One night during WWII I was lying in bed when the room was suddenly lit up with a nearby searchlight coming on. Thinking it was a raid coming, I jumped out of bed and I started to get dressed. Looking out of the window, I saw dozens of searchlights sweeping the sky and waving backwards and forwards. I went into the front room where Mum and Dad had the radio on and they were just announcing the end of the war in Europe. Our next-door neighbour rushed in and everybody sat talking until the early hours of the morning. The next day nobody went to work and we had an impromptu party down at the corner of the road. People took cakes and sandwiches down to be shared out and a radiogram was fixed up to provide music for people to dance to.
Germany had officially surrendered and Londoners could now try to rebuild their damaged City and lives. Life was still very difficult, good jobs were scarce, food was still rationed, we still used Cow and Gate powered milk, and bomb sites were scattered all over town. But gradually life was returning to the streets and the daily fear of bombing raids, and having to dash to air raid shelters for safety, was now just a horrible memory.
The Arsenal ground in North London was not spared war damage as the North Stand was extensively damaged by fire and the roof had collapsed, the South Stand terracing was also badly damaged and in need of repair. The debts from the construction of Highbury and the costs of repairing the war damage were a heavy financial burden, and Arsenal struggled when competitive football resumed.
The war had cut short the careers of many of the club’s star players, including Bastin and Drake and nine of the pre-WW11 staff were lost during the war. Upon the league’s resumption in 1946-47 the club began poorly and were bottom at Christmas. However, George Allison managed to make two signings late in 1946 which laid the foundations for the success of the following 1947/8 season. Cultured left half Joe Mercer was signed from Everton in November at the age of 32 on the agreement that he could commute from Liverpool and Ronnie Rooke, a prolific goalscorer in Division 2, signed from Fulham a month later. With a face carved from granite, his 6ft 3in, 15 stone frame helped to define his powerful playing style. Rooke scored 21 goals in the 24 games he played that season and helped to drag Arsenal up to 13th place.
After close to forty years with the Arsenal, George Allison decided to retire from football in the summer of 1947 and was replaced by his assistant Tom Whittaker, who had been the club’s trainer under Herbert Chapman. Whittaker took over the reins at Highbury with Joe Shaw joining him from Chelsea. Arsenal kicked off the1947/48 season with a 3-1 victory over Sunderland at Highbury, an ideal start for the new management team (see British Pathe video below).
Leslie Compton, the previous club Captain who had been playing cricket for Middlesex, returned to Arsenal and we won the next six games. Joe Mercer had been Arsenal’s Captain in Compton’s absence but Whittaker felt that now Compton was back he should, once again, lead the team but Compton felt differently and persuaded him to keep Joe on as the club Captain. There certainly seemed to be harmony in the Arsenal dressing room as we remained unbeaten in the first 17 games of the season, winning 12 and drawing 5 before losing 0-1 away to Derby County in the 18th game.
That 17th game of the unbeaten start proved to be a milestone in the life of GunnerN5. I was nine years old and I spent endless hours playing football with my mates on Avenell Road as we kicked a rag football (made by my Mum) about using the main gate into Highbury as our goal. We were in awe of all the supporters as they streamed in and out of Highbury on Saturday afternoons wishing we could be inside with them. The Oohs and Aahs coming from the ground always left us wondering what was happening but we always knew when the Gunners had scored as that caused the biggest roar of all. My maternal Grandfather changed my life when he gave me the best birthday present I’d received – for my 10th birthday he took me to my very first Arsenal game – it was November 22nd 1947 Arsenal vs Huddersfield Town and we won 2-0. That game was the start my lifelong journey of supporting the Arsenal and it was capped off with us winning the League Championship.
North London had the original Ronnie and Reggie up front as Ronnie Rooke and Reg Lewis powered Arsenal to the title with 47 goals between them (Rooke’s 33 goals still stands as a post-war record, although Thierry Henry did manage 30 goals in 4 less games in the Invincibles season). Arsenal were the dominant team of the season and were ahead of the other final top teams from the 2nd game of the season onward – as shown in the following table. The highlighted variance column shows how many points the 2nd, 3rd and 4th teams Manchester United, Burnley, and Derby County) were behind Arsenal after each game of the season. Top of the table for 41 of the 42 League matches – the phrase ‘never in doubt’ has never been more correctly used.
In the final Arsenal matchday programme of the 1947/48 League Championship winning season, ‘Marksman’ (aka Harry Homer), the programme editor of the day, wrote: “…my mind seeks an apt quotation with which to close this season which has been such a glorious one for Tom Whittaker, Joe Mercer and all connected with The Gunners. Shall we turn for once to Latin? ‘Victoria Concordia Crescit’. Translation: ‘Victory grows out of harmony.’”
Two seasons later and Arsenal unveiled its new crest which incorporated Marksman’s Latin maxim. Tom Whittaker explained in the 1949/50 handbook (which also included the new crest) that the Club had been impressed by Marksman’s motto and it had now been officially adopted by the Club. The new crest also featured ‘Arsenal’ in a gothic style typeface, the westward facing cannon, the Borough of Islington’s coat of arms and ermine. (courtesy of Arsenal.com)
Written by GunnerN5