With Arsenal securing a fourteenth FA Cup win in our twenty-first Final, it’s timely to reflect upon our first FA Cup win.
Ninety years ago, the FA Cup became Arsenal’s first major honour, and the opposition that day – Huddersfield Town – were formidable opponents.
“There was no doubt that Huddersfield were going to provide us with powerful opposition… Their team included no less than seven internationals, to our six, of whom Jackson and Kelly, the right-wing pair, had gained very nearly thirty caps between them. It was from Alex Jackson that we feared most.
"This dashing, happy-go-lucky Scot, who possessed an uncomfortable knack of popping up in the goal mouth, just when he was least expected, had been the hero of Scotland’s 1928 win against England at Wembley.
"Then, he had scored three times in their astonishing 5-1 victory. He had been personally responsible for no less than nine of Huddersfield’s eleven FA Cup goals.”
Bastin with Glanville (1950), Cliff Bastin Remembers, p.37
Of course, Huddersfield’s strength was, in large part, due to the managerial brilliance of Herbert Chapman. His tenure at Town during the first half of the 1920s brought them an enviable record during that decade: 3 League Championships (and runners-up twice more); FA Cup winners (and twice beaten finalists). On Cup Final day in 1930, Chapman was Arsenal manager, and he was setting us on course to dominate English Football in the 1930s.
Indeed, Chapman’s first-hand knowledge of what made the Town team tick likely gave him – and Arsenal – a similar advantage to that enjoyed by Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal in this year’s semi-final against his recent employers.
Speaking of Alex Jackson, we had our own Scottish marvel – inside-forward Alex James – who was nearing the end of his first season since moving to Arsenal from Preston North End. Unlike Jackson (who was superbly man-marked by Eddie Hapgood), James played a decisive role on Cup Final day.
“At last Saturday, April 26th, came round, and we climbed into a motor-coach at Harrow, where we had lunched, off on the road to Wembley. Alex James seemed the least affected by the forthcoming ordeal. He chatted merrily away in his unintelligible accent for most of the drive.
"When our journey was half completed, he turned to me and said, ‘If we get a free kick, Cliff, and it’s in my section of the field, I’m going to slip you a very quick pass. I want you to draw the defence, then let me have the ball back, and I’ll crash it into the net!’
"There was loud laughter from all and sundry at Alex’s ‘prophecy’, for his reputation as a marksman had been left behind at Preston, and he had not scored a single goal throughout our Cup run. Yet, in point of fact, his was no mere idle boast, as we were destined to see.”
Bastin with Glanville (1950), Cliff Bastin Remembers, p.40
We were – and his prophecy took little more than a quarter-of-an-hour to come true.
“With the game seventeen minutes old, neither side had scored, although we had both come very near to doing so. Then… it happened! Alex James was fouled, half-way inside the Huddersfield half. He swooped on the ball, placed it on the correct spot, and with a yell of ‘Back, Cliff!’ booted it out to me.
"In a flash, his words in the coach came back to me: ‘I want you to draw the defence, then let me have the ball back.’ I took the ball up the wing, drawing Roy Goodall slowly but surely out of the centre.
"Out of the corner of my eye I could see that, in the penalty area, the attention of Huddersfield defenders was focused almost entirely on Lambert and David Jack. It was just what I wanted.
"At the last possible moment, I slipped the ball inside to Alex James, and he, true to his word, took it on a few paces, then slammed it past Turner and into the back of the net. We were one up!”
Bastin with Glanville (1950), Cliff Bastin Remembers, p.43
Despite this early advantage, it was only in the last few minutes, when Jack Lambert doubled our lead, that Arsenal could be sure that we would triumph in a nervy, close fought Final. Then, as the celebrations rang out, Herbert Chapman had set us on our way to record-setting FA Cup glory.
There were sure to be a few nerves jangling in the build-up to our twenty-first FA Cup Final. Perhaps, as the team coach wound its way towards Wembley, Pierre-Emerick told Kieran of a brilliant plan (for a long pass over the top) and made a sure-fire prophecy that (when faced with the ensuing penalty kick) he would crash it into the net!