History repeating as VAR controversy in Newcastle vs Arsenal game recalls 1932 FA Cup Final debate

Many fans felt the ball had gone out of play but after a long VAR check, Anthony Gordon’s goal in last weekend’s Premier League clash at St James’ Park was allowed to stand. Nearly a century ago, a similarly disputed moment went a long way towards settling an FA Cup Final clash between these two clubs…

By Philip Barker

Arsenal players surround referee Stuart Attwell after Newcastle score at St. James’ Park (Image: James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images)

When Newcastle beat Arsenal, reports highlighting a “doubtful” and “questionable” goal as the turning point of the match appeared in the press.

Yet they were not written this past weekend, but over 91 years ago after an incident in the 1932 FA Cup Final at Wembley.

Newcastle came from behind to beat Arsenal 2-1 with two goals from Jack Allen, but it was the first goal in the Magpies’ victory that sparked a controversy similar to that seen on Saturday in the Premier League.

Yet there was no outburst in the media back then from Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman.

“Cup final goals are often of contentious character and Newcastle’s equaliser certainly gave cause for complaint by the Arsenal,” was the verdict of the Newcastle Journal.

The ball appeared to have crossed the byline before it was pulled back for Allen to score.

“It is agreed by most people qualified and in a position to judge, including the Newcastle players on the spot, that the ball was over the line,” the newspaper continued.

“From the press seats, it certainly looked as though it had but we were looking from a long angle and very high up,” Sunday Pictorial reporter PJ Moss wrote.

It was originally and widely reported that Scottish winger Jimmy Boyd had made the cross, but Newcastle manager Andy Cunningham later confirmed that Jimmy Richardson had played the ball.

Referee Percy Harper of Stourbridge was in no doubt that the goal should stand. “He quickly waved away the two or three protesting players and pointed to the centre.”

What was perhaps more remarkable was that Mr Harper was permitted to talk to the media about the incident.

“The ball was definitely in play, I gave the goal in accordance with the rules and regulations of the Football Association. It was definitely a goal,” Harper claimed.

“I was so certain that the goal was good that I did not consider it necessary to consult the linesmen and I am still just as certain.”

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph’s Looker On suggested that “experts would demand the introduction of two referees per match or of goal judges.”

This was, the paper said, “how all doubts which arose at Wembley could be avoided.”

The match was transmitted on the radio but television coverage did not begin until 1936 so the only moving pictures were shot by the newsreel companies which captured the incident from a number of angles.

The Sunday Dispatch revealed breathlessly that its reporter had been shown the film before it was released to the cinemas.

“The goal with which Newcastle equalised in the Cup Final will be long debated, particularly as a film shows that the ball, before it reached the man who scored, was over the line.”

The paper also points out that “the camera was pointing straight down the goal line so there are no angles to deceive the eye. British Movietone have lots of shots from another angle and these too show the ball over the line.”

Harper insisted: “Whatever the film appears to show will not make me alter my opinion.”

Even so, newsreel companies knew they were on to a winner and the film was heavily promoted not only in the North East and and North London but all over the country.

In Gloucester, it was shown at the Daffodil Picture House.

“With their usual enterprise, they have arranged to show on Thursday and the following days, the Movietone News film depicting the play up to this sensational goal, so that local enthusiasts can see for themselves what happened.

“By great good luck, this period of the match was also filmed in slow motion which makes the exhibition even more interesting.”

Both teams attended the Cup Final banquet at the Cafe Royal where Arsenal boss Chapman insisted: “I can lodge no complaint.”

Reports noted that “the Arsenal players conducted themselves like gentlemen and preserved the dignity of Association football.”

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