By Tony Attwood
Today, there isn’t that much of a problem at Arsenal’s home games. I remember some issues with Everton supporters a couple of years back (they blame us, we blame them, and I was four blocks along from where the incident took place, so I don’t really know) but not too much else.
One or two other incidents, but I can’t recall anything big going off since we moved to the new ground. I guess these days we all pay too much to run the chance of being thrown out.
But before the move, when we were at Highbury, we used to get a lot of pushing around at the clock end, and the occasional punch up, and I seem to recall WHU fans attempting to take the North Bank a few times. (We took the Shelf at WHL I also remember, although fortunately I never got hurt, so for me it was a more a spectator sport than anything else).
But what about earlier times? What about crowd trouble at Woolwich Arsenal?
In fact as far as I know, Arsenal was the first league club ever to have its ground shut because of crowd trouble on 26 January 1895 – and I’ll do a full piece on this in due course.
But as for the ground and the crowd in general… what was it like?
One thing we know is that the Manor Ground was the home to “betting gangs” – groups who hung out at the games and who were universally condemned by the press, and . Newspaper reports also show that drunkenness was a reason for arrests, and it was not unknown for supporters to try and rescue one of their number who might be arrested by the police.
But the key “problem” was one we would hardly recognise as a problem today – verbal abuse. Physical violence was very rare, but verbal abuse was increasingly common – and society (or at least the parts of society that wrote and read newspapers) was not ready for it. On the three times that Woolwich Arsenal was reported to the FA, twice was for verbal abuse, and only one for any form of physical assault.
The press did indeed get very worked up about foul language from “weedy uneducated hooligans” – and just how seriously this was taken can be seen from this story (one of many that appears in Woolwich Arsenal: the club that changed football).
An end of season minor first team match against Tottenham in 1900 [and remember, the clubs were on opposite sides of the Thames at this time] was abandoned after 65 minutes after the referee took offence at the constant barrage of “coarse chaff and vulgar rebukes” that he and one of the Tottenham players were receiving from all parts of the ground. After having one man expelled from the ground for “foul criticism” in the first half, he was further insulted (or so he felt) and then left the ground with 25 minutes remaining!
The ref then reported the incident to the FA, whose minutes show that the Woolwich Arsenal was strongly censured for not taking more decided action to prevent bad language being used on the ground. They were also ordered to publish special notices warning that any repetition would result in the closing of the Manor Ground. (At the same time the FA suggested to the ref that it would have been better if he had stopped the game and enabled the authorities to deal with the crowd).
The full story of Arsenal’s crowd in the Woolwich Arsenal days is told, for the first time in the new Woolwich Arsenal book. It is an extraordinary tale and gives an amazing insight into not only the early days of the club, but also into the world of football 100 years ago. It also, I feel, puts into context the current range of demands by the media for restraint on language in the grounds today.
- What was it like being in the crowd at Woolwich Arsenal?
- Celebrating 120 years of the Anti-Arsenal Arsenal
- Arsenal does better than ever before: and everyone complains
- Walley Barnes: football as a series of accidents
- Away kit shocker! And the publication of Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football”
The main series: