The 10 moments in history that defined Arsenal. 1: 1st December 1886

By Tony Attwood

My thought in this new series is not to find the 10 greatest moments (3 cup and league doubles and that sort of thing) but rather the moments that defined Arsenal as a club, and set out the way things would go in the future.

It is fairly obvious that in such a series one has to start with the beginning – the foundation of Royal Arsenal on 1 December 1886.

Prior to that date it is possible that the group of men who founded the Royal Arsenal club on 1 December did play a game in October.  That might be the case because there is a record in the press in 1887 of Arsenal beating Eastern Wanderers “again”, combined with the fact that in that inaugural season Arsenal played four clubs home and away, and one club (Eastern Wanderers) at home.  That Eastern Wanderers away game would add to the symmetry.

But we don’t know when the game was played, if it was.  I won’t go into all the details here of why some dates are ruled in and others out, but if there was such a game (as Elijah Watkins reported) it was almost certainly either played in on a saturday in early October 1886, or during the Christmas closure of the factories in Woolwich between Christmas and New Year.

However to return to the defining moment in 1886.  For me that was the moment when, after the club was set up as a sub-section of Dial Square Cricket Club the decision was taken to throw open membership to anyone in Woolwich Arsenal and the surrounding area who was interested in football.

Had this not happened there is every chance that the club would have remained a tiny non-entity, and could well have gone the way of Eastern Wanderers and Woolwich United into utter obscurity.

That simple decision to open the club to all-comers (to be fair, combined with the decision to call the club by the incredibly powerful and iconic name “Royal Arsenal FC”) in a moment created the club that could rise to pre-eminence in Kent and south London.

So, that’s my first iconic moment.  Next up, the battle with Royal Ordnance Factories FC.

The Chronology of Arsenal – the start of our project to build a chronology of the club’s key moments

Christmas scheduling: when Arsenal played four games in five days

History in the Making: why we keep changing the Arsenal story

After the 125 celebrations – when is the next significant anniversary for Arsenal FC

Previous news items

Reference points

5 Replies to “The 10 moments in history that defined Arsenal. 1: 1st December 1886”

  1. This is such a fascinating story you are piecing great great grandfather was Arthur Brown who played for Arsenal in the early years. A “Brown” is mentioned on the earliest photo of the team, could this be him ? Is there any trace of him in team line-ups / statistics? Have you been able to verify if the early football film from the lumière catalogue is actually of Arsenal (and if our Arthur Brown could be one of the players seen). Sadly I have little information about him, although he seems to have been a well-known figure (i’ll avoid the word “celebrity”) around Plumstead at the time.I’m keen to do more research. Many thanks, Richard

  2. Richard that would be the same Arthur Brown. He was “joint secretary” with Fred Beardsley in the club’s second season, an active committee member and on the club’s first board of directors when they became a limited company in 1893. He would also officiate in games either as referee or umpire (much like a linesman). Like most of the very eraly players he stopped playing around 1890 as more experienced players started to turn out for the club.

    He played in the first ARsenal team to win a trophy when the reserves won the Kent Junior Cup in 1890.

    He was one of the thousands of people (I’m not exaggerating!) who migrated from Nottingham to Woolwich and Plumstead in the 1890s.

    Can you give us more details of the football film in the lumiere catalogue? It’s not something I’ve heard of.

  3. According to research by Andy, Fred Beardsley, Arthur Brown and William Parr were all from Nottingham and directors of Woolwich Arsenal FC at some stage during 1894.

    But no one of the surname Brown played for Royal or Woolwich Arsenal in an FA Cup or league match.

  4. Thanks for such a quick reply..impressive, and very useful information ! I stumbled across the film but the dates would have been more recent as the Lumières’ films are from 1895 onwards i believe (this is No699 in the catalogue). Perhaps this may be useful for your research. Given your obvious depth of knowledge on the subject, you may be able to verify if the film is of Arsenal or not.

    Is there an Arsenal museum with any material from this period ? When visiting the UK next, I’d love to take my parents who are in their 80’s..

  5. Richard,

    In George Lawrance’s review of early Royal Arsenal, Brown is noted as a back, in the first home game against Erith in Jan 1887. He was a director in the new Woolwich Arsenal club in 1893 for only one year, as he was not re-elected in 1894. He was never on the board again, but as Andy says he had been very active when the club were called Royal Arsenal. Afew books note him as one of the original subscribers.

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