2 December 1909
And so it was that Arsenal, having got their mini revival moving along with a win and two draws, and having dragged themselves off the bottom of the First Division for the first time this season, had to play hosts to Tottenham.
But it is important not to see this as a local derby. It was not even an all-London match.
Woolwich, or more precisely Plumstead where the ground was situated, was a small town in Kent. Indeed we have to remember that this was the time when Arsenal regularly played a friendly against “The Rest of Kent”.
The area existed around the Woolwich arsenal – meaning the munitions factories that had been in place since 1671. But it was not part of London. The link with London was a tram service (the start of the century was the period of tram development) but it was a long and arduous journey.
The games against the London teams did get higher crowds than the games against the northern teams, but this was still not a situation in which many (if any) supporters of the away side turned up.
So there would have been an added interest in the visit of Tottenham, because they were a London club, and because of the Arsenal revival that had gone on in the last three games, but no more.
Tottenham had been formed before Woolwich Arsenal and had moved to White Hart Lane in 1899, (a road they shared with Wood Green Town, who played at the opposite end of the street) but had failed to get into the league until 1908/9 season when they replaced Stoke City who resigned from the League.
In their first season they came second, beating WBA only on goal average, and so went up.
1909/1910 therefore was special in that it was the first time that Woolwich Arsenal played Tottenham Hotspur, and so for that reason there was an extra bit of interest. And they were known for winning the FA Cup in 1901 having been Southern League Champions in 1900: their original golden age. Woolwich Arsenal by this time had been in the league for sixteen years and had reached two cup semi-finals, but had not won either of the major trophies.
By the time they met for the first time, Tottenham were having a better season than Arsenal – but were certainly not hitting the high spots, and were considered a possibility for relegation for some of the season.
(The only other London club in the first division, Chelsea, were in a worse state, and indeed one might note that even Arsenal had beaten Chelsea this season – one of their two wins, before the mini revival started.)
So there was some interest, some excitement – but mostly at the first chance to see this newcomer to the First Division from across the Thames, not for any sort of local rivalry reasons.
If there was a discussion going on in the pubs (and I certainly suspect there was – as I portray it in the book MAKING THE ARSENAL) it was about who on earth Woolwich Arsenal would drag up this time to be their new centre forward. Surely eventually they would find someone who could take the number 9 shirt and actually knock in some goals.
(c) Tony Attwood 2009