The “Arsenal: We Won the League…” series is centred on the Thirties domination of football by Arsenal, in which we will publish the details around each game in which the Five titles were gained.
First up is the first win:
Arsenal League Champions 1930-31
In the 1930’s Arsenal won the League five times: 1930-31, 1932-33, 1933-34, 1934-35 and 1937-38.
Two of these triumphs were gained at home. This one, the first, was against Liverpool
Date: Saturday 18 April 1931
Competition: Football League Division One
Arsenal (1) 3 Goalscorers: Jack 25, Bastin 65, Lambert 70
Liverpool (1) 1 Goalscorers: Roberts OG 3
Arsenal: B Harper, T Parker (captain), E Hapgood, B John, H Roberts, C Jones, J Hulme, D Jack, J Lambert, A James, C Bastin.
Liverpool: E Scott, J Jackson (captain), T Lucas, T Morrison, N James, J McDougall, H Barton, G Hodgson, D Wright, A McPherson, G Gunson.
A full strength Arsenal, who added Herbie Roberts to the line-up after missing the preceding Grimsby game with injury, went into the game with Liverpool at Highbury needing only a point to secure their first ever League title. While Liverpool comfortably in mid-table had little to strive for other than professional pride.
Liverpool after winning the toss began at a rousing pace trying to put Arsenal off their stride on this potentially momentous occasion. Roberts was showing signs that he had not fully recovered from the knock that kept him out of the previous game and was slow at Centre half all game.
Arsenal were not helped by the wind which was blowing directly into their faces in the first half and on the third minute conceded a weather assisted goal. Harold Barton hit a speculative cross which caught the wind and was diverted goal bound, though Harper had it covered. Sadly the swirling ball hit the thigh of Roberts and evaded Harper’s left hand as it rolled into the net.
A surprise early goal could have knocked the Gunners but Arsenal’s forward line led by the tempo of Alex James, whose skill, inspiration and keenness unlocked the Liverpool defence, with the other forwards in the line.
However, before the goals arrived Cliff Bastin hit the crossbar with a rasping drive and Bob John, Jack Lambert and Joey Hulme all had chances which travelled wide of the goal. On 25 minutes David Jack equalised after a pass from Charlie Jones set him up to shoot past Elisha Scott.
Arsenal despite the wind disadvantage held sway the remainder of the first half and the second half began with the wind on their backs!
As expected by the crowd the home team piled on the pressure with an irresistible force, indeed the Liverpool defence held up well and if less well drilled would have conceded many more than just the three.
On 65 minutes James took a free kick from 25 yards out which he feigned to send to Hulme but instead passed it to Lambert. The ball found its way to Bastin whose crisp drive nestled just inside the post.
Five minutes later Tom Parker passed backwards to Harper in the Arsenal goal. The keeper picked it up and unleashed a massive kick up-field which found Hulme in plenty of space. He crossed to Lambert who rolled the ball past Scott confirming the win.
Aston Villa’s win shown on the results board at the end was all in vain as the Gunners had triumphed much to the supporter’s joy as a loud roar was heard around Highbury at quarter to five on the final whistle. By securing the League with two games to go Arsenal had already beaten the previous points record. Arsenal’s final tally of 66 points was up to that stage the highest in League history beating the previous best by a full six points.
Comments on Arsenal’s League win:
The Times on 20 April wrote an intelligent piece entitled “Arsenal’s Triumph” about the key to the team being Herbert Chapman’s planning the construction of a watertight defence balanced with the counter attack:
The Team succeed by the rapidity and unexpectedness with which they transform defence into attack. They lure their opponents into a false sense of security, and then, with a short series of sudden blows, accomplish their downfall. A goal is scored before the other side has realised that it is not the attacking side. Theirs is a cunningly devised plan, and its success is to be judged by the large number of goals scored, averaging almost three a match.
The successes of Arsenal have been due more to excellent team play and adaptability than to the brilliant individualism of a few costly players of renown…The various players have sunk their individuality in the team and each has taken his full share in promoting the fortunes of the club.
Facts about the match or players:
The Liverpool captain and full back Jimmy Jackson was the son of ex-Woolwich Arsenal captain and full back Jimmy Jackson. Liverpudlian Jackson had become a padre, and after finishing playing he moved full time into the church.
Rest of the Season:
The club held the League Championship winning dinner and dance at the Café Royal on the evening of Thursday 30 April. This was to be the first of five such celebrations in the decade of the 1930s.
300 people were present at the banquet including the full complement of Aston Villa players, who were cordially invited as runners up.
During the after dinner speaking, Sir Samuel Hill-Wood chairman of the Arsenal Football Club said a great deal of their success was due to the team spirit which animated the players. While Sir Frederick Wall, secretary of the Football Association and future Arsenal director, stated that Arsenal had one of the best teams that this country had ever had.
Trophy presentation at Highbury
The trophy was handed to Tom Parker by John McKenna, President of the Football League after the end of the Bolton game, the final game of the season at Highbury. This presentation on 2 May 1931 was made in the grandstand with supporters allowed to congregate on the pitch in front of the ceremony.
Tumultuous scenes were witnessed as the game was delayed as thousands ran onto the pitch thinking the game had ended. They all had to be removed by the police from the pitch before the final whistle could be blown. When the whistle blew they all ran on again and carried off the players to the grandstand.
35,406 witnessed the 5-0 win followed by the League Championship trophy being awarded to Arsenal, and indeed to any London club, for the first time. Previously the most southerly team to win the League had been Aston Villa.
Other Arsenal 1930-31 Facts:
Arsenal’s eventual title lead was seven points over Aston Villa, though the runners-up outscored the champions by 128 to 127 goals over this season. Both totals being far in excess of any other tally historically over a full season. Over the season the three scorers in this match were the leading scorers for Arsenal; Lambert notched 38, Jack 31 and Bastin 28.
Holders Arsenal were beaten in the FA cup 4th round by Chelsea. Chelsea went onto the final were they were beaten by WBA of Division 2.
Around the same time as the League victory the Clapton Orient ownership details discussed in court. Arsenal had been assisting neighbours Orient to get over their financial difficulties and had a receiver appointed, Major Mark Swears to administer and oversee their way out of the financial mess they had found themselves in.
In the close season after the momentous win, Herbert Chapman had a cartilage operation in June, the doctors removing the offending body part after he suffered knee pain for more than twenty years since his playing days.
Lancashire Daily Post; Portsmouth Evening News (Player cartoons 20 April 1931); Northern Daily Mail; Daily Mirror (Crowd photo 4 May 1931); Daily Express; Times; Sunday Times
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- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal – crowd behaviour at the early matches