It is a joy to put Ned’s late offering in front of you. He looks back to an astonishing season when Arsenal, yet to win a major trophy, came closer than most in the twentieth century at that point to a double. Certainly it was closer than any southern team had come, and we would come even more agonisingly close six years later, having won both competitions for the first time in the two preceding seasons. Thank you so much Ned. Enjoy all.
Apologies to all in this estimable establishment if the fascination at Castle Ned with Arsenal’s rise between the world wars is becoming an obsession. Please indulge me one last time (for this season!) ahead of an FA Cup tie, one we all hope will be record setting (the tie, not the indulgence).
Aston Villa had won the FA Cup even before Woolwich Arsenal first entered the competition in 1889. They would win the trophy five more times before the two clubs were first drawn together in the Cup. Twenty-eight league meetings in the meantime had brought us little success — just six wins.
That first FA Cup meeting was in the Fifth Round on February 20th, 1926 at Villa Park. Arsenal were in transition. It was Herbert Chapman’s first season as manager. However, this was the tie of the round. Both teams were flying high in the old Division One. We were third, having topped the table throughout January, and would finish as runners-up, the highest place yet achieved by a London club. Villa lay sixth, which would also be their final position.
January and February had been unusually mild and wet interspersed with cold snaps. Villa Park was muddy that day. One of several early chance for the visitors went begging when inside right Jimmy Brain slipped in front of goal. We had started fast and furiously, but Villa gradually blunted the threat. The first half ended goalless.
Six minutes into the second period Chapman’s newly bought skipper, Charlie Buchan, headed home a cross from Bert Lawson. Lawson was a promising young winger who’d just got into the first team. He would lose his place when Joe Hulme, another of Chapman’s early big-name signings, arrived that very month from Blackburn Rovers. Lawson moved on to Brentford at the end of the season having played just 16 games. ’Twas ever hard for youngsters to break through.
The lead lasted three minutes. Keeper Bill Harper fumbled a Kirton cross, and the equaliser spun off a post into the net. There was plenty more excitement to thrill the 73,000 crowd, but no more goals, and 1-1 was the final score.
Four days later, we won the replay 2-0 in front of 71,000 at Highbury. One report said that Arsenal “had been rarely seen to play better”. Click here to see rare video coverage.
After four minutes, London-born Scottish outside left Dr. Jimmy Patterson, filling in for the cup-tied Hulme, drove home a pass from Brain from 12 yards out. Brain, the first player to notch 100 league goals for Arsenal, doubled the score 10 minutes later with a tap-in after Villa’s keeper Cyril Spiers spilled a Buchan pile driver.
The Patterson goal was rarer than a can’t-be-arsed paragraph. Dr Patterson, as he was known even in newspapers’ match reports, had served gallantly during the First World War as a medical officer with the London Scottish Regiment. After the war he played 73 games for the club as an amateur before retiring at the end of the 1923-24 season to concentrate on the medical practice he shared with his brother-in-law, John Scott, who was also the club’s doctor.
Dr. Patterson was good enough to have won the Scottish league title, playing on the right wing for Rangers when he was a medical student in Glasgow before the war. He won a second title in the first season after the war having switched to the opposite wing. Yet, after moving south, despite holding down as regular a place in the Arsenal forward line as a working doctor could expect to manage, and being picked for the Football League representative XI, he didn’t once score a goal in our colours before hanging up his boots.
Facing a chronic injury crisis, again nothing new under the sun, Chapman persuaded the good doctor to turn out for four games between mid-February and early March, 1926. Dr. Patterson not only broke his Arsenal duck but scored twice, the goal against Villa in the Cup and another against Newcastle in the League.
Hopes were high after the Villa game of a first Arsenal Cup Final. Four of the big guns of the 1925-26 season, Huddersfield, Bury, Sheffield United and Liverpool, had been knocked out in the previous round. Two more, Villa and Sunderland, were now gone. That left us and Bolton Wanderers as the two best teams still in.
However, we would fall at the last eight. Second Division Swansea Town caused a 2-1 upset at Vetch Field in the Quarters. Click here to see some amazing footage of the shock defeat.
Patterson played his fourth and final post-retirement game but couldn’t find a third career goal to keep us in it. Northern Irish international right back John ‘Alex’ Mackie got our goal, the only one he scored in 118 games for Arsenal. He would soon lose his place to Tom Parker, another of Chapman’s pivotal signings, but went on to a successful career at Portsmouth.
We’ve played ten FA Cup ties in all against Aston Villa, half of them crammed into an eight-season stretch between 1926 and 1934. We prevailed in seven of the ten, twice after replays, and lost three, once after a replay. Two ties were in the 3rd round, four in the 4th round, and one in the 5th round. Three were quarter-finals. The two clubs have never met beyond that stage before now.
Villa last won the Cup in 1957, a 2-1 win over Manchester United that gave them the Cup for a then record seventh time. They have made the Final only once since, losing 1-0 to that lot from the bus stop in Fulham in 2000. It was the first final Villa had played against a team from south of Aston.
Victory at Wembley on May 30 will bring us a record-setting 12th FA Cup. It will also neatly tie another historical knot. It would give Arsene Wenger his sixth FA Cup, tying the record of George Ramsey. Ramsey managed Aston Villa to their first six trophies between 1887 and 1920 and was still in charge, aged 71, when the two teams first met in the Cup in February 1926.