My grandfather played for Arsenal: William Fairclough

This is a start to another series of articles on this blog: in each case starting from the point that a correspondent writes about his/her relative who played for Arsenal.   I’ve no idea how many entries we will get, but my main thought is to get some insights.  If you want to join in, email the details that you have of the player to

So here’s the first one.  It starts with an email from Brian Jameson


My Grandfather, William Fairclough played in goal for Arsenal between 1896 and 1897. He was in the Scots Guards and was bought out for the princely sum of £18.

He only played about 67 games in total over the two seasons.  This figure includes League, FA Cup, Friendlies and Kent league . I have no idea whether or not this info is of any use to you. I am however looking for a picture of the 1896 team as I never knew my Grandfather who died at age 42. Any help you might be able to give in this regard, would be appreciated.

Brian Jameson.


The official William Fairclough profile given on the Arsenal site shows his career as running from 1895 to 1897 with 27 appearances – but the Arsenal site tends not to include friendlies and doesn’t include any reserve fixtures.

William Oliver Fairclough is shown in league records as being born in London in 1872 and dying in 1911.  His three clubs are shown as 1st Scots Guards, Woolwich Arsenal and New Brompton.

In 1895/6 William Fairclough played the last nine games of the season for Woolwich Arsenal, and was the fourth keeper the club had used that season.  The first game was away to Port Vale on February 15th.  Arsenal won 2-0 in front of a crowd of 1,000.  Arsenal won four and lost two of that sequence of games.

He started the 1896/7 season in goal, but stopped playing after a 2-5 defeat to Small Heath in November,  and returned in February to play most of rest of the season – 17 appearances.

But come the 1897/8 season there is no comment of him, and we can assume that he left during the summer of 1897.  He was replaced by R Ord for the new season who joined from Hebburn Arygle who played 30 league games for Woolwich Arsenal during that campaign, so was very obviously the first choice keeper.

William Fairclough also played one FA cup game in 1896/7 – against Leyton in a 5-0 win on December 12th at home.  This was quite an important day in the history of Arsenal as it was a day in which the club played two games at once – an FA Cup game and a league game.  Arsenal are reported to have asked both the FA and the League to change one of its dates but seemingly neither gave way.

The cup team included five reserves who had never played for the first team before and the rest was a mix of first teamers and occasional players.  The league team went to Loughborough and lost 8-0 – the biggest ever defeat in front of one of the lowest crowds – 500.   The keeper at that game was A Talbot, Fairclough’s second replacement.    (The first, J Leather, had lasted just one game before being dropped or injured).

My suspicion through this period in 1896/97 is that Fairclough was the first choice keeper throughout, but that there was an injury in November, as from that point on there was no consistent use of an alternative keeper until his return.

Finally, New Brompton. They were formed in May 1893 and played on the land that eventually became Priestfield Stadium.  The first match was on 2 September 1893, where they lost to…  Woolwich Arsenal Reserves with a crowd of 2,000.

They were founder members of the Southern League in 1894, and won the second division in that first season, winning promotion in 1895 – from that point jogging along in the top division although without coming near to winning the league.  In 1912 the club changed its name to Gillingham – who are of course still there.

So assuming the move happened in the summer of 1897 Fairclough joined a mid-ranking Southern League Division I team in Gillingham.  There is an article on that year in the Southern League at  There is also a web site with a list of Gillingham players, but it is incomplete and does not include William Fairclough, so unfortunately at this point we lose track.

Tony Attwood

5 Replies to “My grandfather played for Arsenal: William Fairclough”

  1. My great great Grandfather was William Fairclough so I was very interested to read this information. Thankyou

  2. Hi, nice to hear from relatives of other Arsenal players.
    Sorry I have been unable to locate any photograph of the team, which included my Grandfather. I had kind of given up, until I was sent this website, which my youngest , found.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *