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James Bigden; part of the WHU exodus to Arsenal

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James Bigden was born in the West Ham region of London in 1880 and played first for Gravesend United before joining West Ham in 1901 (sorry I don’t have the date), with whom he was celebrated as a key player, making 91 appearances and scoring 5 goals.

West Ham at the time were a Southern League side and being a local lad, and having been an ever-present player in 1903/4, and missing only one game in 1904/5 there was considerable upset in West Ham when he and other key players moved.

He joined Woolwich Arsenal from West Ham on 22 June 1904 and played in the opening game of that season – a 3-0 away defeat to Newcastle on 3 September 1904. It was our first ever game in the first division.

He then immediately lost his place at number 6 and didn’t play again until 3 December – a 1-2 away defeat to Small Heath

His third appearance came on March 11  – a 0-2 away defeat to Stoke.  But this time he retained his place and played in the following game – a 0-0 home draw with Derby.   He played against Everton away on April 5 (a 0-1 defeat) and in a 1-2 home defeat to Notts County and then finally in the last league game of the season on 22 April he was on the winning side..  He had played 7 league games, and only in the 7th did he get to see a win.

That season Arsenal came 10th in the league winning 12, drawing 9 and losing 13, so either he truly was a bad luck charm, or he was just unlucky to play in the tougher games.

Bigden started the 1905/6 season out of the side, but took over the centre half spot on 25 November 1905 for another defeat – this time to Nottingham Forest.  But he then moved to right half and played all the remaining games.  This meant that he also played in the cup team which got to the semi-final for the first time, losing to Newcastle at Stoke.  

There was also a moment of some further pain for West Ham fans for Bigden, played with Roderick McEachrane and Charles Satterthwaite, who were also ex-WHU players in the replay of the first round of the Cup at West Ham on 18 January 1906.   Arsenal won 3-2.

This wasn’t however a case of Arsenal deliberately poaching West Ham players – West Ham were in severe financial straits at the time, and many of their players were sold off to local clubs to try and make ends meet.

James Bigden went on to play every game save one in 1906/07, scoring his only goal for Arsenal in a 3-1 win at Bristol City on 13 October 1906. But in the following season he was injured, and with Andy Ducat coming into the side he lost his place.  His final appearance was against Sheffield Wednesday on 30 April 1908. James Bigden then joined Bury and later played for Southend. Here’s his Arsenal record

Season Lge Games Goals
1904/5 7 0
1905/6 25 0
1906/7 37 1
1907/8 8 0
Total 75 1

We have no details of his exact place of birth (he was described as a local player when with West Ham) nor of his life after football, nor his death.  Yet during his time at West Ham and the latter part of his career at Arsenal he was clearly a player considered to be good enough not just to play but in Arsenal’s case, to get into the FA Cup semi-final team.

If you know what happened to him, please do get in touch.

The books
The complete Arsenal Anniversary series is to be found on the Arsenal History Society site.

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