Which season or time was the most significant in Arsenal’s history?
What was the most significant season or period in Arsenal’s history? I will go through many seasons which had huge implications for Arsenal and finally plump for the one I feel was the most important. I will also say which one was the most crucial for me in my time as a Gooner but probably regular readers will guess that answer. There are lots to consider and it is truly very difficult to choose. I will go through them by date so that you can see the progression and maybe work out in advance which one I will eventually go for. I should say this is not about our best season but the most important or significant one, one that meant we had the possibility to become the Arsenal of today.
The marble halls - a symbol of the Arsenal
And so I have to start with Dial Square in 1886. As the foundation it has to be a candidate and we began with a 6-0 thrashing of Eastern Wanderers In December so we started well. We changed our name to Royal Arsenal at Christmas reportedly and that surely was significant or what would we be calling ourselves now? The Diallers? The Squares? Oh, no! I certainly couldn’t go through life being a Square.
Now we are professional
In 1891 we became the first London professional club as we were worried about northern clubs poaching our best players. It meant that we had very little games to compete in as we were banned by the London Football Association who didn’t want professionals. If that had continued it would have been very significant as we could have gone out of existence. What would we be now? We would have had no team to support. We could have ended up Spuds and living a truly miserable life.
Harry Bradshaw - made us into a good team
Ah, but 1893 soon came up and we were allowed in the Football League, the first southern club to do so. We were put in the second division but were not too good, a midtable side. We remained that way until we got Harry Bradshaw as manager in 1899. That was a vital move and gave us our first taste of the big time as we got promoted to the first division in 1903-04. We were now, almost 20 years after forming, among the big boys.
The dark dealings of Henry Norris
But the next significant season was the following year as Bradshaw moved to Fulham and we didn’t do well in the top flight, getting relegated in 1913. Problems with grounds and with ownership increased our struggles but Henry Norris took over after we struggled with voluntary liquidation in 1910. First he wanted us to merge with Fulham, which he also owned. Luckily that didn’t go through as we could have been called Arseham, or worse again, Hamarse. Oh, the indignity!
Henry Norris who certainly didn't look like a nefarious godfather
But he did engineer the move to Highbury and North London after the relegation in 1913 to a much bigger and better ground so that Arsenal could have the possibility of getting back among the big boys. He also got rid of the Woolwich name and the “the” to become plain Arsenal but the supporters and myself have never fully approved the latter.
Down into the abyss
Ah, but then came the kicker. Henry Norris was a bad boy, known for dodgy financial dealings but he used them for the benefit of Arsenal. In 1919, after the war, the first division was expanded to 22 teams. There was a controversy about where the extra two teams were to come from as logically it should have been Chelsea and the Spuds as they were about to be relegated. It was decided that Chelsea would stay and the Spuds go down thanks to the strong belief that Norris had engineered the promotion to sixth placed Arsenal in the second division by egregious backhanders and dark dealing. Surely that would have been impossible in the modern day? The thing is that without it, maybe we would not have got promoted at all, ever. We certainly didn’t set the first division alight at all. If Norris hadn’t done what he did, we could even have dropped down divisions or gone out altogether. We at ASCB could be supporting a team playing out of a field in North London in front of 50 people. The ASCB might only consist of Georgi Stoyanov and me.
If we had stayed in the second division until 1925, then surely Norris would not have been able to attract Herbert Chapman, the man who had made Huddersfield invincible and the equivalent of getting, say, Pep Guardiola today? And it was Chapman who made us great.
A great chap, our Chapman
And so to the Chapman era. He changed everything about what a top club should be. Marble halls, floodlights, the W formation, physiotherapy, elite training practices, new roles for players, numbered jerseys, and even getting the local Tube station renamed to the Arsenal. But it took him 5 years to get our first ever significant trophy, the FA Cup in 1930, and that heralded the start of Arsenal becoming the top team in England in the 1930’s. Titles came our way as we became the juggernaut of English football.
Herbert Chapman - it is hard to believe what he achieved
The strong foundations that Chapman laid meant that even after he died suddenly in 1934, George Allison took over seamlessly and continued to dominate English football. We got 5 titles and 2 FA cups in the 1930’s. We also had 7 Arsenal players on the field for England against Italy in 1934, a record that stands to this day. We were now the best, and improvements to the ground and the interior meant we also had probably the best ground in England. We were the Kings of England, not just London. Now we had a team to support, one that would lead, years later, to a bunch of Arsenal fans in Bulgaria in 2004 setting up the best fan club in the Arsenal universe.
George Allison continued Chapman's great work
We climb Everest
The war years were next, with football more or less closed, although some matches kept the game alive. Highbury was requisitioned for the war effort so we had to play at White Hart Lane. We could have been contaminated by Spursyness but we didn’t as we took our sixth title under Tom Whittaker in 1948, the FA Cup in 1950 and our seventh title in 1953 which made us the top team ever in English football. We were Arsenal, simply the best.
Tom Whittaker moved us the the top of the mountain
Next week, we will continue, we will look at the later post-war years, the doldrums of the 60’s, and the miraculous double of 1971 among many significant events.