Continuing our Summer series of articles in search of Arsenal’s greatest ever team, this week we begin our quest for the greatest forwards to include in our team. Don’t forget to take the opportunity to choose your personal favourite striker from an earlier era by voting in the poll at the end of the week.
4. Alex James: 1929-1937.
Alex made 261 appearances over an 8 year period and scored 27 goals.
Born in Mossend, Lanarkshire, Alex started his career with local youth clubs.
Alex joined Raith Rovers in 1922, where he spent three seasons, recording nearly one hundred League appearances, before moving to Preston North End for £3,000 in 1925.
He spent four years at the Second Division side, scoring 55 goals in 157 appearances; however towards the end of his stay there he fell into several disputes with the club’s management, partly over wages – at the time, the Football League operated a maximum wage of £8 a week – and also because Preston refused to release him for international duty with Scotland.
Alex left Preston and joined Arsenal in 1929 for £8,750, making his debut against Leeds United on 31 August 1929. In order to circumvent the maximum wage rules, Arsenal arranged it so that his employment at the club was supplemented by a £250-a-year “sports demonstrator” job at Selfridges, the London department store. James had an unremarkable first season at Arsenal, in part due to the recovery from injuries he had accrued playing in the Second Division; however, he played in Arsenal’s 1930 FA Cup Final win against Huddersfield Town, scoring the first in a 2-0 win to give Arsenal their first major trophy.
Over time he settled into his role and became part of the dominant side of English football in 1930s. Playing deep as a supporting player, he scored relatively few goals for Arsenal – only 27 in 261 appearances – but created many times that number. Alex’s passing and vision supplied the ammunition that David Jack, Cliff Bastin, Ted Drake and Jack Lambert all put into the net.
He helped Arsenal to their first ever First Division Championship win in 1930-31, but was injured during the title race in 1931-32; without him, Arsenal finished second behind Everton and lost the 1932 FA Cup Final against Newcastle United. He had been passed fit before injuring himself in a pre-match photo call for the press, without him, Arsenal lost 2-1. He recovered to help Arsenal to a second title in 1932-33, as Arsenal scored 118 goals in the League that season. Another spate of injuries marred his1933-34 season, as Arsenal retained their title but scoring far fewer (75) goals in the process, but when he recovered they won a fourth, and their third in a row in 1934-35, with Ted Drake scoring 42 league goals that season, many of them supplied by Alex. The following season he won a second FA Cup winners’ medal, captaining the Arsenal team to their 1-0 win over Sheffield United.
He was famed for the excellent quality of his passing and supreme ball control, leading many modern-day comparisons with Arsenal forward Dennis Bergkamp. His rheumatism meant he wore “baggy” shorts to hide the long johns he wore to keep warm; the baggy appearance became his trademark.
Despite his form for his clubs, he won just eight caps for Scotland, partly due to Preston’s reluctance to release him for international matches. He made his international debut on 31 October 1925 against Wales, which Scotland won 3-0, his short international career included an appearance for the legendary “Wembley Wizards” team that thrashed England 5-1 at Wembley in 1928, with Alex scoring two goals.
With age and injuries taking their toll in the last two seasons of his career, Alex retired from playing in the summer of 1937. During World War II he served in the Royal Artillery, and after the war he became a journalist, as well as running a football pools competition. In 1949 he was invited back to Arsenal to coach the club’s youth sides.
Alex was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2005 in recognition of his contribution to the English game.
He died suddenly, of cancer, when he was just 51 years of age.
5. Joe Hulme: 1926-1938.
Joe made 374 appearances over a 12 year period and scored 125 goals.
Born in Stafford, Staffordshire Joe usually played as a right-winger. He played for Stafford YMCA before starting his career in non-League football with Midland League side York City, he then moved to Blackburn Rovers for a fee of £250. He spent two years at Ewood Park and made 74 league appearances, scoring six goals.
Joe made his Arsenal debut on 6 February 1926 away to Leeds United, and remained a regular for the rest of that season. That led him to be picked for the Football League XI that season, and the following season, 1926–27, he made his full England debut, against Scotland at Hampden Park. In between 1927 and 1933 Joe won nine caps for England. That same season he also played in his first FA Cup final, against Cardiff City, which Arsenal lost 1–0.
He remained first choice on the right-wing at Arsenal up until the 1932–33 season, combining with Cliff Bastin (who joined Arsenal in 1929) to form a pair of highly-paced wingers with Joe scoring18 goals in 1931–32 (including hat-tricks against Sunderland and Middlesbrough) and 20 in 1932-33. During this time Joe and Arsenal started winning trophies, taking the FA Cup in 1929–30, and followed it up with a pair of First Division titles in 1930–31 and 1932–33. Injuries deprived him of another title-winning medal, as he only made eight appearances (but still scored five times) in Arsenal’s 1933–34 title-winning season. He returned to the Arsenal side the following season, 1934–35, and won his third league winners’ medal with 16 appearances, although by now injury and losses of form meant he was not an automatic first choice, sharing duties with Pat Beasley and Alf Kirchen.
In 1935–36, Joe played 28 times in the league and cup winning his final honour with Arsenal, a second FA Cup medal after Arsenal beat Sheffield United 1–0 in the final, making him the only player to have played in all of Arsenal’s first four cup finals. He spent his final two seasons at Arsenal (1936–37 and 1937–38) as a bit-part player, making just ten appearances in one-and-a-half years. His final appearance came against Liverpool on 18 December 1937. He scored 125 goals in 374 appearances for the Gunners, making him the club’s tenth-top scorer of all time.
He left Arsenal for Huddersfield in January 1938, where he saw out the rest of his career, picking up an FA Cup runners-up medal in the 1937–38 season before retiring from football at the end of that season. Joe was also a fine all-round cricketer, playing 225 times for Middlesex between 1929 and 1939 as an aggressive middle-order batsman and medium-fast bowler. Capped by Middlesex in 1930, he scored his first century that year, 117 against Warwickshire at Edgbaston. He first passed 1,000 runs for the season in 1932, and in 1934 made his highest aggregate, 1,258 runs at 34.94, including four hundreds. He was an excellent fielder in the deep, and a good runner between the wickets. In 225 matches he made 8,103 runs at an average of 26.56, the highest of his twelve hundreds being 143 against Gloucestershire at Bristol. His useful right-arm medium-pace bowling brought him 89 wickets at 36.40, with a career best of 4 for 44, and he held 110 catches.
After World War II, which he spent working as a policeman; Joe became manager of Arsenal’s fiercest rivals, Tottenham Hotspur from 1945 to 1949. He achieved little actual success at the time, but he did lay the foundations for their championship-winning side of 1950–51. After that, Joe left football altogether, to become a successful journalist.
He died at the age of 87, in 1991.
6. Ted Drake: 1934-1945.
Ted made 184 appearances over an 11 year period and scored 139 goals.
Born in Southampton, Ted started playing at Winchester City, whilst continuing to work as a gas-meter reader. He nearly joined Tottenham Hotspur as a schoolboy, but missed the trial match with an injury. In June 1931, he was persuaded by George Kay to join Southampton, then playing in Division Two. He made his Saints debut on 14 November 1931 at Swansea Town, and signed as a professional in November, becoming first-choice centre-forward by the end of the 1931–32 season. In the following season he made 33 league appearances, scoring 20 goals.
After only one full season, his bravery and skill attracted the attention of Arsenal’s Herbert Chapman, who tried to persuade him to move to North London. Ted rejected the chance of a move to Highbury and decided to remain at The Dell. He started the 1933–34 season by scoring a hat trick in the opening game against Bradford City, following this with at least one goal in the next four games, thereby amassing eight goals in the opening five games. By early March he had blasted his way to the top of the Football League Division Two goal-scoring table with 22 goals.
Arsenal, with George Allison now in charge, renewed their interest and Ted eventually decided to join the Gunners in March 1934 for a fee of £6,500. Saints had declined several previous offers, but eventually were forced to sell in order to balance their books. Ted made a total of 74 appearances for Southampton, scoring 48 goals.
He scored on his league debut against Wolves on 24 March 1934, in a 3–2 win. Although he joined too late to qualify for a League Championship medal in 1933–34, he would win one in 1934–35, scoring 42 goals in 41 league games in the process, this included three hat-tricks and four four-goal hauls. With two more goals in the FA Cup and Charity Shield, Ted scored 44 in all that season, breaking Jack Lambert’s club record, one that still holds to this day.
His exploits at club level brought him recognition at international level, and he made his England debut against Italy in the “Battle of Highbury” on 14 November 1934; one of seven Arsenal players in the side, he scored the third goal in a heated 3–2 win. In total he won five caps, scoring six times.
The following season, 1935–36 he scored seven in a single match against Aston Villa at Villa Park on 14 December 1935, a club record and top flight record that also still stands. Ted claimed an eighth goal hit the crossbar and went over the line, but the referee waved away his appeal. Drake would go on to win the FA Cup in 1935–36 (scoring the only goal in the final) and the League again in 1937–38.
Despite being injured regularly (he was a doubt up until the last minute for the 1936 Cup Final), his speed, fierce shooting and brave playing style meant he was Arsenal’s first-choice centre forward for the rest of the decade, and he was the club’s top scorer for each of the five seasons from 1934–35 to 1938–39. The Second World War curtailed Drake’s career, although he served in the Royal Air Force as well as turning out for Arsenal in wartime games and also appearing as a guest player for West Ham United later in World War II. However, his career would not last long into peacetime; a spinal injury incurred in a game against Reading in 1945 forced him to retire from playing. With 139 goals in 184 games, he is the joint-fifth (along with Jimmy Brain) all-time scorer for Arsenal.
After retiring as a player, Ted managed Hendon in 1946, and then Reading from 1947. He led the club to the runners-up spot in Division Three South in 1948-49 and again in 1951–52, though at the time only the champions were promoted.
He was appointed manager of First Division Chelsea in 1952. Upon his arrival at Chelsea, he made a series of sweeping changes, doing much to rid the club of its previous amateurish, music hall image. He discarded the club’s Chelsea pensioner crest and with it the Pensioners nickname, and insisted a new one be adopted. From these changes came the “Lion Rampant Regardant” crest and the Blues nickname. He introduced scouting reports and a new, tougher, training regime based on ball work, a rare practice in English football at the time. Within three years, in the 1954–55 season, Ted had led Chelsea to their first-ever league championship triumph. In doing so, he became the first person to win the league title both as player and manager. However, he never came close to repeating that success and left Chelsea to become reserve team manager at Fulham, later becoming a director and then life president.
Ted died aged 82, on 30 May 1995.
Written by GunnerN5 and compiled by Gooner in Exile