The Giant Killers

Every F A cup giant killing since 1888

All time greatest F A cup giant killings

Number 14

 

Walsall 2-0 Arsenal

Third round {last 64}:Saturday January 14th 1933

Fellows Park, Walsall

Attendance: 24,032

Scorers: Gilbert Alsop {60}, Bill Sheppard {pen-70}

Frederick March was putting in an oscar winning performance in the title role of 'Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde", Fred Astaire had a big hit with Cole Porter's 'Night and day'' and Harry Beck's London Tube map was launched.

The phrase "it's grim up north" was proving never more true than in the 30s as the effects of the great depression began to take hold and the prosperity and jobs, which had turned Walsall from a village into a thriving town a century earlier, now began to vanish. Life, as always went on and as the womenfolk of the town prepared for Christmas, their men folk received an early Christmas present when the draw for the third round of the F A cup paired the local Third Division Northern Section side with the cup holders, Arsenal.

The Gunners were in the early stages of becoming the first truly great side of the game with the first truly great manager, Herbert Chapman who revolutionised the game with his introduction of the third back game or WM formation in the 1920s when every other club stuck rigidly to the long used 2-3-5 style. He was also a master of the press as well and used them as for PR to build Arsenal into the biggest club in the land. It would be partly this mastery of the press that would help elevate this tie to one of the most remembered in history.

Chapman took great delight in the press being informed by a local leather manufacturer that the bill for Arsenal's boots, £87, was £18 more than it had cost his opposite number, Bill Slade to assemble the entire Walsall team. While the press were eulogising over Arsenal's well drilled, highly trained, highly motivated and professional side and comparing them to Walsall's flat caps, whippets and fish 'n' chips lifestyle, the Arsenal players were dreading it. Chapman was unaware that his stars despised trips to Third Division sides, despite the fact they'd never lost to them. It wasn't the result however that the Gunners feared as Cliff Bastin stated "The third division footballer may not be a soccer artist, but when it comes to the heavy tackle, he ranks with the best.” Years after the game he went into more detail “Arsenal disliked playing Third Division sides for they would fling themselves into the game with reckless abandon, and the gashed bruised legs of the Arsenal players would bear grim testimony to their misguided enthusiasm”. If these were the underlying concerns of the Arsenal team than worse still was a flu virus that raged through the side in the week leading up to the game and left Joe Hulme, Eddie Hapgood, Jack Lambert and Ernie Coleman at home in bed. Coleman himself was the reserve for Bob John who had been out with injury for the last few weeks. Add a gluepot pitch and an expectant huge crowd and a wobble in form from the League leading Gunners who hadn't won in their last three road trips, losing their last two games at nearest rivals Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland. And all the perfect ingredients were there, even if the press made only the barest mention of the possibility of a cupset on the day.

Cup fever naturally gripped Walsall in the days leading up to the tie, for the tiny club from Fellows Park had never faced such a huge game since they had been formed from a merger of two local sides in 1888. The high point in the club's history had been in the 1890s when they had been regular strugglers at the wrong end of the Second Division with one glorious exception in 1899 when the club came within four points of promotion to the big time. How different history could have been had they mustered those four points but instead they slumped back to the wrong end the following season and in 1901 the League Chairmen decided there were better options in the election process and Walsall were out. They had returned to the fold with the formation of the Third Division and in 1922 played out a 2-2 draw with Blackburn in what had been the club's greatest moment up to the Arsenal game. The Saddlers had hosted four top flight sides in all in the cup and had twice forced replays but had yet to claim a scalp and while their impressive home form had seen them unbeaten in twenty-one League and cup matches it was the visiting stars that brought the fans to Fellows Park more than any prospect of an upset. Indeed the match day programme displayed the scale of the task in perfect art as Arsenal's captain; 'Field Marshall' Alex James was told that his artillery would have to battle a Walsall teddy bear armed with a stick if they were going back to Wembley.

Travelling Londoners would have read down the list of Walsall players in the match day programme and been none too concerned that Herbert Chapman was handing full debuts to three of his team. None of the Walsall players had any experience beyond the Second Division, although many sides in the top flight were paying close attention to their custodian, Joey Cunningham, regarded as the best keeper the Third Division had to offer.

Those same Londonders were among almost 25,000 people thad paid double the usual admission charge to see the stars of Arsenal who unusually took the field in their change strip of white shirts and black shorts, these being the days when it was customary for the home side to change in the event of a colour clash. Walsall had duly done this and emerged wearing a set of Coventry City blue and white striped shirts. Indeed many could have been forgiven for briefly mistaking Walsall for their West Midlands rivals as the entire forward line, Coward, Ball, Alsop, Sheppard and Lee had all been signed from Coventry by Bill Slade, himself a former Coventry director, hence the borrowed strip. Alsop though had already been a hero at Fellows Park for eighteen months and any hope of a shock victory would require him being at his best.

At kick off it was the remaining five members of the side, full backs, Jack Bennett and Sid Bird and the half back trio of Jack Reed, George Leslie and Harry Salt who from the first whistle set about the Arsenal stars like terriers at their ankles and the referee's whistle was never far from his mouth as a succession of crunching tackles saw Arsenal men crumple under challenges, which resulted in a host of free kicks.

The breakup of the play wasn't helping the Gunners and in the early stages it was the Walsall forward line that showed the more ambition and should have been in front inside the first ten minutes as Freddie Lee rose to head towards a virtually open goal but mistimed his contact and allowed a grateful Frank Moss an easy save. Minutes later Alsop tested Moss from long range but from that point on it was all Arsenal as they began to cope with the harrying of the Walsall backs, the holes in their formation and the narrow nature of the field, all of which had clearly unsettled them. It was clear though that the two debutants in their forward line were rattled as both William Warnes and Charles Walsh gave the impression of rabbits caught in the headlights. The Arsenal forward line was still formidable enough with David Jack, Cliff Bastin and Alex James all posing their usual threat, though all three found they had a split second on the ball before a swarm of Walsall men would be on them.

Throughout the first half Bastin whipped in cross after cross which was either confidently punched clear by Cunningham or cleared by his backs who flung themselves at James and Jack when either had even the remotest chance of a shot and their efforts were acknowledged by the crowd who cheered them off with great enthusiasm at the interval.

Half time for most sides usually meant a chance to get a well earned rest, get knocks treated, take on energy with the traditional orange and many players, even in the top flight enjoyed their half time cigarette! Arsenal's dressing room was one of the first, if not the first to consider tactics as Chapman and his players would discuss any weaknesses identified in their opponents during the first half and then concentrate on it. At Fellows Park though Chapman's every word would be heard in the neighbouring dressing room so conversation was brief. Changes were needed though and were made by the Arsenal manager who moved David Jack into the centre and pushed the ineffective Walsh to inside right to join the equally ineffective outside right Warnes. Arsenal's second half plan would clearly be to win the game through Cliff Bastin on the left.

No such tactical arrangements were made in the home dressing room where the players were still on a high from their first half display and they emerged for the second half still clearly revved up and ready to continue to bite Arsenal legs for the cause. The second half kicked off with the crowd having encroached from the stands to the touchlines. Just children at first but gradually adults began to climb over the perimeter walls and settle along the side of the pitch as the tension grew. For Bastin, his temper already boiling from the treatment he was getting from the Walsall backs, this was just yet more annoyance in a game he was already wishing was over. The field was too narrow for his play and now every time he got the ball not only were the Walsall players on him in an instant but the crowd were within touching distance.

Even so, Bastin remained the best Arsenal player on the field, whipping in dangerous balls from the wing but still David Jack and Alex James couldn't get the time to create a clear opportunity. In the first fifteen minutes of the second half Walsall had been nonexistent as an attacking force until forcing a corner as the clock came round to the hour mark. Lee whipped it in and a powerful header from Alsop forced a reaction save form Moss, pushing the ball into the air. Alsop reacted quickest and rose above all to nod the second effort past Moss into the net to create the loudest roar ever heard at Fellows Park. Walsall were sensationally in front but still had half an hour to play.

{Image right: Walsall defend yet another dangerous ball in their area: Courtsey Saddlers.co.uk}

Arsenal were the last team that would panic in such circumstances but were acutely aware of the few times they had created a serious goal scoring opportunity. Now the siege began as Jack dropped a little deeper and found more time on the ball but squandered two great chances, firing wide of Cunningham's goal both times while James and Bastin both forced the home keeper into action in a nervy few minutes after the goal. Arsenal had been stirred and Walsall suddenly looked like a side clinging on for dear life with Bennett and Bird happy to launch the ball as far up field as their tiring legs would allow them.

With twenty minutes left Sheppard was found in the Arsenal half by a hopeful clearance and set off for goal with the inexperienced Thomas Black facing him at full back. Black, who had had little to do during the game had only to try and force the Walsall man wide while reinforcements got back to prevent any danger but instead he was easily beaten by the forward before deciding to save the situation with a clumsy challenge that left Sheppard in a heap and the referee pointing to the spot.

Sheppard himself got up to stroke the ball past Moss to unbelievably double Walsall's advantage while a disconsolate Black could only watch on. The experienced Gunners in the side now began clapping their hands and shaking fists with roars of encouragement to each other. There was still twenty minutes to go, more than enough time to save the tie if they could strike back quickly.

The crowd by now had grown by another two or three thousand as the gates were opened to allow people to leave. Nobody was leaving though as those locked out now gained admittance, hardly able to comprehend what those already inside were telling them. Walsall 2 Arsenal 0 was incredible even as a latest score never mind a result but the threat was there as more chances fell to Jack, James and Bastin to try and claw the visitors back into the game, which in the final ten minutes was compacted into the final third of the Walsall end of the field.

So quiet was Frank Moss's goalmouth that the Arsenal keeper found his net surrounded by fans now on the field waiting for the final whistle who had to be constantly told to get back behind the lines. At the other end the game crept into the final ten minutes and the snappy tackling that had so unsettled Arsenal had gone as the Third Division men began to run out of steam. Now it was just sheer numbers keeping the Gunners out as all five forwards had become half backs and the half backs became full backs while Cunningham pounced on anything that came anywhere near his goal.

Each time Cunningham launched a clearance up field the crowd looked to the referee for the final whistle which finally signalled the long waited for pitch invasion. The Walsall players were mobbed and lofted shoulder high, the Arsenal players raced for the dressing room, many looking glad that their ordeal was over. A furious Herbert Chapman was waiting and he unleashed his venom on the team when they left the field, paying special attention to Thomas Black with a tirade in which the player was told that once they returned to London he was never to set foot in Highbury or the training ground ever again.

Sure enough Black was officially banned from Arsenal and sold to Plymouth within the week where he served with distinction. The woefully poor Warnes and Walsh had also seen their careers start and end in Walsall, both were released at the end of the season. Of the four reserves only Norman Sidley escaped Chapman's wrath though his chances at Highbury remained severely limited.

Arsenal followed their cup exit by going six League games unbeaten and were never headed as they were crowned League Champions while the Walsall players treated their fans to another great day on the Thursday after the Arsenal tie when Mansfield were hammered 8-1 in a League game. By then the draw for round four had paired Walsall with another First Division opponent, Manchester City at Maine Road, with a large contingent from the Midlands making the journey to see if lightening could strike twice. For half an hour Walsall held their own before Eric Brook put City in front and when he added a second early in the second half the tie was over as a contest, a fact confirmed when the referee lost patience with the venom in Jack Reed's tackling and ordered him from the field.

Promotion from the Third Division North was never likely, although a good finish to the season saw Walsall produce their best placing for a decade in 5th but by then the scouts were hovering for Gilbert Alsop who was eventually prized away to nearby West Bromwich Albion of the First Division in 1935. Alsop's time at the Hawthorns was brief and unrewarding with just a solitary game among the elite before he returned to Walsall via Ipswich. He remained close to the club right up to his death in 1992 and had a stand at the club's new Bescot Stadium named after him, although this was later changed for marketing reasons. It would be thirty-three years before Alsop and the Walsall faithful would see another top flight club beaten in the cup when Stoke visited in 1966.

Fellows Park too is sadly no more, falling foul of the much needed health and safety regulations imposed on sports grounds in 1986. The era of the quaint knock together lower division ground was over and Walsall were faced with the choice of virtually rebuilding Fellows Park or moving to a new purpose built stadium. They chose the latter and  in 1990 the old ground staged its final game. The sense of the decision was evident a few weeks later when the roof of a stand blew down in a storm. The bulldozers moved in shortly afterward to finish the job and today a supermarket stands on the site.

Walsall's victory over Arsenal wasn't the biggest cupset of the pre war era but it has grown to be the most famous, regularly being cited in shortlists for the title of greatest cupset of all time though it has to be said that hindsight knowledge of the team Arsnal became rather than the team they were at the time plays a big part in that.

certainly nothing Walsall have done since has eclipsed that cold misty day in 1933 and on January 15th 2008 the club marked the seventy-fifth anniversary by naming an executive box in Gilbert Alsop's honour. Members of his family were invited to the club's home game that day with the match programme covering the events of the great day while a handful of fans had been present seventy-five years earlier were the club's guests of honour as they remembered the day a teddy bear with a stick faced down an artillery barrage and won.

Walsall: 1:Joey Cunningham, 2:Jack Bennett, 3:Sid Bird, 4:Jack Reed, 5:George Leslie, 6:Harry Salt, 7:Billy Coward, 8:Chris Ball, 9:Gilbert Alsop, 10:Bill Sheppard, 11:Freddie Lee

Arsenal: 1:Frank Moss, 2:George Male, 3:Thomas Black, 4:Frank Hill, 5:Herbie Roberts, 6:Norman Sidley 7:William Warnes, 8:David Jack, 9:Charles Walsh, 10:Alex James, 11:Cliff Bastin

1933

Walsall

Arsenal