Super Ted and the Mandrakes
Arsenal began the 1934-35 season at the peak of their powers, but also at the threshold of their grief and loss. Having triumphed in honour of their legendary manager Herbert Chapman, who died in January 1934, several players were also to attend the funeral of ex Arsenal chairman Sir Henry Norris a month before the season began in July 1934. Under Chapman, Arsenal were a club blossoming from adolescence into fully fledged adulthood, but with two of Arsenal`s greatest pioneers surrendering to the crypt and with most of Arsenal`s Victorian founding fathers heading towards death and old age, the feeling that Arsenal were an established club that would now have to cycle without the stabilisers was prevalent. After Chapman`s sudden death during the 1933-34 season- during which Arsenal retained the First Division title - Joe Shaw had taken over team affairs. But in the summer, Arsenal appointed Press Officer George Allison as manager, with Tom Whittaker and Joe Shaw assisting in the coaching. The appointment was a strange one as Allison had never managed a football club before, but Allison was clearly meant to be a club figurehead whilst Whittaker and Shaw- two of Chapman`s trusted coaches- would maintain continuity on the training ground.
Arsenal had secured the league title in 1933-34, but goalscoring had become a problem relatively speaking. In the title winning seasons of 1930-31 and 1932-33 the Gunners netted 112 and 118 times respectively. In 1933-34, the total was 75 as David Jack crept towards old age and Alex James suffered some injury problems. But with Ted Drake now on board, the Gunners sought out their adventurous side again. Allison also added some steel to the midfield that summer with the acquisition of Wilf Copping, whose uncompromising tough tackling style earned him the nickname 'Iron Wilf.` When quizzed about his tackling style, Copping once icily responded, "First man in a tackle never got hurt." I think Aaron Ramsey may take issue with that! With Copping and Drake in the starting line up, Arsenal opened with a pulsating 3-3 draw at Fratton Park before crushing Liverpool 8-1 at Highbury in their first home game- a match in which both Drake and Bowden hit hat tricks. Drake scored in each of Arsenal`s first five games, when he didn`t score in matches 6 and 7- neither did Arsenal. The Gunners again began the season in a cumbersome fashion by their standards, registering 5 wins, 4 draws and 1 defeat from their first ten games. However, they did score an impressive 30 goals in that time, corollary with the signing of the goal machine Drake. Drake hit his third hat trick in eleven games as Arsenal soared to the top of the table with a 5-1 victory over their arch rivals Spurs at Highbury and everybody appeared to accept that Arsenal would inevitably saunter on to secure their third consecutive league title. Yet they were quickly jolted off of their lofty perch just seven days later as main title challengers Sunderland hosted the Gunners at Roker Park and scraped a tight 1-0 win, sending the Mackems back to the top. The result was a body blow to Arsenal who went on to draw with lowly Grimsby whilst Aston Villa defeated them 2-1 at Villa Park to make the title race a three way split screen again, with Arsenal languishing in 3rd behind Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland.
But Arsenal were no longer a simply domestic affair come 1934, a large slice of Arsenal history was cast in cement in November 1934, when Italy came to Highbury to take on England in an international friendly. Not only was the match staged at Highbury, but the Gunners provided seven players in England`s starting XI (Moss, Male, Hapgood (c), Copping, Bowden, Drake and Bastin) , which still stands as a record nearly 80 years later. Italy were the reigning World Champions, having won the 1934 World Cup. England, in their insular pride, would refuse to take part in the tournament until 1950. The press were dubbing the friendly as "The real World Cup Final." In those days, the press regarded foreign sides with hostility and suspicion and out of blind jingoism, falsely inflated the reputation and exaggerated the qualities of the English national side. Not at all like today then. England won 3-2 in a match dubbed "The Battle of Highbury." The match is not only a part of Highbury folklore, but of legendary repute in the history of the England side. Despite being a friendly, the match was marred by violence, Hapgood left the pitch with a broken nose, Brook broke his arm, Drake bruised a bone in his shin and Bastin had ankle ligaments damaged, whilst Wilf Copping exacted revenge by breaking Italy captain Giuseppe Monti`s ankle. The match provoked debate as to whether England should withdraw from international football altogether and redoubled the press` thinly veiled xenophobia. Thank goodness the press have got over that now, eh? But by providing seven players for the national side, as well as a palatial stadium with recently renovated East and West stands, Arsenal`s standing as England`s top club was cemented.
But Drake didn`t allow the rough treatment of the Italians to defer him from his task. Despite the heavy bruising, Drake went on to score four goals at Stamford Bridge that Saturday in a 5-2 win and then another four the following weekend in a 7-0 mauling of Wolves at Highbury. It was clear that Drake had reignited the Gunners scoring touch. He finished the campaign with 42 league goals, which is a record for an Arsenal player in a league season. The Gunners ripped into opponents with alacrity, as well as thrashing Liverpool 8-1 and Wolves 7-0, Birmingham and Spurs were beaten 5-1, Leicester and Middlesbrough were on the end of 8-0 shoeings, whilst Spurs were also soundly beaten 6-0 at White Hart Lane. Allison wasn`t an experienced coach, but he did not need to be. This was very much still Chapman`s team playing Chapman`s way, Allison was sensible enough to realise he needn`t make any alterations, whilst Joe Shaw and Tom Whittaker simply continued to coach the side as Chapman had asked them to. Allison, as a press man and media mogul, raised Arsenal`s profile in the national media, inviting photographers to watch Arsenal train, conducting interviews and even commissioning the filming of the 1939 film 'The Arsenal Stadium Mystery.` Footballers were a shy and retiring lot in the 1930s and such moves into the spotlight were virtually unheard of.
Arsenal went top again on Christmas Day with a 5-3 win over Preston North End at Highbury, but Sunderland overtook them 24 hours later, as Arsenal played Preston again at Deepdale on Boxing Day and lost 2-1 in a pendulous title race, leaving the reigning Champions in 3rd place. Having been denied by the title by this imperious Arsenal side in each of the last two seasons, the Rokerites were not going to surrender without a fight. Allison`s men slipped further back with a disappointing 1-1 draw with Pompey at Highbury. But the Gunners hadn`t secured three titles in four seasons by being self piteous. One of the themes of Chapman`s three title winning seasons had been in his sides putting together long unbeaten runs after Christmas, with their superior fitness coming to the fore and 1934-35 was no different. Arsenal won all of their games in January without concession of a single goal and only lost two more games for the duration of the season. One of which was the dead rubber home match with Derby County on the final day when the league title was already secured. They went back to the top of the able on 9th January with a 2-0 win at home to Leeds and never once relinquished top spot again. On March 9th, another slice of Arsenal history, never to be surpassed, was etched into the annals. With Arsenal leading Sunderland at the summit of the league table by a single point, 73,295 people crammed into Highbury to see a tense 0-0 draw. The attendance stands as a record for a match played at Highbury and remains Arsenal`s record attendance. It will remain so until Arsenal need to move ground again, which means none of us, dear reader, will ever live to see that record broken. It meant the gap remained just one point between Arsenal and Sunderland moving into the final six weeks of the season.
The Mackems and the Gunners were trading blows at the summit, but Arsenal`s refusal to lose meant Sunderland were always at arm`s length. The Champions took a fading Aston Villa out of contention, whose propensity to run out of steam in the spring continues unabated nearly eighty years later! Beasley, Bastin and, of course, Drake slew the Villains in a 3-1 win at Villa Park which symbolised the Gunners supreme dominance of the era. Villa had previously been close challengers in the early 30s, but fed up with being Arsenal`s bridesmaids, Villa fell apart and finished a disappointing 13th in 1934-35. With Alex James finding a new lease of life with a poacher extraordinaire such as Drake, Arsenal`s free scoring wingers felt the goalscoring burden ease a little. Bastin and Bowden continued to trouble the score sheet more than your average flank men, but were allowed to become more traditional chalk booted wingers with a scorer of Drake`s calibre lying in wait. Conversely though, this allowed Bastin particularly greater freedom to plough infield with opposition defences distracted by Drake. The speed with which Arsenal transformed defence to attack was too much for most teams to cope with. Drake would later comment, "At Highbury especially, our approach was to try and score as many goals as possible. The best way to achieve that was to get the ball up the pitch in less than four passes." With James supplying the bullets, the Gunners had the cogs to crank their machinery into life instantly. With the likes of George Male, England skipper Eddie Hapgood and the Compton twins (who represented their country in both football and cricket) manning the back lines and Wilf Copping baring teeth in the midfield as James` minder, Arsenal were resolute defensively too.
Consecutive draws with Chelsea and Wolves in April meant that Arsenal were now only top on goal average. But Arsenal were make their goal average unreachable by beating Middlesbrough 8-0 on the same day that Sunderland lost at Leeds. The light was visible at the end of the tunnel, nervy 1-0 wins over Huddersfield and Middlesbrough again in April showed that nerves were beginning to show, but this team was constituted of born and bred winners. They travelled to Filbert Street on 27th April, 1935, needing only a draw to secure their third consecutive league title. Beasley and Crayston grabbed two apiece and Davidson got the other as the Gunners ran out 5-3 winners. It was the first and only time that season that Arsenal scored more than two goals without the either the name of Drake or Bastin apparent on the scoreboard. The Gunners had become only the second side in history to win the 1st Division title three times in a row, a feat the club has never managed since. (Unless of course you`re reading this in 2013, in which case the feat obviously has been repeated by now!) They finished four points clear of Sunderland at the top of the table, having scored 115 goals and conceded 46. The Mackems had scored 90 and conceded 51. This side had become an unstoppable machine, well drilled and able to convincingly beat any team put in front of it. Chapman`s death as well as Arsenal`s receding goal scoring in 1933-34 had led to whispers that the team were a busted flush and their counter attacking style had been figured out by the league`s lesser lights. When Chapman told Bob Wall in December 1933 that his attack needed rebuilding, he redoubled his desire to capture Ted Drake and the Gunners attack got the extra lease of life it was looking for. England rolled its eyes and accepted the fact that the side that had dominated the decade, weren`t going to go away easily. It would literally take a World War to stop them.LD.
Part 1- 1930-31
Part 2- 1932-33
Part 3- 1933-34