By Tony Attwood
This article was updated 17 December 2013
Robert Buist (recorded in some reports as “Bob” and elsewhere as “Bobby”) was born in Glasgow in 1870.
He initially played for Fairfield Rangers (Glasgow), Cowlairs, and Clyde before joining Woolwich Arsenal.
I have nothing on Fairfield Rangers that helps in putting the Bob Buist story together, but Cowlairs FC was formed in 1876, as an offshot of the Glasgow railway industry. They entered the Scottish Cup in 1880/1 for the first time and built a reputation for themselves as one of the up and coming teams.
By 1886/7 they were also entering the English FA Cup and had a couple of internationals in the side, and they then became founder members of the Scottish League. but in the first year lost points for playing “ineligible players”. They were also accused of that most dread crime, “professionalism”. The club was then kicked out the league, which is when, I assume Bob Buist moved to Clyde before moving on to Arsenal.
At this stage Woolwich Arsenal were an amateur team playing in the FA Cup, regional cups and friendly matches.
There is a story that after the FA Cup game against Derby on 17 January 1891 when Royal Arsenal lost at home to Derby County (then of the first division) the Derby captain and manager John Goodall is reported to have tried to sign Buist for Derby (an early form of tapping up!) We’ve since proven this to be wrong as Buist wasn’t playing.
John Humble, one of the great founding lights of Arsenal who stayed with the club until the demise of Henry Norris, was secretary at the time and at the 1891 AGM suggested that we should apply to join the Football League as a working man’s collective. Everyone seems to have agreed – the only argument being as to whether the club should be a limited company or not (Humble was against this).
During this interregnum Bob Buist played six times in cup games as a central midfielder (the number 5).
When Arsenal joined the league in 1893 Bob Buist played every game of the 1893/4 season except one until (and including) February 10th 1894 against Crewe at home which we won 3-2 – a total of 17 league games, scoring one gal (a penalty away to Grimsby). He also played in four of our FA Cup games that year. Both the league and cup game he missed were in the first week of November, so we might presume an injury.
But then in February 1894 it all came to an end, and he did not play for Arsenal again.
He is then reported to have moved on to Leith Athletic. There is a Leith Athletic in existence today but it is not the club Bob Buist played for. The original club were formed in in 1887, and by the time Buist got there they were playing in the top division of the Scottish Football League. They folded in 1954 and I have found no records of their playing staff.
After this Buist came back to Kent and is next reported as being with Royal Ordnance FC – another false lead.
Buist did not join ROF, and indeed to do so would have been a betrayal of all he had done in taking Arsenal into professionalism. Royal Ordnance FC were formed as a split away from Arsenal – a home for the gentlemen who did not like the way Arsenal was going as a professional club.
Royal Ordanance Factories never really thrived. The club left the Southern League after playing the first seven games of 1896/97. All the games were lost and apparently the side let in 46 goals.
Bob Buist’s final move was to Gravesend United. They joined the Southern League in 1896/7 when Royal Ordnance Factories FC were falling apart.
Bob Buist’s brother George was also on the Woolwich Arsenal books for 1896-97 – making them the first brothers ever to play for Arsenal.
Bobby Buist died in 1944.
Intro article to this series: How Arsenal got into the league
Arsenal’s team in the first ever league match…
- 1: CA Williams: went on to manage Denmark and in Brazil
- 2: J Powell: Our first captain who died of injuries on the pitch
- 3: WW Jeffrey: The right back who was a keeper
- 4: D Devine: Lost to history
- 5: R Buist (see above)
- 6: D Howat
- 7: D Gemmell
- 8: J Henderson
- 9: W Shaw
- 10: A Elliott
- 11: C Rooth
Untold Arsenal Index: silly stuff, serious stuff, and stuff
Making the Arsenal: the only book about the foundation of the modern club in 1910