By Tony Attwood
Arsenal joined the Football League in 1893/4 and stayed in the second division for 11 years. The table below shows the growth (and in three years a decline) in the attendances for league matches at the club, and compares these not only with the club’s position in the league (the last column) but also the club’s crowd figures with the average across the two divisions (column 2) the top club in the leagues (column 3), and the averages for divisions 1 and 2 (columns four and five).
|Season||FL Avg||Top Club||Div 1||Div 2||Arsenal||Growth||Pos|
*Best club (Club with the highest attendance) = Everton
^Best club (Club with the highest attendance = Aston Villa
The first point to notice is that for every season Arsenal achieved crowd numbers that were above the average for the second division. This is true even in 1898/9 when the club’s average attendance shrank by nearly half. Indeed although Arsenal’s attendance was not above the average for the first division, it was not far off, and indeed in 1903/4 – the promotion season – the crowd was indeed above the first division average.
So the first question we are likely to ask is, what happened in 1898/9 – a season when first division attendances were up, second division attendances were slightly down, and Arsenal’s collapsed.
The answer is that in September 1899, the British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain sent an ultimatum to the Boers demanding equality for British citizens resident in Transvaal. At the same time the Boers sent an ultimatum back, giving the British 48 hours to withdraw all their troops from the region. The Second Boer War started on 11 October 1899.
Given the nature of the crowd at Woolwich Arsenal’s game – many of whom were working in the armaments factories, the explanation is not hard to find, for as Mark Andrews book “The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal” points out, overtime had been compulsory in most Woolwich Arsenal workshops from 1898 onwards. Also in 1898 the club raised its season ticket prices by around 50% (from 10s 6d to 15s – which is 50p to 75p in contemporary coinage.
The effect was immediate at the start of the new season. Arsenal had ended 1897/98 with crowds of 12,000, 5,000, and 6,000 for their last three home games. The new season opened with crowds of 6,000, 7,000 and 4,000. The decline continued throughout the year.
Division 2 crowds
The following table shows which teams got the biggest crowds season by season in division 2, and the average crowd size for the league, and then compares Arsenal’s crowd to this. The last two columns show where Arsenal figures in terms of crowd across the whole Football League, and then where they were in Division 2 terms.
|Season||D2 Top club||Average||2nd club||Average||Arsenal||Lge Attn Pos||Div att pos|
|1895/6||Man C (P)||9480||Newcastle||7255||7200||11th||3rd|
|1898/9||Man C (P)||9960||Leicester||8000||4470||24th||6th|
|1902/3||Man C (P)||15715||Man U||11265||11110||12th||3rd|
(P) = promoted that season.
Column 2: “D2 Top club” shows us the club with the largest average attendance in the second division. Arsenal were this side for their first two seasons in the league, and although their average attendance rose to over double the average for the first season, others were growing even faster.
Column 3: “Average” shows that club’s average crowd for the season.
Column 4: “Second club” shows the club in the division with the second highest attendance. Although Arsenal did not climb back to having the largest crowds in the second division, from the turn of the century onwards they had the second best crowd average in three of the four seasons before promotion.
Column 5: “Average” shows the second club’s attendance average for that season.
Column 6: “Arsenal” shows Arsenal’s average attendance for the season.
Column 7: “League Attendance Position” shows where Arsenal were in the attendance league table of all the clubs in the Football League
Column 8: “Div att pos” Shows Arsenal’s position in terms of the clubs in the second division.
In short we can see that Arsenal had the ability to attract larger crowds when success on the pitch led the way. Leaving aside the Boer War period Arsenal were roughly the 12th or 13th best supported club in the Football League which by the end of the period consisted of 36 clubs.
From entering the league to reaching the first division
In 1904/5 Arsenal played in the first division for the first time. Their crowds went up on average by 39.9% to an average of 19,980 per league game at home. The whole concept of having a league team in London was finally fully justified (if it hadn’t been before).
Here from the Europe Football Statistics site, are the two top tens for Arsenal’s momentous years, their first year in the league and their first year in the first division.
First, their first season in the league, 1893/4 here are the figures.
|12||Preston North End||1||5.800||-13,1%|
Second, their first season in the first division: 1904/5
The novel “Making the Arsenal” by Tony Attwood which describes the events of 1910, which created the modern Arsenal FC, is now available for the first time on Kindle. Full details are here.
Also available: Woolwich Arsenal: the club that changed football (Kindle Edition) For full details please see here.
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