Arsenal prepare for the new season – 100 years ago!

100 years ago…

Woolwich Arsenal resume league football – 1 September 1910

By Tony Attwood

In the 19th century league football started on the first saturday in September.  Not exactly the start of autumn but away from the “summer month” of August, which was given over to cricket.

In fact cricket had the four months of May to August exclusively to itself.  However at the end of the 1904/5 season the first and second divisions were both extended from 18 to 20 clubs, thus taking the number of games up from 34 to 38 per season.

To cope with the extra four games, while not impinging on the reserved months of May to August, the Football League hit on the notion of playing one of the extra games on 1 September – unless that day should be a Sunday – a rule which lasted from 1905/6 until 1914/15 – the final season prior to the cessation of football for the duration of the war.

When football resumed in 1919 the message to cricket was clear – the calendar is not yours – although this was out of necessity rather than any else, as the league extended once more by two clubs, leaving the teams now playing 42 games a season.

For Arsenal’s first post-war season theyl kicked off events with a home game against Newcastle on 30 August (losing 0-1 at home in front of 40,000 spectators).   The final game of the season was a home game against Bradford (often known as Bradford Park Avenue) on 1 May, in front of 30,000.

But back at the start of the 1910/11 season the rule was, play the first game on the first day of September.   And this meant of course that the league programme kicked off with a midweek fixture.

There had already been experiments with floodlit football – the floodlights being rather ineffective gas lamps – but these were not sanctioned by the Football League, and so the mid-week games had to be arranged at a time whereby the game could finish in daylight.

A quick look at a sunrise and sunset chart will show sunset in London on 1 September as being 1948 BST.  However we must remember that British Summer Time did not come into play until Summer Time Act of 1916, and so 1 September 1910 had a sunset at 1848.  In effect this meant that unless the weather was exceptionally overcast one could play football perfectly well until 1915 or 7.15pm without floodlights.

I have not been able to find a programme for this match (or any 1st September game) but I would guess that the match would have been scheduled on this working day of Thursday 1st September at no earlier than 5pm – which would have given a conclusion at 6.35pm.  Clearly there were no substitutes at the time, and virtually no “injury time” played, and I am told half time was generally nothing more than five minutes.  On such a basis a 5.30pm kick off was possible, and if there was not too much objection to the gathering gloom 5.45pm would have been just about ok for the ref to see what’s what, although the spectators behind the goals would have lost some of the closing action.

So, without any proof, but with a bit of deduction, I’d go for a 5.45pm kick off, just about allowing working men time to get out of the factories and into the ground.

For 1 September 1910, the game was Woolwich Arsenal v Manchester United.

The previous season had ended on 23 April with Arsenal losing 1-3 at home to Preston in front of 10,000 spectators.   But by then the panic was over as Arsenal had secured their place in the first division for another year, and in fact ended up 18th out of 20th, on 31 points.  Chelsea (29 points) and Bolton (24 points) were relegated.

Coming up into the first division were Manchester City and Oldham Athletic.  At the foot of the league Grimsby Town were ejected, and replaced by Huddersfield Town.

This last point may seem irrelevant to the history of Arsenal – but actually it wasn’t.   If you have read the articles here on the promotion of Arsenal in 1919 you will know that Tottenham, who came bottom of the first division in the final pre-war seasonwere relegated.  This rather unsurprising event was handled by a vote of all the league clubs – something that happened at the end of each season for the clubs at the bottom of division two, and when the league itself was extended.

My point is that in 1909/10 Grimsby were not de-selected from the league because they came bottom – in fact they didn’t. They ended up 19th out of 20.  Birmingham City finished bottom of the second division.

But Birmingham were re-elected, and Grimsby not.  No one made any of the special-pleading fuss that Tottenham made in 1919, because votes by all the clubs were normal.  Indeed exactly the same thing had happened the year before when Chesterfield (who ended up 19th) were ejected from the league, and Blackpool who were 20th, stayed in the league.

Clubs voted for or against each other because of the distance, the facilities, their perceived “goodwill” and “fairness”, and even the provision of drinks in the directors’ bar after the game.

So, 100 years ago, preparations were underway for Woolwich Arsenal’s 18th season in the League, and their seventh in the first division following the club’s most bizarre and worrying summer ever….

First, Woolwich Arsenal had gone into liquidation.

Second, Henry Norris the Unionist Mayor Fulham, who owned Fulham FC of division two, and Croydon Common of the Southern League had bought out Woolwich Arsenal.

Third, Norris had then tried to merge Fulham and Arsenal, and when that failed tried to move Woolwich Arsenal to Fulham.  Both moves failed.

Fourth, Norris finally had to have four attempts at issuing shares in a new Woolwich Arsenal FC (which notably did not carry the name “Woolwich”) before he was able to stabilise the club and have them ready for the new season.   He had given the previous owners a guarantee that the club would continue in Kent for two more years.  After that what would happen was anyone’s guess.

Thursday 1 September 1910.  In fact for many people it was quite amazing that there was a Woolwich Arsenal Football Club at all.

The story of Woolwich Arsenal 100 years ago, will continue on this site, along with our other special features:

  • Memories of your first time at seeing Arsenal
  • Untangling the mis-told stories of Arsenal’s past.

Another feature for which we will be looking for contributions will be launched shortly.

Untold Arsenal, not exactly the place for facts, but still, you can’t have it all.

Arsenal Worldwide, a completely different experience

Making the Arsenal, the full story of Arsenal in 1910, and quite possibly the greatest book on Arsenal ever written

Your first time with Arsenal, live – we want your story.

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