Frederick William Davis. 150 games for Arsenal and we know so little.


Imagine a player who played 137 league games across six seasons, who scored 10 goals for the club, and yet about whom we know practically nothing. Indeed a player whose Wiki entry actually removes the credit for not just one but all of his goals and whose entry records a different number of games.

Here we have Fred Davis.

There is an agreement that Fred was born in Smethwick in 1871 and played local football in Birmingham for the wonderfully named Soho Villa, and then for Birmingham St George.

Fred’s involvement with that club explains a little about how he came to move from Birmingham to Kent. Birmingham St George were clearly a bit of a force in the early days of football, playing as founder members in the Football Alliance, and getting to the quarter finals of the FA cup.

The Football Alliance lasted three seasons, and at the end of 1891/2 the Alliance and the Football League combined.   Some clubs from the Alliance (such as Nottingham Forest who appear a little later in this tale) went into the First Division (previously the only division of the League) others formed the newly created Second Division.   But Birmingham St George dropped out – indeed they were the only club to drop out.

There were two reasons for their demise. They had finished a very poor bottom of the Alliance in its last season, and with rival clubs in Birmingham making faster headway, and indeed with St George’s having financial problems, the club gave up the fight.

That left Fred without a club for 1892/3 as far as I can tell. He is not registered as playing for any league club, and did not play in any of the matches for Royal Arsenal’s first team (which by 1892/3 was professional but not playing in the league).

I have however been sent this additional information since publishing this article:


I don’t know if it is helpful or not, but I found a web page which mentions a Davis playing for Birmingham St George not too long before the transfer of Frederick William Davis to Arsenal.

St George:-
Hadley, Siddons, Lamsdale, Castle, Richards, Thorpe, Davis, Bailey,
Devey, Harrison, Shaw.


Many thanks to Gord for that.

Certainly at some time before the start of the 1893/4 season he did sign up for Woolwich Arsenal and played his first game on 4 September 1893 – a friendly against Doncaster Rovers.

Arsenal had already started their league season two days earlier with the game against Newcastle, so it is certainly plausible that Fred signed for Arsenal around that time, and was given a run out in the friendly.

That appears to be viable because apart from one positional change, the team against Doncaster stayed in place and played Arsenal’s first ever away league match on 9September against Notts County.

Thus Fred took up his place in the team and apart from missing one game in October he stayed in place throughout the season.

Until 1895 he played number 4, but then moved to number 6. He played his final game on 25 March 1899, a 1-1 home draw with Grimsby Town.   He also played in the 12-0 win over Ashford United in the Cup on 14 October 1893.

Here’s the record…

Season League games Goals
1893/4 26 1
1894/5 26 3
1895/6 24 0
1896/7 20 0
1897/8 23 4
1898/9 18 0
Total 137 8

However after the end of that final 1898/9 season Fred Davis left Woolwich Arsenal and joined Nottingham Forest of the First Division. This was a fair old step up as Forest were a mid-table first division team, while Arsenal were a mid-table second division team. And it was curious, as clearly although Fred was still playing regular games his number of games in that last season had dropped to its lowest total since joining the club.

However in 1899 Arsenal had two changes of manager. Elcoat, who left on 20 February 1899 saying he could not get on with the board, had brought in virtually a completely new team at Arsenal, but by the end of the season, most of them had gone again. Unable to find an immediate replacement, finance secretary Arthur Kennedy was put in charge of the team for the remainder of the season and was ultimately replaced by Harry Bradshaw.

Such upheavals could well explain a veteran player deciding it was time to move on, especially with a chance to go to a first division club. But Davis never played for Nottingham Forest and there is no record of him in football after that single non-playing season with Forest. Maybe he moved into coaching – maybe he immediately got injured.

And thus we lose sight of Fred Davis. Clearly a valued servant to the club who withstood much of the upheaval of the change from the committee picking the team, to the era of the one year (or less) manager.

I always find it sad when one of these little articles ends with a blank. Fred Davis played for the Arsenal first team 150 times including cup and lesser league games, which surely is something of an honour and a reason to be recorded. And yet he has vanished from history.

As I have recorded so often before on these pages, if you know anything, please do say.


Tony Attwood

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