Arsenal v Chelsea 18 March 1950
A classic Arsenal come back in this game, enabled the club to win the replay and consequently play in the FA Cup final, where Liverpool were beaten 2-0 at Wembley. Unfortunately, we don’t have the whole programme for this game, just the cover.
Date: Saturday 18 March 1950
Competition: FA Cup semi-final
Venue: White Hart Lane
Referee: Reg Leafe (Nottingham)
Bentley 21, 25.
Cox 45, L Compton 78
Almost right up to the end of the first half Chelsea were in control and cruising easily onto Wembley for the final. Up to this point Arsenal had shown almost nothing in attack and their rock solid defence looked unusually vulnerable. But then a freak goal totally changed the match and, ultimately, the tie.
Chelsea had started by far the better in a one sided first half, and half way through a clever overhead pass by Reg Williams gave Roy Bentley a clear run on goal, and his lob over George Swindin’s head gave Chelsea the lead. The second came a few minutes later as Billy Hughes raked a long and accurate pass from the half way line onto Bentley’s head to power into the net.
Both Walley Barnes and Laurie Scott did all they could to repel the Pensioners, but Chelsea continued to look dangerous as Bentley teamed up well with veteran Len Goulden to repeatedly pull the Arsenal defence out of position and create more chances, yet it was Arsenal who ended the half with a goal.
Freddie Cox took a corner with the outside of his right foot and the in-swinging trajectory caused Harry Medhurst to miss the ball in flight, past defenders on the line directly into the net. The cries of astonishment and glee from the two sets of supporters mingled with the referee’s whistle to signal the break. This gave the Gunners hope, and a rousing half time talk from Tom Whittaker added to their belief they could obtain at least a draw.
However, after the break the Chelsea defence was admirably controlled and well ordered and for the first 30 minutes held back a rejuvenated Arsenal, with the dynamic Alex Forbes and Joe Mercer adding to the attack at every opportunity.
A Frank Mitchell mishit gave Arsenal their tenth corner in the 78th minute. Leslie Compton went up to bolster the attacking options despite Joe Mercer signaling to him to stay back in case of a Chelsea breakaway. The corner, which was taken by his brother Denis, floated into the penalty box and Les headed in the equaliser via a slight deflection off Bentley’s shoulder and past defender Danny Winter on the line.
There were several more chances at both ends, including Denis Compton heading against the crossbar, before the final whistle and 22 exhausted men left the pitch after a pulsating game with it all to play for again the following Wednesday.
Chelsea: H Medhurst, D Winter, B Hughes, K Armstrong, J Harris, F Mitchell, B Gray, L Goulden, R Bentley, H Billington, R Williams.
Arsenal: G Swindin, L Scott, W Barnes, A Forbes, L Compton, J Mercer, F Cox, J Logie, P Goring, R Lewis, D Compton.
Injuries affected both teams’ forwards prior to their most important game of the season. For Chelsea, Jimmy Bowie’s knee and Bobby Campbell’s leg muscle ensured they were unable to play on Saturday, though Campbell made it for the replay. For Arsenal Don Roper was out for the semi-final and, in fact, only played one more game in the rest of the season.
As replacements Chelsea turned to their coach Len Goulden, and Reg Williams while Arsenal played Peter Goring.
Keeping with the injury motif, referee Reg Leafe had to be replaced by Sergeant Major A W Smith for the replay. Leafe had inflamed a leg injury he picked up a couple of weeks earlier in this game.
On 15 March, a few days prior to the semi-final, Arsenal and Chelsea played a challenge golf match at Brookmans Park. Arsenal won 4.5 – 0.5 in a five match tie, and even in this event Chelsea’s injuries played a part as Alex James donned the baggy plus fours on behalf of the Stamford Bridge men as both Billy Hughes and Danny Winter were missing with colds. However, his switch did not do the blues any good, as James and winger Bill Gray were beaten 3 and 2 by Arthur Milton and Joe Wade.
Ian McPherson and Doug Lishman beat Chelsea manager Billy Birrell and captain John Harris 4 and 3. Les Compton and George Swindin beat Reg Williams and Len Goulden 4 and 3, and Archie Macaulay and Walley Barnes beat Harry Medhurst and Frank Mitchell 2 up. The only half was in the top match as Reg Lewis and Denis Compton took on Ken Armstrong and Roy Bentley.
In Arsenal’s dressing-room at half-time the players sat quietly as Tom Whittaker told them:
“We’ve been in tighter spots than this. I doubt if any other team could fight its way out of this one. But Arsenal can. And you’re ARSENAL.”
At the end of the game Tom Whittaker explained it should have been no surprise that former Spurs player Freddie Cox scored:
“His goal was the turning-point…no wonder Freddie scored that corner-kick goal, he ought to know every blade of grass on this ground.”
And Cox himself said:
“I’ve got the White Hart Lane goal lined up to an inch.”
Arsenal captain Joe Mercer:
“One of the hardest and most exciting matches I have ever played in. My wife Norah in the stand was almost white with excitement even when I joined her after the game.”
Mercer’s opposite number Johnny Harris was frustrated but confident:
“It’s maddening… we thought it was in the bag, and then came that corner-kick goal. But we’re still in the Cup and we can make up for it on Wednesday.”
Whilst Danny Winter gave his view on the equaliser:
“Les Compton’s header slipped past waist-high – awkward to head or kick. I hadn’t a chance.”
Facts about linked to the match or players:
Chelsea’s Frank Mitchell was born in New South Wales, Australia and had previously played county cricket for Warwickshire.
Chelsea’s Roy Bentley was called up to the England squad for the World Cup later that year. He also captained Chelsea to their first League Championship title in 1955, under the management of old Arsenal favourite Ted Drake.
Chelsea’s Len Goulden joined Arsenal as a youth team coach when he retired from playing. His son, Roy, played under him and eventually made it to the first team, playing a solitary game.
Semi-final ticket postal theft and chaos
The programme notes for the replay announced that there were a colossal number of complaints about postal ticket theft from Saturday’s semi-final. Many tickets had been stolen and they called for an investigation into alleged Post Office pilfering of tickets and the money sent for them.
“Regret is here expressed that money sent by post for tickets was intercepted on the way and even registered letters with tickets were not delivered to the addresses. There is a need for a thorough probe by the Post Office detectives into Post Office pilfering of football tickets and the money sent to pay for the tickets.”
The authorities made the replay admission through the turnstile.
The Merseyside semi-final had its own incidents as tickets went on sale at the Liverpool and Everton grounds. A reputed two mile queue was evident at both grounds where 67 people were injured and dozens more fainted as groups broke through the police barriers and pushed to the front at both Anfield and Goodison Park.
The rest of the cup run / season:
The replay, also played at White Hart Lane, went into extra-time with Chelsea seemingly lasting the pace better. Yet Arsenal booked a place at Wembley with a 1-0 win, courtesy of a Freddie Cox goal in the fourteenth minute of extra-time.
The two semi-finals were both local derbies, the other one between Everton and Liverpool was played a week later. Liverpool won their semi-final and were beaten 2-0 in the final by a gold-clad Arsenal.
As in 2014, Arsenal won the FA Cup in 1950 without travelling outside the English capital.
Facts relating to the season:
Eddie Hapgood, Arsenal’s former right back between 1927 and 1945 was in the news this week as he left the Watford manger’s role by mutual consent. He had been there two years and went on to manage Bath City on a five year contract, describing his salary as the highest he had received in twenty-three years of football.
Background to the article
This season we’ve been asked to write a regular page in the official Arsenal programme based on a classic match featuring the opponents for each game we play in. Programme editor Andy Exley has kindly given us permission to reproduce the match reports on our blog. We will also be including additional material that didn’t make the final edit of the programme. If you can’t get to The Emirates, the programme is available on iPad, iPod and android for a bargain 79 pence per issue.
Don’t forget to subscribe to the blog (top right). You know it makes sense.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal – crowd behaviour at the early matches