Club History – Arsenal

Kicking off one of A Different League’s regular features, we take a look at the grand history of English clubs, offering our readers an in-depth glance through the archives.

Arsenal – A history draped in English folklore

Ask anyone in this football-mad world about Arsenal and you will find people of all nationalities and castes speaking of a team that has a world-renowned style of playing football. Not as popular as the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United, AC Milan or Real Madrid in terms of history, yet the club from Holloway, North London has taken the world by surprise with a brand of football that only they can play. Gaining popularity around the world only over the past decade under Arsene Wenger, this club has a rich history that dates back to 1886 – when a group of Scotsmen decided to save some of their financial resources and start a new social activity in the form of buying a football club in a region dominated by cricket and rugby. But little did they know at that time, the seeds they were sowing would, in years to come, turn into a football cathedral on the forefront of English and European football glory.

The formation of Royal Arsenal

The club we know today as Arsenal owes its very name to a group of Scots who decided to form a social recreational activity in the hard days of industrial upheaval back in 1886. David Danskin, a Scot working in the munitions factory in Woolwich, set up a small football team with the help of three friends, Elijah Watkins, John Humble and Richard Pearce. Mr Danskin and company had no footballs or kit, no club name nor any place to play but these matters were solved with the arrival of a couple of Nottingham Forest players at Woolwich – Fred Beardsley and Morris Bates. This sprung David Danskin into action. He made 15 men available to play a game of football and the kit problem was solved courtesy of Beardsley and Bates as the two Nottingham Forest players used their contacts at the club to acquire red shirts. Danskin and company named their newly formed team Dial Square after one of the factory’s workshops. The first ever match was arranged against Eastern Wanderers and Dial Square team members crossed the Thames to play on the Isle of Dogs. Dial Square won 6-0 and the victorious players sat at the Royal Oak pub next to Woolwich Arsenal station on Christmas Day, 1886 – and thought of a new name for the football team. As they discussed, the founding fathers of Arsenal football club thought of a name by combining the names of the pub where they were gathered and their place of work, Woolwich Arsenal. The name ‘Woolwich Arsenal’ was adopted in 1891 when the club was officially formed.

Woolwich Arsenal’s first game

Other London clubs, such as Millwall, Tottenham and Queen’s Park Rangers were asked to form a Southern League but these clubs rejected the proposal as Woolwich Arsenal turned professional – and following the rejection the club was elected into the Football Second League in 1893. Arsenal became London’s only professional club and the first club south of Birmingham to be elected to the league. One interesting fact provided by the club themselves and by trusted historians is that Woolwich Arsenal’s Manor Ground had the original Kop (Liverpool fans might not agree). The ground’s large steeply banked terrace became known as the Spion Kop – a name given by the returning soldiers of the Boer War. The club finished a creditable ninth out of fifteen teams in their first season, amassing 28 points from 28 games. The highlight of the season came in October 14, 1893 when Woolwich Arsenal scored a massive 12-0 FA Cup win against Ashford United – the club’s biggest ever win in the famous domestic competition. From 1893 to 1904, the north Londoners played in the Second Division of the Football League. They were promoted to the first division in 1904.

Shift from Woolwich to Highbury

At the end of the 1912/1913 season, Woolwich Arsenal’s finances were unstable and the club got relegated. Sir Henry Norris, the new head of the club, had only one thing in his mind: change the venue or ground to revive Arsenal’s financial fortunes. After intensive surveys at various places, Highbury – north of the Thames – attracted Norris’ watchful eyes. He quickly figured out the financial gains of a club based in the area – with the underground station a reason to attract crowds to the stadium – but one thing made him cautious about moving from Woolwich to Highbury. Tottenham, a club based in the Highbury sector, openly opposed Arsenal’s prospective move and local residents too sided in forcing the issue. Arsenal were allowed to settle at Highbury after the League Management Committee turned down an appeal by local residents and nearby clubs. This decision of the league sowed the seeds of an eternal football rivalry – the fixture today we call the ‘North London Derby’. The bad blood in fact started when Spurs, along with other southern clubs, rejected the creation of the Southern League with Arsenal just because the latter was the only professional club in London. The club’s last match at Manor Ground finished 1-1 against Middlesbrough on April 26, 1913. Afterwards, Woolwich Arsenal was renamed as ‘The Arsenal’, although, officially, people addressed the club as Arsenal. As Arsenal moved away from South London to North London, much to the dismay of Tottenham fans, the void left by the Gunners was filled up by Charlton Athletic – a then amateur club who turned professional to take advantage of the vacuum left by Arsenal. The first game at Highbury on September 6, 1913 finished 2-1 to the home side as they beat Leicester Fosse with Scottish international Andy Devine scoring Arsenal’s first goal. The next target for the club was a promotion to the First Division.

‘Underhand deals’ in Arsenal securing promotion at the expense of Tottenham

Arsenal’s rivalry with Tottenham is as much to do with geographical location as football history, an example being the Gunners’ promotion to the First Division immediately after the conclusion of the First World War in 1918. Arsenal, having finished just fifth in the second division in the final season before the Great War, were expected to remain in that division when the league resumed in 1919. But an unusual chain of events ensured the club got promoted at the expense of old enemy Spurs.

It is widely believed among football historians that Sir Henry Norris, the then chairman of Arsenal, influenced the league chairman and owner of Liverpool, John McKenna, to gain the Gunners’ unexpected promotion. Even today no one can confirm whether Sir Norris used underhand deals behind closed doors to influence Mr McKenna, but the truth is unusual circumstances did take take place in 1919. It was thought, as the league would be extended by two teams to 22, the two bottom clubs from the First Division would be re-elected and joined by the top two sides from the Second Division. If this was the case, there would have been no place for the fifth-placed Second Division side Arsenal in the new league. Yet, surprisingly, the league decided to promote Arsenal ahead of their bitter rivals, citing the length of the club’s association with the Football League, which was from 1893 – 15 years more than Tottenham Hotspur’s. The Tottenham supporters may cry foul play, but whatever the truth might be, one thing is for sure – Arsenal are the only club to remain at the top flight for the last 88 years and the only side not to have been promoted on playing merit.

Herbert Chapman and Arsenal

Former Huddersfield Town manager Herbert Chapman took over the reins at Highbury and the impact was immediate and stunning. Chapman came with a very high reputation to take Arsenal to the top of the league. He won two Division One titles and one FA cup in the early twenties and Sir Henry Norris made it his personal decision to bring Chapman to Nor

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