Except it’s a load of old cobblers
One of the stories about Arsenal that Tottenham fans like dredge up due to their seemingly perpetual inferiority complex is that the Middlesex club were relegated in 1928 because Arsenal deliberately lost games to ensure this happened.
Even worse is that it gets an airing in some histories written about Arsenal, even the club’s official history!
So, is it true? Of course not.
Let’s take a look at this paragraph written by a particularly deluded fan:
If you want to read the whole blog, it is available by clicking here. I don’t recommend it, though.
Now, Alessio informs us that Arsenal deliberately lost games against Burnley and Portsmouth in 1927-28 when Tottenham finished second from bottom in the First Division. A look at Arsenal’s fixtures for that season show us that they played Burnley on 31 August and 5 September, the second and fourth games of the season. To have foreseen that Arsenal defeats in these two games so early in the season would have resulted in Tottenham being relegated would be stretching the realms of fantasy to the very extreme. On top of that, Arsenal actually won both of these games.
The game at Portsmouth was the ninth of the season, and was also won. This story isn’t looking too strong, is it? But…the home game was the 32nd of the season played on 28 March, and Arsenal lost. Could this be the game that Tottenham fans have been seeking? Let’s take a look at the league table on the morning of this game:
|8||West Ham United||34||34||1.00|
Woah, hold on a minute. Tottenham were above Arsenal and twelve places above the relegation zone. Admittedly Arsenal had games in hand but Tottenham were in a far better position than most of the other clubs below them. A win for Portsmouth put them above Arsenal who dropped two places to 16th. Now that is a pretty poor attempt to get Tottenham relegated.
At this point it is worth noting that the First Division this season was incredibly tight. The final table showed just 7 points separating 18 teams. The two relegated teams had 37 and 38 points and the 7 teams above them had 39 points as shown below:
|17||West Ham United||42||39||0.92|
I think we can see that it would be impossible to pin any result on being “the one that mattered.” But let’s continue.
After the Portsmouth game, Arsenal lost just two more league games. The first was on 7 April. I very much doubt that this game resulted in Tottenham being relegated as it was against…Tottenham!
So, it MUST have been the other defeat, yes? Only if you try really hard to clutch at straws. The other defeat was on 28 April against Manchester United who were in the relegation zone. This game and the Portsmouth game are the ones stated in the official history. Arsenal were now safe from relegation, and Tottenham were three points clear of the relegation zone with just one game remaining. This is how the table looked on the morning before the game against Manchester United.
|14||West Ham United||40||38||0.94|
Arsenal losing to Manchester United was equally damaging to Tottenham, Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday. West Ham and Birmingham could also be included in this group. How on earth could Arsenal have targeted Tottenham and not these other teams? A win for Tottenham would have pretty much guaranteed them safety but they lost 2-0 to Liverpool.
Arsenal finished in the top half of the table, just three points safe from the drop.
As much as it would be great for it to have really been like this, It’s plain to see that there is no way that Arsenal could have deliberately lost games during 1927-28 to get Tottenham relegated, mainly because of how tight the First Division was that season.
But this story doesn’t end here. This is actually a double mythbuster. According to some history books, Sir Henry Norris was hauled before the Football League to explain Arsenal’s performances that allegedly sent their neighbours down.
However, in a previous blog we showed that Sir Henry stepped down from Arsenal’s board of directors in July 1927 and was banned from having any involvement in football later that summer. He no longer held any influence at the club, and there is no way that Herbert Chapman would have done him a favour following the acrimonious exchanges during the Football Association’s investigation. This part of the story is pure fabrication.
It does make you wonder: how much of Arsenal’s history has been made up to suit certain people’s agendas?
Background to this article
Following discussions with Steve Kell of the AFSC, Mark and I suggested writing for Gunflash for the 2015-16 season. Steve pointed out this would continue Gunflash’s tradition of publishing articles by guest writers, which makes it a great honour for us to be part of this great publication.
Current and back issues of Gunflash are available from the Arsenal Football Supporters Club on matchdays on the corner of Gillespie Road and St. Thomas’ Road, and via their website.
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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