Football By Decade: 1930s

The 1930s, perhaps the twentieth-century's most turbulent decade for change and international relations, which saw the rise of fascism in Germany, Italy and Spain as well as the ruthless communism of Josef Stalin's Soviet Union. However, when it comes to football the game continued its growth into the superpower we see today. The decade brought us the first three World Cup's, famous matches and the birth of rivalries still played with the same passion in the modern game.

Of course, in 1930 the Football League was still the World's most successful league, already almost 40 years old providing some of the greatest teams the game had ever seen, like Herbert Chapman's Huddersfield Town and later Arsenal sides as well the FA Cup. Globally the late 1920s had finally supplied the football fans from Italy and Spain with their own leagues, known respectively as Serie A and La Liga. German football would also continue to develop in the 30s, even with the dark shadow of Nazi Germany lurking over it.

However, within England political and social tensions were quite scarce, the Great Depression not having too greater impact on British life, in comparison to the conditions across the pond in the US and elsewhere in Europe, particularly Germany. The 1930-31 season saw Chapman's Arsenal win the title for the first time since their establishment, finishing above the ever-present Aston Villa. Second division champions Everton with frontman Dixie Dean would go on to triumph in the following season's First Division, which was no mean feat, edging out Arsenal by 2 points and even recording a massive 9-3 victorious scoreline against Sheffield Wednesday! Dixie Dean scored 5 in the match, and 44 in total over the course of the season.

Elsewhere within the British Isles, the 1930s provided a complete turnaround in fortunes for Welsh clubs after a prosperous past decade which famously brought the FA Cup to Cardiff. The Bluebirds by 1931-32 season found themselves languishing in the Third Division South a league below South Wales rivals Swansea Town, also the winners of that season's Welsh Cup. By the 1933-34 season Cardiff had come bottom of the Third Division and were fortunate to be re-elected, unlike Thames two years previous. The mid-30s are still fondly remembered today in football terms due the dominance of Arsenal.

Ted Drake
Arsenal as previously mentioned had won the league in 1931 under former Huddersfield boss Herbert Chapman. However it is the period between 1932-1935 which proved Arsenal's most fruitful and successful under Chapman. In the 1932-33 season, Arsenal would triumph over yet again, Aston Villa in a season which they scored 118 goals, 26 more than the Midlands club. The following season saw Arsenal once again win the title, before completing a treble of sorts by claiming the 1934-35 crown thanks in part to the goalscoring heroics of Ted Drake - who earlier that season had played a major role in the infamous "Battle of Highbury", a match including seven Arsenal first-teamers. Unfortuneatly Arsenal's love affair with Yorkshireman Chapman would come to a tragic end midway through the season as a bout of pneumonia cut short the life of one of football's early "modernisers" and great tacticians of the age. It was also Chapman who had brought about the ideas of floodlights and numbered shirts to the game.

Elsewhere around the globe came perhaps football's greatest innovation in the 1930s, the FIFA World Cup. The 1930 tournament, set up by Jules Rimet and hosted by two-time Olympic champions Uruguay proved a success leading to a resulting tournament in Europe in order to involve a greater number of teams from Football's prominent continent after only four attended in 1930. The 1934 World Cup was held in Italy, a nation whose sporting success was overlooked harshly by dictator, the fascist Benito Mussolini.

The Italian side was spear-headed by striker Giuseppe Meazza, already an Inter legend, as well as Bologna forward Angelo Schiavio. The Italians would go on to beat Czechoslovakia 2-1 in the Final and begin their global domination of the sport. England were absent from the '34 championship and for many would have won had they been there, the 3-2 scoreline in favour of the three lions in November 1934 proving it for the British public. Again the English were absent in 1938 but notable inclusions were the Cubans and Dutch East Indians (now Indonesia) to the main draw.
Double World Champions
The inclusion of Poland brought with it the match of the tournament, Brazil 6-5 Poland. The Brazilians would go on to reach the Semi-finals and provide a first real taste of Samba skill and flair, unfortunately held up by the impending Second World War. Austria had qualified for the World Cup in France in 1937, only to withdraw following the Anschluss between them and Nazi Germany, who despite a "master race" went out in the first round to Switzerland. Again it would be Italy and Meazza who would triumph, defeating Hungary 4-2 in Paris much to the delight of Il Duce and the war-hungry Italian public. It would provide the Hungarians with the first of two runners-up medals.

At club level in Italy the football was also played at an all-time high. Juventus were the leading lights of Italian football, winning the league five seasons in-a-row between 1930-35 under manager Carlo Carcano. Their main challengers were the aforementioned Inter and Bologna, the latter of which halting the Juve express train by claiming the 1936 and 1937 titles. Under Mussolini, sport, unlike most other things, thrived. Historian Bill Murray even writing that, "Mussolini’s Fascist regime was the first to use sports as an integral part of government....In addition to draining marshes and building roads, the stock in trade of dictatorial regimes, the Fascists built modern soccer stadiums as monuments to their glory.”

In Germany, the Nazi regime would attempt to follow in the example of Italy and use football as a means of improving and highlighting the power of their nation. On the other hand, the Germans were still slow to grasp the game and still used an outdated knockout system and final, rather than the league formats seen around Europe. In 1934, the Germans, now under the Fuhrer Adolf Hitler, changed to a group-stage and knockout system which began a mid-30s dominance of Schalke 04 as they triumphed on four occasions in the increasingly totalitarian and right-wing state.
A frightening sight
Finally, in Spain the fascist stranglehold also managed to take effect, culminating in the Spanish Civil War in 1936. The Civil War to this day remaining the key factor in the origins of El Clasico between Barcelona and Franco-supporting Madrid. Football had gradually improved on the Iberian Peninsula with Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid winning the first editions of the newly imposed La Liga. The Liga took a hiatus in 1936 due to the Civil War, before re-forming in 1939 with the same teams all contesting it out, only now with rivalries meaning far more than just local pride. The ruthless consolidation to power from General Franco had continued to create a stinging divide through the heart of Spain and the first real notions of El Clasico.

Aside from the European game, football began to capture the minds of the Americas and Asia in the 1930s. As mentioned, Indonesia and Cuba represented Asia and the Caribbean respectively in the 1938 World Cup and the South American game was beginning to produce the forefathers of the golden-age of Brazilian and Uruguayan football. Despite being absent in the 1932 Olympics, the Nazi games of 1936 saw football once again on the Olympic agenda and once again an international victory for Italy. The games included Japan, China and Egypt, further exemplifying the global emergence of football. The British team only made the quarter-finals after a 5-4 defeat at the hands of Poland. For the Germans, once again the "great Aryan race" was beaten by Norway in the quarter-finals much to the Fuhrer's disappointment!

"The F├╝hrer is very excited, I can barely contain myself. A real bath of nerves." - Joseph Goebbels

Our best match of the 1930s? We would have to give that title to the "Battle of Highbury", an international encounter which highlights not only the growth of international football, but the political tensions which Europe was dominated by in the 1930s! Read about it here!
Let battle commence
So there you have it, another decade of intrigue and debate which saw the beautiful game used almost as puppets for the countries it was played under. The ruthless dicatorships of Italy, Germany and Japan finally culminating in the Second World War in 1939 - where once again even footballers were not immune to their nation's call!

Footballers At War: 1939-45
Footballers At War: Royal Air Force


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