By Tony Attwood
Does that headline sound familiar? The club reaches heights that no one has seen before, and then everyone moans and calls for the manager to be sacked.
Sounds a bit like the 21st century at Arsenal, with an endless stream of top four finishes met with comments from the Anti-Arsenal Arsenal that this is “the worst Arsenal team I have ever seen”.
But nothing much is new in football and much the same happened when Arsenal won promotion to the first division for the first time. Such was the enthusiasm and excitement in Plumstead and Woolwich at the time that there was serious talk of Arsenal winning the league immediately.
There was of course no reason to see why Arsenal should win the league. They hadn’t actually won the second division (going up by coming second), and they didn’t have the financial base that other clubs with much larger grounds and lower travelling costs had. But enthusiasm grew, and with that, expectations.
Arsenal were hampered upon getting promotion in 1904 however by the fact that they had to change managers. And so, as it says in the Anniversary File:
? July 1904 Phil Kelso becomes Woolwich Arsenal manager
Now I have to admit I am getting a bit nervous because I can’t find a date for when he actually started as Arsenal manager, and I have a feeling that my co-authors on the new Woolwich Arsenal book are going to pop up and tell me that it is actually in the book, and I have missed it. But for the moment I can’t see the date, so I am pitching in with 13th July at random and making this the anniversary of Phil Kelso officially starting his duties.
Harry Bradshaw had handed in his resignation in January 1904 – although agreeing to see out the season and we know that Phil Kelso was at the match against Burslem Port Vale on 25 April 1904 along with 30,000 others to see the 0-0 draw which secured Arsenal’s promotion. For once we had a change of manager in which the new man had time to sort out what he would do.
Kelso was our fifth manager, and leaving aside managers who managed under 100 games he is our 10th most successful manager of all time, with a win rate of 41.45% achieved over 152 games. This makes him more successful than George Swindin but just a little less than Bertie Mee. A summary of his time at Arsenal is given here
But perhaps as we look at the stats his time should be measured by other factors. Although he didn’t win the league for the club he managed to keep the club satisfactorily in the first division – which (given it was our first appearance in the top division) was something special. Also he delivered two FA Cup semi finals (something we had never got anywhere near before), and in 1906/7 he actually had Woolwich Arsenal at the top of the first division (on October 6) for the first time.
Here’s his record:
|1st (Bristol C)
|40,000 A Villa (a)
|4,000 Stoke (a)
|30,000 Sunderland (h) & Villa (a)
|6,000 Derby (a)
|SF (Sheff W)
|36,000, Sheff W (Cup), St Andrews
|2,000 Derby (h)
|65,000 Chelsea (a)
|3,000 Birmingham (h)
In the FA Cup Arsenal, and the other first division teams, entered at the first round, having been excused the preliminary rounds since 1904.
There is an analysis of the statistics of all the managers of Arsenal here.
There is also considerably more about Phil Kelso and his work before and after Arsenal in the book “Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football” – a book which traces the progress of the club from entry into the Football League in 1893 via its promotion, and the move to Highbury, and on through to its transmutation into The Arsenal FC in 1914.
- Away kit shocker! And the publication of Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football”
- July 10: Frank Stapleton’s birthday – and a tribute
- July 9: Terry Neill becomes Arsenal’s manager
- Tom Whittaker: Arsenal’s 4th longest serving manager
- Punch McEwen: Arsenal’s manager in the first world war
- Terry Burton: the return of the Youth Team captain
- George Graham – Arsenal’s 2nd most successful manager