Woolwich Arsenal from the start. Entering the league in 1893

By Tony Attwood

This is the start of a new series on the Woolwich Arsenal site.  The weekly review of 100 years ago will continue, but we are also going to run a series from the very start of Arsenal in the league – 1893-4.

At the end of the 1892/3 season there had been the confusion which was commonplace at the time in football, and which is not always easy to understand.  (Tottenham fans might like to note this when offering their simplistic version of what happened in 1919).

The bottom three of the first division (Notts County, Accrington and Manchester United (who finished bottom) along with the top three of division 2 (Birmingham, Sheffield United and Darwen) played test matches to decide which teams would be in the first division and which in the second.

Each team played one game only, on 22 April 1893:

Small Heath 1, Newton Heath 1

Darwen 3, Notts County 2

Sheffield United 1, Accrington Stanley 0

Replay: (27 April) Newton Heath 5 Small Heath 2

Darwen and Sheffield United were elected to Division I, while Newton Heath (aka Manchester United) remained in the First Division.

So far so good.   Then the losers had to be dealt with.  Small Heath (Birmingham City) and Notts County continued in the Division II, but  Accrington Stanley (either in a fit of peak or through fear of diminished income in the second division) resigned.  Darwen and Sheffield United were promoted.

In an unprecedented move the eight clubs that had finished outside of the top four in the second division had to stand for re-election.  All were re-elected except Bootle who had finished eighth – who were in severe financial difficulty, and opted to leave the league (or were edged out in the vote – the records are not clear).

That meant two places were spare (Accrington and Bootle).

At the same time the league was extended from 12 clubs – not as one would expect to 16 clubs (as the first division had within it) but instead to 15 (for reasons that escape me at this time, but if you know, please do tell).

Woolwich Arsenal had been professional for two years, but without a league to play in, because of threats made by the London FA against anyone who would play them, and so had been playing friendlies against league clubs.  They were elected along with Liverpool (who had split away from Everton in an argument over the tenancy agreement of the ground), Middlesbrough Ironopolis (not related to the current club), Newcastle U and Rotherham U.

The very first league match played by Woolwich Arsenal was against Newcastle United on September 2 1893.  It was a 2-2 draw.

Arsenal’s team was

  • 1: CA Williams
  • 2: J Powell
  • 3: WW Jeffrey
  • 4: D Devine
  • 5: R Buist
  • 6: D Howat
  • 7: D Gemmell
  • 8: J Henderson
  • 9: W Shaw
  • 10: A Elliott
  • 11: C Rooth

I will be dealing with some of these players in as much detail as I can find, and covering this first season, in forthcoming articles.  I am also trying to find out more about the test match procedures, on which I only have limited information.

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3 Replies to “Woolwich Arsenal from the start. Entering the league in 1893”

  1. Hi Tony

    Sorry to be a pedant but 11 should C.Booth.

    I guess that the committee that ran the club wanted to maximise their income and continued a friendly-heavy fixture list. They played 28 league games and 30 friendlies!

    All told they played 40 first team games and 19 reserve team games at home in just over 34 weeks. Can you imagine the state of the pitch by February!

  2. fit of pique

    i always thought the first game was a 2-2 draw with Leicester Fosse

  3. Confused, I think you are confusing the first league game of Woolwich Arsenal in 1893, with the first league game of Woolwich Arsenal at Highbury, played in 1913, which was a 2-1 win against Leicester.

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