Ted Drake, Chelsea Manager during an exhibition match against the temporary Dutch national team. 1955.
Ted Drake, Chelsea Manager during an exhibition match against the temporary Dutch national team. 1955.

Ted Drake

Working Class Hero

A Solent Beginning 

Ted Drake was born in 1912, a short distance from the bustling Southampton Docks, son to a sea merchant. Ted was an eager Southampton (Saints) fan and after leaving school, he became a gas reader whilst playing for non-league side Winchester City. Following his success at Winchester City, Ted signed for Southampton in 1931. Ted was at one with the city. He was born down Holyrood, a famous and historic street in Southampton and worked at Southampton Gaslight and Coke Company where he met his wife Ruby.


Not long after signing for Southampton, Ted became the club’s talisman striker. Due to Drake’s emphatic striking ability, he attracted the attention of Division One club Arsenal. Drake turned down Herbert Chapman’s offer in the 1932/33 season. Herbert Chapman is one of the most renowned innovators of the game and was a close friend of Huge Meisl . However, following a managerial change at Arsenal due to the death of Herbert Chapman and Drake’s relentless goal-scoring, new Arsenal manager George Allison signed Drake in March 1934.

Within a month of signing for title favourites Arsenal, the hailed “the greatest centre forward in the world” scored on his debut against Wolves. In his first full season for Arsenal, 1934/35, he scored 44 goals and earned Ted the historic achievement of most goals scored in a season for Arsenal. Drake scored three hat-tricks as well as picking up four four-goal hauls. The ascendancy from Drake provided him with his first league title in 1935, securing Arsenal’s third consecutive first-division title, a record which still remains to this day. 

Not only was Ted Drake a holder of Arsenal record achievements, but his striking ability was cemented after achieving the most goals scored in a top-flight English football match. On December 14th 1935, struggling with form, Drake was feeling the Christmas spirit and managed to score all seven in a 7-1 victory over Aston Villa. In the lead-up to World War Two, Drake broke another Arsenal record becoming the fastest man to reach 100 goals. He achieved this within 108 appearances.

“Battle for Highbury”

The season also saw the striker make his England debut in the “Battle of Highbury” against World Cup Winners Italy in November 1934. Thanks to Drake scoring England’s third goal, England won the match 3-2. Known for being an extremely violent match, a number of players attained serious injuries, coining the match’s historic title. Commenting on the game in the mid-70s as a Fulham scout, Drake described the game as “brutal”. During the fierce encounter, Drake was photographed supposedly in a headlock. 

The “Battle of Highbury” is a notable historic event. It arrived following a controversial 1934 World Cup held in Italy. Mussolini invested heavily in the success of the Italian football team to promote the spread of fascism and its ideals. Read our other ‘lives’ story on the Italian manager Vittorio Pozzo, the Italian football manager during the “Battle of Highbury”, to find out more. Evidence from newspaper articles reporting on the “Battle of Highbury” highlights how a vast number of Italian Londoners said “arrivederci” to their Italian soldiers whilst performing a Fascist salute.

World War Two

Serving in the RAF during World War Two, Ted also featured in wartime Arsenal games as part of the Football League War Cup. For more information about regional football divisions’ position during the war, read our story about football lockdowns during WWII here. During wartime, Drake picked up a career-ending injury and following 1945, decided to look for new avenues like coaching. 

Thinking Points 

Ted Drake had numerous footballing achievements but the 1930s represent an interesting time for football historical analysis. He represents an era of the sport which was truly working class. To what extent has this developed since the interwar period?

Developments from Meisl, Chapman, and Pozzo enabled growth and increased globalisation of the sport. It promotes the question of how was football used by fascist states to grow their ideology? 

How can we identify political and social trends of the interwar period using football as a lens? 

Find out more

If you would like to know more about the ‘Battle of Highbury’ read the Guardian article here, and more about ‘The day England gave Mussolini a bloody nose’ through this link here.  

To see footage of the famous ‘Battle of Highbury’, follow this link for highlights from British Pathé archives.Want to read more about how football changed during the Second World War? Here are ten interesting facts from the Imperial War Museum.

Photo Gallery

From the Dell to Highbury, breaking records and fighting facism. The life of Ted Drake.

Life Story 133

Let’s review

Ted Drake, Chelsea Manager during an exhibition match against the temporary Dutch national team. 1955.
Reader Rating4 Votes
Football game

Don’t miss our videos

Follow us

Football Makes History