The days we played two matches at once.
There are at least two days in which Arsenal were booked to play two games at once. One was 14 December 1889, but in this article I’m focussing on the second time it happened, in 1896.
The event particularly involved Loughborough – the team against whom Arsenal scored their biggest ever league victory, 12-0, which came on 12 March 1900. That event took place just four seasons after our biggest ever league defeat, on 12 December 1896. 0-8 against…. Loughborough.
But this curious coincidence tells only part of one of the strangest stories in Arsenal’s history.
Having been excused the qualifying rounds of the FA Cup for a few years, the FA put Arsenal back into the qualifying rounds for 1896-97. As the 4th qualifying round coincided with a Football League Saturday most league clubs decided to postpone their league games, but for some reason Arsenal didn’t and were left playing two games on the same day. Perhaps they felt that their reserves needed a good test, maybe they were over confident, or maybe they simply forgot to apply for the postponement – there’s no record to tell us.
At this time Loughborough had won only 2 and lost 12 of their 14 league games and this, combined with the fact that the game was played in a howling gale, kept the attendance for the Division II match down to an estimated 500.
Some commentators have suggested that the 8-0 defeat against such lowly opposition can be explained by the fact that Arsenal put out a reserve side in the league match. Yet eight of the eleven playing against Loughborough had played in the victory over Lincoln City the week before. No, the reserves were mostly otherwise engaged.
In fact it is more likely that our weakness was in goal. Arthur Talbot, our keeper for the day, was very much the third choice, brought out of amateur football in the Midlands two weeks before, after the first and second choice keepers were injured in consecutive matches.
Talbot played five first team games for Arsenal, and then retired from football, which perhaps says something in itself.
But with two games on the same day Arsenal needed not just one but two keepers, and so our first team custodian William Fairclough played while injured, in the Cup match against the north London amateur team Leyton (no relation to the Orient). The rest of the team was pretty much our reserve side and included five players who made their one and only appearance for the club on that day. Poor Fairclough made his injury worse and did not play another game until February, but he did help the side that day. As the records show, on 12 December 1896 Arsenal beat Leyton 5-2 at home.
As for our record victory, that came four years later. Our league match against Loughborough was initially scheduled for 26 December 1899 but the game was abandoned after 75 minutes due to fog with Arsenal leading 4-0. The replayed game was played on a Monday afternoon in March in front of 600 fans. Thus Arsenal’s lowest ever attendance for a home competitive game witnessed our biggest ever win.
At the time Loughborough were experiencing their worst, and as it turned out last, ever season. A season in which they won only one game, let in 100 goals and accumulated the worst ever record of a club in the football league.
As most of the Loughborough team were amateurs, the travelling expenses for the re-arranged match were generously paid by Woolwich Arsenal FC. But it was to no avail. At the end of the season Loughborough lost their place in the league and ceased to exist.
Woolwich Arsenal thus completed an odd double: our largest victory and largest defeat ever, both against the same team, together witnessed by a total of just 1100 people, and completed the second “two games at once” in the process.
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