By Tony Attwood
As you may know, if you have been keeping up, Arsenal played one game as Dial Square before becoming Royal Arsenal.
That was all in 1886, and in 1890 things had moved on far enough for the club to sign a lease to rent the Invicta Ground in Plumstead – that lease ending in 1893.
At this time Royal Arsenal was a club with paid-up non-playing members that numbered about 600. Each year the members elected a committee and chairman to run the club – and as 1893 approached so committee began to focus on getting the lease extended.
Normally speaking the renegotiation of a lease to rent the ground at which the only significant football club in the area played would not be difficult. We might expect the club to put forward a committee to handle the matter, and after some back and forth negotiating, matters would draw to a conclusion. The club might feel it was paying too much, the landlord that he should have got more, and then life would carry on. The landlord would settle because he knew that he really only had one tenant who could afford the rent and who wanted a football ground. The tenant would settle because moving would be complex and expensive.
But that’s not what happened. The landlord at the Invicta wanted to hike up the price of the rent massively, urged on by a group who were opposed to the way the club were being run. The Invicta landlord and those who acted with him seem to have thought that Arsenal had no choice but to pay up.
But on 22nd April 1893 the committee of Royal Arsenal Football Club signed two documents. The first was the articles of association through which Woolwich Arsenal FC took over the assets and goodwill of Royal Arsenal FC. The second was a memorandum of association within which was an agreement for the newly formed club to rent the Manor Field for the purposes of playing football matches.
Four days later Woolwich Arsenal Football and Athletic Company (Limited) was incorporated as a limited liability company.
On 29th April 1893 Royal Arsenal FC played its final game, against Stoke and on 3rd May 1893: Woolwich Arsenal FC formally took over Royal Arsenal FC.
Two days after that the name Woolwich Arsenal was publicly announced as the new name of the club with the issuing of the prospectus of the limited company.
Then came the big news. On 31st May 1893 it was announced that Woolwich Arsenal had been admitted into the 2nd Division of the Football League and in early June it was announced that Woolwich Arsenal FC had purchased the Manor Field outright rather than rent it from the tenant.
On 22 June 1893 the new Company’s first statutory meeting is held with Jack Humble in the chair.
So what caused all these changes? Some were caused by the technicality that as a limited company Arsenal could not use the name “Royal” in its title, and Arsenal wanted to be a limited company in order to get its place in the Football League.
But also a split had occurred in the club, of which the landlord’s decision at the Invicta to increase the rent hugely was part of the attempt by those wishing to force through change to take over the club. They failed, and so they went out and set up their own rival team which played at the Invicta – Royal Ordnance Factories FC.
You can read the whole story of the split, and what subsequently happened to each of the two teams in Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football – see details below.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal – crowd behaviour at the early matches
- Coming soon: Royal Arsenal