It seems a good time to remind people that Arsenal once went 44 years without winning a major trophy.
That included a 17-year blank after moving to a larger stadium. It came after Herbert Chapman, rightly now revered, had gone five years without delivering the trophy Arsenal supporters craved. A piece I originally penned for Arsenal-Land in November 2007 covered that first successful season for the Gunners at the start of the decade that saw their status soar worldwide. Thanks again Darren for letting me reproduce these pieces here.
This article first appeared on Goonerholic in March 2013
When Herbert Chapman arrived from Huddersfield Town in 1925 there was a degree of surprise among the football watching public of the day. The Yorkshire club had landed two Football League titles before Chapman’s shock departure, and went on to collect the hat-trick in 1926, ironically pipping Arsenal in what to that point had been their best season.
He had taken the reigns at a London club without a major trophy to its name, but the ambitious Chapman knew the regard in which he would be held if he could bring success to the south.
The runners-up spot in his first league season in charge was followed 12 months later by a first FA Cup final appearance for Arsenal. In a major shock, however, Chapman’s hot favourites fell to Cardiff City at Wembley.
By the summer of 1929 Chapman needed to find a playmaker to replace Charlie Buchan, who had retired a year earlier. By good fortune Alex James, one of the truly outstanding players of the era, was made available by his club Preston and Chapman was quick to pounce. A fee of £9,000 sealed the capture.
As so often happens with big-money signings though, the Scottish international was not an immediate success. Although Arsenal won five of their opening six fixtures there followed a slump in form so dramatic that by Christmas the talk was not of the title, but of relegation. The Christmas matches saw Chapman tinker with his side, most notably bringing in a reserve inside forward, Cliff ‘Boy’ Bastin, on the left wing. James' confidence remained low and when Chelsea came visiting in the third round of the FA Cup, he was sensationally dropped.
As the game unfolded there was a sign of things to come in the sky over the stadium as the German airship, Graf Zeppelin sailed by almost unnoticed. It would take more than the ill-fated blimp to distract Arsenal on the greatest day they had experienced to date
The decision proved to be the correct one, as in pouring rain the Gunners triumphed 2-0 to earn another home tie with Birmingham. Still without Chapman the home team appeared to be cruising at 2-0, but City rallied to force a replay at St Andrews.
The following morning Chapman revealed the extent of his man-management skills, calling to collect James and take him to Highbury for special training. James returned to the side for the replay and Arsenal won with a Baker penalty.
Successive away draws in the fifth and sixth rounds gave Arsenal extremely difficult ties at Middlesbrough, where an impressive 2-0 triumph was overshadowed only by the three-goal drubbing of West Ham at Upton Park.
The semi-final draw could not have been kinder. Hull City’s fight against relegation from the Second Division would surely not hinder Chapman’s progress to a second final in three years?
Fifteen minutes in, Hull’s Harrison took advantage of a goalkeeping error to open the scoring, and shortly afterwards Eddie Hapgood, the Arsenal left back, sliced into his own net. As the half time score flashed around the country, all ears were turned to the radio commentary from Leeds. This was a sensation in the making.
The scoreline remained unchanged until 10 minutes from time when David Jack reduced the arrears. Just two minutes later James played a slide-rule pass to Bastin and Arsenal had survived the shock.
The significant moment of a bad-tempered replay at Villa Park came when David Jack struck a spectacular volley to take the Gunners back to Wembley. Between the two ties Jack had captained England to a 5-2 win over Scotland, and Alex James. When the sides had last met at Wembley, two years previously, James had inspired Scotland’s ‘Wembley wizards’ to a 5-1 triumph.
Goonerholic has been blogging independently for nearly seven years and is approaching the 50th anniversary of the first match he remembers attending with his father at Highbury
Relegation had ceased to be a major worry by the end of the season, but it took a couple of spectacular results in the closing fixtures to lift the side to 14th place. First Sheffield United were crushed 8-1 before the trip to Leicester, where Arsenal recovered from a 3-1 half-time deficit to draw 6-6!
So to Wembley, and one can only imagine how proud Chapman must have been as he led his current side, Arsenal, out at Wembley to face a side he himself had largely constructed at Huddersfield.
Town were unquestionably the favourites. They fielded seven internationals while Arsenal were forced to field a reserve goalkeeper, Charlie Preedy. At lunch though a plan was hatched that would determine the contest. James agreed with Bastin that the first free-kick in opposition territory would involve an exchange of passes between the two for James to shoot at goal. His colleagues chuckled. James was not a prolific scorer of goals!
Seventeen minutes in James was fouled. He played the ball to Bastin on the left wing and advanced to smash the return pass into the back of the net. It was time for the Gunners rearguard to do their job, and they did so.
As the game unfolded there was a sign of things to come in the sky over the stadium as the German airship, Graf Zeppelin sailed by almost unnoticed. It would take more than the ill-fated blimp to distract Arsenal on the greatest day they had experienced to date.
Seven minutes from time James relieved pressure on the Arsenal goal with a long pass to centre forward Jack Lambert who muscled his way through to score the clincher. Skipper Tom Parker may have been the man to lift the famous old trophy, but few would argue that this special day belonged to Chapman and James.
For the supporters too, memories of years of struggle, the move to Highbury, the loss to Cardiff three years earlier, were finally banished. By the end of the thirties football would have temporarily halted thanks to the Second World War, but the sadly deceased Chapman would have made Arsenal into a dynasty, with five league championships and a second FA Cup to their credit.
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