Arsenal v Sheff W – at last the improvement begins

Saturday November 13th, 1909. Sheffield Wednesday vs Woolwich Arsenal.

The omens were poor.  Our record was played 12, drawn 1, won 2, lost the rest.  Bottom of the league.

Worse, only five members of the team who played on the opening day of the season in September were still playing.

One player McDonald was playing his second game for us.  He had played as left back and was now playing right back.

Steven and McKellar were playing at inside right and centre forward and each were playing their first game for the club.  McKellar made a limited impact, being dropped after this game and going on only to make 3 appearances all season.  After that he left the club and there is no record of his ever appearing in professional football again.

Robert Steven, or Robert Stevens depending on which source you use for your history, was also a one season man, playing seven times and scoring just the once.  He came from Rangers, and again after the Woolwich experience, gave up professional football.

This one season wonder stuff was catching, because Duncan McDonald was in the same boat, although he got more games and was not one season in the absolute strictest sense.

He played 25 games in 1909/10 and one in 1910/11, officially described as a right back (he only played once at left back).  Never scored, and went on to play at West Hartlepool – although I have no data on how he did there.

What we can see is a mess and a muddle.  Unsettled team, and not even a real squad system – just players who had clearly played in Scotland, turning up at Woolwich Arsenal, and being given a game or two, before being released, presumably to find a job in the armaments factory.

Quite a contrast to the opposition.

The Wednesday had joined the First Division in 1900 and stayed there up to the outbreak of war.  They had already won the league twice and won the FA Cup twice – the most recent in 1907.   Woolwich Arsenal, you may recall, had won nothing by this stage.

The result – a draw, 1-1.  A bit better than might be feared.  The heavy defeats of the previous month seemed to be over and our last three games had been

  • Won 1-0
  • Lost 0-1
  • Lost 0-1

Not great, but different from that awful run in October (see earlier copies of this blog for more details) when we just gifted goal after goal after goal.

But what no one knew as they got the train back to London on Saturday night was that in a small way this was a turning point.  It wasn’t all going to be sweetness and light from this point on, but the morning of the game against Sheffield Wednesday on November 13th was the lowest point of the season.   From here on there was only one way to go.

(c) Tony Attwood 2009.

You can read more about Woolwich Arsenal, and the dramatic events which followed this match in MAKING THE ARSENAL – the story of the formation of the modern club as seen through the eyes of a Fleet Street reporter.  You can buy the book through our site at or via Amazon.   If you buy it through us we do make a bit more money and you are contributing to the well-being of this site and UNTOLD ARSENAL.

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