Arsenals Top Seasons – 1930-31 Our 2nd Best and First Top Flight Title

April 25, 2018

Here is an early accounting of the game against Liverpool when we won our very first Division One League Championship.

Date: Saturday 18 April 1931
Competition: Football League Division One
Location: Highbury
Attendance: 39,143
Arsenal: B Harper, T Parker (captain), E Hapgood, B John, H Roberts, C Jones, J Hulme, D Jack, J Lambert, A James, C Bastin. Manager: Herbert Chapman.
Liverpool: E Scott, J Jackson (captain), T Lucas, T Morrison, N James, J McDougall, H Barton, G Hodgson, D Wright, A McPherson, G Gunson. Manager: George Patterson.
A full strength Arsenal went into the game with Liverpool at Highbury needing only a point to secure their first ever League title. Arsenal were not helped by the wind which was blowing directly into their faces in the first half – in the third minute we conceded a goal when the wind diverted a cross which bounced off the thigh of Herbie Roberts and evaded goalie Harper’s left hand.
On 25 minutes David Jack equalised after a pass from Charlie Jones set him up to shoot. Arsenal despite the wind disadvantage held on for the remainder of the first half and began the second half with the wind on their backs! Arsenal piled on the pressure and the Liverpool defence held on until the 65th minute when James took a free kick from 25 yards out which he feigned to send to Hulme but passed to Lambert. The ball found its way on to Bastin whose crisp drive nestled just inside the post. Five minutes later Harper punted the ball up field and found Hulme whose cross to Lambert was rolled past Scott into the Liverpool net.

Rare brochure celebrating Arsenal at the beginning of our golden period in the 1930s

This was the first time one of the Southern teams won the Division One title. Arsenal were continuing their rise to the top echelons of football, Herbert Chapman had put together an exceptional forward line consisting of Jack Lambert, David Jack and Cliff Bastin and opposition defences simply could not cope with their combined skills. Lambert scored 38 goals in 34 matches, Jack 31 in 35 and Bastin 28 from 42. Joe Hulme also netted 14 times as Arsenal scored 127 league goals, a club record for a single season.

This was an exciting time to be a Gunner as we handed out a number of heavy defeats. Grimsby Town were on the end of a 9-1 hiding in a replay of the game that was abandoned on December 6th 1930, although they could consider themselves slightly unlucky as they were leading 1-0 when the re-scheduled game was abandoned due to fog.

Arsenal Information Corner in the south west corner of Highbury  Stadium was extremely busy in the 1930/31 season

Blackpool lost 7-1 at Highbury, Derby conceded six on their visit to North London, and Arsenal won 7-2 at Leicester. Cliff Bastin – already Arsenal’s youngest scorer, became their youngest scorer of a hat-trick (at 18) in a 6-3 win over Derby on February 14. Arsenal won four of their first seven games by 4-1 and looked the only possible winners after beating their nearest challengers, Aston Villa, 5-2 on November 8 – a defeat compounded by Villa’s 6-4 home defeat by Derby the following week. Villa won the return against Arsenal 5-1 in March, but by then it was too late.

Arsenal’s first League title set them on the way to their domination of the 1930s. The previous year’s FA Cup final victory over manager Herbert Chapman’s old club, Huddersfield, was very symbolic, but the championship cemented the arrival of Arsenal. It took Chapman six years to win it, but then the floodgates opened, with three in a row from 1933-35, another in 1938 and a second Cup win in 1936 – although sadly he didn’t live to see most of the silverware, having died in 1934.

Herbert Chapman surveying the future

The 1930/31 season also saw the debut of the Gunners first player signed from overseas, Dutch goalkeeper Gerry Keyser. He played in the first 12 league matches of the campaign. Another debutant was George Male who made his Arsenal debut against Blackpool in December and went on to serve the Club until 1948; his first appearance was on Christmas Day. The team played three games in three days over the Christmas period, and won them all scoring 14 goals in the process.

Arsenal’s 66 points were six better than the previous best in League history. Only Arsenal have stayed in the top flight without interruption since then, Everton were Second Division champions in their first year below the top level and won the League title the following season.

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.

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.

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 very first time.  Previously the most southerly team to win the League had been Aston Villa.

Written by GunnerN5