Albion Nostalgia: Brighton v Arsenal - back to the beginning

Along with Arsenal, we have a place at the top table of English football these days, but it was not always the case. In the years leading up to the Second World War, the gulf between the two clubs was enormous.

The front cover of the programme when Albion played Arsenal in 1935
The front cover of the programme when Albion played Arsenal in 1935

In the 1934/35 season, Albion were entrenched in Division Three (South) while the Gunners were riding high at the very top of Division One. Despite winning four of our first five games that season, we failed to make a real challenge and looked to the FA Cup for a chance of glory.

The first round at the end of November 1934 paired us with Southern League Folkestone. Three years previously, we had beaten them 5-2 at the same stage of the competition and a crowd of 9,400 saw us repeat the result, if not the score. Our 3-1 victory set up a second round tie with Queens Park Rangers and goals from Buster Brown and Bobby Farrell delivered a 2-1 win, in front of 14,738 at the Goldstone.

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The draw for the third round took place and we were drawn at home, against the mighty Arsenal. At the time, they were lying second in Division One, just one point behind Sunderland. They had scored 72 goals in their 24 games, conceding just 32. Their team was packed with international players, including seven of the England team that had recently beaten Italy in the infamous ‘Battle of Highbury’.

At the time, Arsenal trained in Brighton before all their cup games and we gave them special permission to continue this. In fact, the teams trained together on the Goldstone pitch, which created a fantastic rapport between the two clubs.

A huge crowd was expected and one local magazine, ‘The Brighton Illustrated Sporting Mail’ provided a handy map of the Goldstone to help fans looking to attend. Perhaps because of this advance publicity, many people avoided the match and just 22,343 saw the game.

Three of the most famous internationals of the time were in the Arsenal front line. Cliff Bastin, Ray Bowden and Ted Drake were expected to wreak havoc in the Albion defence but we held firm, particularly Paul Mooney and Len Darling. Arsenal did go ahead on the stroke of half-time, through Joe Hulme, and most of the crowd feared a rout in the second half.

This was not to be but despite valiant efforts from Albion’s Buster Brown, we couldn’t break through at the other end. Arsenal scored again two minutes from time with Ted Drake getting the decisive touch and that was it.

Arsenal went on to reach the sixth round before being knocked out by Sheffield Wednesday, the eventual winners. They did win the league for the third year in a row, scoring a total of 115 goals in their 42 games.

Albion continued to stutter for the rest of the season and eventually finished in ninth place in Division Three (South), 18 points behind champions Charlton Athletic.

Eighty-three years later Arsenal again travel the short distance to Brighton and this time, an Arsenal victory is much less certain. The 2-1 win last season paved the way to our safe finish and another win for the Seagulls will go a long way to consolidating our position in the Premier League.

A Merry Christmas to everyone who reads the column. Thanks to the information in ‘Seagulls! – The Story of Brighton & Hove Albion FC’ for much of the information in this article.