By Tony Attwood
Patrick (Paddy) O’Brien is one of the Arsenal players from the 19th century of whom we know only a little of his life outside football. However I think this is the most comprehensive review of his life and work yet published – but of course if you have more information, please do write in.
He is recorded as being born in Scotland 1875 (although the exact date and details are unknown) and he started out playing for Elm Park in Glasgow and Glasgow Northern (of whom I have no details), before moving to Woolwich Arsenal – more than likely as one of the men who made the journey looking for work at the armaments factory.
He signed for Woolwich Arsenal on 15 April 1894. He made his debut on 10 September 1894 in the second match of the second league season playing inside left – it was a 1-3 home defeat to Grimsby.
Arsenal had lost the first game 5-2 to Lincoln, and as a result had made four changes to the line up for the second match, and then shuffled the pack again for the third, dropping O’Brien and adding Shaw – but for the third match running Arsenal were defeated – this time 0-3 against Burton Swifts.
Paddy O’Brien came back for the fourth match -and at last Arsenal got a win – 4-2 at home to Bury, in front of 8000 fans. He also scored.
He then kept his place except for the away game at Port Vale on 19 January, and ended the season with 11 goals in 27 games – the second highest scorer of the season behind the outside left Mortimer who got 14 in 22. It must have been quite a team with the inside and outside left getting most of the goals.
Arsenal finished the season 8th in the second division – this also being the season when the ground was shut for two games following “incidents” in the crowd and a response by the FA which was completely out of keeping with its reaction to other such events in other grounds.
An injury in the first match of the 1895/6 season (a 3-1 home win against Grimsby in which O’Brien scored the second goal), kept him out of the side for four months, Mortimer and McAvoy taking over the number 11 position which O’Brien had held in the first game (Buchanan playing at number 10).
He returned for the last nine games of the season playing at inside left and scoring one more goal – Boyd at centre forward now giving the team a more conventional look as the goalscorer, although he only got nine in 27.
1896/7 was his prime season with Arsenal. He played 26 league and two FA Cup games, always at number 10, and scored 15 goals all told – his 14 in the league making him the top scorer. It was very much a season of O’Brien to the rescue as Boyd only managed to play 12 games – scoring 10 in those games. If O’Brien at 10 and Boyd at 9 (which is how the season started) had been able to continue Arsenal would have finished a lot higher than 10th.
At the end of the season O’Brien moved to Bristol City along with Sam Hollis. who was Woolwich Arsenal’s secretary, and perhaps trainer between 1894 and 1897.
Sam Hollis was not a footballing man (he had worked for the government in the Probate Office and then the Post Office before Arsenal) and my guess is he was the club’s senior administrator (possibly the “club secretary” which was an important role at the time), much more than trainer – but he obviously loved his football because it became part of his life from here on.
Bristol City had just been formed when Sam Hollis and Patrick O’Brien went there, and Hollis did become their first secretary-manager, moving in March 1899 to Bedminster FC, a club which then merged with Bristol City the following year, at which time Hollis left to run a pub before returning one year later, reclaiming his role a year later as manager of the combined club. He took Bristol to the top of the Southern League and into the Football League.
O’Brien stayed with Hollis at Bristol until 1902, and it should be noted that in their first season at Bristol City, Hollis and O’Brien took the club to second in the Southern League, a position that they repeated in their second season 1898/99. Only the all-conquering Southampton kept City at bay.
In the next season (the one when Hollis was a Bedminster) the club slipped down the league to below mid-way, but with Hollis back reclaimed second place in 1901, before joining the Football League second division for 1901/2.
After this season O’Brien joined Swindon, and made just one appearance for them in 1902/3, and then evidently left football. Sadly we know nothing of his subsequent life save that he died in 1951, aged 76.
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