Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday May 25 2008
The fourth of my Arsenal innovators was born in Southampton on the 16th August 1912 and began his career at Winchester City- whilst working part time as a gas meter reader. In fact, this Arsenal legend might have been a Tottenham legend, Spurs offered him a trial as a school boy, but faqte intervened and he got injured shortly before the trial. He eventually moved to Southampton in 1931, scoring 20 goals in 33 appearances in the 1931-32 season. Herbert Chapman made a move to sign him in the summer of 1933 but was rebuffed by Southampton.
Having amassed 22 league goals by March 1934, Arsenal, now under the stewardship of George Allison, successfully signed Ted Drake for £6,500. Drake was the first Arsenal signing of the post Chapman era. Though Chapman had courted Drake for the best part of two years previously. The side of the thirties were renowned for their sppedy wingers, Bastin and Lambert, ably supplied by the passing and vision of Alex James. What Chapman felt Arsenal were lacking was a battering ram of a striker to apply the finishing touches to Arsenal's swift counter attacks. Chapman was taken by Drake's speed, skill and particularly his bravery. Drake would fearlessly throw himself at crosses in a time when hobnailed boots and heavy leather footballs would likely knock you unconscious. Allison carried out Chapman's dying wish by eventually capturing Drake and Ted set about repaying the huge transfer fee straight away, scoring the winner against Wolves on his debut. He arrived too late to win a Championship medal in 1934, but assauged his sense of disappointment in the next campaign.
In the 1934-35 season, Drake settled straight into Arsenal's attacking maxim, the Gunners sauntering to the title with Drake scoring an incredible 42 league goals in 41 league games. That stands as a club record to this day. His impressive tally encompassed three hat tricks and four separate four goal hauls. With Bastin, Lambert and James supplying the ammunition, Drake was tucking away the chances with impunity. He also scored the winner for England in the infamous 'Battle of Highbury' in November 1934. England took on reigning world champions Italy at Highbury, with seven of England's starting line up represented by Arsenal players. The match was notorious as one of the filthiest ever played. The Italian President at the time, Benito Mussolini, putmuch stock in the success of national sports teams, but both sides left Highbury walking wounded. Two broken noses, a broken cheekbone and a broken nose for Eddie Hapgood in the space of ninety minutes. And not one red card. England won 3-2 with Drake grabbing the vital third goal amidst the studs and fists of North London.
Drake would be a league winner and top scorer again in 1935-36. He would set another long standing and sure to be unsurpassed club record on December 12th 1935, when he scored an eye boggling SEVEN goals in one game at Villa Park. In fact, Drake claims he should have had an eighth goal when the ball crashed against the underside of the crossbar and went in, but the referee, presumably in an act of mercy towards Aston Villa, waved play on. Drake would cap his season by scoring the only goal inthe 1936 F.A. Cup Final against Sheffield United. He would win yet another league title in 1937-38 as top scorer. The Second World War would cut Drake's career in half. At the age of 27 the war intervened, where Drake served in the Royal Air Force. When the war ended and football resumed, Drake would be 33 years old and robbed of his prime. In a match against Reading in 1945 he picked up a spinal injury which would curtail his career. Drake had been top scorer in every single full season he played at Arsenal, from 1934-35 to 1938-39 inclusive. Despite being robbed of his career between the ages of 27-33, a striker's prime, Drake sits joint fifth with Jimmy Brain in Arsenal's all time scorers list.
Drake went on tomanage Hendon and then Reading, before taking the job of Chelsea manager in 1952. He immediately did away with the club's pensioners nickname and crest. In 1954-55, Drake became the only manager to win Chelsea a league title in the 20th Century. That success also made him the first person in English football towin the league title as both a player and as a manager. In his younger days, Drake also dabbled in professional cricket, turning out in 15 matches for Hampshire between 1931 and 1937.
Not only does Drake's immense scoring record in Arsenal's most successful ever side mark him out as a legend, but he was a seminal signing. Drake was Arsenal's forst signing post Chapman's death. Gunners fans were understandably still hurting from Chapman's sudden demise and Allison's every move was scrutinised with suspicion. Indeed, things were not easy for Drake at Arsenal. Drake would later say in interviews that Arsenal's class as a football club bowled himover. He was impressed by Allison's insistence on referring to Ted by his first name. 'My manager at Southampton would sooner have shot himselfthan referred tome as anything other than 'Drake.' The then pioneering East Stand had just been built and Drake felt he was taking a massive step up from Southampton. However, Drake had a hard time winning over the dressing room. The sense was very much that this was still Chapman's side and Drake felt like an outsider in the insular team spirit Chapman had forged. These were also tough times economically, any player bought in was construed as a threat to his teammates' livelihood. Indeed, Drake later alleged that Jack Lambert, upon being introduced to Drake, quipped, 'you're only the fifth player Arsenal have signed to replace me.' Drake also endured a frosty relationship with Cliff 'Boy' Bastin, who later commented in his autobiography that he never rated Ted Drake. At the time, Drake put Bastin's aloofness down to his ailing hearing.
In effect, Drake was the missing piece in a tantalising puzzle. The Gunners of the Thirties relied on counter attacking football, as mentioned in a previous article, Copping would wrest possession back, feed Alex James, who would then ping a crossfield ball out to one of the wing heeled flankers. What Drake offered was a greater end product, he was on hand to finish the flowing moves. His bravery made him the ideal fodder for Bastin's crossing. Indeed, Bastin's nose may have been put slightly out of joint as Drake would hoover up some more of Bastin's goal tally. Had it not been for the advent of the Second World War, who knows how many goals Drake would have scored for Arsenal? If James was the jewel in the Arsenal crown, Bastin its pivot, Copping its enforcer and Hapgood its leader, Drake was its coup de grace. His recurring legend etched into the Arsenal record books.LD.
Date:Sunday May 25 2008
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