Drake scores against Brentford in 1938.

by Stuart Moriarty-Patten

14 December 1935: Avalanche at Aston as Drakes Armada sinks Villa

A crowd of 60,891 people packed into Villa Park on 14 December 1935 to witness a clash between Villa and Arsenal that was to result in a record that still stands today.  Although Villa were bottom of the table, and had already conceded 52 goals in 18 games, they had spent some £24,000 on players in the last month in a bid to avoid relegation, and the team they sent out to face Arsenal contained six internationals.  Amongst them were the experienced Welsh international centre-back Tom Griffiths who had just signed from Middlesbrough.  It was Griffiths who was to be given the thankless task of marking Arsenals centre-forward Ted Drake during the game. 

Drake had been carrying a knee injury in recent weeks and been playing poorly, but manager Allison felt he would be worth the gamble given the fragile nature of the Villa defence that in the last few weeks had conceded seven at home to West Brom, six to Grimsby and five in the previous match away to Manchester City.

Despite his current lack of form Drake had been Arsenals top scorer in the previous season, his first full season for the club.  They had signed him from his home town club Southampton who he had joined in 1931, although ironically he had missed an opportunity to join Spurs before then when injury prevented from attending a trial with the club.  He scored a total of 48 goals in 74 games at Southampton and caught the eye of Arsenal who made a bid for him in 1933 which Drake turned down, although a year later he agreed to join and signed in a deal which saw him transferred for £6500, money which Southampton desperately needed.

He had made his debut on 24 March 1934 against Wolves and scored in a 3-2 win.  He scored seven times in the remaining 10 games in a season that Arsenal won the championship.  The next season Arsenal retained the championship for a hat-trick of titles as Drake made his mark as one of Arsenals, and footballs, all-time greats.  In a remarkable season for him he scored 42 goals in 41 games in the league including hat-tricks against Liverpool, Spurs, and Leicester, and four-goal hauls against Birmingham, Chelsea, Wolves and Middlesbrough.  In doing so he broke the previous best by an Arsenal player of 38 goals set by Jack Lambert in 1931.  Drakes record still stands today.

The 1934/35 season also saw him make his international debut in a game at Highbury on 14 November 1934 that included six other Arsenal players, Frank Moss, George Male, Eddie Hapgood, Wilf Copping, Ray Bowden and Cliff Bastin.  The game against Italy was being billed in some quarters as the real world cup as Italy had recently won the 1934 FIFA world cup, a competition England saw fit to miss.  However the game was going to become known as the Battle of Highbury instead after being played in a bad-tempered spirit.  The trouble started when a strong tackle after two minutes by Drake broke the foot of Italian centre-half Luis Monti.  With no substitutes allowed Monti stayed on the pitch for another 15 minutes by which time the Italians were three goals down, the third coming from Drake himself.  When Monti finally left the pitch the Italians reorganised and actually outplayed England pulling the score back to 3-2, but Drake was just one of the England players to feel the effects of an Italian fist during the game.  With competition from other fine forwards of the era like Tommy Lawton, Drakes international appearances were to be limited.  In total he played just five times and scored six goals for his country including a hat-trick against Hungary in a 6-2 win on 2 December 1936, and two in his last appearance, a 4-2 victory over France on 26 May 1938.

Despite the lack of international recognition Drake was to leave his name indelibly in the record books in 1935 in the game against Villa.  The game didnt start particularly well for Arsenal with Villa dominating the first 15 minutes, or Drake, who slipped on the cinder track surrounding the pitch and badly grazed his arm.  Nonetheless by half-time Villa found themselves three goals behind with Drake having got a hat-trick from his only three shots.  His first came against the run of play from a long ball from Pat Beasley; his second came from another long pass, shortly after Villas Palethorpe had missed a chance to equalise with a header.  The pass this time came from Bastin, which Drake banged in from the edge of the box.  The third saw Drake follow a rebound from a shot by Beasley.  Villa did get the ball in the net at 3-0 down but Palethorpes shot went in after the ref had blown for an Arsenal free-kick.

Within 15 minutes of the second half Drake had his second hat-trick of the game.  His fourth came following a slip from the Villa centre-half Griffiths, the fifth followed another pass from Bastin, and the sixth was a snapshot following a bad clearance. 

In a remarkable display of marksmanship Drake scored with all but two his shots that afternoon.  One shot was saved, but there was some debate over whether the other had crossed the line after Drake had already scored six. The ball bounced down after hitting the bar and was hastily cleared, but when Drake told the ref he thought the shot had gone in the ref replied dont be greedy, isnt six enough.  Villa scored a consolation goal through Palethorpe, but with just seconds remaining Drake got his seventh goal when he converted a cross from Bastin.

Villa were generous in defeat and autographed the ball and presented it to Drake after the game.  The headlines in the next days papers were equally generous with their praise proclaiming DRAKES ARMADA and AVALANCHE AT ASTON.  Drakes seven goals had beaten his own personal best of six in a Hampshire League game as a junior, but more significantly it set a new League record.  At the time it was thought that he had equalled Jimmy Rosss total for Preston back in 1888, but Rosss total has since has been proved not to be true, leaving Drake alone with his seven, which is still the record in the top division.   However, for the League as a whole it was to last amazingly for just 12 days.  On 26 December Bunny Bell hit the bar and missed a penalty but netted nine times as Tranmere beat Oldham 13-4, his record-breaking last two goals coming in the 88th and 89th minutes.  In quite a period for goalscorers Bells record lasted just four months before Payne achieved his remarkable feat of 10 goals for Luton against Bristol Rovers.

Drake was Arsenals first choice striker for the rest of the decade until the Second World War curtailed his career when he was just 27, and he was the clubs top scorer for each of the five seasons from 1934 to 1939 despite missing many games through a succession of injuries bought about by his fearless robust style of play.  Drake took just 108 games to reach 100 goals for Arsenal by far the quickest of any of the seventeen who have scored 100 goals for Arsenal.  Altogether, he scored 139 goals in 184 games and is joint fifth top scorer for Arsenal with an unrivalled strike rate of a goal every 1.3 games.

He retired after a back injury received playing against Reading in 1945.  After retiring he achieved more fame as a manager.  After some success with Hendon and Reading he landed the job of Chelsea manager in 1952 and began a series of changes that would land the club their first ever championship.  He removed the clubs pensioner crest and their nickname of the pensioners figuring a rampant lion crest would be more suitable and revolutionised the training programme.  In 1955 Chelsea took the title and Drake became the first person ever to win the title as player and manager.

Drake died aged 82 on 30 May 1995, and it says much for the brilliance of the man that his records of top scorer for Arsenal in a season and the most goals in a game in the top flight are still intact. 

For anyone who wants to see some of the goals he scored on that memorable day in 1935 they can be viewed on YouTube.