David Howat, the mystery man

By Tony Attwood

And so to the mystery that is David Howat.  He was a left half, born in Preston on 1 October 1870 who played for Fishwick Ramblers, Preston North End, Woolwich Arsenal and Third Lanark.

His Arsenal career is recorded by the club as 1889 – 1896, and we know that he played 72 times and scored three goals.

The league record shows

  • 1893/4 – 27 appearances and 1 goal; 4 FA Cup matches, 0 goals
  • 1894/5 – 28 appearances and 1 goal (ever present save two games); 1 FA Cup match 0 goals
  • 1895/96 – 1 appearance and 0 goals.

But trying to go further is like facing the proverbial brick wall.  Fishwick was an amateur club in Preston, and although there is a working men’s club of the same name still in evidence I think the football club has gone without a trace.

Preston North End is still there, obviously, but their list of players doesn’t include anyone called David Howat, while the Third Lanark records that are on line only record details on a tiny number of players.

However we must recall that David Howat came to Arsenal aged 19, so it might well have been that prior to that he was an amateur, or simply a young reserve at Preston.

What seems to have happened is that he was a victim of what we still see in the modern game – the signing of new players, and the rise of players who were previously thought of as reserves.   The change over at the end of Howat’s career was not huge, but there were new faces in the line up for the new season, as we can see below…

If we look at the team for the last league game of 1894/5 it was


Powell, Caldwell

Davis, Boyle, Howat

Henderson, Hare, Buchanan, O’Brian, Mortimer

And for the first league game four months later


Powell, Caldwell,

Davis, Jenkyns, Ward

Crawford, Hare, Gordon, Buchanan, O’Brian

So he wasn’t the only player to lose his place, but lose it he did.  He made his one appearance of his final season in January 1896 at left back, and that was it.

  • 1: CA Williams: went on to manage Denmark and in Brazil
  • 2: J Powell: Our first captain who died of injuries on the pitch
  • 3: WW Jeffrey: The right back who was a keeper
  • 4: D Devine: Lost to history
  • 5: R Buist: I thought he caused us to go pro, but I was wrong.
  • 6: D Howat: This article
  • 7: D Gemmell
  • 8: J Henderson
  • 9: W Shaw
  • 10: A Elliott
  • 11: C Rooth

6 Replies to “David Howat, the mystery man”

  1. At the start of the 1893-94 season Howat was the longest serving member of the playing staff. The club was less than 2 1/2 years old when he joined and was still an amateur club. He was one of very few Royal Arsenal players that became a professional with Woolwich Arsenal.

    He was with Preston during the “invincibles” 1888-89 season but failed to get into the starting line-up of the first team.

    He joined Arsenal in March 1889 and played alongside the club’s founding members David Danskin and Fred Beardsley.

    He won the London Charity Cup 1889-90, Kent Senior Cup 1889-90 and London Senior Cup 1890-91 making him one of Arsenal’s most honoured players for 40 years.

    I’m beginning to doubt that he played for Third Lanark. He was born in Preston and was shown as living there in the 1871, 1881, 1901 and 1911 censuses. In 1891 he was boarding with William Reid’s family in Earl Street, Plumstead. His profession was shown as a gun maker.

    He lost his place to Caesar Jenkyns at the start of 1895-96 and played in the reserves for the remainder of the season where he played at left-back.

    In 1899 he married Charlotte Elsdon in Plumstead but his residence was given as Christchurch, Preston. His profession now was a draper. She died in 1900 in Preston and he married Elizabeth Rainford in Preston in 1904.

    So, what is the likelihood of Howat leaving Arsenal in 1896, moving up to Scotland and then back down to Plumstead / Preston three years later? It was more usual in these times for Scots to come down to England for work and very unusual for the English to make the reverse journey.

    Looking at the Scottish censuses there are a number of David Howat’s. It could well be that there has been a mix up and two players’ records have become one.

    Finally, he died in Preston on 26 March 1941 leaving £6408 in his will. That is about £184,000 in today’s money!

  2. Very interesting indeed. I will check out the 3rd Lanark link. Its a distinct possibility though that he did play at Cathkin Park as both were big military clubs. Great to see the photo of him. He would have played in the same team as my great great Uncle, Patrick Boylan. Patrick signed in 1896 and played one season in the first team and reserves before returning to Greenock Morton. His photo in his Arsenal kit can be seen here:
    Also a wee film of his story from The History Detectives:

  3. David Howat was my grandfather. I can certainly add something to the story. I clearly remember being told by my mother that his profession as a footballer was halted when he suffered a broken leg. Back in those days that signified the end of your career. I have a recollection of there being a benefit match at Arsenal which enabled him to start a new life in Preston. I was actually living in his house when he died during the war although I do not really remember him personally, being only 4 at the time.

  4. Nice to hear from you Ruth.

    It was a common thing for players to be granted
    benefit matches in the 1890s / 1900s. The reason for the matches were varied – to increase the player’s signing on fee, after so many years service, etc.

    During 1894/95 David Howat was granted a benefit match. This was a friendly against Mr Roston Bourke’s XI on 12 November 1894. Arsenal won 6-2 and the game was attended by 1200 people. This would have resulted in gross takings of about £25.

    Later that season, a second benfit game was arranged for him. This was Woolwich Arsenal and Millwall Athletic English players versus Woolwich Arsenal and Millwall Athletic Scottish players. The English players won 3-1 in front of a crowd of 2,000.

    I’m not sure why this game was arranged. Howat played regularly throughout the season. If he did break a leg it would have been in the last game of the season but the benefit game was a day later and Howat played in it.

    He also played the following season.

    It was certainly unusual as I don’t recall any other players being granted a second benefit match.

    I’ll add it to my list of things to find out.

  5. Hi, I believe I am a distant relation of David’s, and recall my father (who is also named David Howat and was born in Lancashire) telling me of David’s football career when I was a little boy. I am trying to obtain as much info on him as possible before my father dies… he is now in a care home with dementia and it would he would be delighted to hear of anything about him.

    Ruth Eigenheer-Wilson, if you or anyone would be interested to contact me, then please respond below.

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