Joe Powell, our first captain who died as a result of injuries on the pitch

Joseph Joshua Powell known as Joe was Woolwich Arsenal’s captain for their first ever league match in 1893 at the age of 23.

He was born in 1870 and died on November 29, 1896 after playing against Small Heath just two weeks earlier.

Joe was born in Bristol, and played initially for Walsall and the 80th Staffordshire Regiment.  He played in a match against Woolwich Arsenal, for the Regiment in 1892 and the club persuaded him to leave the army and turn pro.

During the first season he played in all the matches except a couple at the end of February and the start of March, and continued to be a fundamental player in the side, always picked unless injured.

He scored a single goal in the first season, in the 12-0 win in the Cup over Ashford at home on 10 October.  The crowd was 3,000 (and to put this in perspective the highest all season home or away was the home game against Notts County, where 13,000 turned up.)

It is reported that he was injured in a United League match against Kettering – and here I need some help.  What was the United League?  The game was against Kettering, then as now a club some way outside the league, so maybe it was a reserve match?  But if so, what was he doing playing in that?

He broke his arm, got tetanus, had the arm amputated and subsequently died aged 26.  It is said on the Spartacus site that his injury was so bad that one of the first aid men who went to help him, fainted.  But we must remember that the level of first aid was very limited at the time at football matches, for their are stories of an injured player at Highbury being wheeled to hospital in a wheelbarrow.

Joe’s record was 86 league games with 1 goal, and 6 cup games, with one further goal.


This article is the second in a new series on the players who played for Woolwich Arsenal in their first ever season in the football league.

Other articles so far…

Charlie Williams who became the first keeper to score direct at the other end, and who went on to manage internationally.

Entering the league in 1893 – the background and the full team list

9 Replies to “Joe Powell, our first captain who died as a result of injuries on the pitch”

  1. Tony

    Arsenal fielded their first team in the United League. It was there purely to boost income. The league that season consisted of Millwall, Luton, Arsenal, Loughborough, Rushden, Kettering, Wellingborough & Tottenham.

    Arsenal played in the United League in 1896-97, 1897-98 & 1898-99. In 1899-1900 they switched to the Southern District Combination, didn’t compete in an additional league in 1900-01 and joined the London League (Premier Division) in 1901-02 until 1903-04. There was also a London League (First Division) for reserve teams.

  2. A little bit more on Joe Powell, after his death Arsenal played a friendly against Aston Villa on 7 December 1896. The proceeds of the match, £137 8s 6d (about £12000 in today’s money) were given to his widow who was pregnant with their second child. Very sad story.

  3. I recently co-authored/published a book on Kettering Town’s early history – the period 1872-1900 – titled “When Football Came To Kettering”. Chapter 9 – “Famous Opponents” – covers our FA Cup games at Newton Heath, and United League games with Tottenham Hotspur and Woolwich Arsenal.

    There is a match report of the game when Joe Powell sustained his injury – Arsenal line-up: Fairclough, goal; Buist and Powell, backs; Shrewsbury, Boyle and Boylan, half-backs; Brock and Heywood, right wing; Boyd, centre; Russell and McAvoy, left wing. Final score: 1-0 to Arsenal – no, the match was not abandoned as a result of the injury!

    There is also a local report of the coroner’s inquiry into Powell’s death six days after the game – “… the deceased died at a quarter to one on Sunday morning [29 November 1896] from tetanus, caused by dirt introduced into the wound at Kettering …” No blame was attached to anyone.

    The incident happened during the period when Kettering played at North Park – which can still be found off Bath Road at the north end of town.

  4. My Great Great Grandfather was Joe Powell. His Grandson (my wonderful Grandfather) is still alive and told me about this amazing man and his tragic story. I would love to know more if anyone has any further information.

  5. Katy

    I’ve got some newspaper clippings which I will email to you.


  6. Ah thank you Andy. I can’t wait to show them to my Grandad! He’s 90 now but still as fit as a fiddle. I look forward to seeing the articles! It’s very kind of you to take the time to send me them. Regards, Katy

  7. Hi
    my great great uncle P. Boylan played in this match. Andy,would you mind sending me a copy of the newspaper clippings as well? I have been looking for a team photo of this time as well

  8. Do you have any information on David Greenaway who played for Woolwich Arsenal as a winger and was capped by England

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