The First Time
If it`s summer time, then it`s probably a good time to begin with a fabled Vital Arsenal tradition of indulging another episodic foray into Arsenal`s historical archives. You may recall that last summer I produced 13 articleson each of our title winning seasons. Yeah, well, unfortunately there are no further articles to be added to that archive at the moment. So instead, this summer, I`ll be taking a look at each of Arsenal`s 10 F.A. Cup triumphs in isolation. Starting with the maiden voyage and the club`s first ever major silverware with the 1930 F.A. Cup win.
The F.A. Cup has been a fickle mistress for the Arsenal, appearing as we have in 17 Finals, winning 10 and losing 7. For the heart stopping elation of the five minute cup final in 79, Linighan`s 121st minute header against Sheffield Wednesday in 1993 and the artery shredding penalty shoot out triumph of 2005, there have been equal and opposite heartbreaks. Michael Owen`s last gasp smash and grab in 2001, Brooking`s stooping header for West Ham in 1980 and Dan Lewis` misery as his fumble gave Cardiff the cup in 1927. For every Adams versus Spurs in 93, there`s a Gazza free kick to poison the memory.
But such is my prerogative as an Arsenal fan; I shall gloss over the heart breaks and pore in detail over the picture book moments that continue to fill the great museum of our history. By the 1929-30 season, Herbert Chapman- in situ as Arsenal manager for three years at this point- was still struggling to make his sweeping reforms bear fruit on the pitch. The Gunners came within a whisker of securing their first ever silverware in 1927, as they took on Cardiff City in the F.A. Cup Final at Wembley as hot favourites. But beginning a trend for Arsenal keepers in Cup Finals that would survive in lineage through to Seaman in 95 and Szczesny in 2011, it was the misfortune of a Gunners goalie that would be telling. Hugh Ferguson`s low shot from the edge of the area appeared little trouble for Dan Lewis, who inexplicably let the ball fumble off his ribs and then his elbow and into the net. Lewis blamed the sheen on his brand new jersey for the slip. To this day, no Arsenal goalkeeper since has ever worn a brand new goalie shirt for a competitive match. Arsenal is a club that wears its history heavily on his well worn, machine washed sleeve.
Progress at the outset of Chapman`s reign was slow; his reforms took a while to sink in. He found himself tinkering with the formation and finding either that, Arsenal would score at will and concede just as liberally. Or else, a scrooge like defence would precipitate a sterile attack. Professor Chapman was mixing his potions but coming up with spontaneous combustion. But two things changed his fortunes. On the train home from a 7-0 defeat at Newcastle in 1928, Chapman`s record signing Charlie Buchan argued that the Gunners should drop an extra man back and employ a WM formation. Chapman did so and Arsenal tightened up as a result. But he still found the chemistry wasn`t quite right in attack.
In the summer of 1929, Chapman remedied that with two of the most important signings in the history of the club. He took Scottish wing wizard Alex James from Preston North End for £8,750 and 17 year old inside forward Cliff 'Boy` Bastin from Exeter City. Both were to become the focal points of Arsenal`s attack for the next five years. James was reverted into a deep lying role in the centre circle. Never the most energetic of players, James nevertheless had an unerring accuracy with through balls and long passes. Bastin on the other hand, was a lightning quick inside right with a rasping shot. If James was Arsenal`s paintbrush, Bastin was its sledgehammer. The two would forge a symbiosis that would become the centrepiece of Chapman`s counter attacking machine. Think Bergkamp feeding Overmars or Anelka in 1998.
However, in 1929-30, James was struggling slightly to adjust to a deeper role than that which he had played at Deepdale. Originally, his team mates were suspicious of his lack of work rate- he would openly tell Chapman that he had no intention of tracking back to defend. He had something of a playboy lifestyle, Chapman`s indulgence of which was resented by his colleagues. But the manager knew that different players required different treatment. James would win everyone over in that year`s F.A. Cup run. Bastin too took time to settle, but hit his stride in time for the F.A. Cup campaign. Bastin had started out as an inside right, but injuries to David Hulme and Charlie Jones saw Bastin deputise at outside left. He never relinquished the position- on the left, Bastin was able to cut in onto his right foot and utilise his fearsome shot. James and Bastin were the glue of a side that scored at will. 7 of Arsenal`s 15 all time top goalscorers played in the same team as one or both.
It is perhaps dulce et decorum that both Bastin and James found their feet in the 1930 F.A. Cup. The team struggled to a lowly 14th in the First Division. But Arsenal drew 2nd Division Chelsea at home in the 3rd Round. With Charlie Jones back to full fitness, Chapman sprung a surprise and elected to keep Bastin on the left. Cliff 'The Boy` repaid his manager`s faith with his first of his 178 goals for the club that day- a club goal scoring record that would stand for nearly 60 years. Jack Lambert added the second goal in a comfortable 2-0 win at Highbury. Chelsea would have their revenge twelve months later, knocking Arsenal out of the competition at the same stage.
The Gunners drew Birmingham City at home in the 4th Round and were bailed out by Bastin again, whose last gasp equaliser saw the game finish at 2-2. Bastin later reported in his autobiography that he "hit the shot with everything I had" past England goalkeeper Harry Hibbs. It was a tactic he was beginning to learn fared well in the days of the leather ball. In the replay, Arsenal`s first great superstar would earn his corn. Alex James was a little tubby, a heavy smoker and one of the least industrious players of Chapman`s reign. He would often appear late for training, which Chapman would accept to the amazement of the other players. Just prior to the Birmingham replay, Chapman had even given James a week off to rest up. Team mate George Male would say, "Before that cup tie against Birmingham there were several doubters as to whether Alex could cope at Highbury. And the crowd was on to him too. But in that game, he proved to everybody what he could do." (Quote from Jon Spurling`s 'Highbury, The Story of Arsenal in N5).
Chapman called James on the morning of the replay at St. Andrews and asked that he play. James proceeded to single handedly destroy the Blues as Arsenal won 1-0. It was the turning point of James` Arsenal career. He is now feted by those that saw him as Arsenal`s greatest ever player. Lambert and Hulme were the scorers as the Gunners recorded a comfortable 2-0 victory over Middlesbrough at Ayresome Park in the 5th Round. Whilst Bastin, Jack and Jones put West Ham to the sword in a 3-0 victory at Highbury in the Quarter Finals.
Arsenal were drawn to play Hull City in the semi final. Hull were relegated from the Second Division that season, so the Gunners were hot favourites to win the game. Their first ever major silverware lay twinkling on the horizon, but the occasion got the better of Arsenal at Elland Road as an aggressive Tigers side took a 2-0 first half lead. Dan Lewis, he of the 1927 fumble, drastically under hit a clearance from the edge of his area. It fell straight to Hull half back Howieson who returned it first time. Lewis left the ball, believing it would sail over the bar, but to his embarrassment it flew into the net. Ten minutes later, an Eddie Hapgood own goal had the favourites heading out.
But early in the second half, Hull right half Walsh was injured. In the days before substitutes, Walsh had to be moved to the right wing, barely able to walk. Arsenal laid siege on Hull`s right side. They halved the deficit when David Jack scored from Hulme`s pull back. James then fed Bastin on the left, who cut in on his right and hammered the equaliser into the top corner with his right foot. Arsenal had earned a replay by the skin of their teeth. Bastin, renowned for his ice cool temperament would rather understatedly remark in his autobiography, "The relief of my colleagues was remarkable to see." Hulme was injured for the replay due to Hull`s "industrial" tactics and replaced by reserve Joey Williams.
But Hull`s tactics became even more aggressive in the replay at Villa Park. Eddie Hapgood said that Hull "tried to play without the ball." But their strongarm tactics failed them as their captain Childs was sent off. A red card in the 1930s would roughly translate into a custodial sentence in modern times. Minutes after the red card, Joey Williams sprinted to pick up a lofted cross field ball from James, controlled it on the by line and played a pinpoint cross for David Jack to score the only goal. The Gunners had the chance to banish the ghosts of 1927- fittingly against Chapman`s old side Huddersfield Town in the Final. As a mark of respect to Chapman, the two teams walked out side by side that day at Wembley. Like many of Chapman`s dotages, it`s a custom that has endured to this day. The crowd were also treated to something of an eye catching distraction when a 776 foot German Graf Zeppelin hovered menacingly low over the 92,499 crowd
Chapman had selection issues for the Final. The terminally unlucky goalkeeper Dan Lewis missed out on his chance for redemption through injury, whilst trusted centre half Herbie Roberts was likewise afflicted and replaced by Bill Seddon. Lewis` deputy was considered one of English football`s first eccentric goalkeepers in Charlie Preedy, who had a proclivity for leaving his goal line at the slightest invitation. A habit that "caused heart failure amongst his colleagues" according to Bastin. But Chapman was ahead of the curve in dealing with such situations. Whilst he tried to keep as settled a line up as possible, he was a big believer of what he referred to as "soundness." That is, training his reserves and his first team players along exactly the same lines. He would write in his popular Daily Express column in 1932 that, "When one is brought into the senior side, it is expected that he will as nearly as possible produce the same game as the man who has fallen out would`ve done."
It sounds remarkably straightforward nowadays, but such management was not widely affected in the 20s and 30s. Players were largely just given positions and told to play. Chapman referred to his more meticulous style as "the organisation of victory." Another of his great managerial brainwaves hit pay dirt for him at Wembley on the day of April 26th, 1930. As displayed in his exchange with Charlie Buchan in 1927, Chapman encouraged his players to analyse their performance and contribute to team discussions about tactics. On the coach to Wembley, Bastin and James discussed a quick free kick routine. James said if he won a free kick in a central position, that he would knock the ball wide to Bastin, Bastin was to hold out and draw James` marker, then nudge it back to James who would have space to shoot. .
As it turned out, this was exactly how Arsenal`s opening goal came about. Huddersfield half back William Goodall fouled James; James sent the ball right to Bastin. Bastin hovered, awaited the arrival of Goodall before sending the ball back to James, who was able to take two touches before unleashing a shot into the Terriers net. Chapman would later say in one of his Daily Express columns, "I am convinced that much of the success of the Arsenal has been through quickly sensing a weakness in the opposition. We know our opponents before we take the field." The Gunners spent much of the second half soaking up Huddersfield pressure, but they put the result beyond doubt in the 83rd minute. James picked up a clearance from Parker and sent a lofted ball over the top of the stretched Huddersfield defence. Lambert bore down on the Huddersfield goal with a good 40 yards of space head of him and finished coolly to confirm a 2-0 win and Arsenal`s first ever major silverware.
Chapman broke another convention after the game by inviting the Huddersfield players to dine with the winning side after the game- an invitation gracefully accepted by his former side. The F.A. Cup win of 1930 smashed open a piñata that hasn`t stopped baring treats for Arsenal fans in any decade ever since. Bastin smashed 28 goals as the Gunners roared to the title in the 1930-31 season that spelled a decade of dominance, with the Gunners winning five league titles and two F.A. Cups in the 30s. The win would prove to be the platform to greatness and the first of 27 major honours the club has won to date. None would have been as sweet, as that first one on 26th April, 1930.LD.
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