What actually caused the formation of Arsenal football club?

by Tony Attwood

Most people who take any interest in the history of Arsenal FC know that the first match for what might be called an Arsenal team was between Dial Square and Eastern Wanderers.  Dial Square we know was the name of the factory within the Royal Arsenal on the south of the Thames at Woolwich, but how did these working men, who had just got themselves together to make a team, find some opponents to play?

And come to that how come they ended up playing their first match on the other side of the Thames, when there were surely much closer playing fields which could be used?

It was a question that puzzled members of the AISA Arsenal History Society for a long time, and I did for a while raise the possibility that the match didn’t actually take place on the Isle of Dogs at all.  But then the answer was found.   For on this day in 1886 an advertisement appeared in the weekly newspaper “The Referee” from the club Eastern Wanderers, looking for other teams to play.

This being the time before leagues were organised, there was indeed no way to find opponents other than through magazines of this type, and it seems almost certain that this was the mechanism that encouraged the men at the Dial Square factory to get together and write back to the Wanderers and fix up the match.

Not much is known of Eastern Wanderers at all, which is a great shame (and was another reason why I sometimes wondered if the game really did take place) but the result of the match was published in the paper later on, and this very much does look like the start of the great adventure that became Arsenal FC.

The anniversaries for today, are printed below.

The website

An index of many of the series of articles on Arsenal’s history that we have run on this site can be found on the Arsenal History Society home page.

The books

“Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football” is the definitive history of Arsenal from its inception as a league club through to its first year at Highbury, and reveals dramatic elements of Arsenal’s early days that have never been revealed before.

“Making the Arsenal” is a journalist’s inside view of the events around Arsenal’s collapse in 1910 and the rescue that paved the way for the move to Highbury and the arrival of Herbert Chapman.

Both books are now available on Kindle and in print.    Please see here for more details.


14 November 1886: “The Referee” newspaper published an advert by Eastern Wanderers asking for opponents.  It almost certainly caused workers in the Dial Square factory to decide to create a team and offer to play them.

14 November 1900: Arsenal lost to New Brompton in the fourth replay of 3rd qualifying round FA Cup game.  It was the longest run of Cup replays in Arsenal’s entire history.

14 November 1914: Arsenal scored six at Highbury for the first time beating Grimsby 6-0.   Harry King got his first hat trick on his way to becoming top hat trick scorer for the club. A welcome boost after heavy defeats to Derby and Birmingham.  See also here.

14 November 1916: Henry Norris, chairman of Arsenal, was sworn in as a member of the London County Council.  He used the position particularly to argue for equal pay for women teachers, but this was heavily defeated in the all-male chamber.

14 November 1918:  It was announced that a general election would take place on 14 December and the Coalition government would fight the election as a Coalition.  Sir Henry Norris started to search for a seat to contest.

14 November 1922: The BBC began radio broadcasts from Radio Station 2LO in London – the station that eventually became the Home Service and then later still Radio 4.

14 November 1925.  Arsenal 6 Bury 1, a result that meant Arsenal had scored 15 in the last three games.  (For more on Bury see here).  Considering the club had only scored 46 goals in the entire 42 games of the previous season it was a remarkable turnaround.  See also here.

14 November 1931: Arsenal beat West Ham at Highbury 4-1 win in front of 41,028.   Haynes and Male came in at 5 and 6 replacing Roberts and John. Jack got a hattrick and Hulme the other.  But the press were unimpressed saying that as West Ham had just lost their last two games 5-1 (away to Derby and at home to West Brom) and were 18th, 4-1 was hardly of note.

14 November 1934: George Male and Eddie Hapgood made their international debuts at Highbury for England (Hapgood as captain) in England 3 Italy 2.  George Allison did the radio commentary, Tom Whittaker was England’s physio, and seven Arsenal players were in the team.

14 November 1935: The UK had a General Election.  Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin was returned to office at the head of a National Government led by the Conservative Party with a large but reduced majority.

14 November 1949.  The tragically early death of Jimmy Dunne was recorded following a heart attack.  After playing for Arsenal he played for Southampton, and then became a successful club manager in Ireland.

14 November 1970: Arsenal 1 Crystal Palace 1.  League match 17 of the first Double season.  Radford scored for the fourth consecutive game, making it seven without defeat since the 0-5 defeat against Stoke.  This was the end of a run of 12 matches in which the club throughout used exactly the same players in each game.

14 November 1972: Arsenal played a Paris XI in France, beating them 1-0 with a goal from Rice.  It marked Bob Wilson’s return in goal. Unusually for the era, three substitutes were used: Batson, Hornsby and George Armstrong, who had not been seen since September 2.

14 November 1987: Arsenal 4 Norwich 2.  The last of a run of 10 straight wins which began on 12 September 1987

14 November 2007: “Arsenal are my favourite team right now and I think they are the best performing team in the Premier League.”  Pele

14 November 2009: Robin van Persie suffered ankle ligament damage during an international friendly.  It was announced that he was expected to miss four to five months while recovering from ligament reconstruction surgery.

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