In the annals of Arsenal’s history, one name conjures images of a bygone era, baggy shorts and a dead eye for goal. In the record books, his name still stands alone for the most goals scored in one season, with 44 in the 1934-35 season. In the modern era, first Ian Wright and then Thierry Henry surpassed his overall record but that shouldn’t overshadow Drake’s achievements for Arsenal.
Drake was born in Southampton in 1912 and was an adept sportman through his schooldays excelling at cricket and football, though when he left school he became a gas meter reader. A chance to play regular non league football for Winchester Town came along, and Drake took the opportunity with both hands, whilst continuing the meter reading! After two goal filled seasons, in 1931 Southampton came calling and Drake returned to his home town team.
Drake’s first season saw him become accustomed to the hustle and bustle of Second Division football but by the end of his first season, he’d got 7 goals and had established himself as Southampton’s main striker. The Saints were a poor side and even with Drake’s goalscoring prowess, the highest they finished whilst he was at the club was 12th, nowhere near promotion. Drake’s first season had caught the eye of the legendary Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman and he made an attempt to sign him in the summer of 1933 but Drake didn’t want to move that far north!
That first full season had seen him plunder 20 league goals and after turning down Arsenal’s advances, Drake hit the ground running in the 1933-34 season. He scored 8 goals in his first 5 games and continued in the same vein eventually getting 22 goals before Arsenal came back in for him in March 1934. This time, frustrated by the lack of progress Southampton were making and with the club facing financial difficulties, Drake moved to Highbury for £6,500.
Arsenal were top and Drake continued to score goals, hitting another 7 in the 10 games he played for the Gunners but missed out on a League Championship medal through lack of appearances. He was to get his hands on one the following season though and hit 42 league goals in 41 games, with 3 hatricks and 4 four goal hauls in his stats for the season setting a record that still stands today.
The following season Drake continued to hit the goals and on December 14th 1935 he set another record when he hit 7 against Aston Villa in a 7-1 rout. Incredibly, he also had another goal chalked off as it cannoned off the crossbar, bounced over the line and back out but the referee didn’t see it.
What makes Drake’s record for the Gunners even more remarkable was that he constantly battled injury problems throughout his career, especially a niggling back injury that would catch up with him at the end of his career. Yet Drake continued to push himself through the pain barrier to make Highbury his hunting ground and whilst Cliff Bastin mesmerised opponents with his wonderful ball skills, Drake would punish any lapses in the penalty area.
Drake was rewarded with his fine form with being called up for England and scored 6 goals in 5 appearances, injuries curtailing his opportunities to represent his country more than just a handful of times. He made his debut in the game that became known as the “Battle of Highbury” against Italy in November 1934, one of an incredible 7 Arsenal players to start the game. Typically, Drake scored the winner in a bad tempered 3-2 win.
As the decade continued, Drake finished as Arsenal’s top scorer in 5 consecutive seasons, as Arsenal continued to be the dominant force in English pre-war football. Between 1931 and 1939, Arsenal’s lowest position was 6th in the 1935-36 season, but they managed to win the F.A Cup with a 1-0 win over Sheffield United. Guess who scored the winning goal. Another League Championship medal came along in the 1937-38 season as Arsenal pipped Wolves by one point.
As with most of his contemparies, Drake’s career was stopped dead in its tracks with the outbreak of World War Two in September 1939 aged just 27. Drake went to serve in the RAF but continued to play for Arsenal in wartime fixtures. On the resumption of League football, Drake was injured against Reading and was forced to retire from playing. Despite this set back he took over as manager of non-league Hendon in 1946, moving to Reading in 1947 were after 5 seasons, Chelsea came calling.
Upon his arrival, he completely revamp the club, who were classed as London’s poorer side. Changing the badge, the motto, the kit and the club’s philosphy for big signings who continually failed to deliver, he used his knowledge of the lower leagues to sign the quality of player that Chelsea needed. As his team knitted, Chelsea became a force to be reckoned with and won the league in 1955 shocking the two titans, Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers. With it, Drake became the first person to win the league as a manager and a player.
It was as good as it got for Drake as Chelsea amazingly didn’t finish in the top ten again that decade and in 1961 he was removed from his position as manager. He continued to keep involved with football, having spells as Assistant Manager at Fulham and Barcelona under Vic Buckingham. He continued to love football and would often travel to all the clubs in London, for the simple pleasures of just enjoying watching football.
Drake passed away on May 30th 1995, aged 82.
- Scored 139 goals in 186 full appearances for Arsenal from 1934 – 1939
- Two League Championship medals 1934-35 & 1937-38
- One F.A. Cup Winners medal 1935-36
- 5 Appearances for England, scoring 6 goals
- First man to win League title as a player and manager
- Scored 7 goals in one match against Aston Villa on December 14th 1935
- Arsenals top scorer in every season from 1934-1935 until 1938-39
- Became Life President of Fulham
- Played County Cricket for Hampshire from 1931 until 1937