1936: Cup of Rosy
Having last week recounted the tale of Arsenal`s first ever silverware in the shape of the 1930 F.A. Cup , this week I will be looking at a, by now, domineering Arsenal side who had taken a stranglehold of the English game, as they win their second F.A. Cup in 1936. The 1930 triumph was the springboard for Chapman`s men to usher in an era of glory. They followed up the 1930 F.A. Cup win with a league title in 1930-31. The following season, they were chastened by heartbreak- narrowly missing out on the 1931-32 league title and losing the F.A. Cup Final that year 2-1 to Newcastle. But the melancholy was short lived as Chapman`s side secured the league again in 1932-33, 1933-34 and 1934-35. However, tragedy was to bookmark that triumvirate of titles when Chapman died of pneumonia suddenly in January 1934. Typically, he had contracted it watching a reserve game in sub zero conditions.
Following Chapman`s untimely death, media mogul George Allison took charge of the reigns, with trainer Tom Whittaker promoted to his assistant. Chapman left behind a team that was already functioning with mechanistic precision and his coaches Joe Haw, Tom Whittaker and Bob Wall ensured the ethos remained in tact. Chapman had already identified a need for an efficient, poacher type upfront and indeed had pursued Southampton`s Ted Drake unsuccessfully for some years. That Allison was able to seal that deal in March 1934, two months after Herbert`s death, was testament to Allison`s charm and personable character. Whittaker shone in his promotion to Trainer and acted as a father figure on the training ground. The matey, fatherly yin to Allison`s avuncular yang. With the team`s midfield architect Alex James ageing and his short, chubby legs of genius an increasing target for opposition hatchet men, Allison procured him a hardened defensive midfield minder in the shape of Yorkshire born ex-coal miner 'Iron` Wilf Copping from Leeds in August 1934. Copping`s great mantra was "First man in the tackle never got hurt."
However, 1935-36 represented something of a tumble down the league table as the triple coroneted champions of England finished a disappointing 6th place. This was largely due to vital team cogs creaking. Alex James was 36 by now and though never the most ebullient of runners, his stubby legs struggled to exercise the same grace and control over the heavy leather footballs and boggy pitches of the 1930s. As well as this, Ted Drake picked up a nasty knee injury in an England international courtesy of a crunching tackle from a Welsh defender. Drake was the final piece in the puzzle of Chapman`s Arsenal- even if Chapman never lived to see the fruition of Drake`s Arsenal career. He was fast, fearless and powerfully built and an ideal foil for the likes of Bastin, Bowden and Hulme- both to create space for his fleet footed wing colleagues and also due to his bravery in the box in getting on the end of the ample crosses that would come his way. His bravery and intelligence in the box would seal the F.A. Cup for Arsenal come April.
At first, Drake recalls the reception from his team mates being somewhat frosty and suspicious. Chapman`s team had been together a long time and were very close knit. Indeed, Drake maintained to his dying day that he never saw eye to eye with Bastin. In his autobiography published in 1950, Bastin outlined that he never rated Drake as a top striker and Drake recalls some aloofness on Bastin`s part. However, the two gelled inextricably on the pitch. Drake won most of his team mates over with his penchant for goal scoring- 41 goals in 42 games as Arsenal won the league in 1934-45. Whilst in December 1935, Drake set a club record that will surely stand for eternity when he bagged seven goals (and hit the cross bar) in a 7-1 win at Villa Park. Drake fitted perfectly into the counter attacking style that Arsenal had mastered as the final protagonist.
Drake would recall many years later, "At Highbury we went for results. Results meant getting goals so we cut the movement down from four passes to two. Our great ball was the long one that opened the game up." Responding to the contemporary criticism that their counter attacking game made them tedious, Drake countered, "I don`t call that boring. I call that devastatingly effective." Though James was the proponent of the killer ball and with his legs waning, teams were finding it easier to neutralise Arsenal come 1935-36. But as it happens, exactly the style eulogised by Drake would bring them the winning goal in the 1936 F.A. Cup Final.
The Gunners began their quest for their second F.A. Cup trophy on January 11th in a 3rd Round tie away at 3rd Division Bristol Rovers at Eastville Stadium. The Gunners easily deposed their plucky hosts in a 5-1 rout- Bastin grabbing two, with Hulme, Bowden and Drake hoovering up the other goals. The 4th Round tie was to be a slightly more troublesome prospect as Arsenal were drawn to play Liverpool at Anfield. But the Gunners put in a polished performance to defeat their Liverpuddlian hosts 2-0. Drake headed down Bastin`s cross for Bowden to crash the opener into the net, before Bowden turned provider in the second half with a mazy run down the right and cross which Joey Hulme returned into the net with a venomous volley. Arsenal`s programme editor at the time, W.K. Johnston, gushed, "The Liverpool cup tie of 1936 will go down in Arsenal history as one of their most glorious performances....Each player produced his best form and the combination of the team was magnificent."
Arsenal`s task was not to be easy if they had designs on winning the competition. The 5th Round brought them another away tie in the shape of Second Division high fliers Newcastle United. A pendulous 3-3 draw in front of a packed St. James Park precipitated a replay at Highbury four days later, which Arsenal eased through three goals to nil. Cliff Bastin putting in a man of the match performance capped with two goals scored from outside the box with Albert Beasley grabbing another late on. With the chance of retaining the league title for a 4th time almost entirely infeasible come February 29th when Barnsley came to Highbury for the Quarter Final, it was clear that, mentally at least, the team`s prime focus was the F.A. Cup.
Barnsley were engaged in a relegation scrap at the foot of Division Two, whilst the other remaining clubs left in the tournament numbered Second Division sides Tottenham, Sheffield United and Fulham, Division 1 basement side Grimsby Town and lowly First Division side Middlesbrough. Arsenal fancied themselves despite having not lived up to their exalted standards in the First Division. Barnsley were comfortably slain by four goals to one. Bastin again, Bowden bagging two and a rare goal for Jack Crayston giving Arsenal a semi final berth against Grimsby Town. Amazingly, Derby County- who would finish and were Arsenal`s biggest threat in the cup, were comprehensively beaten by 2nd Division Fulham in the Quarter Finals.
League encounters with Grimsby had defined Arsenal`s inconsistencies that year. They walloped the Mariners 6-0 at Highbury, but tumbled to a shock 1-0 defeat at Blundell Park. Allison was correct to be wary of his semi final opponents. The game was played at Huddersfield`s Leeds Road Stadium and Arsenal were as wary and nervous as their opponents were physical and determined. But a solitary goal was enough to take Arsenal through to their fourth F.A. Cup Final. Ray Bowden- who had been playing as a central striker in the injury related absence of Ted Drake, played a defence splitting through pass to Cliff Bastin to score the only goal ten minutes into the second half. Arsenal`s defence, marshalled by ever reliable captain Eddie Hapgood- held firm for victory and would play Second Division Sheffield United in Wembley`s 14th showpiece final.
But Hapgood was one of several key players to give Allison a selection headache ahead of the Final. Hapgood was Arsenal`s defensive organiser and the consummate full back. He was by now, England captain too. Hapgood was built differently to most contemporary 1930s defenders. He was light and slight. In fact, so much so that he would frequently pass out heading a wet, leathery football. Trainer Tom Whittaker put him on a rigorous regime of weights and running and also insisted he curb his vegetarianism to broaden him physically. Hapgood was the ideal captain, Chapman confidante and coach Bob Wall would later say; "Eddie set players the highest possible example in technical skill and personal behaviour."
But two days before the Final Hapgood would receive a telegram from his native Bristol informing him his mother was gravely ill. Happily, Mrs. Hapgood`s condition improved dramatically and she was able to listen to her son`s masterful performance at Wembley on the Wireless at her hospital bed. But Allison`s decision to play him must have occurred very late on, as Alex James was appointed to captain the side. Meanwhile, trusted goalkeeper Frank Moss had dislocated his shoulder two weeks before the game, so Scottish rookie Alex Wilson deputised. He showed his lack of experience by fumbling a routine save from Dodds` shot in the opening two minutes. But his confidence was patched up later in the game with an heroic save from United winger Barton.
But the most contentious decision Allison made proved to be the bravest and most justified by retrospect. Despite having not played for close to three months, Allison called Bastin into his office and announced that he was thinking of throwing Ted Drake straight into the starting line up for the Final. Perhaps confirming the cordon sanitaire that existed between the two personalities, Bastin advised his manager against such a decision (Allison allowed the Chapman tradition of allowing players to have an input into tactics live on) due to Drake`s rustiness, multiplied by the good form of Bowden. But Allison went with his gut and Drake took the field- his knee festooned in bandaging.
There wasn`t just contention in the Arsenal camp. The Final was played against the backdrop of virtual media blackout. The Gaumont British Film company offered Wembley bosses £900 to televise the Final, but the Wembley gurus would only accept £1,500. This led to an ugly stalemate, until Wembley backed down and decided to accept the £900 offer. Only GBFC were so disgusted by Wembley`s behaviour that they dropped their offer to £500 on principle. Ultimately, this meant the Final was not filmed in any meaningful way. (Of course avarice and greed in the game and media battles are purely modern phenomena that didn`t happen in these more genteel times. No sir). So whilst Arsenal`s 1930 F.A. Cup Final triumph was set against the backdrop of a low flying Graf Zeppelin, the 1936 Final saw the media look to circumnavigate the ban by flying Autogyros over the top of the stadium to get a bird`s eye view of the action. Unfortunately, cameras did not tend to have a zoom facility in that day and age. Given these aerial omens, if the next time Arsenal get to a Cup Final, someone wants to fly a Boeing 747 over Wembley, you`ll find me a willing financial contributor to that plane hire.
As a result of the televisual black out, BBC Radio commentated on the game, meaning sports commentators were used for the first time. The BBC described the deployment of Ivan Sharpe and Norman Creek rather cautiously as "an experiment." It`s not known what Sharpe and Creek thought of the prospect of female officials running the line. 36 year old Alex James led his team out as Arsenal knew the standards they had set in previous seasons demanded they fetch a trophy to compensate for their poor league form. This was also the first Cup Final in which The Arsenal sported red shirts with white sleeves- an alteration Chapman had made to the kit in 1933. Their previous three Final appearances had been in all red shirts.
The nerves of the occasion, allied with the heavy winds, appeared to stifle Arsenal in a first half that was dominated by the Blades. Bowden and Bastin were incredibly well marshalled by United`s defence and cut off the supply line to a barely mobile Drake. But the Gunners matched the Blades for defensive wit, with Hapgood as solid as ever and George Male turning in what The Times described as "the game of his life" in defence. But the Gunners got a better grip of the second half, Jack Crayston setting the tone minutes into the half by moving forwards from centre half and crashing a long range shot which was excellently saved by Blades keeper Smith.
Then, in the 74th minute, Arsenal`s underperforming attackers had their one and only moment of cogency in the whole match. It would be enough. Bastin powered his way past United full back Hooper and sent in a low left footed cross, which Ted Drake gritted his teeth and travelled through the pain barrier to smash the ball with his heavily bandaged left leg and into the roof of the Blades net. Allison`s gamble had paid off. But serendipity was also in the air. Just 100 seconds after Drake`s goal, United went straight down the other end and saw Dodds connect with Barton`s cross with a fierce header that rattled the crossbar with Wilson stranded. Years later, Dodds would claim that an undetected shove in his back by Arsenal centre half Herbie Roberts denied him his moment of glory. Dodds would also live until the age of 91, meaning that between 2003 and 2007, he was the oldest surviving man to have ever played in an F.A. Cup Final.
The Gunners held firm to win the F.A. Cup and salvage what had been a disappointing season otherwise. It represented their second F.A. Cup triumph and their sixth major trophy in six years. But the team was ageing and breaking up. Alex James had only one more season left in him before he had to retire. Bowden moved to Newcastle in 1937, Bastin was by now almost completely deaf, which affected his partnership with his colleagues, Herbie Roberts was in his 30s and needed replacing. But it was James that was so pivotal to Arsenal`s style and when they splashed a world record £14,000 to replace him with Bryn Jones in 1937, the transfer proved to be a massive flop with the pressure and expectation at the club at astronomical levels. The Gunners would reclaim the league title again in 1937-38 with the likes of the Compton brothers coming through, but the truth was the team was, by their standards, on a downwards trajectory which would be precipitated into terminal decline by the outbreak of a devastating world war. It would be another 14 years, before another legendary 36 year old captain Joe Mercer, would get a grip of the famous trophy in the name of Arsenal Football Club again. LD.
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