By Tony Attwood
It may seem strange that the FA, whom we know as an organisation that will willingly crawl on all fours to lick up the droppings from the grand table of Fifa, might actually consider pulling out of internationals, but that is exactly what they did in 1934.
Not all internationals I should add, because they felt that they should carry on playing Wales, Scotland and Ireland. But they did think that they would stop playing anyone else.
At the time the FA was not a member of Fifa, having yet to enter the “Fifa at any cost, no matter how corrupt” school of thought that they are now in today. The reason in fact seems innocuous today when we live in an era where anything will be done, and any money will be spent (especially money raised from tax payers) to buy favour with Fifa. But it was a matter of importance to the FA at the time involving the status of the amateur game.
At this time England played three home internationals a year, and then one or two against teams from outside the British Isles and in 1934 they played Italy at Highbury.
If you have heard of this match you’ll probably know two things. One was that there were seven Arsenal players in the England team and the other was that it was a violent affair.
I think there are also a couple of other points of note that are often missing from this brief summary, and I have published a whole article on this on the Arsenal History Society site where we are currently tracing the history of Arsenal in the 1930s.
If you want to know the whole context of November 1934 then please do drop into the AHS site where there are a couple of video reports on the Arsenal/England v Italy game – and the whole context of the game, in terms of Arsenal’s attempt to get a league championship for the third time running.
Here I’ll just give a few details of the England v Italy match which led to the FA’s apparent threat to pull out of international games.
The first point that is often not mentioned is that in the previous match against Wales on 29 September England had used only been two Arsenal players in the team. The occurrence of seven players in an England team was completely a one-off.
And it happened by chance, for against Italy Male was only called up after Tom Cooper of Derby County withdrew injured, and Drake came in after Sam Tilson of Manchester City was injured, and his first replacement George Hunt of Tottenham Hotspur was also injured.
Also (although I don’t have documentation to prove it), it looks to me as if England chose their teams in different ways, depending on whether the match was on a Saturday (while regular league matches were being played) or midweek (when they were not). Going through the records it looks as if there was a deal that no more than two players per club would be called up for a Saturday match – not least because England regularly had little difficulty in their games against Ireland, Scotland and Wales, which made up the heart of their games each season. This match against Italy was a mid-week, and so there was no problem.
The second point to remember is that as England were not part of Fifa at the time, they did not play in the world cup. But there was a feeling fostered by the FA that if England were to have been in the world cup they would, of course, have sauntered through and won the day.
Thus I am not at all sure that before the game the FA took this match very seriously. Indeed it must also be noted that in the previous England international six players had made their international debut.
For Italy it was their first match since winning the World Cup; the press set up the game as being the “real” world cup final. There are stories (unconfirmed but oft repeated) that Mussolini offered the Italian players bonuses in terms of money and a car if they won. There was certainly an air of expectation – that England would quickly put Johnny (or perhaps that was Luigi) Foreigner in his place.
The England team was…
Male, Barker, Hapgood
Matthews, Drake, Bowden, Bastin, Brook.
So we had six players gaining their first or second international cap, appearances, including the entire right side of the team. We also had George Allison the Arsenal manager, doing the BBC radio commentary, and Tom Whittaker the Arsenal trainer, acting as England’s physio. And it was played at Highbury, not Wembley (where they had dog racing that night).
None of England’s players had more than nine caps entering into the match but that didn’t stop the players getting stuck in.
After two minutes the Italian centre half Luis Monti had his foot broken in a coming together with Arsenal’s Ted Drake on his first attack. Monti remained on the field for 15 minutes, which did the Italians no good at all, as his injury gave the England forwards a clear run at goal. He then did leave the pitch, but by that time England/Arsenal were 3-0 up.
So it is said that after the game the FA considered withdrawing from all internationals as a result of this game – and what joy would could have had as club rather than country supporters had they had the nerve to do it. As it was, aside from the “home” internationals played each year, England continued dabbling with games against foreign nations, starting with a game against the Netherlands on 18 May 1935 and including a match against Germany on 4 December with the number of such games growing at a rate of one extra game a year until war broke out.
The friendlies resumed after the war, and in 1949 the “home internationals” became a qualifying group for the 1950 Fifa World Cup, and there was, sadly, no turning back.