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Arsenal's earliest managers: Sam Hollis and Bill Parr

Sam Hollis was not actually Arsenal’s manager but was Woolwich Arsenal’s trainer between 1894 and 1897.

He was born in Nottingham in 1866 (exact date not recorded) and died on 17 April 1942 in Bristol where he subsequently spent much of his working life.

He had worked for the government in the Probate Office and then the Post Office, which makes his sudden transformation to the role of the club’s first manager seem unlikely.  But if he were not the manager he was (according to some secondary sources, the “trainer” – but there again his jobs for the government hardly would have prepared him for that either.

What  he might well have been therefore was the club’s senior administrator (possibly the “club secretary” which was an important role at the time), and here his work for the government would have been good preparation.

In which case the manager may well have been William Parr (referred to mostly as Bill Parr).  I’ll come on to Bill Parr in a moment.

But if Sam Hollis had no football experience before Woolwich Arsenal, he certainly got some after, because in April 1897, presumably after the final home defeat to Manchester City in front of a crowd of 2000 he left and went to Bristol City – which had just been formed, and there it seems that he certainly did become manager.

In March 1899 he left Bristol to become secretary-manager of Bedminster FC, a club which then merged with Bristol City the following year with Hollis leaving to run a pub.  He returned to football one year later, reclaiming his role a year later as manager of the combined club. He took Bristol to the top of the Southern League and into the Football League.

In March 1905 he left football and managed a hotel, until 1911, when he became Bristol City manager again, only this time relegating the club to the second division.  He finally left in 1913 and moved on to Newport County, eventually returning to Bristol as chairman of the shareholders.

Bill Parr

Two years before the formation of Woolwich Arsenal, a group of Nottingham Forest players, including Bill Parr  joined Dial Square FC and brought their old kit will them – at least this is one of the more popular stories about the origins of Arsenal’s colours.

Bill Parr is not recorded at any time as a Woolwich Arsenal player (at least for the first team) and there’s no real history of the man, so it is hard to go beyond that.

Bill Parr however is recorded as having arrived with two other Nottingham Forest players, Fred Beardsley and Charlie Bates – and it is quite possible that these players were part of the management structure within the club prior to the time of Stan Hollis.

You will appreciate therefore that as we get to the earliest days of Woolwich Arsenal it is harder and harder to be quite sure how the club was run and by whom.  As this little series of articles shows, as we move towards the end of Woolwich Arsenal in 1913, we can be sure of a lot of things about our managers.  At the start it is less clear.

But I will try and complete the series shortly, with the final episode in the managerial history of Woolwich Arsenal in their first season – 1893/4.

Naturally if you have any evidence or information at all that pertains to this series I would love to know.

If Sam Hollis and Bill Parr were managers at this time, their results were

1894/5: 8th in division 2

1895/6: 7th in division 2

1896/7: 10th in division 2

  • Games played 95
  • Games won: 43
  • Games drew: 14
  • Games lost: 38
  • Goals scored: 213
  • Goals against: 181
  • Success rate: 52%

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