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Sutton v Arsenal: greatest giant killers and a look at non-leaguers of the past and

By Tony Attwood

Of course there was a time when Arsenal were regularly knocked out of the FA Cup by teams from lower leagues: Chapman’s league champions were knocked out by Wallsall, in 1933.  Later the club was undone by Northampton Town in 1958, Sheffield Utd in 1959, Rotherham Utd in 1960, Sunderland in 1961, Peterborough in 1965, Birmingham in 1967, Birmingham again in 1968.

After that we got away with it for a while until York in 1985 and Wrexham in 1992.  Clubs like Wrexham still mark the event as one of the greatest moments in their club’s history.  It happens.

And as we all now know, because lots of people looked it up, Lincoln are the first non-league club to reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup since Queens Park Rangers in 1914.

I don’t think many went beyond that point however to ask, for example, what the FA Cup was like in 1913/14.  Or come to that what professional football was like, but it is an interesting diversion.  If you don’t like diversions, do look away now.

In essence when QPR did what Lincoln have done and what Sutton aim to do, there were two full time professional leagues – the first and second divisions of the Football League.   Beyond that was the still powerful semi-pro Southern League – a league that had gained a lot of quality players in the previous few years by standing outside of the pernicious “retain and transfer” rules established after Royal Arsenal won a landmark court case against one of its players – George Davie – over whether they had to pay him or not.  Not Arsenal’s finest moment given that they were a club set up by and for the players, not the pernicious owners who ruled elsewhere.

Much of the Southern League of that era eventually became the 3rd Division (South) of the Football League and by this time it was made up of names that will be familiar to us now…  Here’s the league table for the year QPR got to the quarter finals.  There were two points for a win, and clubs with equal points were separated by dividing goals for by goals against to get a “goal average”.

What we can see are such current Premier League luminaries as Crystal Palace, West Ham and Southampton in the league.  Indeed the only club to have dropped out of Football League activity from this list of nearly 100 years ago is Merthyr who in this season were relegated with Coventry to Division 2 of the Southern League.

Pos Club P W D L F A G.Av Pts
1 Swindon Town 38 21 8 9 81 41 1.98 50
2 Crystal Palace 38 17 16 5 60 32 1.88 50
3 Northampton Town 38 14 19 5 50 37 1.35 47
4 Reading 38 17 10 11 43 36 1.19 44
5 Plymouth Argyle 38 15 13 10 46 42 1.10 43
6 West Ham United 38 15 12 11 61 60 1.02 42
7 Brighton & Hove Albion 38 15 12 11 43 45 0.96 42
8 Queens Park Rangers 38 16 9 13 45 43 1.05 41
9 Portsmouth 38 14 12 12 57 48 1.19 40
10 Cardiff City 38 13 12 13 46 42 1.10 38
11 Southampton 38 15 7 16 55 54 1.02 37
12 Exeter City 38 10 16 12 39 38 1.03 36
13 Gillingham 38 13 9 16 48 49 0.98 35
14 Norwich City 38 9 17 12 49 51 0.96 35
15 Millwall 38 11 12 15 51 56 0.91 34
16 Southend United 38 10 12 16 41 66 0.62 32
17 Bristol Rovers 38 10 11 17 46 67 0.69 31
18 Watford 38 10 9 19 50 56 0.89 29
19 Merthyr Town 38 9 10 19 38 61 0.62 28
20 Coventry City 38 6 14 18 43 68 0.63 26

As for Woolwich Arsenal they were playing in their first season at Highbury, but retained the old name for a while longer finally changing it between 20 and 23 April 1914 to The Arsenal.  We went out of the cup in the first round that season on 10 January 1914 losing 2-0 away to Bradford City.

As for the forthcoming game, it is a match in which virtually everyone is against us.  The rest of the Premier League, all the media, all their allies in the aaa…  that’s how it goes these days.  In fact I am getting to think the number of people who actually want Arsenal to win is down to the readership of Untold – and some of those are known to write odd comments.

So what of Sutton?  Unlike Lincoln who are an ex-League team, and who look like going back to the Football League fairly soon, Sutton have eternally been non-league.

Sutton went through the classic route in local leagues, and then the Athenian League one of the classic amateur leagues which finally folded in 1984 with the unstoppable advance of semi-pro football.  Sutton went to the Isthmian League in 1964 and the Conference in 1986 falling back in 1991 ending up later in the Conference South.   They won the National League South in 2015–16, and so are in the National League for the first time.

They have played in two Amateur Cup finals and the FA Trophy final.  In 1989 they beat Coventry 2-1 in the third round – Coventry had won the Cup two seasons earlier and were establishing themselves as a solid mid-table in the first division at the time.  Some writers consider this the biggest FA Cup upset in the history of FA Cup upsets.

Here are their exploits so far this season in the Cup

October  4th Premliminary Round
Sat 15 3.00 H Forest Green Rovers FAC 751 W 2-1
November  1st round
Sat 5 3.00 A Dartford FAC 1689 W 6-3
December 2nd round
Sat 3 3.00 H Cheltenham Town FAC 2224 W 2-1
January 3rd and 4th rounds
Sat 7 3.00 H AFC Wimbledon FAC 5013 D 0-0
Tue 17 7.45 A AFC Wimbledon FAC 4768 W 3-1
Sun 29 2.00 H Leeds United FAC 4997 W 1-0

Since the Leeds game they have played four games, two in the FA Trophy and two in the National League…

February
Sat 4 3.00 H Boreham Wood FAT 879 D 0-0
Tue 7 7.45 A Boreham Wood FAT 269 L 0-5
Sat 11 3.00 A Solihull Moors NL 671 L 0-3
Tue 14 7.45 A Guiseley NL 664 L 1-2

It looks like their minds are elsewhere.  In fact their last ten games consist of six defeats, three wins and a draw.  Here is their league table…

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Lincoln City 30 20 4 6 61 31 30 64
2 Dagenham & Redbridge 32 19 4 9 57 36 21 61
3 Forest Green Rovers 32 17 9 6 64 39 25 60
4 Tranmere Rovers 31 18 6 7 45 26 19 60
5 Dover Athletic 32 17 5 10 64 48 16 56
6 Barrow 32 14 12 6 50 32 18 54
7 Aldershot Town 33 15 9 9 43 31 12 54
8 Gateshead 33 14 10 9 55 35 20 52
9 Macclesfield Town 31 15 5 11 44 31 13 50
10 Wrexham 34 12 10 12 34 42 -8 46
11 Bromley 32 13 6 13 41 45 -4 45
12 Chester 33 11 10 12 51 47 4 43
13 Boreham Wood 32 11 10 11 32 30 2 43
14 Solihull Moors 33 12 7 14 45 48 -3 43
15 Eastleigh 32 10 12 10 43 41 2 42
16 Braintree Town 32 10 7 15 35 51 -16 37
17 Sutton United 30 10 6 14 32 41 -9 36

However they are doing better at home than away.  Here’s the home results.

    GP W D L GF GA GD Pts
1 Lincoln City 16 11 3 2 36 13 +23 36
2 Wrexham 18 10 4 4 21 16 +5 34
3 Aldershot Town 16 10 3 3 25 11 +14 33
4 Barrow 16 9 5 2 28 11 +17 32
5 Tranmere 15 10 2 3 21 12 +9 32
6 Dover Athletic 16 9 3 4 36 24 +12 30
7 Sutton 15 9 3 3 21 15 +6 30
More later…

Arsenal History Books on Kindle

The novel “Making the Arsenal” by Tony Attwood which describes the events of 1910, which created the modern Arsenal FC, is now available for the first time on Kindle.  Full details are here.

Also available on Kindle, “Woolwich Arsenal: the club that changed football” the only comprehensive history of the rise of Arsenal as a league club, and the attempts to destroy the club, from within and without.   For full details please see here.

Latest from the Arsenal History Society blog, continuing the complete history of Arsenal in the 1930s…

8 comments to Sutton v Arsenal: greatest giant killers and a look at non-leaguers of the past and

  • dan

    Predict a handsome win.

  • ARSENAL 13

    Come on ARSENAL, we have a record to take. Its not fun being joint winners of FA cup with Man Utd.

  • It will all be over by half time

  • Polo

    I have a feeling Arsenal will be gentle on Sutton and probably will make the match closer out of respect. I don’t think it will be 10-0 or something like that, maybe a 3-0 scoreline.

    I hope Arsenal will find a way to give all the money received from this match to Sutton, it’s very much a community based club who needs a helping hand. It’s amazing to hear the Sutton manager lent money to the club to install the 3G pitch, which allow community groups to train and play on it all year round.

  • ARSENAL 13

    It won’t be an easy game by any standards…

    Will be a tough game before the break….But then we have enough quality to pull through….

  • Nigel

    I am surprised that as far as I know the press hasn’t picked up yet on the 1956 narrow escape Arsenal had against non league Bedford Town when within a few minutes of losing the replay, only clinching it in extra time. You did an article on this not long ago, with great footage from the first televised match on ITV. Watching that makes you realise how lucky we were. We could easily have been the first top division club knocked out by a non league team since 1914, and as you point out was only two divisions in the Football League back then but four in 1956 as now.

    Hopefully we do not have any such problems tonight and join Burnley with this dubious distinction.

  • Mac

    Polo
    I dont think Arsenal will give an extra penny to Sutton no matter what division they are in.Arsenal football club are a business not a charity and has been proven with our owner Stan Kronke who will not give a penny more than he has to.This was proven when we signed Holden from bolton.Bolton were going into administration and still we haggled for a few thousand to get the lowest deal.That is why we have missed out on so many quality signings in the past.