Woolwich Arsenal in the Cup 1902/3: one of the great shocks


Final Supplementary round.  Dec 13.   Brentford (away).  Drew 1-1  Crowd 7,000

Brentford Football Club was founded in 1889 as an offshoot of the local rowing club, although they took a while to work out if it was Association or Rugby football they were playing.

They played the first association game on 23rd November 1889, and developed enough to win the West London Alliance in 1893.    They joined the Southern League in 1898/99, but they were fined for paying players in the 1899/1900 season and were suspended for a month from the Association.  However the 2nd division league table of the Southern League that year shows them having played all their matches, so they must have made the games up later.

In 1900/01 they won the second division undefeated (winning 14 drawing 2), and were promoted to the first, but the following season they ended up one from bottom in the 1st division – but survived the play offs.

However the season of this cup match against Woolwich Arsenal (1902/3) was their worst.  They came bottom of the first division of the Southern League with 2 wins and one draw all season – so the draw against Arsenal must have been the shock of the season.  Arsenal did not put out a reserve team – although they did introduce one new face (F Hunt), but apart from Hunt the same team played the first and second match.  It was simply a blip.  I blame the pitch (a blame inserted with zero evidence).

Who knows what went wrong, but London – if not all of football – must have been awash with the stories.  Especially as Arsenal ended up third in Division II of the Football League that year.

Final Supplementary round.  Dec 17.   Brentford (home).  Won 5-0  Crowd 3,000

Clearly the locals didn’t care for an afternoon game in December against a team struggling in the Southern League (their last home match in the league against lowly Lincoln attracted 14,000).  But there is one other thought.  Despite it being a great season for Woolwich Arsenal, December was a less than decent month.  Having won five league games in a row in November, this happened.

  • Dec 6 Small Heath (away) Lost 0-2
  • Dec 13 Brentford (away) Drew 1-1
  • Dec 17 Brentford (home) Won 5-0
  • Dec 20 Manchester City (away) Lost 1-4
  • Dec 25 Burton United (away) Lost 1-2
  • Dec 27 Burnley (home) Won 5-1

Bad months are as old as football.

1st round proper.  Feb 7.   Sheffield United (home).  Lost 1-3  Crowd 24,000

Arsenal against the Cup Holders, Sheffield United.  Being the winners the previous year meant a lot – hence the crowd.

Sheffield United ended up the season fourth in the first division and so apart from being cup holders were also clearly a club in form, and clear favourites against Woolwich Arsenal.  They had won the league in 1898 and were runners up in 1897 and 1900.  A force to be reckoned with.

In the second round Sheffield United lost to Bury (also a first division club at the time).  Bury went on to the semi finals where they beat Aston Villa 3-0.  But it was the other semi that caught the imagination.   Derby played Millwall Athletic of the first division of the Southern League.  Derby won 3-0.

In the final Bury beat Derby 6-0 in front of 63,000 at Crystal Palace – the largest cup final score ever.

What is interesting in this review is how often Southern League teams were making a long progression in the FA Cup.  Today, we think of the football league as being above the non-league clubs – but at this time this was not the case.  The Southern League was itself a strong league, and was attractive to southern clubs that did not want the long journeys north.  Also the Southern League had different regulations over retain-and-transfer and this made them attractive to players.

Next up is 1903/04 – our very last appearance ever in the preliminary rounds of the FA Cup.

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Know your history: was Arsenal really the first pro team in the south?  The ongoing review of Arsenal in the FA Cup raises some questions.

There’s told told’s, told untold’s, untold told’s and untold untold’s

4 Replies to “Woolwich Arsenal in the Cup 1902/3: one of the great shocks”

  1. Hi
    I have a gold medal inscribed
    W.K.L.( I assume that this is the West Kent League.)
    Woolwich Arsenal winners 1902-3
    With the initials JB inscribed on the front on a small shield.Can you give me any info about it please.

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