Of course the similarities between Woolwich Arsenal in 1909 and Arsenal 2009 are small. It is the same club (the shares issued in Woolwich Arsenal after it was taken over by Henry Norris are the same shares as we have now) and the traditions of the club continue.
But the style and approach to the game is quite different. In those days most of the players were non-English, but they were Scottish rather than EU. Training then was little more than staying fit, and tactics were non-existent (everyone played the same system and formation so there was no special arrangement when playing a particular opponent.)
And yet, a strange phenomena has re-occurred. Just as 100 years ago, so now: we can’t find a centre forward.
Of course the system is different – 100 years ago we had two full backs, three midfield, and five forwards, of whom the number 9 was expected to lead the line. 2-3-5 was the classic until Chapman changed it to 3-2-2-3 – taking the central defender back into the back line, and dropping the two inside forwards back behind the front three into the W formation.
But the problem was the same: we couldn’t find a number 9.
Just as today we have lost Van Persie, Eduardo, Walcott and Bendtner, all of whom could play in that position (and indeed Rosicky who played in that position during the pre-season on occasion), so 100 years back we had lost Lee, Beney, Thomson (a centre half whom we had tried at centre forward in desparation), Oliver, McKeller, McGibbon, and Buckingham.
In fact on December 11 Buckingham returned and led the line for most of the rest of the season, so the problem was nearly over, but as of December 6th the matter seemed less clear.
The records don’t show who was injured and who was dropped, and who simply had a virus, but it was a turbulent year at centre forward – which was why Woolwich Arsenal had such a tough time of it in 1909.
Of course in those days there were no transfer windows – so players were brought in as and when, and looking at the records it is hard to escape the thought that new people were arriving all the time from Scotland to find work at the armaments factory, who then turned up at the ground saying, “I used to play for Greenock Morton,” and so getting a game. (Trials and the like hardly seemed to exist – you turned up and got a game!)
Today the problem is an endless stream of injuries with most of our injured players not due back for another week or two.
One thing is for sure: we don’t know who will be playing centre forward next saturday, any more than our forefathers knew who would be facing Preston North End in the next Woolwich Arsenal match on December 11th 1909.
We’d won two and drawn two in the last four games – by far the best run of the season, and there was the first light on the horizon. The problem was, without a regular centre forward, could we keep it going?
You can read more of what happened to Arsenal at this time, and the momentous events of the next 13 months in the novel, “Making the Arsenal,” based on the journals of a Fleet Street football correspondent at the Daily Chronicle at the time. For more details click here: www.woolwicharsenal.co.uk
There are reviews of the book on www.Amazon.co.uk Just enter “Making the Arsenal”