How the enemies of Arsenal tried to extinguish the club just as it was born

On 31 May 1893 Woolwich Arsenal FC were elected to Division II of the Football League.

It was an amazing moment for the club, because at the time it was under a ceaseless assault from a rival organisation – Royal Ordnance Factories FC, which had been formed by ex-members of the Royal Arsenal committee who were working in cahoots with Arsenal’s landlord at the Invicta Ground.

Quite what the rival group thought they could achieve and how they could achieve it remains unclear.  Maybe they thought that when the landlord of the Invicta increased the rent of the ground, the club would meekly bow down and accept.  Perhaps they genuinely believed (as they implied in their press statements and letters) that Woolwich Arsenal was run by a bunch of nobodies, and would quickly fail without their personal support.

Eventually Arsenal left the Invicta and set themselves up at the Manor Ground – and even there Royal Ordnance Factories tried one last trick of allowing Arsenal to upgrade the ground ready for the new season, and then buying it from the landlord – leaving Arsenal bankrupt.

But what the Royal Ordnance Factories club didn’t realise was that they were dealing with men of reliance who believed in their club.  Arsenal outwitted ROF FC on every issue – buying the Manor Ground themselves, and joining the League.  ROF FC were left to join the Southern League – where they survived for three seasons, before calling it a day.

The full story is told in the book, “Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football”

Here are the anniversaries for today…

31 May 1884: Frank Bradshaw born. Frank was the youngest of eight children, and is recorded as playing for Oxford Street Sunday School, Sheffield Wednesday, Northampton Town, Everton before finally reaching Arsenal.

31 May 1890: Royal Arsenal won a five a side competition in Islington.  It is the first known link between Arsenal and their ultimate long-term home.

31 May 1893: Woolwich Arsenal elected to Division II of the Football League. As part of their attempts to fight those within the club who were opposed to the direction of Woolwich Arsenal, there had clearly been some private negotiations with the League, resulting in Arsenal being the first Football League club in the south.

31 May 1907 Norman Sidey born.  He  joined Arsenal as an amateur from Nunhead (in the Isthmian League) in March 1929 before turning professional two years later in February 1931.

31 May 1915: Zeppelins appeared over London for the first time.

31 May 1920: The Football League and the FA held their AGMs. Hilariously the League overturned their decision of the previous meeting and voted to take over the Southern League Division 1, re-creating it as Division Three.  They further agreed that they would also create a second Division Three for clubs in the north, as soon as enough clubs applied.

31 May 1935: Having re-introduced speed limits on British roads the government now introduced the driving test for everyone who had not held a licence before this date.

31 May 1937: First appearance of Lawrie Scott.  George Allison changed him from a winger to a right back, and he played in the reserves for two years, until the outbreak of war, at which time he became a Physical Training instructor for the RAF.

31 May 1937: Arsenal beat Copenhagen 5-1 (Scorers Crayston, Davidson, Lewis, Biggs, Nelson).  This was the third match of a five match series taking in Sweden, Denmark and Belgium.

31 May 1947: George Allison resigned, ending a 37 year association with the club.  His final act was to write his autobiography: Allison Calling (a title which makes reference to his long-term work as a radio commentator). In the book Allison’s description of Henry Norris (who Allison knew from 1910 onwards) and his style of work contrasts starkly with Knighton’s, and calls into question many of Knighton’s assertions. Ludicrously it is Knighton’s book, written 22 years after he left the club but published within weeks of the Allison book, which is used as the prime source of history by many writers.  Allison, like Chapman before him and Whittaker after him, won two league titles and the FA Cup.

31 May 1961: Peter Storey joined Arsenal as an apprentice. He later wrote a most readable autobiography called “True Storey‘s;  My life and crimes as a football hatchet man,

31 May 1967: Don Howe’s final game as a player.  After 342 games for West Brom he had played 70 games for Arsenal and scored one goal.  He then became reserve team coach under Bertie Mee.

31 May 1972: Arsenal played away to Miami Gatos (USA) and won 3-2 in front of a crowd of 4,725.    George, Radford and Kennedy scored.  Quite what the point of this single post-season game, no one knew.

31 May 1980: Alan Sunderland played for England for the only time: Australia 1 England 2.   Brian Talbot won his final cap for England in the same game.

31 May 2013: Arsenal reported that Freddie Ljungberg had taken on an ambassadorial role with the club.

Among the many series on this site we have…

Henry Norris at the Arsenal: There is a full index to the series here.

Arsenal in the 1930s: The most comprehensive series on the decade ever

Arsenal in the 1970s: Every match and every intrigue reviewed in detail.

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