Thomas Bryan: he played for Woolwich Arsenal but was there really a Woolwich Ordnance Factory club?

By Tony Attwood

Another player of whom we know precious little, but nevertheless we can unravel a few of the comments made where sites to mention Thomas Bryan, simply by looking at the logic of the timescale.

We are told he was born in London in 1873, and there is a suggestion that his first club was Woolwich Ordnance Factory. doesn’t go quite so far but says “having previously played for the Ordnance Factory.”

However we do know that the one Ordnance Factory club we have historic records of, “Royal Ordnance Factories FC” was formed in 1893 when the landlord of the Invicta Stadium doubled the price of the rent for Royal Arsenal.  Royal Arsenal became Woolwich Arsenal in the Football League, and a new club – ROF FC was formed to play in the Invicta which Royal Arsenal vacated.

These references are therefore either inaccurate (one inaccuracy copied from another) or refer to a team called Woolwich Ordnance Factory or “Ordnance Factory”, neither of which do we have any record.

But there are reasons to doubt these references.  First neither of them give any source for the information, and second we do know for sure (because we have records of games showing him playing) that Bryan was with Woolwich Arsenal in 1894 and from the proclaimed date of birth that would make him 18 or 19.

So if Bryan did have a club prior to Woolwich Arsenal he would have been maybe 17, almost certainly too young to be playing in the first team of a serious club.

Moving on to Arsenal: Tommy Bryan (as call him) joined Woolwich Arsenal as an amateur in January 1894 and played primarily as an outside left, but also as an inside left.

He made his league début against Rotherham Town on 6 February 1895 and then played 11 consecutive games in the League and in friendly games up to 2 April for the match against Nottingham Forest.  These were all at outside left except one that was inside left.  He also gained his two goals (one in the league one in a friendly) in this run.

Then he missed two games, but then played three in a row (through the end of March and into early April), missed two, and then played two more: a 6-3 friendly win against Westerham and District in which he scored playing inside right, and the last league game of the season on 14 April against Burton Swifts a 0-2 home defeat.

After that there were five more friendly games in which O’Brian and Mortimer alternated their roles as outside left and inside left – neither having played for the club before in the season.

Bryant left at the end of the season and reports show that he later played for New Brompton and Dartford.   There is also evidence that after this he moved on to play for Royal Ordnance Factory


There is a Wiki article detailing all the players and games of New Brompton in 1894/5 and Bryant is not listed so he went somewhere.  However he is listed in 1895/6 as having played 6 and scored 1.

Other than this we have nothing – the stories about Royal Ordnance Factory FC either before he joined Woolwich Arsenal, or after, and of Dartford, are impossible to verify.   However I would suspect that the Dartford story is more likely to be true.

The players in the first match

The players who played later in the season

3 Replies to “Thomas Bryan: he played for Woolwich Arsenal but was there really a Woolwich Ordnance Factory club?”

  1. Hi Tony, I have just read your post on Tommy Bryan. He was my great grandad on my mothers side and having heard stories and rumours that I had a relative who played for Woolwich Arsenal I have just discovered a team photograph of him dated 1894/5 at the Manor Field Ground Plumstead. It seems the rumours were true but it’s taken a chance discovery to confirm this.

  2. Paul- is there any chance of uploading the team photo please?

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