Woolwich Arsenal in the FA Cup – the final years


1st round.  Jan 13th.  Bolton Wanderers  Away.   Lost 0-1  Crowd 24615

A disappointing result, having drawn with Bolton in the league earlier in the season, and beating them at home in the return match later.  But Bolton had cup history, getting to the final in 1894 and in 1904.

They also held the record for one of the most bizarre cup ties in 1887/8 against Everton in the first round.   The games went…

  • 1st match: Bolton won, but fielded in ineligible player, so the game was declared void
  • 2nd match: drawn
  • 3rd match: drawn
  • 4th match: Everton won but disqualified for fielding two ineligible players, and the tie awarded to Bolton.

It gives a taste of 19th century football.

In the league, Bolton were one of the founders, but rarely threatened to win the League.  In this year they beat Blackpool in the second round, but lost to Barnsley in the third.  Barnsley beat Bradford City in the fourth, and in the semis beat Swindon Town of the Southern League 1-0 in a replay.  They beat WBA 1-0 in a replayed final.


1st round.  Jan 11th.   Croydon Common  Away.   Drew 0-0  Crowd 8000

Being the owner of both clubs what would Henry Norris have said?   “Play for a draw lads, both clubs could do with the money”?

There are details of Croydon Common FC in the 1908/9 season when we beat them, also after a drawn match.

1st round.  Jan 15th.   Croydon Common  Home.   Won 2-1  Crowd 9000.

The combined crowds were 17,000 compared with 35,000 in 1909.  So what had gone wrong?.   First, for the earlier games, Arsenal’s two semi-finals were still fresh in the memories, and they seemed to be advancing up the league.  Second, for the games above the memory was of a first round defeat the previous year, and the realisation that Arsenal were heading for relegation.  In fact this was the first home game Arsenal won all season, and they only won one other.

2nd round.  Feb 1st Liverpool (Home).   Lost 1-4  Crowd 8653.

Arsenal had drawn with Liverpool at home in the league in late December, but there was little hope by February of any relief from the awful truth that this was going to be the worst ever season for Woolwich Arsenal.

Liverpool were a mid-table team although they had won the league twice thus far – in 1900/1 and 1905/6 and been runners up as recently as 1910.

In this season’s FA Cup Liverpool were knocked out by Sunderland in the next round, and Sunderland beat Newcastle to get to the semis.  Sunderland beat Burnley and Aston Villa beat Oldham in the semis, and Villa beat Sunderland 1-0 in the final in front of 121,000 people.


1st round.  Jan 10th.   Bradford City (away)  Lost 0-2.  Crowd 18000

This was Woolwich Arsenal’s last season in the cup – before the end of this first season at Highbury (but after this game) the club changed its name to The Arsenal.   Not only was it the first season at the new ground, it was also the first season back in the second divison – and a successful one, as the club came third and only just missed promotion.

Bradford City were a first division club at the time (their neighbours Bradford – often known as Bradford PA – were in the second and pipped Arsenal to promotion on goal average this season).

In 1903  Manningham Football Club, a rugby team, decided to change to playing football, and applied to join the Football League (even though they had never played a league match.)  The league accepted the deal, and they were elected to the League.  Doncaster Rovers were kicked out to make way.   (I wonder if Doncaster still make a fuss about this, in the way that Tottenham do about our promotion in 1919?)

Bradford City were thus the first team to join the league without playing a game.  Two years later Chelsea emulated the feat by joining the league not only without playing, but also without a ground.

They survived and were promoted in 1907-08 to the first division and in 1910/11 they won the FA Cup – the club’s one honour.

Bradford lost to Sheffield United in the second round.  United beat Manchester City to make it to the semi final where they beat Burnley.   Liverpool beat Aston Villa in the other semi.  Burnley beat Liverpool in the final.

And so Woolwich Arsenal in the FA Cup ended as it started – with defeat in the first round.  In 1894 it was against Sheffield Wednesday, here it was against Bradford City.  It was their 33rd match excluding replays, in the competition proper, and twice they had played in the semi-finals.   They left the cup as they started, as a second division team, but now they had a new stadium with excellent public transport, and much bigger crowds.

Woolwich Arsenal never made it to a Cup Final, but there was good reason to hope that their inheritors – The Arsenal – would do something Woolwich Arsenal FC never could.

The story so far

Making the Arsenal – the story of 1910

Untold Arsenal

2 Replies to “Woolwich Arsenal in the FA Cup – the final years”

  1. I’m astounded at the amount of work you’ve put into these blogs. I’m resisting the urge to read this current one right now, as it’s one of the things that helps me get through a day at work so I’m being disciplined. I just wanted to thank you for all the effort you’ve put in and let you know that this Gooner is in awe of your work.

    Maximum respect to you


  2. Very kind of your Keith.

    That’s obviously the end of the Cup series – but I think you will find the next piece to be of real interest: it will be about the man who is the real founder of Arsenal FC.

    And there will be a book: Woolwich Arsenal – the club that changed football. We hope to have that out next year.


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