Champagne at Highbury

Tommy Lawton recalls in his own words the Arsenal v Everton game at Highbury in September 1938

By Tommy Lawton

(Everton, Chelsea, Arsenal and England)

After twenty years in football I find it very difficult to pick on any one match, naturally after being so long in this great game, many thrilling matches have easily come to mind.

Which shall it be? My first professional game with Burnley in which, at 17 years and 4 days, I scored a hat-trick? My goal in 2 minutes in the replayed match at White Hart Lane in my first Cup-tie with Everton in 1937? The winning goal at Hampden Park for England in the last minute in 1939? The Rest of Europe v England games in 1938 and 1947? That never-to-be-forgotten Chelsea v Dynamo game in 1945 at Stamford Bridge? That wonderful game at Wembley in October 1944 v Scotland when we were behind at half-time by 1-0 And finally, after a hat-trick by myself, won 6-2? The Arsenal game in Moscow v The Dynamo's in October 1954? My debut for Arsenal in 1953? That great game with Notts County v Nottingham Forest when County won 2-1 in 1949? The Portugal game with England in Lisbon which we won 10-0? The Italian game in Turin when England won 4-0? All these highlights and hundreds more are more easily remembered, such as scoring my 400th goal on 27 January 1945, at Goodison Park against Stockport County… but no!

The match I have chosen is the Arsenal v Everton game at Highbury in September 1938, and I must give you the background to the game before describing it, so that you will see and agree with me that this one game had everything, especially for me. Everton started the 1938-39 season winning the first four games in a row, and the fifth match was against Arsenal at Highbury. I had scored in every game, my tally being six goals from the four games, and the newspapers were already tipping me [at 18] to lead the England side in the forthcoming inter-League game in Belfast, and against Wales at Cardiff a few weeks later. Plus all this, Everton had a chance to equal a record for the First Division, if we beat Arsenal, we would have gone the first five games and won them all.  Incidentally, we beat the record, for the following week: we defeated Portsmouth 5-1 at Goodison Park.

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Imagine my feelings all that week! Arsenal at Highbury! All our players were on their toes for the battle on the Saturday, for make no mistake, Arsenal were a force to be reckoned with. They always have been, but with Male and Hapgood at full-back, Crayston and Copping wing-halves, and Bastin outside-left, all regular England players, and Leslie and Bryn Jones two Welsh internationals at inside forward, to me Arsenal looked a formidable team. I knew if we were to win and I was to have any hopes of an international cap that season, this was the game in which we should all have to pull out that little bit extra.

The stage was set, Saturday came and we arrived at that 'Palace' called Highbury an hour before the kick-off. The ground was packed then, 68,000 people were inside this wonderful stadium, and I couldn't get changed fast enough, straining at the leash, waiting for the referee's bell to warn us to take the field. Came 2:55 pm and there it was, this is it! By  4:40 pm we should know.

The teams taking the field that day were:

Arsenal: Swindin, Male, Hapgood, Crayston, B Joy, Copping, Nelson, L Jones, Carr, B Jones, Bastin.

Everton: Sagar, Cook, Greenhalgh, Mercer, T G Jones, Thomson, Gillick, Bentham, Lawton, Stevenson, Boyes.

The first half was one of the greatest football games ever to be played. Everton soon settled down to the rythmical, quick passing to the feet and moving into position, that had brought us four victories in a run. This is how John Macadam described it in his press report:

"From Stevenson (best forward on the field), back to Cook and Greenhalgh the backs, the ball was handled like a weakly child, wheedled, guided, fed, and occasionally belted. We gradually got into our stride and Arsenal were pegged back, even Male and Hapgood were bewildered by the moves, speed and confidence of this Everton machine. Then in the 14th minute it happened, a free kick from our penalty area and the ball was passed from man to man as though a string was tied to it, until finally I flicked the ball to Alex Stevenson, in a flash he was round Hapgood and Joy and the ball was in the back of the Arsenal net, giving George Swindin no chance.

This was what we wanted, a goal up inside 15 minutes, and playing some great football, only occasionally more than two feet from the ground.  (Remember our forward line was outside right 5 ft 6 in, inside right 5 ft 8 in, centre forward 6 ft, inside left 5 ft 5 in, outside left 5 ft 5 in, so the ball had to be on the ground!) With Mercer and Thomson, our wing-halves plying us with some beautiful passes, we continued to this high speed man-to-man attacking football, and now it really was Everton all the way.

In the 34th minute, we went further ahead with a goal scored by myself. I finished off the movement, but as always in this Everton team, it was 'all for one and one for all'. Torry Gillick, our outside right, took the ball down the wing and made a short pass to me, I forced my way across the face of the goal and 'drew' George Swindin to the right-hand upright. As he covered the angle, I 'changed feet' and hit the ball with my left foot, just inside the left-hand upright.

Two up, 'joyous leaps'! I had scored at Highbury. The boys were displaying complete confidence now, and Arsenal were definitely playing second fiddle, although our defence never took any chances, they couldn't afford to, with this Arsenal side. So we came to half time leading by 2-0 and only forty five minutes to go. As we came into the dressing room, our captain Jock Thomson briefed us for the second half, Arsenal would come out like demons and our plan was to let them come on the attack for the first fifteen minutes and spend their energy, and then for us to settle down after  their attacks, and to wear them down, but we didn't reckon with the Highbury spirit. They crowded on the attack from the word go, and didn't stop, our defence was magnificent and Ted Sagar was outstanding in goal, the pressure was terrific, even Male and Hapgood came on the attack, and twenty five minutes from time Bryn Jones scored a glorious goal. Hapgood cleared from the defence, Bryn snapped up the clearance and before any of our defence could move, the ball was in the back of the net, making the score 2-1.

With Arsenal on the attack again Crayston headed against the post, a second later Leslie Jones cracked in a shot that had 'goal' written all over it, only for Sagar to turn it round the post for a magnificent save. Bastin hit the upright and this great Arsenal team still kept on the attack, it was a very relieved Everton team that heard the referee's whistle, but I am sure that every one of those 68,000 fans went home thoroughly satisfied with the football that had been played by both teams, it was a classic. what happened after this never to be forgotten match is past history. Ten days later I played for the English League against the Irish League in Belfast, and scored four goals in the 9-2 victory, and three weeks later I received my first full "cap" against Wales  at Cardiff, to start my career as England's centre forward, which I was to hold for ten glorious years.

Yes, looking back I see the great and exciting games I have played in all over the world, but the one match that had everything for me was that Arsenal and Everton classic in September 1938. This was the 'champagne' of football and the toast was 'EVERTON'. Incidentally Everton won the Division One Championship that season, which proves that class football will always pay dividends.

Acknowledgement: The Caxton Publishing Company Limited. Published 1960.


Reader Comments (8)

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Phil Parker
1 Posted 22/08/2023 at 23:13:15
Just beautiful, John.
John McFarlane Snr
2 Posted 23/08/2023 at 12:14:51
Hi Phil, [1] thank you for your 'three word' compliment but I am a just a nostalgic person, who has the information at hand. I hope to see you and Dave Kelly at the food bank on Saturday.
Alan McGuffog
3 Posted 23/08/2023 at 12:20:41
" quick passing to feet and then moving into position ". My my, what a concept !
John McFarlane Snr
4 Posted 24/08/2023 at 16:06:58
Hi Danny Oneill, I have just had this submission relegated to the archive posts after 2 days. It was my intention to submit articles featuring Billy Wright, Stanley Matthews, Raich Carter, Tom Finney, and Wilf Mannion, but if they are treated in the same manner it will be hardly worth it. I thought that it would be nostalgic for the more elderly fans and educational for the younger generations.
John McFarlane Snr
5 Posted 24/08/2023 at 16:31:47
Hi again Danny, apologies to the editor, it's the 'fan articles'.
Michael Kenrick
Editorial Team
6 Posted 24/08/2023 at 16:43:44
These items are of passing interest if they have some Everton connection and we are of course happy to publish them. Tommy Lawton, yes, he played for Everton, and this piece features an Everton match, so all good.

But those other names you mention, John. I guess you could tell us about when they played against Everton but it's becoming a bit tenuous, I'm afraid, if you are making a feature out of non-Everton players.

And be a good fellow, please stop complaining about where the articles appear or how prominent they are. You are the only contributor to ever do this and it is getting tedious.

Thank you.

Danny O’Neill
7 Posted 24/08/2023 at 17:22:47
Great stuff, John.

We go to play and watch football to be entertained. Of course we care about the result, but we want to see a performance and commitment.

I think Tommy Lawton's words speak for every follower of football, let alone Everton supporter.

A player who, as the interview says, played everywhere, but he remembers things and matches that meant more, like the match against Arsenal.

Quality read.

John McFarlane Snr
8 Posted 24/08/2023 at 19:31:09
Michael [6],

You and I have crossed swords before, and because you have control of the delete key, you will always come out on top. I can't know how many read the various posts I can only guess. I can recall threads that started with an Everton topic, and finished far removed from an, Everton or even any, football discussion.

Hi Danny [7] thanks for your kind words, it looks as though you may not be able learn about such players as, Billy Wright, Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney, etc.

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