Largest crowd ever at Highbury witness a 0-0 draw with Sunderland
Date: Saturday 9 March 1935
Competition: Football League Division One
Referee: Mr. A. Taylor (Wigan)
It may seem odd that we have chosen a goalless draw for a memorable match, but the simple fact is that this game had the largest recorded crowd ever at Highbury. This was during the period of Arsenal’s dominance of English football in the 1930s and both teams were vying for the title with only two points separating them.
The match kicked off with 73,295 assembled inside the ground to see if Arsenal could hold off the Black Cats and make strides to pick up their third league title in a row. Huddersfield were the only team to achieve the hat-trick previously, and they too had been shaped by Herbert Chapman, though after Chapman’s untimely death George Allison had taken charge of Arsenal at the start of this campaign
The anticipated ‘match of the season’ turned into a dogfight as both teams’ defences held sway, and combined with a very cold wind to stifle attacking play and make good football difficult. The Sunderland defence, marshalled by Bill Murray, was particularly strong and some robust challenges earned a number of cautions which managed to knock the rhythm out of the Arsenal forwards.
Jack Crayston and ‘man of the match’ Wilf Copping were the pick of the Arsenal team with equally strong tackling and decent passing, and they did enough to keep the lively Sunderland forwards of Bobby Gurney and Bert Davis at bay, though the best chance of the game came in the first half when Gurney hit the crossbar after a rasping shot had Frank Moss well beaten, while Arsenal’s best chances fell to Ted Drake.
However, in the second half, Alf Kirchen created two chances, the first was his own when a snap shot was deflected by a defender, and the second when he set Bobby Davidson up for a clear opportunity but he scuffed his shot. Overall, though, Arsenal’s attacking play misfired as Alex James was out of sorts and the usual service to Cliff Bastin and Drake did not materialise at any point in the game.
The individual duel on the flank between outside left Jimmy Connor and George Male ended with honours even, as the elusive Scot could fashion nothing past the Gunners right back.
Neither keeper had much to do with only half a dozen shots aimed at either goal, and Sunderland managed to become the first team since Portsmouth in late December to take points off Arsenal at home.
Arsenal: F Moss, G Male, E Hapgood, J Crayston, H Roberts, W Copping, A Kirchen, B Davidson, T Drake, A James, C Bastin.
Sunderland: J Thorpe, B Murray, A Hall, C Thompson, B Johnston, A Hastings, B Davis, R Carter, B Gurney, P Gallagher, J Connor
In this period the Daily Mirror ran a short column entitled ‘Brickbats and Bouquets’ where readers could send in short pithy comments about sporting matters. It appears to be a sort of pre-WW2 twitter as the column had a by-line stating “readers are reminded that Brickbats and Bouquets for publication must be brief”. Just after this match, on Thursday 14 March, they published a Brickbat from BNK from Birkenhead which went like this:
““BIG NOISE” GUNNERS
Like most other papers, you annoy me by thinking that Arsenal draw record crowds when they play outside London because they are good. What we go for is to see the Arsenal beaten!”
The sports editor responded with the comment
“But record crowds go to Highbury too, to see the visitors beaten”
The Arsenal did the League home and away double over both Liverpool and Everton that season which may have coloured BNK’s views somewhat!
Bobby Gurney the Sunderland centre-forward in this match is the club’s most prolific striker in their history with 228 goals in 390 first team matches. On the train down to London prior to this game he was presented with a pen and autographed sketch by grateful Sunderland directors in celebration of his recent 150th goal for the club. In the following 1935-36 season his goals assured Sunderland were to finish as League champions while Arsenal, concentrating on winning the FA Cup, languished in 6th. And the season after their League triumph he scored the opening goal in Sunderland’s first ever FA Cup final victory at Wembley in 1937.
Sunderland’s all-time second highest scorer with 222 goals is Charlie Buchan, who famously appeared for both clubs in his illustrious career.
Another player from Sunderland’s all time greats list who appeared in this game was Raich Carter, who is widely acknowledged as one of the most skilled Black Cats ever, and was the fulcrum of their 1936 League and 1937 FA Cup wins. Unfortunately, his career was blighted by the Second World War, and despite playing wartime games for the club he moved to Derby after the conflict ended and helped them to win the FA Cup in 1946.
Arsenal supporter from Woolwich days died during the game
A tragedy occurred at the ground as a long term Arsenal supporter died of a heart attack during the game. 71 year old William Jenner, of Sladedale Road, Plumstead was a gateman at Highbury and had been supporting the club since the very early days when the club played in Plumstead.
He was an original shareholder of the Woolwich Arsenal Football and Athletic Company, Limited in May 1893 and he also held a share in the new Arsenal company formed in 1910. Prior to retirement he was a crane operator at the Royal Arsenal Ordnance factory, moving large guns around. A true patron of the club who did not let the move across the Thames in 1913 affect his support for the Gunners.
The rest of the season:
While Arsenal were destined to be League champions and Sunderland runners-up in 1934-35, Spurs were relegated to the Second Division after finishing bottom of the table. This cartoon shows how close Sunderland were to Arsenal at this stage, though at the end of the season Arsenal had extended their lead to four points.
Arsenal wrapped up the League in the away game on 22 April at Middlesbrough which they won 1-0, and, in fact, only lost one game after the Sunderland match. This was the final game of the season at home to Derby and was a dead rubber as the title had already been won. However, it did mean that Derby were the only team to beat Arsenal both home and away that season.
Facts relating to the Season:
Ted Drake was the leading goalscorer in the First Division that season with 42 goals in 41 appearances, still a club record for most goals scored by an Arsenal player in one season.
This match was Alf Kirchen’s first home game for Arsenal since being signed from Norwich. A few days previously he had made his debut at White Hart Lane and scored twice in the 6-0 destruction of Spurs, which was the largest away win for any team in the league that season.
The whole Sunderland team and various officials were invited to be Arsenal’s guests at their celebration dinner on 7 May 1935. After the event in London the Black Cats embarked on a tour of Spain, playing in Barcelona and Madrid.
After the season had ended and Arsenal had fully celebrated their Championship hat-trick, the summer of 1935 saw work began to cover the Laundry End (later known as the North Bank) of the ground. Part of the work included relocating the famous clock to the South terrace.
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