Did clubs in London and the south actually snub Arsenal?
by Andy Kelly
It is well documented that Arsenal were the first club in the South of England to turn professional. It is also well documented that when they adopted professionalism they were expelled from the London FA and snubbed wholesale by the amateur clubs in London and the South of England. Every book written about the history of Arsenal states this.
The earliest reference I have found to this claim is the Arsenal handbook of 1914-15. The handbook was edited by George Allison who, at the time, was the editor of the club’s match day programme. This was the first handbook produced by the club and included a history of the club written by Allison.
This story was reprinted in all subsequent Arsenal handbooks. The next book that told Arsenal’s story was Bernard Joy’s “Forward, Arsenal!”. Joy was a former Arsenal player that turned to journalism when his playing days finished. He wrote Forward, Arsenal! in 1952. Joy simply re-stated the story.
So, now we have histories of the club written by two respected football men who were also respected journalists. And since that day, every Arsenal history has quoted the same story.
Let’s take a look at the George Allison account. Allison was only 7 years old when Arsenal turned professional and living in Durham. It was highly unlikely that Allison would have heard this first hand. As a journalist, he started reporting on Arsenal matches in 1906 and became editor of the match day programme in 1913. Therefore, Allison’s account would have been based on the views of others and would have been from memories of 20 years previous. This was back in the days before the internet, newspaper libraries and other such resources.
It has already been proved that he got the first part of the story wrong. According to Allison, after the FA Cup game against Derby County on 17 January 1891, John Goddall allegedly approached Peter Connolly and Bob Buist and offered them professional terms at Derby. What Allison failed to realise was that Buist didn’t play in that game. In fact, he didn’t join Arsenal until September 1891 – 8 months later! Bernard Joy also makes the same mistake which means he must have sourced his version from Allison’s account.
OK, let’s take a look at an article written much closer to the time of the event. The Woolwich Gazette reported on the Royal Arsenal’s Annual General Meeting that took place on 23 May 1891. The item was written 2 or 3 days after the AGM so the details were pretty fresh in the mind of the reporter and he must have taken extensive notes as it is very detailed. The first item discussed was whether or not the club should become a limited liability company – the motion was declined. The next item of interest is this:
“In accordance with the resolution adopting professionalism, the Club had resigned from the Kent and London Associations, but they had not yet received letters accepting their resignations.”
What had happened here was that two weeks previous to the AGM, the club had held an Extraordinary General Meeting where the members of the club had voted in favour of adopting professionalism.
The club was aware that the competitions run by the Kent and London FAs were only open to amateur clubs so they did what they had to do and resigned. Two weeks later they had heard nothing from either FA. Surely if these organisations “waxed wrath” they would have wanted it be known pretty quickly that Royal Arsenal were persona non grata? Either way, the club was not expelled from either Association. They resigned.
In fact the club was not particularly happy with the way they had been treated by the Kent FA during the 1890-91 season. The club had entered the London Senior Cup (runners-up in 1889-90) and the Kent Senior Cup (holders). They had progressed in both competitions and had been scheduled to play in both competitions on 21 February 1891. The club asked for the Kent Senior Cup tie to be postponed to a later date but the Kent FA refused. The upshot being that a reserve team was fielded for this fixture and was trounced 0-4.
Now let’s move on and see how Royal Arsenal was “ostracised to an extent by the South”, how “most of the Southern teams removed Arsenal from their list of fixtures” and were “virtually boycotted by the Southern clubs”.
A good starting point would be the Royal Arsenal’s 4th Annual Dinner which was held in 2 May 1891 – two weeks before the club decided to turn professional. At this event, Mr G.H. Osborne (the club secretary) confirmed that the following teams had agreed to play Royal Arsenal during 1891-92 (remember, this is before the club had announced their plans to turn professional):
St Bartholomew’s Hospital, Old Carthusians, Casuals, Crusaders, Cambridge University, Chiswick Park, London Caledonians, Clapton and Chatham.
There were other non-southern clubs that also agreed fixtures but this is not significant as we are looking at the Southern clubs boycotting Arsenal. During 1891-92 Royal Arsenal’s opponents included:
St Bartholomew’s Hospital, Casuals. Crusaders, Cambridge University, Chiswick Park, London Caledonians, Clapton and Chatham.
I make that 8 out of 9 clubs from London and the South that agreed to play against the amateur Royal Arsenal club that also played against the professional Royal Arsenal club. But there’s more. Royal Arsenal also played the following Southern teams during 1891-92:
2nd Royal West Kent Regiment, 2nd Scots Guards, Ashford United, Borough Road College, City Ramblers, Cray Wanderers, Edmonton, Erith, Folkestone, Foxes, Gravesend, Great Marlow, London Polytechnic, Maidstone, Manor Park, Millwall Athletic, Old St Luke’s, Royal Artillery (Shoeburyness), Royal Engineers Training Battalion, South Eastern Rangers, South West Ham, Southampton St Mary’s, Upton Park, Uxbridge, Windsor Phoenix, Woodville and Woolwich & District League.
That makes a total of 35 opponents from the South. During 1892-93 Royal Arsenal played a further 16 opponents from the South of England.
A pretty poor boycott, I think you’ll agree. In fact, Arsenal had played a fair amount of these clubs in the London FA and Kent FA cup competitions in the preceding seasons. If the London FA and Kent FA were so incensed with Arsenal I doubt that their members would have been happy playing against Woolwich Arsenal for fear of reprisals from their governing bodies.
I think it is clear to see that George Allison’s account is flawed and has been readily accepted without challenge. It seems that journalists 100 years ago were no different form those of today – writing articles on hearsay, not checking the facts and sensationalism. Is it time to re-write Arsenal’s history and tell it like it really was?
Today’s feature on Untold: How many more broken bones before the FA act