By Tony Attwood
Stanley Briggs was a centre half, born in Stamford Hill, in Hackney, north London, on 7 February 1872, and was signed by Arsenal on 23 October 1893 as an amateur from Tottenham where he had been playing since 1892.
At some stage in his early years his family had moved to Kent and he started his career with Folkestone. It is said that he moved back to London and played for Hermitage FC in 1890, a club that became Tottenham Football Club, (which was not Tottenham Hotspur). He then moved on to Tottenham Hotspur in 1892.
I can’t verify this, as the websites that mention Briggs don’t contain many sources and several contradict each other on occasional points of detail, but what seems certain was that he was an amateur player, and fairly highly regarded as such. Indeed each site that I have seen which speaks about him says that he was “considered one of the leading amateur players in England.” Such similarity of reporting smacks of some cut and pasting in most cases – the chances of every writer coming up with exactly the same phrase is very slight.
The same situation occurs with the story about him not attending a meeting to discuss turning professional at Tottenham with the phrase, “Briggs refused to even attend the meeting” turning up in virtually every account, with the same grammatical error each time (in proper English it would be “refused even to attend”).
Of course such descriptions of his moral stance might all be true, but with only one source, and no clarity as to what this source is, or when it was created, we need to look for supporting evidence to be sure.
And what we find doesn’t support this particular stance at all.
What we also know from the research on this site is that (as far as I can tell) all amateur players of the era who played for major clubs took payment in terms of expenses, and some in this way earned more than the players who were on a fixed salary. These amateur players however took a gamble. As they were not under contract they would only get their “expenses” when they played – and nothing at all during the close season or when they were not picked, and they would get no compensation if they were injured and thus lost out on salary from their main job.
We also know that Briggs moved from Tottenham to Woolwich Arsenal in 1893. Between 1887 and 1889 Arsenal and Tottenham had played each other five times, but the series had stopped in September 1889 with Arsenal’s 10-1 victory over Tottenham.
We also have the story of Lycurgus Burrows who played as an amateur for Arsenal and then Tottenham and then Arsenal and then Tottenham between 1894 and 1896, playing for Arsenal in the League and Tottenham in the FA Cup.
But what the Tottenham Hotspur sites that mention Briggs don’t explain is why such a popular player, who was so talented, and who was so much in favour of amateur status that he would not even go to a meeting to discuss Tottenham turn professional, would leave the club of which he was captain and move to a club that had become famous for being the first professional club in the south.
At the time of his transfer, Tottenham were playing only friendlies and were not in any league. They had applied for a place in the Southern League but were the only club to receive no votes to back up their application, and did not join that League until 1896.
Thus when one Tottenham blog suggests that in December 1895, Tottenham Hotspur held a meeting to discuss copying the move of Royal Arsenal in 1891 to pay the players, and, it is said, “Briggs refused even to attend the meeting. A true Corinthian, he chose to opt out of the revolution within the game and at the end of that season, he moved on to play for Clapton,” this seems odd, since he had previously moved out to play for Woolwich Arsenal for four games (two league games, two friendly games).
It also doesn’t explain his record at Arsenal, in which he got his chance in both league and friendly matches, but was then not selected by the club. It looks for all the world as if he had his chance in four matches, but was found not good enough for the club, and so moved back to Tottenham.
Certainly there was a difference in standard between the teams playing League games and those just playing friendlies at the time, and it was the League teams that were superior – as can be seen from Arsenal’s record against Tottenham.
It is also said that he was chosen to play in an international trial game, and played for an FA XI in a tour in 1899, and indeed one reports suggests he was captain. But this should not be seen as the equivalent of an “England” tour. FA XI’s were quite common as a way of picking weakened teams to play in countries where football was not highly established – weakened teams being selected to avoid scorelines that were too lopsided. Indeed the Tom Whittaker story incorporates just such a scenario, with Tom, hardly a regular for Arsenal, selected to travel to Australia for just such a tour in 1925. It was always an honour to be picked, but the quality of the team was often that of a lower level than one might expect.
One site states that, “During his playing days Briggs was well known in and around London and also played for Corinthians, Friars, London Caledonians, Shepherds Bush, Millwall Athletic, Richmond, Upton Park and … Clapton.”
This site again emphasises the player’s desire to be an amateur. But any suggestion that Arsenal didn’t want amateurs also has to be discounted as Arsenal certainly had amateur players throughout this era – and indeed all the way up to Bernard Joy, who played his last match for Arsenal (as an amateur) in 1947. Going back to the earlier days, Leigh Roose was signed by Henry Norris and played as an amateur during the 1911-12 season (indeed there was a notorious FA inquisition into his expenses at the time). Amateur players thus co-existed with professionals and I suspect that here we have a player who was interested to see if he could play for a League side – while taking up the option of staying amateur.
Moving back to his time at Arsenal, he made his debut against Rotherham Town on 13 November 1893 in the 3-0 home win in front of 3000 fans in the league game, and kept his place in the following game – a 2-6 away defeat to Burton Swifts – in both cases playing at centre half (number 5). He covered for Buist who was injured for the first game and who then played at number 6 because Howat was injured.
He also played in two friendly games: on 30 October 1893 against Wolverhampton (a 1-0 win) and on 11 December 1893 in a 1-1 draw with Preston, both games at home. In all he spent only three months at Woolwich Arsenal.
I suspect the most likely reason for his move was that Arsenal were at a higher level than Tottenham at the time, and perhaps either offered more expenses or fitted in with his out-of-football activities better. He was tried for four games, didn’t look like getting more, and so, as an amateur was not getting any income from football “expenses” and so moved back to Tottenham.
It is said that “following his retirement from football he was the Hotel manager of the General Havelock Hotel on High Street Ilford.” But as an amateur he would have had a trade or profession all the way through his life, so the “following his retirement from football” part can’t be right in the sense of a player looking for work after giving up football.
What might have been going on here is that rather than any arguments about Tottenham thinking of following Royal Arsenal’s lead and becoming a professional team, the player was simply looking throughout for regular games and employment. He may have gone to Arsenal because he fancied experiencing league football, or he may have got work in the Woolwich or Plumstead area. He may not have liked league football or his work might have dried up.
Thereafter we are told that he later managed the Brook Green Hotel in Hammersmith before migrating to Canada.
Also 0ne site tells us that Stanley Briggs died and is buried at Shell Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada. His grandson, Dr. Stanley Briggs III lives in Saskatchewan.
Clapton FC Team Photo 1897-98. Stanley Briggs, seated front row, far right.Of course I don’t know what the truth is of the matter because I don’t have any source material from the era, but I can say that the notion of outrage expressed in players being paid, doesn’t sit easily with moving to Arsenal, a League team that has been at the forefront of bringing professional football to the south..Remember everyone knew that Arsenal had become a professional teams, because there were votes both in the Kent FA and London FA in 1891, proposing that Arsenal, having become professional, should be ejected from the FAs and that all member teams should not play Arsenal. Both votes were lost (although Arsenal FC handbooks mistakenly reported the opposite for a while), largely it seems because local clubs wanted to play Arsenal because Arsenal always got large crowds..
The current series of articles is tracing the lives of players who played for Arsenal in the very first league season. Quite a few have already been covered on this site including all the players from the first league match – and they are indexed here. This part of the series covers players who didn’t take part in that historic first league game. Here are the articles so far…
- Joseph Cooper: the most mysterious of all the mysterious Arsenal players
- Reg Tricker: came from India, signed by Chapman, moved on to Margate.
- John Storrs who played in our first season, but then vanished.
- Joseph Frederick (“Billy”) Heath; the man who scored the very first penalty
- Patrick O’Brien: more info than previously put together, but still not much on this Arsenal man.
- John Hawley: a life saver who played for Arsenal at a most difficult time
- Robert Buchanan; an Arsenal man for two seasons who died tragically young