By Tony Attwood
The 1893/4 season was the sixth in which the Football League operated and the first in which Woolwich Arsenal played in the league. The club finished 9th out of 15 in the league winning 12 and losing 12. Arsenal twice saw a crowd of 10,000 for league games, and having fought their way through to the first round of the FA Cup, were rewarded by a 15,000 crowd for the game against Sheffield Wednesday.
On the other hand the crowd had twice sunk as low as 2,000 for league games. In the latter part of the season some of the more interesting results included…
24 February 1894: Middlesbrough Ironopolis 3 Arsenal 6. After taking 18 games to win 6, Arsenal completed a run of four wins in a row, en route to six wins and a draw in seven. It was the club’s first nine goal game, and the first time Arsenal scored 6 in a league match. The crowd however was only 500.
17 March 1894: Arsenal 2 Millwall Athletic 2. After joining the league Arsenal continued the money spinning local friendlies with Millwall. The return game (a 4-1 win to Arsenal) was held in April.
23 March 1894: Woolwich Arsenal 6 Norwich Victoria 0. It was the club’s biggest win thus far in the league. Two goals for Henderson made him Arsenal’s top scorer in their first season with 12 league goals and seven in the FA Cup. 5000 saw the game.
The season finished in mid-April and the second division league table at the end of Arsenal’s first season looked like this…
|7||Burslem Port Vale||28||10||2||2||43||20||3||2||9||23||44||30|
|10||Walsall Town Swifts||28||8||1||5||36||23||2||2||10||15||38||23|
The last league game was a 0-2 home defeat to Burton Swifts in front of just 2,000 spectators. After this final league game Arsenal played five friendlies before concluding playing, as the regulations required, at the end of the month (to make way for cricket). By the final game (against Stoke) Arsenal had played 28 league games and 30 friendlies.
What is interesting here is that the final league game was played in front of just 2,000 spectators, but during the final friendlies the numbers picked up a little.
- 16 April 1894: Luton Town 3 Arsenal 3 (3000)
- 18 April 1894: New Brompton 2 Arsenal 4 (6000)
- 21 April 1894: Arsenal 2 Burnley 0 (4000)
- 25 April 1894: Corinthians 3 Arsenal 2 (4000)
- 28 April 1894: Arsenal 3 Stoke 3. (3000)
Burnley and Stoke were first division clubs, the away games were against other sides from the south and east. Luton had started the process towards professionalism a few months before Arsenal, but only had a handful of professionals, as opposed to Arsenal which had the philosophy of paying men for their labours.
Relegation, promotion and the league tables
It seems strange to remember that there was some uncertainty as to the best way to run the league at the start – indeed the first season of the league matches got underway without any agreement on how points should be allocated or how it should be calculated who was top of the table. So it is not surprising that tinkering with the league system went on for years and years.
The summer of 1894 saw a change to the league regulations with clubs finishing level on points being separated according to goal ratio (goals scored divided by goals conceded), or as it was commonly but wrongly known, goal average.
It has since been seen by many commentators as part of the reason that goals per season declined from then onwards, since an oddity of this method of calculation (which lasted until it was changed in the summer of 1976) was that it rewarded clubs scoring fewer goals and put the emphasis on more and more defence.
Certainly the average of 4.1 goals per match in the second division in 1893/4 must have kept the punters happy. The highest scoring match was Burton Swifts 8 Walsall Town Swifts 5. (24 February 1894).
This was also the last season in which the bottom four of the league were involved in re-election at the end of the season. After this summer the number of clubs seeking re-election was reduced to three.
Also at the end of the season play off matches (known at the time as “test matches”) were arranged with the top two in the second division playing the bottom two in the first division, after which if a second division team won through they could apply for election to the first division – but were by no means guaranteed a position. A complicated process if ever there was one.
As a result of all this Liverpool and Small Heath were elected into the First Division.
Meanwhile Middlesbrough Ironopolis and Northwich Victoria resigned from the second division and Burton Wanderers, Leicester Fosse and Bury joined the league.
At some time in the summer of 1894 Sam Hollis joined Woolwich Arsenal although I’m still unsure what his role was. He was certainly not the manager, for the team was “managed” (which is to say selected) by the Committee. Maybe trainer, maybe secretary (a much more important post than that word implies in the 21st century). But whatever he was, he was a figure of importance.
Sam was born in Nottingham in 1866 (exact date not recorded) and had worked for the government in the Probate Office and then the Post Office, before moving to Arsenal. No hint of work in football, but he certainly was a key figure in the next couple of years and he moved into football management after leaving Arsenal.
Although football was an absolute no-go area during the designated football season, there was activity.
On 14 July 1894 there was the first “Woolwich Arsenal Football Company Day Excursion” to Hastings. It was patronised by 400 people, and organised by the club’s great benefactor George Lawrence.
And although games could not be played in the summer, transfers most certainly were allowed. On 15 August 1894 John Caldwell was transferred to Arsenal from Hibernian. During his time at Arsenal he had a brief loan spell at Third Lanark, but then returned and played on until April 1898.
As the summer months drew to a close it seems more than likely that practice matches were played behind closed doors. Certainly there were no pre-season friendlies, because the league began on the first day that football was allowed by the FA (September 1 or 2), and so the friendlies were interspersed within the season.
John Caldwell made his debut in the first league match of Arsenal’s third season in the league, on 1 September 1894 in the 5-2 defeat to Lincoln. He played in all 30 league games in his debut season, and in the club’s FA Cup match.
But the highlight was Henry Boyd. Of all the players who played 30+ games for the club he had the highest goals to games ratio scoring 32 goals in 41 league games between September 1894 and December 1896, scoring his first goal on 8 September
22 September 1894 saw the start of the first great league run for Arsenal – seven games without defeat starting this day by beating Bury 4-2.
But if we just look at the schedule of games from the point of view of league matches it does not give us the full picture. Here is the list: the details in brackets show the status, (Football League or Friendly), and the attendance (always an estimate at this time).
- 1 September: Lincoln City 5 Arsenal 2. (FL – 2000)
- 3 September: Arsenal 3 Nottingham Forest 2 (Fr 4000)
- 8 September: Arsenal 4 Fleetwood Rangers 0 (Fr 4000)
- 10 September: Arsenal 1 Grimsby Town 3 (FL 4000)
- 15 September: Burton Swifts 3 Arsenal 0 (FL 3000)
- 17 September: Arsenal 0 WBA 1 (Fr 2500)
- 22 September: Arsenal 4 Bury 2 (FL 8000)
- 24 September: Arsenal 6 Renton (Scotland) 1 (Fr 2000)
- 29 September: Arsenal 4 Manchester City 2 (FL 5000)
- 4 October: Casuals 0 Arsenal 8 (Fr 2500)
- 6 October: Arsenal 5 Lincoln City 2 (FL 8000)
There is a wonderful symmetry in this between the first and last game in the list – both League matches. Also on 6 October James Henderson scored in the 5-2 win over Lincoln to continue his all time record breaking run of 31 goals in 47 games.
And it is also worth noting in passing that in the game against Renton Arsenal were a goal down at half time!
On 13 October in a 3-3 draw with Newton Heath Henry Boyd scored his 8th goal in five games, but then suffered a broken ankle two days later to stop his amazing run.
From the Pre-season files
- 1893: The first Woolwich Arsenal pre-season
- 1903: The most exciting pre-season ever
- 1919: The first pre-season after the war, and return to the first division
- 1925: The arrival of Herbert Chapman
- 1930: Preparing for the unthinkable
- 1976: Trying to rebuild after Bertie Mee
- 1977: Heavy drinking in the pre-season after Tottenham were relegated
- 1978: Recovering from cup defeat but then losing to Rotherham
- 1979: Cup holders looking for more glory
- 1980: The Arsenal pre-season after trying to win nearly everything
- 1981: The pressure of expectation overwhelms
- 1982: Arsenal try to get beyond one goal a game.
- 1983: The Horrors of Being an Arsenal Supporter
- 1984: Real hope but Arsenal fade
- 1985: It was most certainly not the best of times
- 1986: George Graham takes over but it is a difficult start
- 1987: 10 without a victory, 6without a goal, the famous back 5
- 1988: Leading up to the “free for all” against Tottenham
- 1989: After winning the league at Anfield…
- 1990: The gateway to Arsenal Heaven
- 1991: After the record breaking, the sad reality
- 1992: A record breaking season but little entertainment
- 1993: Osama Bin Laden spotted at the clock end, Highbury
- 1994: The last Arsenal pre-season for George Graham
- 1995: Bruce Rioch’s one pre-season. Bergkamp arrives!
- 1996: The pre-season games as Rioch was sacked
- 1997: Before the second double – (updated)
- 1998: Back to sausages after the caviar.
- 1999: Games against Monaco and Saint-Étienne
- 2000: The big transfers but a poor pre-season
- 2001: Campbell arrives, and the prelims to the third double
- 2002: Gilberto’s first game in the tri-team tournament
- 2003: Before being unbeaten (revised & expanded)
- 2004: The Preseason in the midst of the 49
- 2005: The end of Highbury and the Arsenal-Chelsea bust up
- 2006: Pre-season and the opening of the Emirates
- 2007: A hectic round of transfers and a full schedule
- 2008: Beating Real Madrid
- 2009: The media and Uefa against Eduardo
- 2010: Koscielny joins the crazy gang in Warsaw
- 2011: Chaos and disaster, but amazingly Arsenal pull through
- 2012: Nigeria abandoned, Akpom & Bellerin make their mark
- 2013: The clearout, beating Man C and preparing for a trophy
- 2014: Alexis, Bellerin, and thrashing Man C at Wembley