Football during the war – 1936-46!
Two years after the sudden and tragic loss of our ex manager and icon of our football club, Herbert Chapman, Arsenal had to continue going about their business as best they could without him.
And so, instead of losing its way on the pitch, the powerhouse created by Herbert Chapman was left to Joe Shaw and George Allison, who saw out a hat-trick of title wins with the 1933–34 and 1934–35 seasons titles. They then went on to win the 1936 FA Cup and 1937–38 league title.
The trophies just kept coming though, and Arsenal won a second FA Cup in the 1935–36 season when they won 1–0 in the final against Sheffield United. They claimed their fifth League title in the 1937–38 season, just pipping Wolverhampton Wanderers to the post, all on the final day of the season. This capped off a very successful decade for the team, all influenced no doubt by Herbert Chapman and I am sure they continued the wins in memory of the man who shaped the club!
All football in Britain was soon suspended though after the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, this also meant that there was a cancellation of all first-class football in the 1939–40 Football League season too.
During this time, our home ground of Highbury was occupied as an Air Raid Precautions station that had a barrage balloon operating behind the Clock End. Unfortunately, though nothing was safe in this time, and during the Blitz a bomb fell on the North Bank, destroying the roof and setting fire to the scrap that was being stored on the terrace.
And so with Highbury closed, Arsenal instead played their home matches at White Hart Lane, home to our rivals Tottenham Hotspur. However, as wartime matches do not count in official statistics, competitions were played on a regional basis and teams did not always manage to complete a full season as many footballers served in the armed forces as trainers or instructors and were away from their clubs for long periods of time.
As many players were away on war duty, the clubs would be left short and so some players would often star as guests at other clubs to help them maintain fitness during a tough period…
To make the best out of a bad situation a War Cup League was set up in which Arsenal won, becoming the winners of the Football League War Cup South in 1942–43.
In 1941 Arsenal were one of a number of clubs expelled from having a membership of the Football League for refusing to participate in the wartime Football League (South) and organising a rebel London League but it took them one year to become admitted back to the league after they expressed regret and ended up paying a £10 fine, which back then was a lot of money but these days is peanuts to football clubs and players.
In November 1945, with league competition still suspended, Arsenal were one of the teams that played a Dynamo Moscow side touring the UK. With many players still serving abroad in the armed forces, Arsenal were severely depleted and used six guest players, including Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen, which led Dynamo Moscow to declare they were playing an England XI.
The match took place at our rivals Spurs home ground of White Hart Lane and kicked off in thick fog. The game ended in defeat as Dynamo Moscow came out as 4–3 winners despite Arsenal leading 3–1 at half-time.
This game did not come without its controversies though as English reports alleged that Dynamo fielded twelve players at one point and tried to pressurise the referee into abandoning the match when they had been losing. In turn, the Soviets accused Arsenal of persistent foul play and even alleged that manager Allison had bet money on the result, a claim that was later retracted.
The hostility the match brought for both teams in contrast inspired George Orwell when he wrote his 1945 essay The Sporting Spirit, in which he preached on the nature of sport, namely that in his view “it is war minus the shooting”.
Once competitive football had resumed in 1946 it was clear to see that the war had taken its toll on Arsenal as a club and a stadium.
It had claimed the lives of nine Arsenal players, the most of any top-flight club, and the intervening time had cut short the careers of several others, including Cliff Bastin and Ted Drake.
Additionally, the debts from the construction needed to fix Highbury back into the normal state including the costs of repairing the damage caused by the war, placed a heavy financial burden on the club and Arsenal struggled at first. It came to resuming playing the beautiful game no doubt weaker than how they were when they went into the war.
And surely there was going to be tougher times to come for the club no doubt..
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