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100 years ago today in the midst of a pandemic, how were Arsenal doing compared to now?

by Tony Attwood

Spanish flu (as it was rather oddly known) swept across Europe from January 1918 to December 1920, and thus exactly 100 years ago, we were in the midst of the crisis just as we are now.

It the 20th century edition it infected 500 million people – about a third of the world’s population, the number of deaths was established at somewhere between 17 million and 50 million, although some estimates are higher.

However with football having been reduced to the wartime leagues until the spring of 1919, the 1919/20 season was played without interruption, with Arsenal newly elected to the first division.

For the opening game of the season at Highbury 40,000 came to the ground, and for the home game on 24 April 1920 (100 years ago yesterday) 35,000 came to see Arsenal 0 Preston 0 (numbers for Arsenal at that time were always rounded).

That game left Arsenal in a satisfactory 13th position – satisfactory because money was short (the club was still paying for the work that had been done to build the stadium in 1913, and no repayments of the debt were made in the war years).  What’s more this was their first year in the first division after four years of war and two years in the second division.

(Incidentally, 100 years ago Arsenal were definitely Arsenal.  They changed from The Arsenal to Arsenal in November 1919, despite many “authorities” claiming that the change was initiated by Herbert Chapman).

This is how the table looked after the round of matches on Saturday 17th April 1920…

Team P W D L F A GAvg Pts
1 West Bromwich Albion 40 27 4 9 100 45 2.222 58
2 Burnley 41 21 9 11 64 57 1.123 51
3 Sunderland 41 22 4 15 72 58 1.241 48
4 Chelsea 40 21 5 14 54 47 1.149 47
5 Liverpool 41 18 10 13 58 44 1.318 46
6 Bolton Wanderers 41 18 9 14 70 64 1.094 45
7 Newcastle United 41 17 9 15 44 38 1.158 43
8 Manchester City 40 17 8 15 68 60 1.133 42
9 Bradford Park Avenue 40 15 11 14 60 60 1.000 41
10 Middlesbrough 41 15 10 16 60 63 0.952 40
11 Sheffield United 41 16 8 17 59 65 0.908 40
12 Aston Villa 39 17 5 17 72 70 1.029 39
13 Arsenal 40 14 11 15 53 58 0.914 39
14 Manchester United 40 12 13 15 52 50 1.040 37
15 Everton 40 12 13 15 68 66 1.030 37
16 Bradford City 41 13 11 17 52 62 0.839 37
17 Oldham Athletic 40 14 8 18 48 51 0.941 36
18 Derby County 41 12 12 17 46 57 0.807 36
19 Blackburn Rovers 41 12 11 18 60 77 0.779 35
20 Notts County 40 12 11 17 56 72 0.778 35
21 Preston North End 40 13 9 18 55 72 0.764 35
22 Sheffield Wednesday 39 6 9 24 27 62 0.435 21

Two clubs went down at the end of the season and Wednesday with 42 games to be played by each club, and just two points for a win, were already relegated.  Arsenal were safe since Blackburn, with just one game left, could not reach them.  In fact Arsenal, won one of their last two games (both against Bradford PA) and drew the other.  Arsenal Actually went up the table and finished in 10th.  Notts County went down to the second division.

In fact if we look at the present situation of Arsenal we can compare 100 years ago with now.

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If we take three points for a win and one for a draw in both seasons, and work out the points per game we find that now Arsenal have 1.54 points per game this season, against 1.33 points per game 100 years ago.

Pos Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
1 Liverpool 29 27 1 1 66 21 45 82
2 Manchester City 28 18 3 7 68 31 37 57
3 Leicester City 29 16 5 8 58 28 30 53
4 Chelsea 29 14 6 9 51 39 12 48
5 Manchester United 29 12 9 8 44 30 14 45
6 Wolverhampton Wanderers 29 10 13 6 41 34 7 43
7 Sheffield United 28 11 10 7 30 25 5 43
8 Tottenham Hotspur 29 11 8 10 47 40 7 41
9 Arsenal 28 9 13 6 40 36 4 40
10 Burnley 29 11 6 12 34 40 -6 39
11 Crystal Palace 29 10 9 10 26 32 -6 39
12 Everton 29 10 7 12 37 46 -9 37
13 Newcastle United 29 9 8 12 25 41 -16 35
14 Southampton 29 10 4 15 35 52 -17 34
15 Brighton and Hove Albion 29 6 11 12 32 40 -8 29
16 West Ham United 29 7 6 16 35 50 -15 27
17 Watford 29 6 9 14 27 44 -17 27
18 AFC Bournemouth 29 7 6 16 29 47 -18 27
19 Aston Villa 28 7 4 17 34 56 -22 25
20 Norwich City 29 5 6 18 25 52 -27 21

100 years ago Arsenal were scoring 1.08 goals a game while now it is 1.00 goals per game.  And that is interesting in that twice, since the 1919/20 season, the rules of the game have been changed to enhance scoring.  Both changes reduced the number of players that need to be behind the ball when kicked forward for the attacking man not to be offside.   Also 100 years ago, pass backs to the goalkeeper were perfectly allowable, and the keeper could keep the ball as long as he liked, bouncing the ball every five steps.

Indeed the first major change of the off side law came about in 1925 specifically to increase the number of goals (which for a short time it did).

In terms of the crowds 100 years ago compared with now, they were lower then.

Season Av Div 1 Highest av crowd Av crowd Arsenal av
2019/20 39,312 Manchester United 73,393 60279
1919/20 24,036 Chelsea 42,615 34,495
So, 100 years, a second world war and another pandemic later, Arsenal are something of a mid-table team.  They have at least stayed in the top division, and have won the Cup 13 times and the League 10 times, en route, and no one can match that period of time in the top league.

4 comments to 100 years ago today in the midst of a pandemic, how were Arsenal doing compared to now?

  • Uncle Mike

    You might know, Tony, how the Spanish Flu got that name, but many readers might not. Spain was neutral in World War I, and thus not subject to wartime censorship of stories that might hurt morale. So when King Alfonso XIII got the flu, it was reported, thus, “Spanish Flu.”

    He recovered, was deposed in 1931, died in exile in 1941, and when Franco was dying, he named Alfonso’s grandson (whom he judged to be more conservative than his son) as his successor. Juan Carlos I turned out to be a more liberal King than expected, and has since abdicated for his son, Felipe VI.

    Spain’s version of the FA Cup was established in 1902 as the Copa del Rey, or King’s Cup. In 1931, it became the Copa del Presidente. In 1939, under Franco, the Copa del Generalísimo. In 1975, with the monarchy restored, it became the Copa del Rey again, and so it remains.

  • seydlitz

    I think the flue was identified at first in the. USA among soldiers training to come Europe,like Mike said it was first came to light in Spain.

  • omgarsenal

    It appears it started in a military base in Kansas and was transmitted to soldiers who were near pigs. The soldiers went overseas, ill but mobile and transmitted it to their peers and the general population apparently.