So here we are at last: the first of the centenaries that this site was set up to celebrate. 100 years to the day when the first game between Woolwich Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur was played.
I wrote in the last article about the comparative situation of the two clubs – Woolwich Arsenal established in the First Division, but having a terrible season, and Tottenham Hotspur new to the League the previous year, and promoted in their first season. Now they were having a middling campaign which would see them end the season in lower mid-table, above the struggling Arsenal.
As to the game itself, there was a little fascination in seeing a new London team for the first time – a team that has won the FA Cup while not in the League indeed, but this was no form of local derby.
Getting from Tottenham to Plumstead is not much fun today – 100 years ago it involved a bus trip to Finsbury Park, the underground into central London, another bus trip, and then a series of tram journeys out of the city and into Kent.
The crowd for the day was not at all bad, given Arsenal’s precarious position in the league: 18,000 turned up. 10,000 more than the previous home game against very unfashionable Bristol City.
Crowds at the Manor Ground were variable – the highest in this depressing season of near relegation and financial trouble was 20,000 against Newcastle. Although curiously one of the highest crowds recorded was indeed against Bristol City – 31,000 for an FA Cup game in February 1907. Another top crowd was for a real local derby – also an FA Cup game, this against Millwall in February 1909.
So Tottenham had some local interest – they were after all one of only two other teams from the region in the First Division (the third being Chelsea), and Tottenham had won the Cup, which 100 years ago, as the crowd figures reveal, meant a lot.
Woolwich Arsenal saw hope in the sense of two draws and a win in their last three (after a terrible run of results that resulted in them hitting the foot of the table). But their centre forward problems continued.
This was the game when the wandering Gordon Hoare (of whom I have written in earlier articles) made his one and only appearance of the season. Over five years of meandering between Arsenal and nine other clubs he played 30 times for Woolwich and scored 12 goals.
But not today. The records show that the first ever goal against Tottenham was scored by Lawrence, the inside left, one of five goals scored in a season of 25 appearances.
It would be great to say that Walter Henry Lawrence went on to become a great hero of the club, but this was his only season at Woolwich Arsenal. In the summer he moved back to Crystal Palace from whence he had come one year before.
Lawrence ended his playing career at Merthyr Town, and is one of the many mysterious players of 100 years ago of whom nothing is saved in history other than his official playing record, preserved by the Football Association archives. We have no record of his background, his family, or even his dates of birth and death. He is (at least until someone can write in with some data) just a name in the record books.
It would be great to think that Lawrence knew, later in life, that he had scored a goal that would be remembered for all time at Arsenal – the first ever against Tottenham. But if I had to guess I would say probably not. It is a sad fact that the disappearance from the records of this man might well be due to what happened to him between 1914 and 1918. He may not have lived on to know what he had started.
Lawrence’s goal was the only goal of the game, and Woolwich Arsenal’s revival continued. Two wins and two draws in the last four games, and away from the bottom of the table.
Next up would be Preston North End, away, and for the first time in the whole 1909/1910 season the club could approach a game with something amounting to confidence.
So there we have it. 100 years ago, 4 December 1909, the first special moment of this momentous season – although of course no one realised at the time that this was the start of a chain of events that would lead to the Arsenal/Tottenham games being what they are today.
And yet that whole future, the future of our club, really did emerge as a result of events in this extraordinary season.
The whole story of what happened after this match is told in the novel MAKING THE ARSENAL which is the journal of a Fleet Street football writer. It covers all the events which happened to Woolwich Arsenal during 1910, and which led eventually to Highbury. You can buy copies through Amazon.co.uk or direct from the publishers. Copies from the publisher tend to arrive more quickly, and can (if you so wish) be signed by the author.
(c) Tony Attwood 2009