By Tony Attwood
The last of the 28 men who played in at least one league match for Woolwich Arsenal in the club’s first season in the football league (1893/4) is also one of the most mysterious. For while with most players we can at least trace their career a little before and after Arsenal, with George Jaques we have one club before he came, and after, virtually nothing.
Indeed there is even dispute about his name, with some sources listing him as Jacques rather than Jaques. This confusion possibly arrives because there was a George Jacques, an American citizen, who worked at the US Army’s Watervliet Arsenal from 1960 onwards, having served his country in the second world war. Not the same man, obviously, but it just shows how cut and paste jobs can lead down the wrong path.
George Jacques joined Woolwich Arsenal from Rushden in March 1894 and made his debut in a 6-0 victory over Northwich Victoria on 23rd of the month playing at outside left. That suggests Arsenal had a problem in that position, that they felt they needed a new player to solve – and yet Bryan and Elliot had willingly shouldered the responsibility of outside and inside left through the season. True Bryan was injured at the time, but only for a couple of matches.
So maybe Jacques just travelled south looking for work, found Woolwich Arsenal, and told them he was a star with Rushden FC, from whence he had come.
Now this is not quite so odd as it may sound given that the Woolwich Arsenal ordnance factories were a known source of employment. But we should not diminish the importance of Rushden FC.
The oldest independent football club (that is to say a club formed as a football club, not a football club emerging from a cricket club, social club attached to a factory etc etc) is generally said to be Sheffield FC, which was founded in 1857. Rushden FC was founded 1889 – three years after Dial Square, but they emerged in what was a hotbed of football in the East Midlands. For the area already had Wellingborough FC formed in 1867, and Kettering FC in 1872. Northampton Town (in the largest conurbation in the area was not formed until the end of the century).
Rushden Town remained as a club until 1992 when it merged with Irthlingborough Diamonds to form Rushden and Diamonds – a team that then gained a place in the Football League and rose to the third tier.
Unfortunately I can find no detailed player records of Rushden FC’s teams – they were not in a league when George Jaques moved, so we don’t know how many games he played there and at what standard, but at Arsenal he only lasted until the end of the season playing two league games and one friendly.
The first game was on 23 March 1894 against Northwich Victoria which Arsenal won 6-0. Jaques got two of the goals – not a bad start!
The following day (this being the Easter period, so games were held on Good Friday and Easter Saturday) Arsenal were in action again, and again were at home with Jaques in the team. The result however was a 1-2 home defeat to Notts County.
These results seem highly contrasted, but it should be remembered that Northwich Victoria came bottom of the league that season with just three wins and three draws, conceding 98 goals in 28 games!
The final game for our man was on 2 April 1894, a home friendly against Nottingham Forest which Arsenal lost 1-3. Jacques played outside left in all three games.
After the Forest game Arsenal had one more league game and eight friendlies, but Jaques was nowhere to be seen – although he may have played some reserve games – I don’t have the details of those.
And none of my sources show him as going to any other club. He just seems to have packed up and gone.
In a sense it is a very unsatisfactory way to end this series of articles covering every player who represented Arsenal in the League in the first season, but it is also a good reminder of what football was like at the time.
The Arsenal team was selected by a committee, players were paid very poorly, clubs outside the League didn’t have a rigorous sort of registration system, and amateurs could and did move about from club to club at will. George Jaques who seems doomed to be left at the fringe of Arsenal’s history books (if mentioned at all) does represent a whole class of player from the era, as I will try and show in my next article which summaries the season, as best I can.
This series includes a history of every player who played a league match in 1893/4 – the club’s first season in the league.
- How Arsenal got into the league
- What the newspaper report of the very first game said – word for word
- Newcastle v Arsenal 1893 – what the papers say
- Copies of original newspaper reports on first league match
The players in the first match: Newcastle 2 Arsenal 2. 2 September 1893. Attendance 10,000
- Charlie Williams: went on to manage Denmark and in Brazil
- Joseph Powell: Our first captain who died of injuries on the pitch
- William Wallace Jeffrey: The right back who was a keeper
- Daniel Devine: Lost to history
- Rorbert Buist: Oft reported to be the man who caused us to go pro, but that’s not the case.
- David Howat: The mystery man
- Duncan Gemmell: Even more of a mystery man
- James Henderson: Rifleman, champions medal, Arsenal, and then…
- Walter Shaw: Scored our first ever league goal
- Arthur Elliott: Arsenal’s untraceable record holder
- Charles Booth: The first man to play for Arsenal and Tottenham
The players who played later in the season
- John Storrs who played in our first season, but then vanished.
- Patrick O’Brien: more info than previously put together, but still not much on this Arsenal man.
- John Hawley: a life saver who played for Arsenal at a most difficult time
- Robert Buchanan; an Arsenal man for two seasons who died tragically young
- Frederick Davis: 150 games for Arsenal
- Joseph Frederick (“Billy”) Heath; the man who scored the very first penalty
- Gavin Crawford: one of the first 100+ games men
- Joseph Cooper: the most mysterious of all the mysterious Arsenal players
- Stanley Briggs; from Tottenham to Arsenal to Tottenham. But is the tale all it seems?
- James Boyle: played centre half and in goal
- Frank V Kirk: a man who moved from Royal Arsenal to Royal Ordnance Factories.
- Arthur George Worrall: a much travelled man who played 10 games in 32 days.
- Thomas Bryan: he played for Woolwich Arsenal but was there really a Woolwich Ordnance Factory club?
- Walter Williams: could he really have played 58 friendlies for Arsenal?
- Lycurgus Burrows: played for Tottenham and Arsenal at the same time.
- William McNab: came from Burnley and played for ROF FC and a possible family sighting.
- GH Jacques – from Rushden to Arsenal, and then…