Arsenal FC Denis Compton

Wartime Football (1941): Preston vs Arsenal

5:49 PMGoalChatter

Football During WWII

Part of GoalChatter's unique series that highlights the oft-forgotten games, players and managers of wartime football. Every week features a match played in one of the many countries affected by the War.


Wartime football took a different shape in England leading up to the second Football League War Cup final. There were now two instead of ten regional leagues, yielding a North and South final. Preston North End beat Liverpool to secure their title as champions of the North, and scored twice against Newcastle in the League Cup semi-final match. Arsenal had a 3-1 semi-final win against Leicester City. Their last silverware was the 1937-38 First Division title and 1938 FA Charity Shield.

The Final

Preston North End 1-1 Arsenal
May 10, 1941
Wembley, London
Referee: F.S. Milner (Wolverhampton)
Attendance: 60,000
Goals: Andrew McLaren (Asst. Tom Finney), Denis Compton
Missed penalty: Leslie Compton (3')

60,000 came to see the final despite the fact that London was the target of over a hundred air raids that year. The First Lord of the Admiralty, A.V. Alexander, welcomed the players before kick-off. Three minutes in, the referee saw a dubious handball and gave Arsenal a penalty, which Leslie Compton sent wide of the net. There was, of course, no such thing as the internet or instantly available highlights, so some reports mistakenly stated that the Preston keeper had blocked the shot. An early goal by McLaren put Preston ahead. Arsenal had a handful of chances that were saved by Preston keeper Fairbrother. Sergeant Denis Compton equalized for the Gunners near the end of the first half. The match saw no more goals, which meant there would be a replay. A newsreel mentions that the replay was scheduled for May 24th, but it would be played on the 31st. The match was moved to Ewood Park, home to Blackburn Rovers. 

The Replay


The Band of the Loyal Regiment, under Bandmaster Mr. E. G. R. Palmer, played a series of marches. Notable pieces included Keep Right On to the End of the Roadthe anthem of Birmingham City FC since the 1950's, and John Phillip Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever, which would become the official march of the U.S.A. over 4 decades later. The U.S. did not join the war until December 1941, but the government did support Britain and the other Allied nations under the Lend-Lease Act, signed in March of that year.

Preston North End 2-1 Arsenal
May 31, 1941

Ewood Park, Blackburn
Referee: F. S. Milner (Wolverhampton)
Attendance: 45,000
Goals: Robert Beattie (x2), Frank Gallimore (o.g.)

Both teams made changes to their lineups for the replay. A newspaper mentions Preston "were forced to reconstruct their defence" due to injury, moving Andrew Beattie to left-back for William Scott and putting 20-year-old Cliff Mansley in Beattie's place at left-half. Arsenal replaced Leslie Compton for Ted Drake in the centre forward position. Drake was injured during the game, and after attempting to play on at outside-right, left the pitch, leaving the Gunners at a disadvantage (the Football League did not allow substitutions until the mid-60's). As the newsreel mentions, Preston did much of the attacking, keeping Arsenal keeper George Marks on edge. Frank Gallimore put Arsenal on the scoreboard with an own goal, but Preston were quick to get back, and Robert Beattie's double sealed the deal for the Lilywhites. 


W.C. Cuff, president of the Football League, presented the Cup to Preston captain Tom Smith. Winning the Cup completed Preston's double, the first won by an English team during the war. Arsenal went on to win the Southern League final in 1942-43. The Gunners would become the only team to reach two War Cup finals, although they lost both (Blackpool were the winners in '43). 

The Players

Source: Preston Digital Archive
Preston's Andrew McLaren and Tom Finney were among some of the players who emerged through the local youth system. McLaren made 69 appearances for Preston, scoring 29 goals. The 19-year-old played a key role in getting Preston the double, scoring all 6 goals in their win against Liverpool that secured their Northern Regional League title in the 1940-41 season. He was the team's top scorer in 1947-48. 

Sir Tom Finney was known for his skills on the pitch as well as for his gentlemanly behavior, eliciting comparisons with the great Stanley Matthews, with whom he played for England. He was known by fans as the Preston Plumber, remaining in the business alongside his footballing career. Finney was called up to the Royal Armoured Corps in 1942, serving as a tank driver and fighting in North Africa and Italy under General Bernard Montgomery of the 8th Army. In April 1945, he took part in the battle to recapture Argentina. Not all players' careers continued into the post-war era, but Finney's did; he was just 24 when the war ended, and played frequently while in the Army. According to Finney, "the standard was still very high. You played with very elite company and it was wonderful morale for the men in the forces." 
Indeed, Finney played for the 8th Army Team as well as for a side called the Wanderers. He was part of an 8th Army side that played King Farouk's team, featuring the actor Omar Sharif. A one-club man, he scored an impressive 210 goals in 473 appearances for Preston, and was the first player to be named English footballer of the year twice.

Both Bill Shankly and Stanley Matthews held Finney in high regard, comparing him with greats like Di Stefano, Eusebio, Pele, Cruyff and Puskas. According to Matthews, Finney was among the few players who "dictated the pace and course of a game" on a regular basis.

Sir Tom Finney passed away on February 14, 2014 at 91 years of age.
Bill Shankly and Sir Tom Finney in the '70s.
The 1941 Arsenal team had their own stars. Many, like Ted Drake and Eddie Hapgood, served in the RAF. Among the better-known are the Compton brothers. Centre half/right back Leslie Compton and outside-left Denis Compton were both footballers and cricket players, although Leslie was better known for football, and Denis for cricket. Both brothers were one-club men and have the distinction of scoring vital goals that tied games and led to replays. Denis Compton had the equalizer in the 1941 War Cup final. Nine years later, Leslie Compton tied the score in the FA Cup semi-final, leading Arsenal to a replay in which the Gunners emerged victorious. Both Comptons joined the British Army during the war. They continued playing football and cricket, representing various teams, including the Army Physical Training Corps and Civil Defence Services (pictured below). Denis served in India and played in over 120 friendly games. A centre-back-turned-forward, Leslie Compton had a 22-year playing career, making him one of Arsenal's longest-serving players. At 38 years old, he became the oldest player to debut for England in the post-war era. Together, the Comptons won the 1947 league title and 1950 FA Cup. They're part of only a handful of brothers to star in Arsenal's first team, and were the only brothers to have won both the national football and cricket championships.
Denis (front, 3rd from left) & Leslie Compton (5th from left). Photo: Sport & General, 1942 
The Managers

Preston North End had a management committee from 1937-1949, one of several throughout their history. Robert Beattie, who scored a brace in the replay, was involved in coaching local youth along
 with some of the other older players. Scott, McLaren and Finney all came through Preston's youth programs.

BBC commentators George Allison and E.V.H. Emmett in the 1939 film The Arsenal Stadium Mystery.
Arsenal manager George Allison began his career as a journalist. Like some managers today, Allison provided commentary alongside his coaching career. He had the distinction of commentating on the first FA Cup final to be broadcast on the radio in 1927, in which Arsenal played Cardiff, as well as on the first-ever fully televised match in 1938, between England and Scotland. Allison held various positions at Arsenal, editing match programmes and serving as a secretary. He became managing director and later head coach, despite never having played professionally. Allison had a 13-year spell at the club, during which he won two pre-war First Division Championships, an FA Cup, and a Charity Shield. He was Arsenal's longest-serving manager until Arsene Wenger broke his record in 2009.

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