The romance of Royal Arsenal

January 5, 1925
1,000 up: A story of pioneers.
The pioneers in London of League football, as understood in these days, were a team called Royal Arsenal. Eventually this club became Woolwich Arsenal, and in the end revised the title for the third time and became simply Arsenal on their removal to Highbury. When Arsenal’s eleven stepped on to the pastures of Anfield on Saturday to meet Liverpool they fulfilled their thousandth match under the auspices of The Football League.

In latitudes North of the Metropolis this distinction, for such it is, has been gained by several clubs, but none, save Arsenal, has such a record in London, or for that matter in the South.

Arsenal are, I should say, the only club who have had three titles during membership with The League. First they were known as Royal Arsenal and then they played on Plumstead Common, although they afterwards had the Manor Ground before they finally returned and bought the freehold of the Manor Field. There the club was called Woolwich Arsenal.

The enclosure at Plumstead, 1904.

After removal to Highbury the club simply cut out any prefix, even the definite article, and became Arsenal.

Originally a few Midland and Northern workmen in one of the “shops” at Woolwich started a club for their own amusement. This was about 1886 – a date fixed in mind by the fact that Beardshaw, the Nottingham Forest goalkeeper, went South and took part in the movement. I happened to know Beardshaw at that time.

When the club embraced professionalism, on the motion of Mr. John Humble, who is still a director, and began their existence on a new basis in 1892-92, the Southern clubs looked askance at the revolutionists. To them Woolwich Arsenal were “unclean,” and therefore this pioneer organisation had to look to other parts of the country for fixtures. The sequel was that Woolwich Arsenal were admitted to the League for 1893-4, being placed in the Second Division, which was then in its second season.

Woolwich Arsenal were, of course, the first club to unfurl The League flag in the metropolis, and for some time they stood alone. The Southern League was formed for the campaign of 1894-95, but the Arsenal remained loyal, and have never applied for admission to any other federation so far as matches for the first team are concerned. Such constancy was highly appreciated by the clubs of The League.

The pioneers in London.
From 1893-94 to 1903-04, eleven seasons inclusive, Arsenal remained in the Second Division. Promotion was long in coming. The road has always been steep and arduous. However, from 1900-01 there was such progress that their elevation was assured in the spring of 1904.

The seventeenth season of the First Division found Woolwich Arsenal in that select circle. They remained until 1912-13, when they returned to the lower house, and were still in that section when The League was extended in 1919 and Arsenal were brought back to the upper house by votes.

I do not think that such an honour has been paid to any other club. No doubt those votes were given to express the appreciation of the Arsenal as the pioneers of League life in London.

I have spent some hours in examining the records of Arsenal. From 1893-94 to 1903-04 the club won 177 matches, lost 116, and drew 59. Thus by the aid of 702 goals against 471, they earned 413 points. In their four season from 1900-01 their position improved from seventh to fourth, to third, to second, and they moved up with Preston.

Their nine seasons in the First Division were not so productive of goals and points. They won 115 matches, lost 140, drew 83, scored 426 goals, forfeited 524 goals, and had 313 points to credit. But in 1912-13 they had such an appalling time that their wins numbered only three while their reverses were 23. In 38 matches they got 26 goals and 18 points.

Such a season as that entailed the penalty of a return to the lower grade. Here they did not work out their own salvation, although the team was rebuilt and had a credit balance of victories over failures.

Arsenal at Highbury in 1913.

Form at a glance.
Since their readmission to the highest class, Arsenal have passed through two agonising campaigns, but in the other three the average has been at least a point a match. The club have had a very heavy expenditure at Highbury and high maintenance charges.

There has not been extravagance or recklessness in securing players at the inflated prices which obtain in these days. Still the club have held a place among the twenty-two which are supposed to represent the best.

To show how Arsenal have fared in 28 season of League life, I have drawn up the appended tables: –

Second division:

Won Lost Draw Goals for Goals agst Points
1893-4 to 1903-4 177 116 59 702 471 413
1913-14, 1914-16 39 23 14 123 79 92
Totals 216 139 73 826 550 505

First Division:

Won Lost Draw Goals for Goals agst Points
1904-4 to 1912-13 116 140 83 426 524 313
1919-20, 1924-25 85 95 56 294 329 222
Totals 198 235 139 720 853 535


Won Lost Draw Goals for Goals agst Points
Second Division 216 139 73 825 550 605
First Division 198 235 139 720 853 535

From these statistics – I have been as merciful as possible – it will be seen that the match with Liverpool, who helped in their foundation, was the 1,000th in League programmes.

In my opinion it is an honour to complete 1,000 matches in connection with any organisation of this kind, and especially to have earned 1,040 points.

First Division life.
Best of all is it to see that the greater number of these points have been obtained in the First Division. I am well aware that Arsenal have played 572 First Division matches, compared with 428 in the Second Division, and that they have had much greater opportunities to enrich themselves.

There is one thing, however, that cannot be reduced to percentages, and that is the difference between the standard of football in these two competitions. I can forcibly illustrate the difference in this wat: In only two season in the Second Division have the Arsenal not had a favourable balance of wins over defeats, whilst in only two seasons in the First Division have the Arsenal ever had more victories than reverses.

For the Arsenal to have secured points from 139 matches out of 234 played since the war in the First Division, with their teams, appears to me a satisfactory response to the efforts of the directors and their manager. Most folk have realised that marks in this company are rarely cheap, and to have earned 222 points from 234 matches since 1919-20 is nearly a point per game, and a reasonably good average.

In their next thousand matches may Arsenal do ever greater deeds, for I see no reason to anticipate the demise of The League owing to the popularity of professional Soccer being on the wane.
(Source: Athletic News: January 5, 1925, by ‘Tityrus’)


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