1st round. Jan 12th. Grimsby Town (away). Drew 1-1 Crowd 10,000
Grimsby Town was formed in 1878 – strange how the date of founding a club has no relevance to subsequent success. This was a typical story: members of the cricket club wanted to form a football club to occupy the empty winter.
Here’s one nice fact I found out at this point: the club was called Grimsby Pelham, after the family name of the Earl of Yarborough, and by 1884 they were playing in chocolate and blue quartered shirts.
Grimsby’s first league was The Combination, which was staarted in the same year as the Football League (1888) in which 20 teams played one home and one away game. There was no real organisation – in effect it was all a bit like playing friendlies, and the result was as might be expected. Games weren’t played, sometimes one club counted a game as a Combination game, but the other (having played too many games) saw it as a friendly. (Actually now I come to think about it, I quite like this – a football league with no bunch of suits making up rules – I could live with that).
I don’t have a list of all the teams but among them, with Grimsby were Lincoln City, Burslem Port Vale, Crewe Alexandra, Bootle, Small Heath and Blackburn Olympic.
After the demise of the Combination Grimsby joined the Football Alliance and played in all three years of this league’s existence, coming 4th, 3rd and 6th (The Wednesday were also in this league) and in 1892 after several attempts got into the Football League, reaching the first division in 1902.
By 1906/7 they were back in the second division (they actually were de-selected from the league in 1910) and finished 11th out of 20. Not a major test for a club heading for 7th in the first division.
1st round. Jan 16th. Grimsby Town (home). Won 3-0 Crowd 6,000
According to a report I found on the internet Grimsby Town and Hull City were the only two professional teams which had official permission to play league football on Christmas Day because of the demands of the fish trade. That tradition has now disappeared following the dramatic reduction of their trawler fleets in recent years. (www.fishupdate.com) Maybe so but Woolwich Arsenal played its first 25 December league game in 1893 (v Port Vale). Maybe we were illegal.
I have been to Grimsby’s ground once – for a third round tie. The ground is on the edge of the North Sea – and this being the third round it was early January. The pitch was mud and water. I froze to death.
2nd round. Feb 2nd. Bristol City (home). Won 2-1 Crowd 31,300
This was Bristol City’s season. They came second in the first division this season – Woolwich Arsenal were 7th. The story of Bristol City is included in the 1904/5 season, when they beat us in the first round.
3rd round. Feb 23rd. Bristol Rovers (home). Won 1-0 Crowd 22,000
And we’ve played the other Bristol team as well – in 1903/4.
4th round. Mar 9th. Barnsley (away). Won 2-1 Crowd 13,871
Barnsley FC was established one year after Arsenal, and played in the Sheffield and District League and then the Midland League before getting into the Football League in 1898. In 1906-07 they came sixth in the second division. Their big moments were yet to come – the 1910 FA Cup Final (losing to Newcastle) and the 1912 Final where they actually won the FA Cup.
Semi-final. Mar 23rd. The Wednesday (St Andrews). Lost 1-3 Crowd 36,000
This should not have been impossible for a Woolwich Arsenal established in the top ten of the first division, with The Wednesday in the lower part of the league (they ended up 13th that year) but it was not to be.
The Wednesday Cricket Club played on a … well you can imagine. They, like so many clubs, decided to have a football team just to help things along in winter. They were formed in 1867 – pre-dating Arsenal by 19 years and among their achievements they signed James Lang, thought to be the first professional footballer in England.
They started life in the Football Alliance, winning it in 1890 and coming bottom in 1891, and then being elected to the Football League in 1892 after coming fourth – another “interesting” story to remember when contemplating the outrage of Woolwich Arsenal going into the first divsion of the League after coming fifth.
They won the cup in 1896, and the league in 1902/3 and 1903/4. In this season, Everton beat West Bromwich Albion in the other semi-final and The Wednesday beat Everton 2-1 in the final at Crystal Palace.