The Second World War (1939–45)

Soon after the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, all first-class football in Britain was suspended, and the 1939–40 Football League season annulled. Highbury was requisitioned as an ARP station, with a barrage balloon operating behind the Clock End. During the Blitz, a bomb fell on the North Bank, destroying the roof and setting fire to the scrap that was being stored on the terrace. With Highbury closed, Arsenal instead played their home matches at White Hart Lane, home of their rivals Tottenham Hotspur. Wartime matches do not count in official statistics; competitions were played on a regional basis and teams often did not complete a full season; many footballers served in the armed forces as trainers or instructors and were away from their clubs for long periods of time, so they would often star as “guests” at other clubs. Arsenal won the Football League War Cup South in 1942–43 and the London or Southern league titles in 1939–401941–42 and 1942–43. Participation in the London League led to their expulsion from The Football League in 1941 along with 14 other clubs; it was not until April 1942 when they were readmitted after expressing regret and paying a £10 fine.

In November 1945, with league competition still suspended, Arsenal were one of the teams that played a Dynamo Moscow side touring the UK. With many players still serving abroad in the armed forces, Arsenal were severely depleted and used six guest players, including Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen, which led Dynamo to declare they were playing an England XI, although three of the side were actually Welsh. In any case, Dynamo themselves had Vsevolod Bobrov on loan from CDKA Moscow. The match, at White Hart Lane, kicked off in thick fog and the slick and technically proficient Dynamo won 4–3, after Arsenal had led 3–1 at half-time.

Though the score is generally agreed upon, after that accounts of the match diverge; even the identity of the goalscorers is disputed. English reports alleged Dynamo fielded twelve players at one point, and tried to pressurise the referee into abandoning the match when they had been behind; in turn, the Soviets accused Arsenal of persistent foul play and even alleged George Allison had bet money on the result (a claim that was later retracted). The acrimony after the match was such that it inspired George Orwell to write his 1945 essay The Sporting Spirit, in which he famously opined on the nature of sport, namely that in his view “it is war minus the shooting”.[56] With the fog obscuring much of the action, not to mention the language barriers and the early-Cold War mutual suspicion between both sides, it is unlikely any reliable account of the match will emerge.

 

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