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By Tony Attwood, with enormous support and additional research from Andy Kelly
There’s general agreement that the club that became Arsenal was formed in December 1886, 124 years ago.
Most histories of the club give details of several men who played a leading role in the club from this earliest moment. But my personal view (and one that through this site I am exploring as we unravel the history of the club) is that one man stands out above all the others. He is the man who made of great principle who made Arsenal his life, and who stayed with the club almost until his dying day. He is also the man who at two key moments was involved in the decisions that ensured that Arsenal not just survived, but grew. He is Jack Humble.
This article is a bringing together as a summary the many references to to Jack that appear on this site, and will be, I hope, a stepping stone to more discoveries about him.
Through the amazing hard work and resourcefulness of Andy Kelly, a great friend to this site, I have been able to find sufficient information to put forward my view that Jack Humble was indeed the true founder of Arsenal FC, a man whose bust should stand alongside those of Herbert Chapman in the club, and for whom a statue should be built (again along side Herbert Chapman) on one podium, outside the stadium.
He is also the man whose memory should also be celebrated in the fullest possible fashion in December 2011 – the 125th anniversary of the foundation of our club.
The article does not reiterate all the data gathered on this site in the past couple of years about Jack Humble. Nor does it deal in detail with Jack’s input after the early years. This is, in fact, the start of a work in progress; the book “Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football”, which I hope to publish next year.
So, to begin at the start…
The foundation of Arsenal was laid with Dial Square FC which quickly mutated into Royal Arsenal. Woolwich Arsenal was born in 1891, and after two years of playing friendlies, (while trying to form the new Southern League) they were admitted to the Football League to play their first league game on September 2, 1893.
It is of course true that no one man was fully responsible for this set of activities that led to Dial Square, Royal Arsenal, Woolwich Arsenal, The Arsenal and Arsenal FC, but when histories of the club are written, several names are put forwards as “founders”. These include…
Frederick William Beardsley (1856 – 1939) born in Nottingham and worked in the munitions factor, he played as an amateur in goal for Nottingham Forest.
Joined Woolwich Union FC when he moved to the area, then met up with David Danskin and Jack Humble and together they formed Dial Square, with Beardsley in goal for the first game.
Various reports suggest that Beardsley acted as a club committee member while a player, and in 1891 he was elected club vice-chairman (although one source doesn’t have him on the board until much later). He then served on the club’s board of directors for the next 20 years, and worked as a talent scout. He left finally in 1910 when the original club was wound up and a new club was formed by Norris.
Joseph Morris Bates (1864 – September 6, 1905), first played as an amateur for Nottingham Forest, before moving to work at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich (along with Fred Beardsley). Bates was a referee and reputed to be responsible for obtaining a set of red kit from their old club Nottingham Forest.
Bates played 73 first-team matches for Royal Arsenal including the very first FA Cup tie, against Lyndhurst in 1889). He was the first captain, and as such won the first trophy: the Kent Senior Cup and London Charity Cup in 1890.
When he retired as a player, he left the club and retained no connections with the organisation.
David Danskin (another of the Forest players) stood for election to the committee in 1892 but was not elected, and so left Arsenal and moved on to working for Royal Ordnance Factories FC, the club that split away from Arsenal over the argument of professionalism. However Royal Ordnance Factories failed as a club and Danskin retained connections with Woolwich Arsenal.
So if we consider these three men we find that although all were involved at the start, Bates left when he finished as a player, Danskin left for the rival club Royal Ordnance Factories over the issue of professionalism, and Beardsley left when Norris turned up in 1910.
John Wilkinson “Jack” Humble (1862 – 1931)
Jack Humble was born in Hartburn, (today a suburb of Stockton on Tees), County Durham, and moved to London in 1880 to work at the Royal Arsenal. The importance of Royal Arsenal in the country’s culture and history at this time cannot be over-estimated. For in an era of wars involving the UK it was one of (and by far the largest of) only three royal munitions factories. Year on year The Royal Arsenal grew, employing over 25000 workers in its various plants in Woolwich and across Plumstead Marshes.
The story is that Jack and his brother walked around 400 miles from their village to the Royal Arsenal, although as yet we have no clear evidence that this is more than an invented media tale.
But we do know that Jack was a member of local socialist parties, who believed in workers’ rights, shorter working hours and more time for leisure activities, including of course football.
As such he moved south not only to find work but to be with like minded people, for in 1868 the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society had been formed by workers at the Royal Arsenal. The area was a centre of the new thinking concerning the rights of the working man.
We know that Jack Humble wanted the club to become professional, but through the work of Andy Kelly we also know that some of the stories surrounding Jack and this move are quite untrue. For example it is said that in 1891 Derby County tried to recruit two Royal Arsenal players to play for them, following a cup game, and that as an almost knee-jerk reaction Jack Humble decided it was time for Arsenal to go professional.
It makes a nice tale, but is simply untrue. The official histories state that Peter Connolly and Bob Buist were approached by John Goodall of Derby after the Arsenal/Derby game on 17 January 1891. But Bob Buist didn’t join Arsenal until September 1891 – 9 months later. The team that played Derby was: Bee, Connolly, McBean, Howat, Stewart, Julian, Meggs, Christmas, Barbour, Offer, Gloak. Like so many early stories about Arsenal, the details are all wrong.
Jack Humble did however propose professionalism. He is shown as being on the committee for 18901/1 and at the 1891 AGM, he made the first proposal for paying the players (although he was not in favour of turning the club into a limited company – he wanted to use the co-operative model).
Here’s one other story from the era. It is also said that upon Arsenal’s move to professionalism the rest of the London and Kent footballing world refused to play the club. What actually happened was that with great dignity and honour Arsenal offered to resign from the associations of which they were members in case there should be a problem with them playing as professionals, but the offer was declined, and Arsenal continued to play the same teams as they had played before. Virtually all the fixtures that they had planned prior to adopting professionalism, were played as planned.
I mention this point as an example of just how great is the need for the re-writing of Arsenal’s history – for the standard texts (which relegate Jack Humble to the position of also-ran) – are full of issues like this.
As it was, after the abortive attempt to form a Southern League, Arsenal were the first southern club to join the Football League with Jack Humble as a director. This could only have happened had Jack Humble pushed through the creation of the professional club two years earlier. Without his guidance and inspiration there would either be no Arsenal today, or else the club would be playing in the Kent leagues as a semi-pro team.
Indeed it is not unreasonable to say that this is one of the two most important and utterly fundamental moments in Arsenal’s history, which each defined our future – and Jack was there in both cases.
The first is going pro in 1891, leading to joining the league in 1893 (again with Jack Humble at the fore). The second was the decision to pull out of Plumstead and move to Highbury, at which time Jack was not only the sole member of the original founders who was still at the club – he was the only director who had been there in 1891, and was still with the club. And in case there is ever any doubt about the need to move, we should remember that the club ended its time in Plumstead playing in front of 3,000 people.
In short: two totally defining moments at each of which, had the key decision gone the other way, the club would have collapsed, and at both moments Jack Humble was there as a director.
But there was something else at the same time. Perhaps Jack’s greatest achievement was to remain as a director of the club after Norris took over in 1910. According to Wikipedia (which must be treated with some doubt, as it contains the false stories of the rejection by the London FA and the Derby poaching) during this period he “continued to work at the Royal Arsenal as a gun inspector, and spent World War I seconded in Sheffield and then Norway.”
As I said at the start, I am not going to cover all of Jack’s history here, but here’s a thought.
Jack Humble was the socialist who didn’t even want the club to be a limited company since it would set it apart from working men, a club founder and a director of the club from the earliest days. And yet from 1910 until the fall of Henry Norris, he worked with Norris day by day. Although from similar working class origins to Jack, Norris became a property developer who owned most of Fulham, joined the Unionist (ie Conservative) Party, was an active Mason, became Mayor of Fulham, and then got knighted for his efforts in the war at recruiting young men to fight in the trenches.
Can we even start to conceive what the board meetings must have been like? These two together as directors is just impossible to imagine – and yet not only did Jack Humble stay on as a director when the new company was formed, he stayed through all the events that followed.
Uniquely he not only laid the foundations of the club, and the foundations of the original club, the worked with Norris to rebuild the club after it went into administration in 1910. That such a monumental set of achievements is not recorded at Arsenal stadium is hard to contemplate.
I will conclude this resume by jumping to the end. Jack stayed as a director until 1929, when Sir Henry Norris fell from power, having lost a libel case against the Daily Mail. Jack Humble resigned too, although it is not clear that there was any reason for him to do so – he was certainly never implicated in the issues that were at the heart of the libel case.
He was however able to watch Arsenal’s FA Cup win of 1930, and died on 18 December 1931 leaving £1358 9s 9d to his widow and his eldest son.
That then is the start of why I am campaigning for Jack Humble to be recognised by the club. But let me leave you, if I may, with one other snippet, which shows just how deep his involvement was.
One of the many false statements about Jack in the reference works that mention him, is that which says he did not play for Arsenal. In fact he did, and once again we must thank Andy Kelly for correcting the errors of others.
Records of the games for the early years of the club are sketchy. But we know he played either as a full-back or wing half-back in these first team games…
- 15/10/1887 Clapham Pilgrims (H) 2-2
- 5/11/1887 Grange Institute (H) 4-0
- 18/2/1888 Erith (H) 2-1
- 25/2/1888 Forest Gate Alliance (H) 1-1
- 3/3/1888 Grange Institute (H) 2-1
- 10/3/1888 Brixton Rangers (A) 9-3
- 30/3/1888 Millwall Rovers (H) 3-0
- 15/9/1888 London Caledonians (H) 3-3
Jack also played for the Reserves in the early years.
- 26/11/1887 Opponents unknown (A) 0-1
- 27/10/1888 Upton Ivanhoe (A) London Junior Cup 4-3
- 5/1/1889 Thistle (H) 1-0
- 2/2/1889 Leytonstone (A) 1-1
- 9/2/1889 Ponsonby Rovers (H) 2-0
- 9/3/1889 Crayford (H) 3-0
- 16/3/1889 Nunhead (A) 1-1
- 6/4/1889 Caledonians (H) 6-1
This, as I have said, is just the start of the story of Jack Humble. I hope to have more information soon – and to make progress with the big project: getting the club to recognise the supreme importance of this man in the history of Arsenal.
If you have any information about this great man, please do send it in, either as a comment on the site, or directly to me: Tony.Attwood@aisa.org