When Arsenal Won Their Very First Division One League Championship

Arsenals Top Seasons – 1930-31

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.

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 he 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. 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 their 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.

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

GunnerN5

16 thoughts on “When Arsenal Won Their Very First Division One League Championship

  • Cheers GN5,

    That is a great post and I love the images you have provided with it.

    I didn’t know that the first players signed from overseas was a Dutchman! Well it had to be, hey?! 🙂

    More later.

  • Thank you for the comment Total.

    I find it to be a wonderful look in the rear view mirror as how things were some ninety years ago. I love the size of the trophy and wondered if it could be carried by one person. I always look back in awe of Chapman’s achievements at
    both Arsenal and Huddersfield. It’s so sad that he lost his life because he insisted on going to watch a game while he had a cold/flu which worsened and took his life. Most certainly a case of gone too soon.

  • The giant prize was the Sheriff of London Charity Shield – the biggest trophy ever competed for in football.

  • Thanks N5. Posts like this really add something special here.
    The descriptions of the scenes along with the photos really transported me. Like a well made drama or documentary. All that’s missing is the music. I want to go watch Peaky Blinders now.

  • Fab GN 5. Thanks for a great post. For wonderful stories and photo’s from those days, I recommend my favourite Arsenal book, “The End, 80 years of life on the terraces” by Tom Watt. It’s one of two books which never leave my bedside table.

  • Yes agreed with both guys above, a journey back in time. Three games over the Christmas period scoring 14 goals…. Wow what a joy that must have been.

  • Excellent post GunnerN5, I find it interesting to see the attendances at that time, especially considering that it was pay at the turnstiles and the ground capacity was around the 70,000 to the 75,000 mark.

    Maybe it’s a reflection of the period, the 1930’s and the economy at the time post the 1929 crash?

    That season had a couple of very enjoyable results that our blog historian didn’t mention, in that Arsenal beat Tottenham 5-1 at Highbury and thrashed them 6-0 at White Hart Lane.
    As a bonus Tottenham got relegated.

    It was unfortunate that during Arsenal’s most dominant period that Tottenham spent most of it in Division Two, thus we lost the chance of a few more North London thrashing’s…

  • Morning all,

    I find the image of the scoreboard quite intriguing – from the style over the fence to the score/time keeper at the bottom of his ladder – mechanization in the 30’s no less.

  • Kev – here’s the 19301/31 final league table you will note that Tottenham are not there – but of great interest is the fact that we finished first and Manchester finished last (44 points behind us) and were relegated.

    1930-31 Final League Division 1 Table
    P W D L F A Pts
    Arsenal 42 28 10 4 127 59 66
    Aston Villa 42 25 9 8 128 78 59
    Sheffield W 42 22 8 12 102 75 52
    Portsmouth 42 18 13 11 84 67 49
    Huddersfield 42 18 12 12 81 65 48
    Derby County 42 18 10 14 94 79 46
    Middlesbrough 42 19 8 15 98 90 46
    Man C 42 18 10 14 75 70 46
    Liverpool 42 15 12 15 86 85 42
    Blackburn 42 17 8 17 83 84 42
    Sunderland 42 16 9 17 89 85 41
    Chelsea 42 15 10 17 64 67 40
    Grimsby 42 17 5 20 82 87 39
    Bolton 42 15 9 18 68 81 39
    Sheffield U 42 14 10 18 78 84 38
    Leicester 42 16 6 20 80 95 38
    Newcastle 42 15 6 21 78 87 36
    West Ham 42 14 8 20 79 94 36
    Birmingham 42 13 10 19 55 70 36
    Blackpool 42 11 10 21 71 125 32
    Leeds 42 12 7 23 68 81 31
    Man U 42 7 8 27 53 115 22

  • You were out by a few years Kev.

    The seasson in which we were first and Tottenham were last was 1934/35 and we did indeed beat them 5-1 and 6-0 – how great it must have been to be in N5 that season.

  • Portuguese press unconvinced with Arsenal star – Rated as low as 3/10 for performance
    Lucas Sposito19th February 2021

    Benfica’s clash against Arsenal in the Europa League is the main subject in Portugal’s sports newspapers today. The 1-1 draw in Rome is seen as a positive result for the Lisbon side to try to get the qualification in the second leg.

    Local outlets reckon that by using three defenders, Jorge Jesus’ main plan was to hold the Gunners’ attack, abdicating a little of trying big things in this game and leaving the daring for later.

    Now what really caught our attention was how Portuguese newspapers rated Pierre Emerick Aubameyang for last night’s performance, as it seems to be a consensus that he didn’t do well.

    A Bola gives the striker a three out of ten, making him the worst among all Arsenal players who took part in the game.

    ‘Caught four times offside in the first half. He had two occasions that could have ended the tie. He shot to the side, alone, at 19 minutes, lost in dribbling at 75,’ they write.

    His poor ratings continue with other newspapers. O Jogo gives Aubameyang a four out of ten, also making him the poorest in the Gunners’ squad, and says: ‘Unlike the last game in England, where he scored three goals against Leeds, Aubameyang was spendthrift last night, namely at 9 minutes, 63 and 75, when he had good chances to score. He also sinned for the offside plays where he let himself be caught”.

    Meanwhile, newspaper Record takes it a little easier on him. They give him a two out of five, making him better than Kieran Tierney, Gabriel Martinelli, Nicolas Pepe, Willian and Mohamed Elneny, as they were all given a one. Still, the striker still gets some criticism.

    ‘The company’s star, Aubameyang, was not short of opportunities, as happened at 19, 63 (shot to the side) and 75 (disarmed by Lucas). In addition, he collected offsides (4).’

    Despite the disappointment with Aubameyang, Portuguese outlets praised the performances of Bukayo Saka, who scored Arsenal’s goal, and Martin Odegaard.

  • So the Portuguese press seem to think that a 1-1 was a good result whilst reading between the lines I get the impression that the Portuguese don’t rate Arsenal or English football tactically. They seem confident at the prospect of knocking us out…

  • That was a very candid review of PEA, Kev.
    Can’t complain because they have no reason to soften it up. We want to protect our guy and keep his confidence up. They seemed to know he could have put the the aggregate result out of reach if he had even an average performance. As long as I see him putting in effort, I’ll be supportive.

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