There are several reasons to relish this curio. It was an apprentice work by Thorold Dickinson, the Hitchcock assistant and cutter who would shoot “Gaslight” and “The Queen of Spades” before becoming Britain’s first professor of film. It is one of the earliest sports movies to feature real sportsmen – acting very woodenly, as befits stiff-upper-lip soccer stars. It is anchored by a mischievously eccentric performance by Leslie Banks, who a few years later was to be the magnificent Chorus of Olivier’s “Henry V”.
Above all, the film lets us glimpse pre-war Britain’s, maybe the world’s, leading football club. Arsenal FC, the “Gunners”, had been raised to pre-eminence by Herbert Chapman, Britain’s first modern soccer manager, until his untimely death in 1934. Five years later his team were still on top, coached by his deputy George Allison, who appears in the movie.
Highbury Stadium, the setting for the murder, was state of the art. The scene in the treatment room underlines Chapman’s far-sighted, scientific approach to caring for his players. He was an early advocate of floodlights and numbered shirts, and even got the name of the local Tube station altered to advertise the Gunners. The film was a massive plug for them; alas, soon after its release the Second World War meant that the lads had to pick up real guns and compete in a more dangerous game. Afterwards Arsenal did not recover its top-of-the-tree status for 25 years. Unwittingly this production memorialises its greatest era.