the academy and just having 18 professionals on the books, and above all seemed completely unable to accept that in the modern era players were demanding to be more than club servants.

As Ray Kennedy, Charlie George and Fran McLintock all left in quick succession, the club became a shadow of its former self.  Yet when Mee finally left he did so with the the knowledge that under his management the club had won more games than with any other Arsenal manager – 241. 

But that was a misleading figure, because when we measure the percentage of games he won it was just 44.71% – way behind the likes of Allison, Chapman, Graham, and of course later, Arsene Wenger.  He most certainly did win our first European trophy and the first Double, but he left the club with a very dispirited support on the terraces and internally in need of a complete overhaul.

Instead of the first Double being the springboard to success it turned out to be the opposite, and we would not win the first division title again for 18 years.

1 November 2003

1 November 2003: Leeds 1 Arsenal 4.  The 11th league match of the Unbeaten season.  Henry got two, Pires one and Gilberto Silva finished it off on 50 minutes. The win was welcome as Arsenal had been having something of a hiccup in a season that has now become romanticised as an endless procession towards the inevitable.

After a draw in the Charity Shield, Arsenal had begun the season with four straight wins, but then the club had faltered.  Thinking back it seems ludicrous, but there seriously was criticism of the club and its manager by the end of September.

A home draw with Portsmouth, a 3-0 away defeat to Inter in the Champions League, a goalless draw with Manchester United, a 3-2 home win against Newcastle, and a goalless draw against Lokomotiv Moscow, did nothing to convince the media and negativists in the fan base, that this season was going to see silverware.

Wins against Liverpool and Chelsea helped sooth the nerves somewhat, but then the troubles returned.  Another Champions League defeat (this one 1-2 in Ukraine) a draw in the league with Charlton and then going to penalties to beat Rotherham 9-8 in the League Cup, nothing felt like this was to be the most magnificent season of all time.

We were certainly not top of the league although to be fair the gap between the top three of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United and the rest was already after just 14 games starting to look cavernous.  The Times however reported that some fans were saying that this was the worst Arsenal team they had ever seen!

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But it was also amusing at the time to look down the rest of the league table and see Tottenham on 15th.  After 14 games they were already 19 points behind Arsenal.

So we came to Leeds away on 1 November 2003.  It was a most wonderful display of Arsenal dominance against a team that was not only struggling, but getting used to being beaten by Arsenal.

Arsenal had easily beaten Leeds at Elland Road 1-4 in 2002, before inexplicably losing 2-3 at Highbury in the penultimate game of the 2002/3 season.  That game is remembered incidentally as the final defeat before the “49”.  This game with another 1-4 win was utterly comfortable, and indeed it was followed by a third consecutive 1-4 away win at Leeds on 1 January 2004 in the FA Cup on 4 January 2004. 

There was even one more to complete the run of enjoyable results – a 5-0 win in the Premier League on 16 April 2004.  That left five league games to play, and even then not that many people were seriously saying Arsenal would have a season unbeaten in the league.

Oh ye of little faith.

31 October : Arsenal reach the top of the 1st division for the first time ever.

1925/6 was Herbert Chapman’s first season at Arsenal, and by the end of October there was a feeling that things were certainly on the up.   Arsenal had won three and lost three of the last six – which might not sound the standard we expect now, but it was better than Arsenal had achieved under Chapman’s predecessor, Leslie Knighton.

But Arsenal had lost 7-0 and 4-0, and won 5-0, and 4-0 as they approached the last game in October 1925.  There had been only one narrow result, a 2-3 defeat at home by Bolton.  It all seemed a little too erratic even if the multitude of goals was good fun.

The game on 31 October 1925 ended Arsenal 4 Leeds United 1.  It meant that in the six games this month, Arsenal had scored 15.  And they had conceded 15.  30 goals in all, compared with just a total of 10 for and against, in the same period one year before.

But it wasn’t that Chapman was particularly gung-ho in terms of the way Arsenal played, and that Knighton had been much more defensively minded, that had trebled the number of goals scored in one month.  Rather it was the fact of a rule change.  Now, instead of three players having to be between the attacker and the goal when he received the ball in order for him to be on-side, it only had to be two.

A handful of games had been played using the new rule during the tail end of the 1924/5 season, but it was clear all teams in the League were still trying to get used the to the possibilities of the new season.

Thus October, which ended with this 4-1 win over Everton, had also included a 7-0 defeat to Sunderland, a 4-0 and 5-0 victory over West Ham and Cardiff, and two defeats – 2-3 to Bolton and 4-0 to Sheffield United.  

Yet despite all this Arsenal ended October 1925 fourth in the league, four points behind Sunderland with a game (worth two points if won) behind.  We were also, as it happened, equal on points with Tottenham.

As for the notion that the new off side rule would increase the number of goals, this certainly seem to be keeping its promise as on the first Saturday in November the scorelines in the First Division included Cardiff City 5 Leicester City 2 (Cardiff were in 21st position and looking likely relegation material!) along with Manchester City 2 Arsenal 5 (Man City were 20th before the game and 21st after, equal bottom on points with Burnley).

Also catching the eye in the evening papers were Tottenham Hotspur 4 West Ham 2 and West Bromwich Albion 4 Notts County 4.

In fact in November 1925 Arsenal played four and won four, scoring 16 and conceding five.  The last game in that series on 28 November resulted in Arsenal beating Sunderland 2-0 and going top of the league for the first time in the history of the club.

What’s more Arsenal were now only three goals behind the top scorers in the league, and had the best goal average – a good sign for the future.

It didn’t last of course – a run of three consecutive defeats in January saw thoughts of the title slip away from Arsenal’s grasp, but Chapman had shown in that earlier run starting on 31 October just what was possible.

30 October 2012

Reading 5 Arsenal 7

Just looking at the score from this league cup match in 2012 makes one still think there must be a misprint. So here is a video to remind you that it was true…

The article below is taken from the comments written immediately after the game by “GF60” – for the blog “Untold Arsenal.”

The goals came from Walcott, Giroud, Koscielny, Waclott, Chamakh, Chakakh, Walcott. The first was scored on 45 minutes, and the last on 120 minutes.  Others in the team included Emi Martinez, Francis Coquelin, Johann Djourou, Andrei Arshavin, Serge Gnabry…  Six of the team got yellow cards during the course of the game.

There was no sign that such a weird game was about to come along.  In the three previous games Arsenal had lost to Norwich and beaten QPR in the Premier League and lost to Schalke at home in the Champions League.  Hardly title winning form, but even so, not normally a prelude to letting in five against Reading.

We had let in six goals in nine games and didn’t just have the best defence in the league we had thus far let in under half the number of goals that Manchester United – the ultimate winners of the league that season had let in.  

But we took the usual full complement of supporters to the game.  Did any leave after 45 minutes?  Probably not, because everyone was too shocked and bemused even to think about leaving.

It was however a really awful first half, as three of the outfield players had listened to one team talk, three to another, and the last three hadn’t arrived in time to hear the team talk.

Reading had not won a game all season before this match… and had four poins from eight games.  In those games they had scored 11 and let in 17.

Our first team had just struggled to beat bottom of the league QPR, and the injury list stretched to hte horizon.  But everyone decided to have a night off.   Even players like Jenkijnson who although hardly a star was always solid and consistent looked seriously out of touch.

The travelling away support did their best and actually drowned out the home crowd who looked and sounded as if they simply could not believe that this was real.  

The song “We want our money back” transmuted into “We want our Arsenal back” and suddenly the  two players who had shown some enthusiasm, Theo and Andrey, (Surprise, surprise) linked up to make it “only” 4-1 down at half time.

The second half started in similar fashion, Reading moving faster and thinking quicker but then Giroud and Eisfeld came on to replace Frimpong and Gnabry – yes Gnabry, the player how wowing one and all for , neither of whom had enjoyable evenings, and the fun started.

Andrey was running his socks off and having his best game for over two years, Giroud was a massive force in both his positioning and off the ball running, young Eisfeld looked sharp and intelligent and Theo was Theo without many of the irritating bits.

Even with Olly’s header though it still looked as though we were going out but those 2 goals in the last minutes of normal time and (thanks Kevin Friend) the last, last second of a generous amount of added time brought the crowd what it deserved, the players the respect they’d earned and the chance to sing “4-0 and they mucked (?) it up” as opposed to having it sung at us by bar-code supporters.

The barminess continued. A Marouane goal, a Reading equalizer (how dare they?) and then another from Theo and then, did you see the blue moon?, another from Marouane which really was icing on the cake.

An unbelievable night…more surprising than that 6-3 at Anfield a couple of seasons back…. for sure I can’t remember us pulling back a 4-0 deficit let alone pulling it back and winning…and for sure a 12 goal aggregate Arsenal game hasn’t happened since the 1930’s 6-6 draw at Leicester.

29 October 1932

Arsenal… 88 years ago.   1st division football in October 1932

On 29 October 1932 the score came in on the radio and in the evening papers: Arsenal 8 Leicester 2.  Yet although it made the headlines, it was not a total surprise.  After all in the previous three seasons Arsenal had won the FA Cup (their first ever major trophy), the League (scoring 127 goals and a record 66 points along the way) and then in 1932 had come runners-up in both competitions (a rarity in the era when Doubles were unknown).

The only possible worry that Arsenal might have had, and one that the press has started to play on somewhat, was that Jack Lambert, who had scored 39 1st division goals in the title-winning season of 1930/1, had scored a mere 26 last season.  Shock horror, Arsenal in decline!

And ludicrous though that might sound today, in one sense the papers were right because 1931/2 was Lambert’s third, but as it turned out, final season as top scorer for Arsenal.  For in 1932/3 that position was taken over by Cliff Bastin, the boy wonder who had been signed from Exeter in 1929 aged 17.  This season he got 33 goals.

Ahead of this game Arsenal were second in the league table, one point behind Aston Villa, and were receiving criticism in the press.  They may have scored 28 goals in 11 games (more than any other club in the league) but they had let in 17, ten more than Villa.  That, the newspaper men said, would be Arsenal’s undoing.

Thus far Arsenal had won 9, drawn 2 and lost 1 in the league.  But on this day Hulme (3), Bastin (2), Coleman (2), and Jack got the goals in front of 36,714 and for the first time in the season Arsenal hit the top of the league. 

However there were worries, for when on 8 October  Arsenal had played Derby County drawing 3-3 that had turned out to be the 258th and final appearance of Tom Parker – the club’s first trophy winning captain.  Tom had been one of Chapman’s first signings in 1926.

Having played 38 games the previous season, and 41 in the championship winning season the notion of him not being in the team was a shock, but he was now 34, and Chapman was never a sentimentalist when it came to team selection.   Now George Male who had come up through the ranks (joining in 1929) stepped up to the first team.  

Male went on to spend half his football life with Arsenal, a time which also included two spells managing Norwich (leading them to league victory in 1933/4), and another period with Southampton.

The third match of the month was an away fixture with Blackburn who were 17th having won only one home match thus far.  But Chapman’s chopping and changing of the team carried on, this time Jones, who had come in at right half after the first two games, made way for Frank Hill for his debut following his transfer from Aberdeen the previous May. 

The press were appalled.   Yet “Tiger” Hill went on to hold the position as his own through the rest of the season, except for a period out through injury, ending up with 26 league appearances.

Thus 15 October 1932 was also George Male’s first appearance as a right back v Blackburn.  The story is that Male didn’t believe he could play right back but a chat with Chapman convinced him he “was the best right back in the country”.  It turned out to be true.

In the 3-2 win Bastin, Jack and Coleman got the goals.  Coleman had now played eight games and scored in seven of them.  Aston Villa beat Sheffield Utd 3-0, but Huddersfield could only draw, and the feeling grew that as two years ago, this was going to be a Villa vs Arsenal season.

League match number 11 was an away match with Liverpool who were sitting mid table with two wins, two defeats and a draw thus far.  The result was another 3-2 win, and another goal for Coleman; Bastin getting the other two.  Aston Villa won the Birmingham derby match to keep up their challenge, although Huddersfield’s 0-3 home defeat to Blackburn suggested their hopes were over.

And still the team changes continued.  After two years in which it seemed Chapman could put out the same team week on week, now Roberts was out through injury and Haynes replaced him for his fifth game of the season.

At this point there was a pause as on 26 October, a day on which international matches were played (Alex James playing his final international of eight appearances for Scotland – scoring four goals for his country in those games) Arsenal played Islington Corinthians – a team that had been formed earlier in the year to raise money for local charities.

Away from football however life in England was most certainly not running smoothly as the hunger marchers began to arrive in London, and there was considerable unrest on the streets.

Football was of course seen as a great distraction from clashes between police and protesters, and the papers were duly ordered to cover the games not the civil unrest, and in this regard Arsenal obliged beating Leicester City 8-2 at Highbury on 29 October, and for the first time in the season hit the top of the league.  Leicester were 20th winning only once so far in the season, having conceded 26.   Arsenal were scoring as regularly as Villa (Arsenal having knocked in 28 against Villa’s 25 before this match) but Villa had a far superior goal difference due to a much tighter defence.

And on this day it all went absolutely Arsenal’s way, for while Highbury had its goal fest Villa went down 3-1 away to West Bromwich Albion.  For the first time in the season Arsenal hit the top of the league having gone ten without defeat, eight of those games being victories.

This time there was only one change in the team – Roberts was back at centre half. Hulme 3, Bastin 2, Coleman 2, Jack got the goals in front of 36714.   Indeed, it turned out to be quite a day for high scores in the first division as Sunderland also beat Bolton 7-4.

Although this was the end of the league action for the month it was not quite the end of the football for Arsenal, for having played Corinthians in the previous mid-week, Arsenal now flew to Paris for the first of two Armistice Day commemorative matches against Racing club de Paris on 31 October 1932.  It finished Racing club de Paris 2 Arsenal 5.  Four goals from Cliff Bastin and (of course) one from Lambert, completed the scoring in front of a crowd of 30,000.

As we can see Arsenal were under-achieving this month in terms of home crowds – due in part to the social situation in the capital mentioned above.  But other clubs were responding to the awareness of what Arsenal had become, all three away games that Arsenal played in this month far exceeding the home clubs’ normal gate; Blackburn more than doubling their average home crowd, Blackpool nearly so.

The league table at the end of the month looked like this…

2Aston Villa1283126102.6019
3Derby County1273227151.8017
4West Bromwich Albion1272325181.3916
5Huddersfield Town1263321151.4015
6Leeds United1255215111.3615
8Sheffield Wednesday1262428201.4014
9Newcastle United1162323181.2814

Finally a word about Tottenham now languishing in division 2.  Having only managed two wins in the first eight games their form now improved with four wins and a draw in October, a run which saw them go 12 games undefeated in Division 2, scoring 23 goals in five games.  Having started the month in 16th they concluded October in fourth.   Their crowds were starting to rise too.  Not to Arsenal’s level of course, for when there wasn’t trouble on the streets Arsenal were the best supported club in the land, but they certainly started getting bigger crowds.

28 October 1939

On 28 October 1939, Arsenal beat Clapton Orient 6-1, away from home making it 14 goals in the opening two games of the Football League South “A” Division, in front of 8000 fans.  The game meant that in the opening two games of the league Leslie Compton had scored five exactly the same as his brother Dennis.  Ten goals from one family, in two games. Arsenal went on to win the league.

The League was set up following the abandonment of the Football League after three fixtures due to the commencement of the 2nd world war. rsenal played in the South “C” – a league that ran from February to June, and in the Football League War Cup, (although there Arsenal were knocked out in the third round).

Arsenal played their home games during the 2nd world war at White Hart Lane as Highbury was used as an air raid defence and warning station – a reversal of what happened in the 1st world war when Tottenham played most of their home games at Highbury due to WHL being used to test out Enfield rifles.

Thus this was the second time professional football had been abandoned for the war, for the same thing happened during the 1st world war, although then, because of the general notion that “it would be all over by Christmas,” the 1914/15 season continued, much to the consternation of some parts of the government, where the thought was the football would distract men from doing their duty and volunteering to serve.

At the end of the 1914/15 season the Football League did formally abandon football for the duration, but although they arranged Leagues for teams to play in, in the midlands and north of the country, the clubs in London and the south were left to sort out their own affairs.

The clubs then quickly formed the London Combination, which continued through the war years, and which then became the reserve league for teams in the south, later changing its name to the Football Combination.

During the second world war matters were arranged much more quickly, the League was abandoned and the regional leagues were up and running by the third week in October.

As with the first world war players were not allowed to be paid, and could turn out for any team they wished – which meant that servicemen who were stationed away from their club could play for a team closer to their base.

Crowds in the second world war were often small, Arsenal getting as low as 1000 for a match against Watford in February 1940, but with 15,000 turning up in March for the game against Chelsea.

Apart from winning the opening (1940) League South “A” division title in a tournament encompassing 18 games, Arsenal also won the 1941/2 London League (a 30 game tournament) scoring 108 goals all told.  The highest win was 11-0 over Watford in front of 4761 in January 1942.

The Leagues tended to change their arrangements and names year by year through the war, and in 1943 the Football League South was won by Arsenal.

Various cup competitions were organised each year and although Arsenal reached several finals the club didn’t win any knock-out silverware during the second world war.

With the war against Japan in the second world war not ending until September 1945, there was felt to be no time to organise the Football League for the 1945/6 season, although the FA Cup was played with matches competed for on a home and away basis.

It was a poor season for Arsenal as we went out in the third round of the cup, and finished 11th in the Football League South.

George Allison had basically run Arsenal on his own during the war, operating out of a single room in Tottenham’s ground, and tried to resign at the end of the final war time season, but the directors persuaded him to stay on until Tom Whittaker was able to take up the reigns as the new manager.

Allison by then was exhausted and 1946/7 was a disaster for Arsenal as the club came 13th in Division One, the lowest position since Chapman’s 1929/30 season when the club won the FA Cup for the first time.    Allison stood down at the end of 1946/7, taking a well-earned retirement, having been involved with the club since 1910, when he started writing the Woolwich Arsenal programmes.

His autobiography, “Allison Calling” was published within a week of that of Leslie Knighton, Arsenal’s first manager after the 1st world war.  The two books gave a totally different account of Sir Henry Norris, who ran the club from 1910 to 1927.  Subsequent research reveals that Allison’s was the accurate tale, Knighton’s a work of fantasy. But it was Knighton’s book that was believed, following its serialisation in a sunday newspaper.

27 October 1919

On this day in 1919 Tom Whittaker joined Arsenal from the army. 

Not only is 27 October 1919 a date that most Arsenal fans will be utterly aware of, but I suspect it is more than likely that very few Arsenal fans today will be particularly aware of Tom Whittaker’s involvement with the club.  There is no statue to him, no picture of him at the ground (as far as I know – although club level might have something about him tucked away in one of their bars) and nothing to commemorate a man who was phenomenally important to Arsenal.

In short having joined Arsenal on this day 101 years ago Tom Whittaker went on to become a first team player, was the club trainer under Chapman, trainer of the England squad, Arsenal coach and ultimately Arsenal manager in which role he equalled Chapman and Allison’s trophy record of two league titles and one FA Cup triumph.

What’s more, he was involved in revolutionising the medical treatment of players, as well as highlighting the appalling way in which the FA treated players who were injured while playing for their country.

Indeed, his winning of the League for the first time was chosen by the AISA Arsenal History Society of one of the ten great iconic moments in the history of the club.

So how can we possibly do justice to this colossus of a man in one article?   It’s hard but here is the summary…

Having played for Arsenal since 1919 it was during a tour of Australia with an FA side that in a match in Wollongong he broke his knee cap and had to stop playing.  The FA offered miserly compensation, and Arsenal, under Sir Henry Norris, criticised the FA vehemently in the club programme and newspapers.  The vehemence of Norris’ attack shocked the FA – but they did ultimately offer more.

Tom Whittaker moved from Arsenal’s team to the coaching staff, and having learned of physiotherapy during his treatment in hospital, he saw the possibilities of applying it to footballers, and became the first team trainer under Chapman in 1927.  In the years that followed he transformed the training and physio approach of the club.

After Chapman’s death mid-season, Joe Shaw, the reserve team coach took over the first team, with Whittaker at his side, as Arsenal won the League once more.  When George Allison became manager, Whittaker being the liaison between the manager and the players. During the third of the three successive championships under three different managers in the 1930s he was also appointed as the trainer of the England team. 

He served his country with honour in the second world war and was rewarded for this service as a Squadron Leader on D Day with an MBE.  I believe he was the first Arsenal player to get such a high honour.

And then upon Allison’s retirement, in 1947, Tom Whittaker became the new manager and won the league in his first season.

In the initial post war season Arsenal were less than average, finishing 13th in the 1946/7 season.  The only rays of light were the two sensational goal scorers – Reg Lewis with 29 from 28 games and the ageing Ronnie Rooke (who came in on an exchange deal with Fulham) getting 21 from 24.

That season, Arsenal were 16 points off the top and 16 points away from relegation: safe but going nowhere.  In the cup we were knocked out by Chelsea in the third round.

Then back came Tom – no management experience but a career at Arsenal as player and trainer, and the man who had worked under Chapman and Allison.

In 1947, his first season as manager, Arsenal went the first 17 games without a defeat, and only suffered three defeats all season.

Arsenal won the league with four matches to go – and only a poor run in those last games  made the league table look like it was more of a close run thing. Indeed after a 7-0 trouncing of Middlesbrough on 26 March we only won one in eight, before rounding off the season rather nicely with an 8-0 home victory over Grimsby.

By the time that the title had been secured only 18 players had been used, at the time the fewest ever required for a title-winning team in the first division.

Overall Reg Lewis scored 14 out of 28 games while Ronnie Rooke scored 33 out of 42.  Ronnie was the league’s top scorer – aged 36.

For Tom Whittaker it must have been a staggering triumph.  An established player whose career came to a sudden halt in a meaningless match in Australia, who rebuilt his world as a physio, gained such a significant honour for his service to the kingdom in the war, and then in his first year as manager, went on to win the league in such a fashion. 

In all Whittaker won the League twice and the FA Cup once, exactly the same as Chapman and Allison, but eventually the pressure proved too much for him, and he passed away while still manager, on 24 October 1956 aged just 58.  The next time Arsenal won anything of note was 1971, when the first Double was achieved.