The shares in the club we know as Arsenal went on sale 100 years ago this week – it was the third attempt in 1910 to launch a new club – and the one that was the most serious.
The new company being formed to replace the club that was teetering into administration 100 years ago dropped the name “Woolwich” and became “Arsenal Football and Athletic club” – although of course it was still known in the league as Woolwich Arsenal.
The idea was to sell the shares locally in north Kent at £1 each, but to get a wider interest an advertisement appeared in Athletic News on Monday 2nd May 1910.
The Athletic News was the pre-eminent football weekly, at a time when national dailies had far less football coverage than we are familiar with today. Indeed in my original draft of “Making the Arsenal” (the novel) I had the hero Jacko Jones working for Athletic News. It didn’t work for two reasons. One was that Athletic News was based in the north of England, and that would either put Jacko out of the way of the action, or somewhat isolated from his colleagues, by being the London football rep of the paper. The other was that it was a weekly, and thus unable to respond in detail to all the political goings on.
But it was Athletic News that the club chose as the place where the advert for shares would appear.
Athletic News started in Manchester in 1875 as a “weekly journal of amateur sport”. In 1886 James Catton, probably the most famous name in early football journalism, started to write football reports for the magazine, using pen names as was commonplace at the time. He called himself “Tityrus”, and the attempts by Jacko in the story to take on such a name were inspired by this.
Catton became the editor of the newspaper and took football journalism to a new level. Through his foresight the weekly was ready for the start of the League in 1888. It was also because Catton was himself a Preston fan that Athletic News built up the “Invincibles” image of the club, and failed to report on the endless stories about their corruption of football.
By the last decade of the 19th century the News was selling 100,000 copies a week, and was still growing. It was the definitive guide to football and it was the reason that papers such as the Chronicle, the News of the World and others moved hugely into sport. The fact that the papers could come out on Sunday and use the new road network combined with the railways to get the papers onto the streets on Sunday with the Saturday results in that eventually caused the demise of Athletic News and its phenomenally successful annual handbook, and it stopped being published in 1931..
But 100 years ago it was the publication of football, and the announcement of shares for sale in Athletic News was as much a statement of intent as it was a desire to find buyers for the shares.
In fact, as we know, the share issue didn’t work, and very soon the discounting began. But it is these shares, sold 100 years ago that are the same shares as are now traded at £10,000 each, 100 years later.
The book “Making the Arsenal” tells the story of the imaginary Jacko Jones in 1910 as he covers the decline and rebirth of Arsenal FC on behalf of the Chronicle.
Arsenal today is covered on Untold Arsenal.
There’s more stories from the history of Arsenal on this site’s home page.