There is no doubt that today, lots of people like a flutter. Roulette, blackjack, baccarat, poker…
And there is no doubt that people have always liked a flutter. Of course 100 years ago, back at the start of the 20th century they didn’t have the current options – but they still liked a little gamble when the opportunity arose.
So at the end of the 1901/2 season when the Woolwich Arsenal FC funds were looking a bit dodgy, Jack Humble, a director of the club who had in fact been the club’s first chairman back in 1893, came up with the idea of organising an archery tournament as a fund raiser.
Which might seem a bit dull to you today – but stay with me on this, because this archery competition became one of the big events in terms of fund raising for Arsenal at the time. In fact when it was held on 29 November 1902 it raised about £1,200.
Now that might not sound too much by today’s standards, but let us consider. That’s about £12,000 in today’s money raised in one day.
OK that is still not that much in footballing terms compared with today, but in fact it was over one fifth of the total yearly income for the club from all sources, raised in just one day! This surely meant that this was the end to Arsenal’s financial problems -at least for one season.
Except that the Law stepped in at this point and after a fair amount of saying “Hello hello hello, what’s all this then?” or whatever the equivalent was 100 years ago, they decided that this was not an archery tournament at all, but a lottery – which in the law of the day had a different meaning.
So let’s see what happened…
On the day of the tournament Arsenal opened up the Manor Ground as a fun fair and show ground, with various stalls and the like to occupy visitors, with the archery competition being the highlight of the event.
80,000 archery tickets were sold across much of the south east and even up to the Midlands, in advance, at 6d each (that’s six old pennies; about £3 in today’s money). In the build up everyone who had entered was allowed to practice with a bow and arrow, although there was no prize for the best shot.
Instead, to find the winner, the stub of each ticket sold was placed on a board measuring 17 feet by 17 feet and a young lady from the town was invited to fire an arrow at the board.
There was some fun and games at this point as the lady missed the board completely, which must take some doing since 17 feet by 17 feet is a pretty big board. And indeed she missed again with the second shot, getting it right with the third, hitting one of the stubs and thus finding the winner.
The winner was a Mr Grubb of 190 Plumstead Road who won £50 (about £3,000 today) and in total 150 minor prizes were also awarded.
Then they cleared the mess off pitch, Arsenal played Lincoln and won 2-1 and there was a concert in the local freemason’s hall where prizes were handed out to the lucky winners.
However there was a technicality: because since the young lady was clearly not an expert shot, the event was considered by the law to be equivalent to being a lottery. Arsenal’s manager, Harry Bradshaw, who had had no real involvement in the event at all, poor chap, was charged with “keeping the Manor Ground for the exercise of a lottery”. He was eventually found guilty personally, fined £5 and had costs of £10 awarded against him. However the law had nothing to say about the club’s profit from the day – and that went into its coffers.
Of course life is easier today if you want to play the occasional game – not only is it all legal but you can also play it on line. You might care to have a look at Bingo.com for example. A splendid time can be had by all.
Many thanks to Andy Kelly for his original research into the Woolwich Arsenal Archery Competition.