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July 2020
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How the fake news travels – especially when Arsenal create it about themselves.

When Arsenal turned itself into a professional club in 1891 – the first club in the south so to do – it was recognised by the club’s Committee that some of the clubs that it had been playing in recent years, as it had risen to be the leading force in football in the south of the country, might not want to play a professional side.

Arsenal therefore, very honorably tendered its resignation from the two regional football associations of which it was a member: the London FA and the Kent FA.   However, both associations rejected the offer of resignation, undoubtedly because a game against the Arsenal was the highlight of most clubs’ season and also the guarantee of one of the largest (if not the largest) crowd of the season.

However, this story somehow became mangled and the 1960/1 official Arsenal handbook, for example, contained this extraordinary re-writing of history (page 6).

“The aversion in the south to professionalism, which we have already noted, had in no way abated by the beginning of the Nineties and it seemed tantamount to suicide when the club announced its intention of commencing a career as a professional body under the name of Woolwich Arsenal FC in 1891/2.  From this moment entry to all competitions in the South, all of which were strictly amateur, was barred.  In  addition, the club was subjected to such a severe boycott from its horrified neighbours that opponents were almost impossible to find.   The fixture list was entirely made up of friendlies with such Midland and Northern clubs which had the time and the inclination to play them.”

This was utterly untrue at every level.  The number of games was 57 friendlies and 1 FA Cup match – a huge increase, as Arsenal sought to pay its way now that it had a sizeable rent to pay and of course the players’ wages. And yes it was playing other professional teams in order to find competitive matches, but many of the games were still against more local sides that could meet Arsenal’s standard.

This story about no one wanting to play them, and the associated tale of being ejected from the FAs was utterly untrue – and yet it was written up not just in the 1960 handbook but year after year for many years.

It just shows what a mess was made of writing up Arsenal’s history.  We rightly criticize newspapers like the Sunday Mirror for getting Arsenal’s history horribly wrong as they did recently suggesting the club was involved in some sort of match-fixing scandal, and the awful “Everything you thought you knew about football” book, recently published, with its scandalous allegations about bribery and corruption, but really for Arsenal to make such a mess of its own history – that is awful.

Here are the anniversaries – today is the anniversary of that famous Royal Arsenal vote, taking the club into professionalism.

16 May 1881: Teddy Bateup, Arsenal goalkeeper, born.  He is referred to in books as Edward and Edwin, and there is also disagreement about his earliest clubs.  Croydon Glenrose, the Dragoon Guards, and Faversham are all mentioned.  

16 May 1891, At its AGM Royal Arsenal voted against forming a Ltd company but in favour of professionalism, and offered to resign from the London FA and the Kent FA – but despite later reports in Arsenal handbooks to the contrary, neither FA took up the offer, with local clubs preferring to continue to play the most prestigious team in the region, and thus pull in the crowds.  It’s a perfect example of Arsenal history being written without any fact checking at all.

16 May 1910: Rumours circulated that Tottenham, Chelsea and Rangers FC were trying to buy shares in Woolwich Arsenal FC. See also here.    See here for the Rangers story.

16 May 1912: Arsenal 4 Deutscher Prague 1  This was the third of nine games in Arsenal’s 18 day European tour. 

16 May 1922: The final British troops left Ireland.

16 May 1925: Leslie Knighton, Arsenal’s first manager at Highbury, departed to make way for Chapman. It was 23 years before Knighton wrote his autobiography which remorselessly criticised Sir Henry Norris, using a range of allegations which have since been found to be utterly false, and yet are still propagated to this day.

16 May 1934: Jack Crayston joined from Bradford PA for £5250 with George Allison saying he was impressed by his sober lifestyle. He was an immediate success, scoring in his first league appearance and winning the league in his first season.

16 May 1942: Arsenal 1 Brentford 2 – London War Cup Semi-final replay.  37,000 turned up at White Hart Lane – a curious choice of venue since it was Arsenal’s home ground during the war.  However although defeated in the cup Arsenal had already won the London League.

16 May 1962: Jack Kelsey injured his back playing for Wales against Brazil.  As a result he had to retire.  Arsenal was his only senior club, and he played 327 times for the club in the League.  Jack received no compensation from Wales for his loss of his career.

16 May 1980: Arsenal beat Wolverhampton Wanderers away 2-1 to keep the dream of playing in Europe in the following season alive, despite having lost in both the FA and CWC finals. Walford and Stapleton scored.

16 May 1998: Arsenal 2 Newcastle 0.  FA Cup final.  The second double was completed.  (The story continues in part 2 and part 3.)  Without Bergkamp available Arsenal played Christopher Wreh as centre forward rather than Ian Wright.   

16 May 1999: Arsenal concluded the season with a 1-0 win over Villa to finish second just one point behind Man U.  More notably however Arsenal finished having conceded 17 goals – their lowest ever total. 

16 May 2009: A goalless draw with Manchester United attracted 75,458, celebrating Man U’s title.  Despite this meaning Arsenal had only won one game in five Arsenal were safe in fourth.  Denilson pla

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