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.

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.

26 October 1863

Arsenal and the beginning of football

You may well have heard the tale about a youngster called William Webb Ellis picking up the ball during a football match and running with it, thus creating rugby.  That is supposed to have happened in 1823.

The problem is football (in terms of a game in which the ball is not picked up except by the keeper – the clue is in the name “foot” and “ball”) didn’t exist in 1823.

Yes there had been a variety of games which could be called “football” in England since the 19th century, but it wasn’t really a game with a set of agreed rules.

By the time the rules of football came to be codified, numerous different versions of the game existed each with their own rules.  There were the Cambridge Rules, the Sheffield Rules, and many others similarly named, each describing a game when holding the ball and running with it were not allowed.  But apart from that notion of “ball” and “foot” they didn’t have that much in common with the game as it was played when the Football League started in 1888.

The first serious attempt to set up the rules of football came in 1862 when the then famous headteacher of Uppingham School in the Midlands, Edward Thring, drew up a new set of rules for something that was quite akin to football.

Then on 26 October 1863 ten London clubs met together at the Freemason’s Tavern to take those rules and evolve them into something that they could all agree on – a game played without handling the ball. 

The man behind this move was Ebenezer Cobb Morley. He was a founding member of the Football Association in 1863. In 1862, as captain of Barnes, he had written to Bell’s Life newspaper proposing the creation of a set of rules, and later became the first secretary of the Football Association.  He also drew up the first set of rules and played in the first modern style football match in 1863.  It was a goalless draw.

Matters progressed quickly, interest grew and in 1872 the first FA Cup final was held, with 2000 in attendance.

However it was not until 1877 that a unification occurred between two widely used different sets of rules: the London Rules and the Sheffield Rules, and by 1883 some clubs in the north of England had adopted these rules – and indeed started to pay players.  The FA tried to stop this but eventually gave in.

Given the growth of interest in the newly codified football it was not surprising that when on 4 October 1886 the members of Dial Square Cricket Club held their end of season night out at the Prince of Wales Public House, Plumstead Common, that the idea arose of a football team being formed.  The club became known as Dial Square FC

On 14 November Eastern Wanderers FC (a team formed the year before) posted an advertisement in “The Referee” newspaper asking for teams to play them on certain dates – including 11 December.  This was indeed a common approach for clubs at the time, there being no leagues to play in – any club interested would reply by post (Royal Mail have been established almost 250 years earlier) and the date and location would be agreed.

This game was played on the Isle of Dogs and Dial Square won.  It was in fact the only game Dial Square FC played, for by the time their next match came around they were known as Royal Arsenal, and thenceforth played a variety of friendlies.

Two years later the Football League was established by 12 professional clubs from the northwest and midlands.  Royal Arsenal were not involved, but over the next few years their status grew. The club became professional in 1891 and joined the Football League Division 2 in 1893.

25 October 1969

Sammy Nelson: made his Arsenal debut on this day in 1969

On 25 October 1969 Sammy Nelson made his debut in a 0-0 draw with Ipswich.  He went on to play 245 league games for the club plus 10 appearances as a sub, and scored 10 league goals.

His misfortune with Arsenal was to play at a time when the team were not a trophy winning club and his despite his great quality as a player he only one two trophies with us – the Youth Cup in 1966 and the FA Cup in 1979.

However although he may not hold this as a prime memory of his Arsenal career in, 2013 he kindly attended the AISA Arsenal History Society social event at the House of Commons as a guest speaker, and I have to say I was impressed.  I’ve not heard him speak before and he was entertaining and lucid, and it was a pleasure to see him again.  Anything you read about Sammy will tell you he has quite a sense of humour, and some of the stories he told us (which I wouldn’t like to repeat in print) certainly showed that to be true.

Sammy was born on April 1st 1949 in Belfast, and he joined Arsenal on his 17th birthday in 1966, right at the end of the Billy Wright era, which gave him two April 1 anniversaries.  Surely that is a bit unfair for any player.

Soon after he joined, Arsenal changed manager, and the new man, Bertie Mee, retained Sammy Nelson to play in the reserves, initially on the left wing, then later at left back.

He made his first team debut on 25 October 1969 playing at left back.  Bob McNab had been injured in the previous game and substituted – but he was back after missing just one match, so Sammy had to wait until December 6 for his second game – which like the first ended in a draw.  In all he made four appearances in the league and he played in the drawn home game with Blackpool in the FA Cup 3rd round.

In 1970/71 he only made two starts in the league, and was a sub twice but he also played once as centre forward for Arsenal in a 0-0 draw in the league cup.  So he was with us for the Double season, but didn’t play enough games to get a medal.

It was injuries to Bob McNab in 1971/2 that gave him more of a chance and he played 24 games and scored one goal.  He also played six FA Cup games, but didn’t make the final.  He was however by now playing for Northern Ireland and won 51 caps through his career.

The situation of Nelson only playing when McNab was not, continued until 1975/6 when McNab left, and Sammy became the first choice in the position, playing 36 league games that season.

He also played in the three FA Cup finals (1978, 1979 and 1980) and the Cup Winners’ Cup final against Valencia.

He was finally displaced from the first team in 1980 by Kenny Sansom, and he left for Brighton, having played 339 league games, scoring 12 goals.

Amazingly though that was not the end of the highlights for him, as he played in the Manchester United v Brighton Cup final of 1983.

After retirement he went on to be a coach at Brighton, before moving into insurance and working on the Legends Tour at the Emirates.

24 October 1938

On 24 October 1936, The East Stand, Highbury opened for the game against Grimsby.  It had cost the club £130,000; less than the weekly wage of a player by 2020!  With the West Stand opened three years earlier, the great vision of Sir Henry Norris, who had moved Arsenal from Plumstead to Highbury in 1913 was completed, although sadly he had passed away and did not see his dream fulfilled.

But despite Arsenal now forever known as the team of the 1930s, by the time the stand was opened it was felt that Arsenal had problems with their squad.  The club had won the league four times between 1931 and 1935 and in the one season when they missed out, they had come runners’ up in both the League and the FA Cup.

But the media had turned on Arsenal’s manager George Allison, who was accused of endlessly chopping and changing the team.  At the heart of the matter was the problem of away form with the club having just one draw (goalless) and two defeats thus far in the season away from home. 

The newspapers noted, repeatedly that all the teams that had risen to the top had faded just as quickly: Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa, Everton, and even last season’s runaway champions Sunderland had not maintained their dominance.  Arsenal had been at the top longer than others, but now their demise was excitedly predicted by journalists at large.

 An away defeat on 3 October to Man U who were 17th prior to the match amplified the concerns as for the fourth away match running Arsenal failed to score.  Indeed Arsenal’s last away win was on March 4.  Since then Arsenal had now won 0, drawn 3 and lost 7 of their last 10 away games.  

Then on 4 October the nation was appalled to receive the news of the Battle of Cable Street between Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists who dressed in uniforms that were based on those of the Blackshirts, and anti-fascist demonstrators. The following day the Jarrow March began with 207 miners marching to London in protest against poverty and unemployment.

An away draw with Sheffield Wednesday left Arsenal remained 17th in the league and for their next game were facing newly promoted Charlton.  Arsenal got their first away goals in a 2-0 win. 

Elsewhere the UK’s Prime minister Stanley Baldwin chose to confront King Edward VIII about his relationship with the married (but soon to be divorced) Wallis Simpson.  The nation was agog.

And so we get to 24 October 1936 as the East Stand was opened for game against Grimsby.  It had cost £130,000 and with the West Stand having opened three years earlier it completed the building of a stadium fit for the team of the 1930s.  The game ended goalless.

After that Arsenal did get an away win, against Liverpool but by the end of the month Arsenal had sunk to 17th, their lowest position since 8 March 1930 when they were 19th.

The boo-boys, as Chapman had labelled them, were out in force, and the newspapers were clear the glory days of Arsenal were over.   But in writing off Arsenal the journalists were premature.

Arsenal did recover and came 6th in the League, but more importantly won the FA Cup for the second time.  The following season they came third in the league and then in 1937/8 Arsenal won the League for the fifth time in eight years.  Highbury, as ever, remained full.

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23 October 1994

On 23 October 1994, Freddie Ljungberg made his debut for Halmstads – the start of his senior footballing career. 

In all he played 79 games for the team before moving to Arsenal in 1998.  As such he was one of Mr Wenger’s early appointments, and the story quickly circulated that the manager signed Freddie without having seen him play.

Given the number of matches the manager was reported as watching, it seems very unlikely indeed, but these were the days when the media was still finding it very hard to accept the notion that English clubs could be successful in using foreign players or foreign managers.  Indeed there was doubt expressed in the media that the fans would accept “this influx of foreigners”.  But as it turned out, with Freddie there was never any doubt.  His enthusiasm was always there for everyone to see.  Changing the colour of his hair just endeared him to all of us even more.

Having played 79 games for Halmstad Freddie made 216 appearances for Arsenal before having a final season in English football as a player with West Ham, by then having won two League titles and three FA Cup winners’ medals.

In June 2018, it had been reported that Freddie would return to the club as the under-23 coach – and certainly those of us who saw him at under 23 games would all testify that he really did enjoy his time with the younger players.  Watching him before the game he was all smiles, and always with a moment to have his picture taken with the fans who turned up to watch the team.

And then on 5 June 2019, Freddie was promoted to Arsenal’s first-team coaching squad undoubtedly as a reward for his work with the under 23s.   Although this move took much of the media by surprise, that was generally because they tended not to look at matters European, but had they done they might have noted that having been Arsenal’s under 15s manager for a year, Freddie had become assistant manager of Wolfsburg before joining the under 23s.   He already had experience.

But even then, no one expected him to become the “interim head coach” as he was called within five months, yet that is what happened on 29 November when Unai Emery was dismissed.

Freddie himself said he was working “on a game-by-game basis” and he must have realised he had no chance of keeping the job as the results failed to go his way.  He achieved just the one win (beating West Ham) and beyond that he oversaw three draws and two defeats before Mikel Arteta was appointed – the man it seems Arsenal had wanted all along.

On 22 August 2020 it was announced that Freddie Ljungberg was leaving Arsenal to pursue his career somewhere else. 

Quite where we don’t yet know, but given that he has worked consistently in management at different levels since retiring as a player, it surely must be in football.  And it surely is not impossible that we might one day see him back on the touch line working for Arsenal.

22 October 1949

On 22 October 1949 Arsène Wenger was born. Happy birthday Mr Wenger.

He went on to become Arsenal’s first permanent non-British manager, the club’s  longest serving manager, the Arsenal manager who won the most trophies, the manager with the highest win rate for Arsenal, the record holder for FA Cup wins, and the Arsenal manager who delivered the Unbeaten Season. 

His was the 25th appointment of a manager at Arsenal, although Mr Wenger wasn’t the 25th manager.  Quite how many managers we actually had before Mr Wenger is not known, not least because between March and April 1898 Arsenal had someone in charge of picking the team – it is just that we don’t know who it was.  Maybe that person changed with each match – maybe there was a committee, as there was prior to 1897.  There are simply no records to let us know.

What we can say for sure Mr Wenger is one of just 14 men who have managed Arsenal for over 100 games.  He is also one of only two men who managed Arsenal for over 500 games (the other was Bertie Mee).

And he was the only man who managed over 1000 games.  In fact his total was 1,235 competitive first team games.  During this time, as I am sure you know, he won the FA Cup seven times, a record for any manager (even those from the early days when only a handful of clubs participated), and the League three times.  Two of those League titles were Doubles, and the third was the Unbeaten Season.  He also won the Community Shield / Charity Shield in seven of the ten seasons that we contested it under him.

Under Mr Wenger’s tutelage Arsenal won 57.25% of their games, more than any other long-term manager.  Of the other managers who managed over 100 games for Arsenal only Harry Bradshaw, (who managed Arsenal between 1899 and 1904) gained a higher percentage – helped a little perhaps by the fact that Arsenal were in the second division at the time. Arsenal finished second in 1904 and won promotion to the First Division, for the first time in the club’s history. Eighteen of the twenty Arsenal players in the squad had been Bradshaw’s signings.

 In fact the only men to win a higher percentage of their games were Jo Shaw (who took over managing the club after Herbert Chapman suddenly died, and managed the 23 games remaining the season), Mikel Arteta (who took over from Mr Emery), the unknown manager who took control of the club for eight games at the end of the 1897/8 season, and Pat Rice, who managed Arsenal for four games in September 1996, while we were waiting for Mr Wenger to arrive.

Arsenal’s list of managers however also includes two other “oddities” if we may call them that.  Between August 1893 and May 1897 Arsenal had no manager at all and were run by a committee – which must have made team selection fun.  They selected the team for 118 League games and had a percentage win rate of 44.92% which was in fact better than Bertie Mee, our first double winning manager.

And then there was George Morrell who on 13 April 1915 simply upped sticks and left the club seemingly without telling anyone, before turning up as manager of Third Lanark in Scotland.

Overall Mr Wenger won 707 of the games he oversaw drew 280 and lost 248.  2,156 goals were scored during his reign and 1,147 conceded, giving the average score in a match under Wenger as 1.74 for Arsenal and 0.93 against.

We all wish Mr Wenger a very happy birthday.