A classic centre-forward, Ted Drake was one of the most feared footballers in the 1930s. His commitment and fearlessness, often going where no one else would dare, earned him the reputation of one of the bravest players around.
In the 30s, football was a rather different game—a much harsher one, with fewer rules. Physicality was a must if you were to prosper under those circumstances, and Drake had it in abundance.
He started to play football for Southampton in 1931. Not much later, his talent was noticed by the legendary Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman, who tried to sign him. Drake refused, initially.
Chapman’s will to sign him was to materialize posthumously, when in 1934, George Allison signed him to Arsenal for £6,500.
Drake’s career took off immediately.
He scored on his debut against the Wolves and broke the all-time goal record for the club in the following season with 42 goals in 41 league games. His record still stands unscathed nearly seven decades later.
Even that was dwarfed by what he was going to do a season later.
Drake single-handedly ripped Aston Villa to shreds by scoring seven times to carve the result of 7-1 in favor of Arsenal. He scored another goal, eighth, when the ball hit the bar and bounced off behind the goal line, but the referee decided that seven were enough.
Seven goals by a single player—nobody has broken that astonishing record in the decades of football since.
As if to underline the goal-scoring ability of Drake, those records were backed by unrivaled consistency. He went on to top the goal-scoring charts in each of the five seasons at Arsenal. You must have been blind not to see his quality—and the England manager was not.
Ted Drake was soon called up for international duty, and did not disappoint. He scored six in five matches, and in 1935, scored the winner against Italy in the “Battle of Highbury” to clinch a valuable 3-2 victory.
Undoubtedly, his physical prowess and bravery brought him astounding success, but injuries inseparably loomed over him. Drake was in constant battle with injuries inflicted by his almost reckless style of playing.
Against Brentford in 1938, he had to be carried off the field unconscious after breaking his wrist and receiving a bad head wound.
He went on, changing nothing in his style, remaining the same old brave Ted Drake.
In 1939, his career was abruptly interrupted by the horrific global event known as World War II.
Enlisted in the Royal Air Force, Drake continued to play for Arsenal in friendly matches.
All in all, Drake scored 139 goals in 184 games, which puts him at the fifth place of Arsenal’s all time top scorers.
Jeff Harris wrote about him in Arsenal’s Who’s Who:
Drake's main attributes were his powerful dashing runs, his great strength combined with terrific speed and a powerful shot. Ted Drake was also brilliant in the air but above all, so unbelievably fearless.
H/t to Stefan Vasilev for an excellently written piece for B/R here.